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

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First Interview Session (March 10, 1989): Tape 13

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00:13

KC describes in detail the reasons for her nomination to the chair of the board of NOW and for Betty's Friedan's nomination as president, going back to the June 1966 Washington meeting where KC, Margaret Raywalt, Mary Eastwood and Betty Friedan put together a proposed constitution and bylaws.

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06:14

During the October 1966 conference, Pauline Murray called KC and told her they wanted to structure NOW so it would have a two-headed leadership. KC wasn’t keen on this idea. Her concerns about working with Betty Friedan grew more over time. It was a while before they began to trust and tolerate each other. They have a lot of differences in style.

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09:46

KC gives the dates and tells the extent of her involvement with the commissions on the status of women. She was never a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women, which was appointed in 1961 and existed only until October 1963, when they issued their report, American Women.

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11:10

KC tells how she got to know Mary Eastwood and Katherine East, both of whom were on the staff of the National Commission on the Status of Women. As executive director of the citizens' advisory council that was formed after the commission finished its work, East was important to the development of the women’s movement. So KC was involved with the state commission before NOW.

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14:10

One of the reasons Catherine Conroy volunteered KC to be the temporary chair of NOW was because they were both on Wisconsin’s Governor’s State Commission on the Status of Women. Many NOW members were from Wisconsin because of Wisconsin's Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, NOW publicity, and its connections to other movements, such as labor, in the state.

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16:48

The women from Wisconsin at the October 1966 NOW meeting represented a broad coalition. The Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women had conferences at university campuses all over the state; they were attended by housewives, people interested in going back to school and others who realized that life ought to be better for women.

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18:16

At the first national board meeting of NOW, there was a great deal of ambivalence over whether NOW should be a broad coalition or a pressure group. They didn’t come up with an answer right away, but there was no question they wanted publicity and wanted to spread ideas broadly. KC describes the efforts of Muriel Fox and others to publicize the group. In the earliest days, there was a great deal of paranoia about excluding the press; NOW put out its own reports. The publicity helped NOW to build a mass base. There were other strands developing on campuses that helped build a base, like the more radical women’s liberation efforts. KC also thinks state commissions on the status of women served an important role.

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24:21

The Kennedy commission’s report on American women was ground-breaking and in many ways terribly radical for 1963. The membership on the National Commission was outstanding and the report was wonderful. It was predominantly state commissions on the status of women that made that information accessible. In Wisconsin, the state commission patterned itself after the national commission.

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26:57

As Betty Friedan toured the country she organized community groups into NOW chapters. At that time, NOW had no procedure for organizing a chapter. At a national board meeting, Catherine Conroy pointed out that NOW needed a procedure for the selection of delegates to the national convention. There were differences of opinion on this issue; it was a quite few years before NOW developed a process for chartering local chapters and state organizations. Originally, policy was often made by the members in the region where the national conference was held. That changed; it was important to have some people who knew what they were doing on the national board.

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30:55

The first NOW board had black men and women, white men, representatives from labor, the unemployed, and professionals, so the criticism that NOW was a white middle-class group isn’t quite accurate. But it wasn’t always easy to recruit members from a wide range of ethnic groups.

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33:13

Returning to Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, KC says that its membership was always excellent and explains why. They had representatives from key state agencies whose work affected the lives of women, but that no longer exists. KC says those individuals were crucial and offers some examples of the changes they made. In some states, however, the commissions on the status of women resembled garden clubs. KC is sure Betty Friedan’s continuing degradation of these commissions results from this impression.

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40:14

In Wisconsin, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women divided into committees that identified issues and decided what to do about them. The commission tried to educate citizens through statewide and regional conferences. This public education undergirded everything else.

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45:49

KC continues to talk in some detail about the outreach efforts of Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Again quoting Arthur Schlesinger, KC says she thought of the commission's work as an educational process.

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48:36

Education was a goal of the commission because it affected votes. The commission's goals were well-defined. The overall goal was to create fairness and equity throughout the state for women. As Katherine Conroy said, it was not the intent of the commission to shift disadvantages from one group to another, but to eradicate them.

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50:54

Legal change was not a primary goal of the commission at first because it took a while to realize the extent of the legal disabilities of women. Between 1970, when the push for the ERA began, and the time Congress passed the ERA in 1972, the commission convinced the governor to get started on the changes that would be necessary if the ERA were ratified. KC tells who was named to the committee that worked on this issue. They found 280 provisions in Wisconsin statutes that treated men and women differently. The commission took care of most of these changes. The commission put together a coalition of thirteen organizations in the state that managed to get much new legislation passed.

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56:10

In 1973, the commission hoped to pass a state ERA, but it was defeated on the spring ballot through a combination of the Catholic Church and veterans organizations. These groups were more powerful than they'd anticipated.

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57:22

KC lists the steps necessary to make legal change. Those efforts took a lot of educating and speech-making. KC gave thirty to forty speeches a year and loved to do it.

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58:32

After KC began working with NOW, there was no dramatic change in her involvement with the state commission. Her vocabulary became more forceful, but she's not sure if this was an effect of NOW or of her own development.

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1:00:22

After the formation of NOW, KC's personal relations with the Women's Bureau of the federal Labor Department were less than congenial. Mary Kaiserling, the director, felt stabbed in the back by the formation of NOW; she thought the Women’s Bureau and the state commissions were all that was needed for change. Kaiserling's successor, Libby Koontz, made a conscious effort to mend those fences. Before the break, KC had relied very heavily on the Women's Bureau in Washington for information. She did not see the formation of NOW as a traitorous act; she believes you need allies on the inside as you push from outside. The loss of inside women during Ronald Reagan's presidency was a great blow.

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1:05:56

KC describes how the National Association of Commissions on the Status of Women was formed in 1970. KC was on the steering committee that set up the organization, and she was the first president. The national association was organized along the lines of the Wisconsin State Commission; they strove for a broadly-based membership and a progressive agenda. Some of the less progressive commissions benefitted a great deal from this.

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1:10:10

KC mentions that Elizabeth Duncan Koontz and Catherine Conroy both died of cancer at age 69.

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1:10:50

KC doesn't believe that NOW or the snowballing of the feminist movement would have occurred without the work of the state commissions on the status of women. The National Association of Commissions continues to exist. Some states still have commissions; some don't. KC doesn't think the National Commission is as effective as it once was. In the early days, they made themselves sound like the marching millions. As the representative of the National Commission, KC signed the amicus brief for Roe v. Wade.

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1:15:28

KC did not keep tabs on what happened with the middle- and working-class women who came to the state commission conferences, but notes that some of NOW's twenty-two to twenty-seven chapters in Wisconsin were probably the result of these conferences. A number of women also came into KC's office when she was running the continuing education program in 1963. The state commissions also did a lot of television programs, and when they put out the first edition of Wisconsin Women and the Law, it was a hot item.

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1:20:30

At KC's retirement party, five former presidents of the National Association of Commissions came. They've stayed in touch and continue to do business together. Katherine East is writing a book about the women's movement and KC has faith that her account will be accurate.

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1:24:21

End of interview session 13

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