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

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Second Interview Session (March 16, 1989): Tape 14

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00:11

KC tells how she got involved in the International Woman's Year Commission. Plans for U.S. participation in the IWY were begun under President Nixon, and President Ford appointed the first commission, with Jill Ruckleshouse as chair. KC tells how Katherine East got her appointed to two subcommittees; while she was in Washington for these committees Ruckelshouse asked her to be conference coordinator for the national conference. In December 1975, Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink introduced legislation calling for this conference.

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04:04

KC could not picture being conference coordinator because she could not imagine staying in Washington, but she worked out a compromise so that she could work part-time.

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06:52

KC prepared a handbook for the state and territorial meetings on how to conduct business. The national IWY commission had to name planning committees for fifty-six states and territories. To find committee members, they wrote to various groups and individuals for suggestions, and relied on their own networks. In her handbook, KC detailed how those planning committees should function. The handbook was good because KC had so much experience running conferences. It told how to get groups together and conduct outreach, and discussed other details of advanced planning and conducting a statewide meeting.

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12:23

Each statewide meeting had to be held before a certain date so the national IWY commission could have the results before the Houston conference. There were two commission members at each of these statewide meetings so they would be run in accordance with federal requirements. The commission tried to foresee glitches, but KC tells how some conservative Mormons in some states took advantage of loopholes in the voting laws.

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15:33

The IWY handbook had guidelines on how to reach those who didn't have access to mainstream channels of communication, such as those who don't belong to organizations, low income people, and minorities. The handbook also had concrete suggestions for electing delegates to the Houston conference. The most specific business of these state meetings was to educate and to take votes on certain issues. The Washington IWY staff had prepared materials on the twenty or thirty obvious questions confronting women; they wanted to hear how people felt about these issues.

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18:49

The controversial issues at the time were reproductive rights, lesbian rights, and the ERA. At the IWY conference in Houston, only one plank on the platform was carried unanimously because there were several states that sent conservative delegations.

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20:06

The national legislation calling for the IWY conference, initiated by Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink, specified that each delegation should be mixed with respect to economic status, race, age, religion, etc, and racial minorities, low income people, and young people were actually over-represented at the conference. When the National Commission had to fill in shortfalls, they had to name white, middle-class, and elderly women; this was a total surprise. It was possible to elect and send low income people because payment to attend the national conference was subsidized by Congress, which allocated only $5 million for it. The State Department picked up postage and donated office space, which made it possible to pay the way for these delegates.

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24:32

Many state meetings very political, such as New York’s. Carter named Bella Abzug as chair of the national IWY commission and made a lot of other changes. Alan Alda and Jean Stapleton were on the commission. Both were very active participants, especially Stapleton.

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25:10

When Bella Abzug came in as chair of the IWY commission, she told KC to be executive director. KC was reluctant to do this because of the impact on her personal life.

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28:43

KC discusses the adoption of a national plan of action at the IWY conference. The National Commission pooled the results of the state meetings and put together a tentative plan of action that elected delegates would consider in Houston. Some people came ready to adopt the whole plan; others did not. In order to counter ultra-conservatives and dispel some of the lies floating around, a group of forty organizations in Washington urged their constituency to come to Houston and support the conference.

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32:06

In addition to the plenary session at the IWY conference, where the elected delegates voted, there were 20,000 non-delegates. There were other conference activities besides this session; KC describes some of these.

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34:53

The 2,000 elected delegates to the Houston conference stayed in the room where the plenary session was held and did their job. For the most part, they wanted to be there to vote.

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35:54

One of the exciting planks at the IWY conference was that of minority women, who were unhappy with the preliminary plan. These women hammered out a new plan, which was passed in an emotional plenary session.

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38:52

When the plank on sexual preference was debated, there were impassioned negative statements, especially from religious fundamentalists. Betty Friedan gave an impassioned speech in favor of adopting the plank despite her past history of being unfriendly with the lesbian community. The statement was well-received; it reflected an honest change on Friedan's part. Friedan ran into a lot of controversy recently on the subject of whether there should be special treatment in the law for pregnant women. She and Katherine East were on opposite ends of this issue. East opposed the sexual preference plank at the IWY conference because she said it wasn’t a women's issue.

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43:36

KC describes the reaction of two of her friends from Milwaukee to men from Utah who were telling women in various Mormon delegations how to vote.

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45:17

In between the votes at the plenary sessions there were speeches by Barbara Jordon, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalyn Carter. Judy Carter, the daughter-in-law of the President, was active throughout the planning of the conference.

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45:57

KC briefly discusses Judy Carter, President Jimmy Carter's daughter. The voting at the IWY conference was interspersed with other activities. Bella Abzug was very demanding, often insisting they have staff meetings at the end of long days.

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47:19

KC continues describing the program highlights from the IWY conference and focuses on Plank 26, a proposal that called for an ongoing commission responsible for implementing the conference's plan of action. It was the most controversial plank of all and KC explains why. Both Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem were twisting arms to get it passed. This plank was an exception to the general feeling of unity at the conference. To provide a more upbeat close to the conference, singer Marty Adam performed a song and taught it to the audience.

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52:13

At the IWY, Plank 26 was passed, and it forms the basis of the National Women's Conference Committee (NWCC). President Carter named a Women's Advisory Committee with Bella Abzug as chair, but it fell apart after it criticized some of Carter's budget proposals. Carter fired Abzug and half of the committee resigned in protest. But the continuing committee of the Houston conference remains.

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55:58

KC doesn't want to see another conference on women under the current administration because it would not have a progressive agenda; it would be a tool of the administration.

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56:32

KC describes the movers and shakers at the IWY conference in Houston. In one moving moment, the delegation sang “Happy Birthday” to Margaret Mead on her 75th birthday.

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1:04:04

One of the organizational problems of the IWY conference was getting food for the delegates, and KC briefly describes efforts to cope with this.

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1:06:19

KC briefly describes her job behind the stage at the IWY conference. This gave her a very discontinuous view of the whole meeting.

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1:07:48

KC briefly describes the follow-up work after the IWY Houston conference, like publishing the “Spirit of Houston” and presenting a report to the President and Congress. Some of the bills from Houston were not paid very quickly. KC briefly describes the activities of the Committee of Houston Volunteers, which found local printers and artists to work for the conference and promoted the conference in Houston. Payment was delayed to these local people, and it was very embarrassing. A lot of the work in the office was anticlimactic. KC was happy to get home and stop her weekly commute.

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1:15:17

The IWY conference made KC see how universal some problems were. She had met some terrific people. She was astonished at the effectiveness of the ultraconservatives who took over the state meetings. KC thinks the women's movement is not as organized as the conservatives; when the chips are down, the women's movement is not as effective because they're more democratic and don't take orders from on high.

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1:17:57

If there were to be another conference like the IWY, KC speculates that a global perspective might be more in order. There's no dearth of agenda items for a national conference, like the widening gap between rich and poor, reproductive rights, child care, drugs, the educational system. KC suggests creating jobs for the unemployed by expanding service fields such as teaching. She thinks women, children, and minorities are worse off now than at the time of the IWY conference.

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1:22:52

The issues KC describes are not just women's issues. She's never restricted her objectives to improving the lot of women alone. As Bella Abzug says, the feminist movement has a vision of society that's fair to everyone. NOW was begun on behalf of women and minorities.

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1:26:37

KC predicts that the current Supreme Court could affect Roe v. Wade. She doesn't think either George Bush or Ronald Reagan cares about the right to choice, but they have political debts to pay. A lot of people say the women's movement should be on the offensive, but KC isn't sure how to go about doing this. She points out that 75% of people believe in a woman's right to choice, but a few zealots intimidate Congress and state legislatures.

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1:31:53

End of interview session 2

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