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Interview #466: Clarenbach, Kathryn F. (September, 2009)

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Ninth Interview Session (November 17, 1987): Tape 9

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00:09

At the national conference where NOW was started in June of 1966, KC wanted to propose two resolutions concerning the EEOC. She describes the resolutions and says they were never brought up because they were too critical of the federal government. This gave KC some real insight into some warnings her friends had given her about dealing with the federal government. She was appalled. At the closing session of the conference, KC, Friedan and others gathered at a table while the session was going on and came up with the name, acronym, and statement of purpose for NOW; KC describes the scene in detail. By the end of the meeting twenty-seven people had signed up and paid $5 to join. KC was appointed temporary chair for the summer and appointed a steering committee as soon as she returned to Madison.

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07:33

KC wanted to form NOW because she recognized the need for external pressure, particularly on the federal establishment. At that time, they weren't thinking of the organization that eventually developed, with local, state and regional levels. They had to decide whether they wanted to focus on leadership or mass membership. Of the original twenty-seven members, eight or ten were from Wisconsin.

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11:45

KC lists the members of the temporary steering committee to form NOW. They communicated often to set a date for an organizing conference and to put together some bylaws. KC discusses the meeting where she, Betty Friedan and several others drafted the bylaws of NOW. Friedan's lack of organizational experience made it difficult to work together with her, although she is a brilliant woman with a great deal of vision and insight. A lot of shouting occurred at the meetings. In KC's four years of chairing the board of NOW, it was filled with prima donnas, most of whom had no organizational experience.

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13:59

At the Washington meeting, they hammered out a draft of some workable bylaws and set a date in October 1966 for their official organizing conference. Some of the conflicts over the bylaws reflected the different organizational styles of individuals; others were just honest differences. But they were organized enough to write a draft of the bylaws for the temporary steering committee.

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15:38

KC did not attend the October 1966 NOW conference. When she persuaded Milwaukee journalist Dorothy Austin to cover the activities of the meeting, Pauline Murray and Betty Friedan called her several times to protest Austin's presence because they were suspicious of any journalist. From the conference, Pauline Murray called her twice about the original bylaws. It was natural that Friedan be elected president of NOW, but her lack of organization caused concern. So they structured NOW along corporate lines, with KC serving as board chairman to see that everything moved along. Though KC accepted this position with reluctance, one part of her was pleased.

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20:08

Anyone who had paid dues to NOW was invited to the first conference. By that time there were 300 paid members, of which 120 or so were in Wisconsin. Members heard about the organization through word of mouth. One sociologist wrote to twenty or thirty women she was sure would want to join, but none did because NOW seemed too radical. At that time no one even used the word “discrimination,” much less “oppression.” There were not any self-identified lesbians in NOW; the first time that question was formally brought to the floor was at the 1970 national conference in Chicago.

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22:39

Initially, NOW did not use the term “feminist,” and KC does not know to what extent people identified themselves as such. KC recounts the first time she used the word “sexist,” at a 1969 APA conference.

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24:55

KC turns to the first board meeting of NOW, where they decided to ask for an audience with the EEOC. Friedan called Washington, told them about the meeting, and got them into the news. KC explains the techniques that Muriel Fox, a “public relations genius,” used to get good press coverage for NOW.

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26:59

When Friedan called the EEOC at the November 1966 NOW meeting, someone offered to meet with them the next day. The NOW people had come from all over the country and were planning to leave, but agreed to meet. By calling the EEOC's bluff, NOW began discussion with them. The goal of the meeting was to let the EEOC know people cared about sex discrimination. KC mentions some the issues that NOW raised before the EEOC.

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29:27

It took a long time for KC and Betty Friedan to develop a harmonious relationship. KC describes some of their differences.

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30:47

KC explains why the director of the Women's Bureau was miffed when NOW started.

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32:32

Betty Friedan was suspicious of KC because KC had had such warm relationships with people in the establishment. NOW had good reason to be suspicious of organizations like the FBI and CIA, but KC doesn't know that NOW was actually monitored. KC had to prepare herself for Friedan's calls and often had her family screen them.

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34:27

Others had difficulty working with Betty Friedan, but KC developed a good working relationship with her. They came to respect each other. KC describes some of their differences in working style.

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35:27

At NOW's 1970 conference in Chicago, KC and Friedan stepped down from their positions. KC was exhausted from NOW's board meetings. The NOW board was a motley collection of people, with many prima donnas. Later, the feminist ideology that de-emphasized stars, procedures, and rules began to affect meetings. KC was happy to leave the chair. At the same 1970 Chicago meeting, Friedan declared Women's Equality Day in her retirement speech, and people celebrated it all over the country.

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39:22

KC doesn't think there was disunity in NOW over their goals, but at the 1967 annual conference in Washington, there was controversy over endorsing the ERA. KC describes the problem in some detail; when NOW voted to endorse the ERA, the UAW members were forced to walk out because the national UAW had not approved. One friend of KC's was so personally hurt by this that it was close to three years before they could renew their friendship. But NOW still had the support of the AFL-CIO women, and the UAW women came back after the national UAW endorsed the ERA. KC didn't see the necessity of taking a stand on the ERA at the moment they did.

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46:08

In 1972, NOW had a significant hand in pressuring Congress to support the ERA, which was passed by both houses. The vote to support the ERA in 1967 was probably part of all that. By 1970, the AFL-CIO had also endorsed ERA, and KC points out that Wisconsin’s Commission on the Status of Women had a significant hand in that.

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47:01

KC remembers the difficult decision to raise NOW dues at a 1968 board meeting in Chicago. Alice Rossi led the discussion against raising them; she did not want to keep low-income people out of the organization. But NOW needed more money. They decided to raise dues but offer special rates for students and low-income people.

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49:07

KC credits Catherine Conroy for trying to structure NOW's national conferences and for instituting the system of delegates. At first, the annual conference and board meeting moved around the country and were held every eighteen months; KC lists some of the places where these events were held. KC did not go to the Los Angeles conference because her husband had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. At that time, they also had no set procedure for chartering local chapters of NOW. Today NOW uses the delegate system proposed by Conroy.

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52:50

KC discusses in detail Betty Boyer's formation of WEAL (Women's Equity Action League), a group that concentrated on employment and education but avoided the issue of abortion. KC describes how NOW members reacted and talks about what WEAL has done over the years. The formation of WEAL may have been the first split in NOW. Not long after that, Mary Eastwood started Human Rights for Women, but KC is not sure why.

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56:07

Another big problem in NOW involved the establishment of the Legal Defense and Education Fund. KC lists some of the landmark cases they handled before they had the legal defense fund. At that time, the legal committee would only take cases that would be landmarks and would affect the law. KC describes a shouting match between attorney Grace Cox and Betty Friedan at an Atlanta conference over getting a legal charter for the fund. Getting this charter took several years. There were lots of fireworks in NOW from time to time.

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1:00:09

KC discusses the issue of lesbians in NOW. Though KC was neutral on the subject, she hesitated to support a plank for lesbians because NOW was having enough difficulty getting established. At the 1970 NOW conference, women were asking for a plank in the platform that extended non-discrimination to lesbians. There never had been any question of sexual preference in NOW before. There were a number of lesbians in the organization. At the Chicago conference, the issue was voted down.

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1:03:32

KC describes in detail the only time in her life that one of her rulings as chair was contested and defeated, which occurred at the 1970 NOW conference in Chicago. Much later she realized that she was challenged so that if the issue of sexual preference came up it could be ruled out of order.

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1:06:05

At the next annual conference, the issue of sexual preference was put on NOW's bill of rights. KC isn't sure what led to the change. The idea was new to people, just as ERA and abortion were. KC had always thought abortion was a usurpation of government authority, but she did not see it as a political issue until she was on the board of NOW.

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1:07:40

KC encountered a number of new ideas through her work with NOW and the Wisconsin state commission, like the whole notion of sexual preference as a right. The few lesbians she knew were people she mostly liked, but there were others she didn't want to spend time with. She tells a story about an encounter in which she and Betty Friedan were threatened by some lesbian NOW members. Friedan was also at odds with some of the many NOW lesbians in New York City. It wasn't until the International Women's Year Conference in 1977 that Friedan spoke on behalf of a motion regarding sexual preference. That was considered a real turning point.

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1:11:47

KC discusses some of the reasons for the changing platform of NOW, especially factors that made it more radical. The literature that characterizes NOW members as well-educated, white, middle-class women is not terribly accurate, and KC explains why. She quotes from Barbara Ehrenreich's responses to those who say that the women's movement was primarily white, middle-class and educated. NOW's original bill of rights was not a conservative document. The only thing in it today that wasn't in the original was the issue of sexual preference.

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1:15:37

At a 1967 conference, Alice Rossi gave a position paper on the subject of reproductive freedom, which made KC look at the question in new ways. She briefly describes the impact of Rossi's speech on Mary Jean Collins, who is now with Catholics for Choice.

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1:17:10

KC discusses her relationship with Alice Rossi, who she met in 1965 at a conference on women in science where Rossi was the keynote speaker. They were both on a panel on married couples in science. Like KC and Rossi, a lot of women in NOW were married with children, including Betty Friedan and Muriel Fox.

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1:20:41

Gloria Steinem was not in NOW during the first two or three years. KC briefly discusses a recent interview with Steinem and Bella Abzug. KC agrees with their thoughts on the rebirth of the women's movement, but notes that neither of them mentioned the Kennedy commission or the state commissions on the status of women.

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1:23:11

KC explains why she thought the state commissions on the status of women were important and describes some of their activities. Their research laid the necessary groundwork for what came later, and they tried to counteract the tendency of the press to ridicule the women's movement, which was something NOW never did. The women's commissions were seen as “establishment” by radicals, but they had the same program; they just purveyed it in a way that was more acceptable.

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1:26:22

KC remembers the surprisingly affirmative response she received at a luncheon of the Catholic diocese. As always, she tried to be honest but said things in a way that would not alienate people.

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1:28:58

In 1966, KC was voted “Woman of the Year” by the Madison Business and Professional Club. KC's family and her neighbors approved of her involvement with the women's movement. She credits her involvement in NOW to her work with the women's commission in Wisconsin. In 1967, the Milwaukee Sentinel named KC “Wisconsin Woman of the Year,” and in 1970 Beta Sigma Phi voted her “Doer of the Decade.”

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1:31:56

End of interview session 9

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