Women Leaders and Activists
Experiences of Women Leaders and Activists as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Chandler Museum's Public History Program
What have been your greatest challenges?
 

Narrator: Pam Petty
Interviewer: Summer Rohde

SR: Describe one of your best experiences during your time as a community activist. What was one of your biggest challenges or worst experiences?

PP: Actually, the worst experience was some church work that happened in the 70's. The congregation that we belonged to was a very active congregation. All the women were feminists, and the men were all lawyers. It was a very progressive congregation. We were invaded by the INS, because they thought we were sheltering illegal immigrants. They sent in a man with the name of Jesus Cruz into our worship service, and this was an evil, evil man. He was hired by the feds, and he came to our worship service wearing a bug. Later, we heard in some sub sequential events that had to do with some people that were accused, tried, and convicted for helping refugees. They were accused of helping illegal immigrants, kind of like what the folks are doing down in Tucson now. No one in our congregation was charged, and no one was really doing anything active. They were just sympathetic. But what happened was we read the transcripts from his body bug, and he was actually in the courtyard with our children, in the bathrooms with our children. We could hear it in the transcripts. It was the scariest thing. So, anytime you get involved with political activism, you subject yourself to people like that. Especially, if you're going up against something as powerful as the U.S. government.

SR: How about one of your biggest challenges?

PP: Well, you know you're doing something that is really frowned upon, especially in the beginning. I remember one woman. I had just finished my MA, and I was at a tea with my mother. A traditional tea, where they sit at the big long table, and at the end you have the oldest women. The most senior, the most respected, pours the coffee and the second most respected pours the tea. And everyone goes by and takes their cups as they pour it. And that is how you honor them. It's the old classic having a tea, and I was at this with my mother. The two older women were pouring and we were standing around drinking cups of tea. My mother says to Mrs. Bilby who lives in Prescott, "Pam just finished her Master's degree." Mrs. Bilby says to me, "So what are you going to do with it, hang it over your sink?" I just said, "I don't know." You know, she did not approve, she did not approve. Then when I became a teacher I would get this question. It didn't happen once after I became a college teacher. But when I was a high school teacher I would get this question from women who were not working, or working at home. The question would be, "Are you still teaching?" I would think what an odd question. You wouldn't ask a man that. I was asked so often that I swore that I would get a nametag that says, "Yes I'm still teaching." It was so odd, it was so odd. It had to do with maybe the profession that I'm teaching. But I think it had to do with the fact that I was a woman. "Are you still teaching?" Because that's something that women so often did as interim work, you know like before their children were born, and after their children were born. So that is the way it was viewed

SR: Did you have any good experiences or big successes?

PP: Oh, of course I have lots of good experiences. I think what you're going to get out of me, and people like me is, we are doing what the day brings. So, because we were employed and we were raising families, that limits the amount of time you could be on the streets. Through our churches and some organizations that we were in we are going to do a little bit here and there. You know, show up at a protest or a peace rally. That you can do. What you can't do is big time work like being on the board of Planned Parenthood.

Narrator: Cynthia Dunham
Interviewer: April Rigler


AR: Why did you decide to get involved in local politics?
CD: Because I truly feel that there is a responsibility for people who live on this planet to give back and to make it the best that they can. I really believe that through services is how we grow as individuals, as well. It is a two way road, you give, but you also learn and grow. There is just something that is very gratifying and makes you feel good that you did something to help out. Does it come back and help? Most of the times it does. Sometimes there is a price to pay and there is certainly a lot of diversity. Right now my organization The Leadership Centre is being attacked by some other activists who have decided that they don't like the fact that we help people learn how to make better communities. I am of the opinion that your activism needs to be something positive. I don't like agitators, people who stir up angst, unless there is something they can do that is going to have a positive result and make it a better place to live. Just to create chaos and havoc is destructive energy and I want to help solve problems, to help people have skills and the knowledge they need to have a good community.

Interviewer: Betty McAllister
Narrator: Mary Black


BM: What have been some of your greatest challenges in the field of family welfare services?

MB: Believe it or not, there was a lot of anger toward me at that time for this work. For example, one group was called The Open Door Society. They were a group of predominantly white women who had always adopted special needs children, like handicapped kids and black kids. They saw themselves as the ones saving our children. I didn't know them that well. They wanted to have a meeting with my group but they requested that Mary Black not be present. They called me racist because I wanted to place all the black kids with black families….I would attend these kinds of meetings and have to stand my ground. What I leaned on was all the positive things. We were having success, placing these kids, getting 2 parent families [to adopt and to be foster parents], and getting clergy people to tell their congregations about the children's needs and issues. I knew once my community knew about the issue of the children needing homes, they would respond because we are a caring community…

Narrator: Sandra Simmons
Interviewer: Lia Troisi


LT: What have been your biggest challenges?

SS: I guess the biggest frustration I've had, even more recently, people are apathetic and they are not involved. It's so hard to get people to do anything. One of my more recent involvements was with a senior advocacy group, and it was very difficult to get new people to come and get involved-- to take on new activities responsibilities, to carry out our mission. And in fact it ended up folding, basically for lack of participation. And all of us are getting older and there aren't any young people that want to champion issues having to do with age. I got involved in that because I was the director of a hospice organization. Most of the patients we took care of were elderly. So I had an appreciation through that experience for providing services for elderly people. To help provide what was missing and support services for the elderly. They had lots of barriers; I tried to help them live a better quality life.

So that's how I got involved with that community was through my work. Even when I left, I stayed involved with that organization. It's very frustrating that people are so busy today, myself included. It's hard to make time to learn about the issues and do anything about it. The current political climate is all about sound bytes and jargon. Nobody is really addressing issues; they are just name calling and labeling people and trying to trash somebody else instead of saying what your values are and make a realistic attempt to really resolve the problem instead of playing on people's fears and prejudices.

LT: How do you think we could better increase participation and involvement to make society become involved? To motivate people? Or do you think all hope is lost?

SS: I never give up hope!

Narrator: Meredith Miller
Interviewer: Linda B. Rosenthal


MM: What is one of you biggest challenges?

LBM: It is having enough time. The biggest challenge we all have is enough time to do the things we both would like to do and have the time to do them. There are a lot of things we all want to do. There is a philosophy of mine that comes from my religious background. I'm not a
religious or even a well-educated person in Judaism but I do know and what drives me, as an individual, is that Jews do not believe in the hereafter. We believe that we are remembered for the good works that we have done on earth, and you can't just wait for the hereafter; you do
things. You make life better; you make your community better. And that is what my mind set is. That's why I do what I do…I want to make my world and community a better place…I enjoy my work.

Narrator: A.Z.
Interviewer: Gabi Porter


GP: What have been your biggest challenges?

AZ: There are different challenges now than there were in those days. In those days, the biggest challenges were to get the mainstream women's movement to move to the left enough. And to do that we became extremely radical. And that was dangerous, actually. It was also a route to burnout, and most of us burned out because you can't live in that constant state of stress, almost war state of mind, indefinitely, so there were a bunch of projects that a bunch of us did that bore no fruit because there was a lot of in-fighting, and we directed our energies against each other. The world was coming in on us, and we were afraid. There were a lot of struggles that people don't recognize or experience, really, in their lifetime. And I'm sure the same thing happened within the [Black] Panthers, and with other organizations that were really radical. There is a lot of stress in living those lifestyles. So now I'm not in that scene.

My constant battle is in keeping in mind that there is no difference between what is going on now and what has been going on historically for women, and constantly pointing that out to people. Look, listen, haven't you noticed that when they print a picture of what is going on in Iraq, when there's a big protest, and the caption says "Iraqis demonstrating against...", it's not Iraqis, it's Iraqi men. You don't see the Iraqi women. You don't see the Iranian women. You don't see women usually, still, and no one even notices that. And that is my frustration now--that there is no way to bring up these things over and over and over again and not be trivialized. And yet that's the most apparent and most devastating division, is what's going on between men and women. We're talking about the US against the Middle East, and rich countries against poor countries, but we never talk about it being men against women, and that's what it really is.

I see many of these struggles as struggles over who is going to control women's bodies. Who is going to control women's energy? Is it going to be the East, the Middle East, the West? And in the Middle East, it's just a different way of controlling women's bodies, women's productivity. And coming from our perspective it looks worse, and it probably is worse, because you are physically constraining them. And so those are the things I think about and still am a bit tortured over. [laughs] Because you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, even though you have left the radical lifestyle, and you are living a conventional lifestyle, you still have all of those frameworks in your analysis. You still feel the tensions.

And the tensions here, I should add, are just as violent, in fact maybe more violent, because women are cooperating in a way. I mean, women cooperate in other cultures too, but women allow themselves to be degraded in the constraints placed upon them. In fashions, you notice how big and comfortable men's clothes are? Well, maybe they're not even comfortable they're so big, [laughs], but women's clothes are like this [indicates a small section of air with her hands]. Little tiny, tiny things that you can't walk around in, can't run in, can't fight in. All of those things are still true. In the old days it used to be high heels, and now its minuscule clothes, and revealing clothes. The pay is still unequal, what is it? 70%? Something like that? The violence on the street is directed at women. It isn't done by women; it is almost never done by women. It's done by men. And so women are kept in their places, and I can't talk about it, because it's not something you can talk about in your everyday life. You can't talk about it in the classroom, you can't talk about it with your students, you can't talk about it to your colleagues, you can't talk about it to the administration, you can't talk about it to politicians, because you're marginalized as a radical. It's not even radical.

Narrator: Mary Lou Timma
Interviewer: Kandi Kastl-Manuel


KKM: What have been your biggest challenges?

MT: I think after my first husband died at the age of 45, and I had the five children, then to decide what I was going to do; it was sudden, a heart attack. I had to make up my mind; that's when I decided to go back to school. He died in March and I went back to Mary Grove to get my Master's in the fall. I went to night school so I could be home with the kids in the day. It took me two years.

KKM: When you went back to night school, was it full-time or part-time?

MT: It took two years; so I went two to three nights a week because it took me two years.

Narrator: Kathy McAvoy
Interviewer: John Flores

JF: What have been your greatest challenges?

KA: My search for a steady work after my Master's Degree and my divorce was a challenging time. I started temping for Kelly Temporary Agency. And they sent me to a job; it was supposed to be a long term job working for American Greetings, which is a big card company that rivals Hallmark and its headquarters are in Cleveland. So, I was supposed to work for American Greetings and this was early December of 2001. I thought, "Thank God, I am going to have a way to pay for my apartment," because I took the apartment with out having much of a way to pay for it. My mother at that time was helping with my kids and I had a girlfriend who would pick them up from school, so everything was starting to work out a little bit. On the second day there they announced, "Oh I'm sorry, but this is going to be your last day", and I said, "What, this is supposed to be a five month assignment." They said, "Oh no, we have some college girls who got out of school and they're back for the season and we don't need you." So, I was devastated because I needed some kind of security long term. Well, the temp agency apologized profusely and they said it's really now how it is supposed to go. And they sent me to a two day job--a two day job that turned out to be extremely pivotal in my life.

I went to a small manufacturing firm called Wellmen Corporation in Brook Park, the same town I grew up in, just up the street from my mom's house. I worked at the front desk for a girl who had to have hand surgery because of a fall off of a horse. She fell when she was horseback riding. Those two days happened to be the two days that the executive staff was in that office because that company had four offices and that was not the site that the executive site was housed in, that was an industrial site. But the executive staff was there, unbeknown to me. And they were having meetings in the compass room that right outside of my desk. So, the executive staff was standing around chatting with me while they were waiting for meeting to begin or end and one man in particular (his name is John McAvoy) was standing outside talking to me quite a bit and he was an older gentleman and he was smiling and joking and just a super nice guy and I remember thinking to myself--This is a happy man. I could imagine he had a wonderful wife, great kids, probably a little older than mine, because he was a little older than me. And I remember thinking that about him.

So, we got along very well, and we talked a lot and at the end of my second day he came to my desk with another gentlemen, and he said, "Kathy, I've got someone here that I'd like you to meet." And I said, "Okay." And he said, "This is Steve Campbell; he is the president of this corporation." He said that he thought I was the kind of person that would be an asset to the company. He said, "I want to offer you a job." But the job didn't start until the new fiscal year. He said to send him a resume via email. I didn't even know how to attach a document, but I said, "I sure will." Then I had to figure out how to do that. And it gave me some hope. And then that job ended and then I didn't get hired for another job until early February with the temp agency and meanwhile I did not hear from John McAvoy.

I got a part time job with the temp agency and it was horribly tedious, boring accountant type work. It was drudgery. And by February I was definitely running out of money and I was robbing Peter to pay Paul living for the bare minimum. I was nearly at the end of being able to support myself and the kids. And I hadn't heard from that man about the job. This drudgery that I was doing part time through the temp agency was absolutely horrendous. I hated it, and I was really severely depressed. I think that I had probably been depressed for a good portion of all of those years. Because at this point in time we are really talking almost a decade: A decade of my life--10 years.

It was a day in February and it felt like it was a snow day and the children were home from school or it was a day off. I went to my computer, and there was an email from John McAvoy. He said that he hoped that I remembered him, and I said, "Ha…you hope I remember you? I have only been thinking about you since December 15th when I first got that offer from you." And it said, "Sorry that it took me a little longer than I expected to gather this job, but we have a position for you and it will be part time," and I was very disappointed about that because I knew about the money I needed, but the email said it was going to be a part time position with full time health benefits, and that I should call a man named Dave Supansky for an interview. And that I would be located at the plant where I had first met him. The plant in Brookpark, which was very close to the apartment that I was living in. I was so happy that I had gotten this letter but so dismayed that it was part time because I knew that from a financial standpoint that I needed something more. So, I had printed out the email and was walking where the children were, and I think we had leftover Chinese food for lunch and my little boy Eric had said, "Here mommy, here is my fortune cookie, I need you to read it to me." Because he was too little at the point to read the fortune. So, I took that fortune that he had handed me from the cookie and it said, "Take a job offer; it brings unexpected benefits." And I am not joking. And I still have it. I have it in a little tiny frame made just for it. I was astounded. And I started to cry. And he said, "Mommy why are you crying?" And I said, "I'm crying because I think that our life is going to turn around."

And it did. I did get an interview with Dave Supansky and actually, of course, I got the job. I was the administrative assistant to the secretary for the president. And it was part time 20 hours a week. It was very interesting work though, because they let me come with them on off site meetings to take the minutes, and I got to go to country clubs where the executive staffs would have meetings. You know nice places. I just always wasn't in an office. And I had an office. My own office. At that point I was finally feeling some strength.

Narrator: Mary Tucker
Interviewer: Cara O'Dowd


CO: What's been one of your biggest challenges in the women's right to choose movement?

MT: Well in a very conservative area (Arizona) that we lived in, one thing I had to do was to raise my own salary. I was going to quit, resign, because I was putting in so many volunteer hours and I had to find a paying job. The board said--let's try to pay you. But then they said, you'll have to find the source of the income. So I had to go to all the doctors in town who provided abortion services and ask them to basically pay my salary. All of them kicked in. And that's how I got paid for the first few years and then after that, we were better organized and had more members/affiliates…we got more funding through our affiliates.

It was very satisfying work in that we had a real mission. We were the frontline defense in keeping abortions safe. Women came to us and called all the time with their stories. It was very worthwhile work and gave me great satisfaction. But I was just losing the energy for fighting constantly. I've been called a murderer, I've been threatened. All kinds of stuff. It finally just ground me down.

Photos courtesy of the families.

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Pam Petty

Mary Black and associates

Sandra Simmons

Confronts the Issues

Scene from a gay rights rally.