Contra Costa Herstory

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					                                  Contra Costa Herstory

       Going over decades of old organizational papers and news clippings related to
NWPC and feminists, I vividly relived good times and bad times. The painful part of this
process was, however, the vivid memories that arose of the amazing women who are no
longer with us: These included Sheila Hillstrom, nurse and mother; Donna Cutting,
Congressional aide and mother: Mary Mahoney, Congressional administrative assistant
and later successful real estate broker; Sybil Galazin, retired teacher: Marion Goodman,
County Department head and later, political consultant. Each and every one of them a
political and community activist and, with the exception of Sybil, Contra Costa NWPC
co-chairs.
        How did I get involved in women’s issues and politics? I was born in 1932 and
raised in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania (Appalachia). Among my many
relatives there was the town’s Burgess (unpaid Mayor) who held the post for twenty
something years. I grew up believing that you got involved with your community on all
levels, including political, or you didn’t have the right to complain. One of my great
aunts was a suffragette. At my great Grandmother’s house, there was a picture of her and
other women with President Woodrow Wilson signing some document relating to
Women’s suffrage. I was not particularly impressed as a child. Of course women had
the right to vote in the 40’s and suffragettes were stern women who supported prohibition
and had been known to carry hatchets to break up bars. I knew, of course, that my
Episcopalian Great Aunt would not have done that.
       I wanted to go to law school from the age of 12 – it was apparent to me that my
father’s law office was much more interesting than my mother’s housework and I had no
musical or artistic talent and no desire to be a teacher or a nurse. Opportunities for
women were limited but I was always surprised when I was told that women didn’t do
this or that, and fortunately I was rather obtuse in recognizing discrimination. Of course I
encountered discrimination and prejudice along the way and frequently other women
rendered it. Somehow I didn’t recognize it as a general social problem. I did, however,
graduate from Penn law school and became a member of the Pennsylvania and DC bars.
I worked for the Federal government, first in the Philadelphia trial office and then in the
DC Solicitor’s office of the Department of Labor. Despite the fact that women were less


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than 5% of the legal profession, there were as many women attorneys working in the
Solicitor’s office as men. This was because there were virtually no women attorneys
employed by private law firms in those days, as I had discovered interviewing on Wall
Street during my last year at law school. The older women government attorneys were
very supportive to us younger ones.
           I married a Californian and eventually wound up here. I doubt that I would have
become such an ardent feminist if I hadn’t been a “stay at home” mom.         Among other
things, it gave me the time and incentive (adult companionship) to volunteer for political
and community work, and I soon discovered that women were not treated with the same
regard as men.     I spent a great deal of time in volunteer politics based on my opposition
to the Vietnam War in the late 60’s and I thought the future of civilization depended upon
electing Eugene McCarthy President. In “68, I helped coordinate the Hayward McCarthy
office and I continuously walked precincts in Castro Valley with my preschool children.
When my oldest daughter went to kindergarten in Castro Valley, other moms said, “Oh,
your mom’s the McCarthy lady.” I moved to Contra Costa in 1970 and shortly thereafter
got involved in Democratic politics, President of the local Lafayette club, CDC, and
various campaigns including those of McGovern (’72) and Waldie (’74). I met and grew
to love Sybil Galazin – retired teacher and political activist - we would drive over to
campaign phone banks in San Francisco and she told me once, that working in politics
gave her the happiest times of her life. Mary Mahoney was a pretty flower child in long
flowing dress working for McGovern long before she became the sophisticated
administrative assistant for George Miller and later, real estate broker. Her wonderful
deadpan face and cut to the essence sense of humor (“Guyla, I like to think of the NWPC
as the feminist Mafia”.) Other dedicated feminists I met included Sunne McPeak, Waldie
campaign worker, Democratic activist Peggy Hartz in whose house in 1972 (Yes, at a
Mary Kay cosmetics party), I met the incredible Iris Mitgang, which changed my life
forever.
       NWPC, a multi partisan organization was formed on a national level in 1971 by a
group of NOW women to focus solely on the political to accomplish feminist goals
including the passage of the ERA, reproductive rights, and economic equity.            Ann
Jenkins of Orinda wanted to start a NWPC chapter here. We had our first organizing



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meeting in Alice Johnson’s living room in Lafayette. I suspect Iris and I behaved badly
and I do remember some traditional values type women left the house convinced that we
wanted to start burning bras on Lafayette square. Ann organized a second meeting at the
Orinda Episcopal Church near Iris’s house, which was well attended. The third meeting
was at Paula Schiff’s house on March 31, 1973, I presided under Iris’s direction and we
formally launched the Contra Costa County NWPC chapter. Mary Mahoney and Jeanne
Schotz were coerced into being our first co-chairs. Poor Jeanne, fresh from New England
she walked into a room of strangers who immediately recognized her as a very capable
and dedicated feminist. Sybil said she was much too old to chair and Iris and I were
going to law school in June 1973: Iris for the first time, although she had been accepted
at the University of Chicago in the 1950’s but opted for marriage and motherhood; I for a
post degree LLM from Boalt. Iris characterized my admittance to the post law degree
program far and wide as the most elaborate retraining program for a middle-aged
housewife ever created. Not long after a coalition consisting of members of NOW,
AAUW, LWV and NWPC was formed to get a Status of Women’s Commission for
Contra Costa County.      The movement to get county women’s commissions for
educational and networking purposes had gone throughout California: San Francisco and
Oakland obtained one quickly based on the operating Santa Clara County model. Joan
Lyons of NOW and I were original co-chairs of the Committee for the commission. Our
committee included the irrepressible Selma King, one of the founders of the Contra Costa
Rape Crisis Center, and Lucy Brandon of NOW both past Presidents of their chapter. In
2000, Selma was one of three chosen to represent her the Contra Costa Now chapter on
the Wall of Fame at Seneca Falls, New York. In late 1974 and early 1975, I saw more of
Sheila Hillstrom and probably more of Joan Lyons and Beverly Lane than I did my
husband. Sheila would drive us to meetings of women who were potential supporters,
that she helped set up all over the county. One of Sheila’s sayings was “I was always a
feminist but I used to be just a feminist for one - me.” She had a special talent for
identifying “Queen Bees.” Among our organizational sessions were the ones Ada Cole
set up for us at the Richmond YWCA – these unruly meetings were not governed by
Robert’s Rules of Order. Amazingly we overcame sharp confrontations and suspicions
and developed some great alliances. We also achieved our stated goal of getting a



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minority woman to replace me as co-chair in Vera Mosley. (NEED TO CHECK her
name) I stayed on the ordinance committee with Iris and we drafted a lot of proposed
ordinances, none of which were ever adopted.
       In the spring of 1975, the UN year of the women, following a year of very hard
work performed by a great many people and endorsements from almost all women’s
organizations and elected county officials including Republican Senator Nejedly, we lost
our bid made to the five male supervisors. But what a battle! The area papers billed our
modest request for a commission and $20,000 as the most controversial proposal
generated in Contra Costa history.      Bill Baker, former Congressman and then vice
president of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Associations took on organizing all the anti
feminists and anti-choice populations in the East Bay and all out of Congressman Dent’s
office. Churches bus loaded parishioners in to oppose the “SOW commission” telling the
gentlemen Supervisors it was “Our Father in Heaven” not “Our Mother in Heaven”. The
Supervisor from the San Ramon region had polled his constituents as to whether they
would prefer giving $20,000 to a Women’s Commission or an animal-spaying clinic.
The latter won. Angry looking housewives in slacks and pants pushed daughters in blue
jeans up to the podium at the packed Supervisor’s chambers to speak against abortion and
the ERA.     We proponents were all wearing skirts and heels – preferring to be
uncomfortable rather than unfeminine. Despite all this, we were more well organized
than we had ever been (Bev Lane had overseen the production of a rather good
presentation booklet), we were in amazing good spirits, almost euphoric, in the sure
knowledge that the board was 4 ½ to ½ against us. The Richmond supervisor was for it
but not for giving us a cent. After the vote, the winning anti-commission opposition
showed very little joy but much sour and self-righteous anger. But as the suffragettes
used to say, “damn it, we had fun” on our side.
       Victims of cancer, Sheila and Mary, along with Dona Cutting, friend and another
NWPC co-chair, are gone. Iris is incapacitated. In my mind, I will always see them
proud and laughing. I think our 1975 experience may be what Jill Ruckelshaus meant
when she said at the 1977 National Women's Conference
             : "Your pride in being a woman...your future and a certain knowledge
    that at the end of your days you will be able to look back and say that once in
    your life you gave everything you had for justice."


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        Iris, our most famous feminist, was of course at the fabled 1977 Houston
women’s conference. She brought us back souvenirs and stories. She was our state
NWPC vice chair and was elected national vice chair at a feisty NWPC national
convention in San Jose later in 1977. When I wasn’t doing Iris’s routine delegate
shepherding duties there, giving her time to campaign, I sat near Doonsberry’s Gary
Trudeau, then a delegate and one of the first male members of the caucus. There were
always rumors that he had developed Jeanie Caucus based partially at least on Iris, and
Iris and Joanie both graduated from law school in California in June 1976. Iris was a
tireless worker to start new NWPC chapters all over western US and took on the Eastern
feminist establishment, ran against the sitting chair. and was elected national NWPC
chair in 1979. Ann Ageson, Iris’s campaign manager was an efficient organizing genius.
My daughter Eleanor was entering her senior year in high school and we came back from
several weeks in England to the convention in Ohio and occupied ourselves daily putting
up Iris’ campaign posters, which were routinely torn down every night. We saw a lot of
Midge Costanza, Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinhem generally working against us. After
being elected NWPC chair, Iris worked with them and with Eleanor Smeal, NOW
president to get feminist platform positions passed at the 1980 Democratic convention.
        Thanks to Iris, I met Bella and Gloria and Midge many times. Bella was a close
friend of Iris and a frequent house guest. In 1980-81, the Mt. Diablo school board briefly
banned Ms. Magazine. As Contra Costa county ACLU chapter vice president, I testified
and helped coordinate opposition arguments to the board’s subcommittee. We actually
won that one and in addition, stopped the Acalanes School Board from adopting a Ms.
Magazine ban after a well-attended public hearing partially mirroring the same pro and
con forces of the 1975 county meetings. Gloria came out to Contra Costa several times
that year.
        It was obvious that we needed feminist women candidates to replace the
unresponsive Supervisor then in office. Fortunately those gentlemen had a lot of other
enemies who wanted a more responsible county government. We didn’t find Nancy
Fadden, who ran and was elected in 1976 but she found us and we endorsed her. In 1978,
our Sunne beat Warren Boggs, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors who had



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presided over our Commission loss. Our caucus gained the wonderful “June Busman
machine”, four women including Jane Emanuel, another NWPC co-chair, who tirelessly
walked countless precincts for successful Concord City women candidates before
walking for Sunne and June even became Mayor of Concord. Contra Costa NWPC had
become almost respectable. It was for Marion Goodman, local and State NWPC chair to
make us even prestigious in the 90’s.
        Feminism is defined by Webster as “The theory of the political, economic, and
social equality of the sexes.    Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and
interests.”
        Gloria Stein hem said
           “If you say, I'm for equal pay, that's a reform. But if you say. I'm a
    feminist, that's a transformation of society. “

        What did the Women’s Movement accomplish? It’s undisputable that women are
better off economically than they were in the early 70’s.       Today we have women
broadcasters and political pundits, women CEO, and medium women’s wages are 77% of
men’s instead of 37%. While some women still are it is no longer true what Gloria said
in the 70’s “ Most women are one man away from welfare” Many women make more
than their husband and most young men take on a great deal of child raising and
homemaking duties. Some conservative commentators, including women professionals,
see young men as damaged and discriminated against in a “post-feminist” world. Of
course, our progress of the last thirty years is mixed and not nearly as good as we hoped
either in individual or societal terms. Domestic violence against women (and children) is
still epidemic worldwide but at least it is considered illegal here. This type of violence
where mass rape is a political tool in parts of the world is related to the persistent
violence of our international way of solving problems.       I believe that women like
Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice made it better than it would be otherwise.
Without the women’s movement neither one of them would have been Secretary of State.
        Bella Abzug said:   “women will change the nature of power rather than power
changing the nature of women”.
        I’ve have believed that, and I have also doubted that, many times over the last
three decades. We’ve certainly seen some capable women as narcissistic and as power



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hungry as any male. We’ve been exposed to the death of Feminism, post-feminism, and
the supposed horrible effects of Feminism on young men emasculated and wounded by
feminist theories and prejudices. There is some factual basis for all of these propositions.
But in 2008, some anti feminist sites on the Internet are very scary and psychotic. I was
pained by Hillary Clinton’s sexist treatment from some quarters, which has nothing to do
with Senator Obama who I will of course vote for. However, it is the nomination of
Governor Sara Palin at the Republican convention that persuades me that Gloria and
Bella were right about social transformation and power, even though they could never
vote for the Alaska governor.       Sara Palin belongs to a group entitled “Feminists for
Life.” What an oxymoron that must be for a Bill Baker or Phyllis Schlafly. Consider
what Hilary went through when she was the Governor’s wife in Arkansas in the 80’s, and
Geraldine Ferraro and others and compare it to the present voice of conservatives
idolizing a working woman whose husband obviously spends more parenting time with
their children than she does, is pregnant on the job and hardly misses a day’s work after
birth.   I understand that even Rush Limbaugh no longer talks about femanatzis and I
have heard young male conservatives with Harvard degrees talk recently about Sara
being a shining light for the conservative forces in the years to come and probably our
first female President of the USA.
         Yes, I think for better or worse most of the “Sex based Myths” that we confronted
in the 70’s have been dissipated.
         Of course I believe that younger women should continue to seek to change the
world around them working in or out of government to make it better for everyone
regardless of gender. I don’t know if it is particularly important whether they define
themselves as feminists as long as feminism isn’t a negative word to them.             The
important thing is that they – and their male counterparts - should not let any one else
define them by sex or race or other background or accept limitations on what they can do
because of it. When and if that happens, we can be certain that the women’s movement
succeeded.




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