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

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Tenth Interview Session (December 1, 1987): Tape 10

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00:06

KC says that there are many different perspectives on NOW and that many articles on its history are based on hearsay. She uses a draft of a recent book as an example and details some of the specific errors it contained.

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02:53

KC offers a detailed explanation of the complications involved in electing Eileen Hernandez, then working on the EEOC, to the vice-presidency of NOW. Betty Friedan was even summoned to court. Hernandez was elected president of NOW in 1970.

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08:08

KC again discusses the issue of lesbians in NOW and explains why she and other members dragged their feet in supporting the issue. There were many others who were unaccustomed to talking about homosexuality, and there was a great deal of ignorance. There were quite a few people in NOW who were “out,” but there was no isolation or shunning of them. KC says that the organization was very united and offers an example.

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11:53

KC isn't sure why people say NOW is more radical and explains why. She points out that some issues, like prison reform and racial discrimination, aren't new. There were black men and women on the first national board of NOW and the original statement of purpose insists on non-discrimination on any grounds. Responding to the argument that the successful incorporation of lesbians into other women's liberation groups led NOW to support lesbian rights, KC says that was not part of her experience and explains why.

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16:31

KC discusses her personal response to the issue of lesbians in NOW in some detail. She remembers discussing the issue with women like Mary Eastwood, who called herself a “theoretical lesbian.” Though she didn't understand what it was like to be homosexual, she was open to the idea of accepting lesbians. But the leap to putting sexual preference on NOW's agenda was a long one.

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21:46

It was only at the International Women's Year Conference that Betty Friedan spoke in favor of lesbians. She did not support lesbian rights at first because she didn't think it ought to be an agenda item and she wouldn't be pushed into acquiescing.

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23:04

KC supposes NOW became more radical along with the rest of the women's movement and briefly suggests why. There were halcyon years in the 1970s when legislative and public policy changes did take place. KC says they were living in a dream world.

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27:29

KC discusses in detail the six regional meetings held by the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1974 on the topic “Homemaking and the Family: Changing Values and Concerns.” She lists the major speakers and mentions some of the important changes brought about by the meetings, particularly the conversion of Mary Lou Munts, a Wisconsin state legislator who was later responsible for some important legal changes.

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33:44

The results of these Wisconsin meetings were carried to Houston and the planning of the International Women's Year. KC lists the Wisconsin people who participated. Eventually KC was asked to be the conference coordinator, but at first she took a half-time job as deputy conference coordinator under Jill Ruckelshaus; later, Bella Abzug pressured KC into accepting the job of executive director. Pointing out that Gloria Steinem divides her life into before and after Houston, KC says she didn't regret taking the job, despite having to commute between Washington and Wisconsin for two years.

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37:15

KC outlines some of her duties as executive director of the International Women's Year Commission, under Bella Abzug as chair. It was an exciting and fun job.

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39:23

At the International Women's Year Commission, there was a high degree of anxiety because of right-wing harassment. KC explains how she learned to respond quickly to the large numbers of hostile letters. That kind of continuous harassment was going on all around the country. There was also anxiety because of this throughout the conference itself; KC gives a humorous example.

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46:39

Housing for the Houston conference was poorly arranged; a fear that the right wing might try to take up all the rooms meant that all housing decisions were made out of the Washington office. There were a lot of bad decisions made out of fear and anxiety. KC explains how she and her staff got “free therapy” from a friend to help them cope.

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48:26

There was a lot of turnover on the International Women's Commission; KC lists the three different chairs and tells some of the problems they had. One of them had shouting matches with Bella Abzug over the phone. KC tried to stay out of it.

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50:22

The International Women's Year Commission was appointed by the government, and those who served on the commission were unpaid. They included celebrities like Alan Alda and Jean Stapleton, members of Congress, presidents of national organizations, and editors of well-known magazines, who were good at promoting the commission. They were high-powered, hard-working people who came to the meetings and did their homework. They made the policy and the paid staff carried it out.

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53:03

Through working on the International Women's Year Commission, KC learned a lot about staff work, especially from Katherine East. She explains what she learned and says they were successful because they had some remarkably good staff people.

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55:57

On her weekends in Madison, KC did laundry and made sure her husband had food in the house. She explains the system of packing she developed. It was very tiring.

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57:52

KC said she met magnificent people during her work at the International Women's Year Commission. She describes her management style, which she characterizes as laid-back, in some detail, and contrasts it with that of Katherine East. KC generally had good relations with her staff.

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1:02:18

At the International Woman's Year Conference itself, there were all kinds of snafus. The hotel was not prepared for their arrival and there was also a high level of anxiety because of right-wing activists like Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum. KC describes some of the problems they had because of poor planning. To illustrate the degree of anxiety at the conference, KC says that one commission staff member removed Braille signs from the elevators because she thought they were symbols of the Eagle Forum.

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1:05:58

When MA points out that Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum got about a third as much publicity as the International Women's Year conference did, KC says this continued throughout ERA because the media wanted to make it look like a cat fight. KC briefly describes the Eagle Forum's activities at the Houston conference itself, and talks about the security preparations they had to go through for the former First Ladies (Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Rosalyn Carter) who attended. All the First Ladies were gracious, friendly people. Pat Nixon and Jackie Kennedy were invited but didn't come.

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1:09:04

Describing the participation of “ordinary” women at the International Woman's Year Conference, KC says it is the most representative meeting that has ever taken place. KC explains in detail how they managed to get equal representation of people of different races, religions, and economic status. The most under-represented group was white, middle-class, elderly women.

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1:12:20

KC and MA discuss the efforts of conservative groups, particularly the Mormons, to take over the state meetings for the International Women's Year conference, particularly in the states of Washington and Utah.

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1:13:21

Phyllis Schafly and the Eagle Forum still exist and are having a heyday with the Reagan administration, but KC says Schlaffly cares more about Cold War politics than about ERA and abortion. Her ilk are in constant communication with Congress; she's become more mainstream.

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1:14:59

The Commission for the International Woman's Year conference went out of existence on April 1, 1978. The publication of theSpirit of Houston” didn't occur until later. KC briefly discusses her current efforts to get it reprinted.

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1:17:58

End of interview session 10

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