On the Origins of the Women's
Liberation Movement1 from a Strictly Personal
(Editor's Note:This was written in 1995 for The Feminist
Memoir Project, ed. by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow,
New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998; a shorter version is in their
book on pp. 171-196. Jo Freeman was the editor of Voices of
the Women's Liberation Movement, the first national publication
of the movement and is a contributor to the Herstory Project.)
backed into feminism through an intellectual route. Not that I
lacked personal experience of discrimination which generated the
proverbial "click" of so many of my contemporaries;
I just didn't see it. As was true of others, I grew up believing
that there were three sexes: men, women and me. Thus I was quite
capable of carrying all of the stereotypes and biases about women
which my culture fostered without making the personal connection
or feeling demeaned thereby. I knew about women's place. I just
didn't know my own.
born in the South at the end of World War II, I was raised in
Los Angeles, mostly in the San Fernando Valley, home of the Valley
Girls. In the McCarthyite fifties, with its emphasis on complete
conformity, this was a good place to grow up white, middle-class
and culturally deprived. I was not a Valley Girl. But growing
up among them I learned, and believed, all the negative stereotypes
about females in our society. Boys, clothes, and popularity seemed
to be all the other girls cared about. Those few of us who were
interested in other things -- learning, careers, politics -- kept
to ourselves and kept our mouths shut. Fortunately, my mother
knew this was not a nourishing environment and got me out of there
by engineering my last minute graduation from high school at age
15. Two weeks after my sixteenth birthday she put me on a train
to the University of California at Berkeley with a large trunk.
Since the dorms and the boarding houses were full, I had to find
my own accommodations. My mother believed in self reliance.
in the early sixties was a great place to go to school. It was
my personal and intellectual liberation. I still think of it as
my spiritual home. But it wasn't a place where women, or their
absence, were particularly noted. During my four years in one
of the largest institutions of higher education in the world --
and one with a progressive reputation -- I not only never had
a woman professor, I never even saw one.2 Worse yet,
I didn't notice. Even today, the student life is probably the
most egalitarian experience a woman will ever have. Going to school
teaches you that individual merit is what counts, as measured
in grades, athletic and other achievements. On the surface that
appears to be true. Discrimination is more subtle, more covert,
than in the outside world; so much so that unless your nose is
rubbed in it, you don't see it. I didn't see the absence of women
professors, and if I was treated differently than my male colleagues,
I didn't see that either.
When I entered
college in 1961 the country was just emerging from the straightjacket
of McCarthyism. The Civil Rights Movement was catching the public
imagination with its dramatic defiance of the old order. A new,
young, Democratic President was calling us to public service.
The House UnAmerican Activities Committee -- that political enforcer
of cultural conformity -- was in retreat. All things political
seemed possible. Yet no one thought women were political. For
example, abortion was not a public concern. We accepted the fact
that it was illegal without question. If you got knocked up, it
was your own damn fault. Child care was also a personal problem;
the fact that it was a woman's personal problem never occurred
to us. As for gay rights; most of us didn't know what "lesbian"
meant. Those that did thought it was a mental disease. If there
was a "women's issue" -- and no one my age thought there
was -- it was whether or not a married woman should work if her
husband could support her.
As a child
of the sixties, I was raised on civil rights. My mother was a
Southern renegade who served in the Women's Army Corps during
WW II and got right on race. Her views were strengthened by teaching
on the east side of Los angeles, where she found more friends
among her Negro3 colleagues than white, largely because
of their common Southern cultural heritage. The Civil Rights Movement's
demonstrations and boycotts in Alabama, her home state, were dinner
table conversation and her support was unequivocal. When the Movement
came to Berkeley in the fall of 1963, I didn't need to be recruited;
I was ready. I had already had major confrontations with my Southern
relatives when we visited Alabama in 1957 and 1962 and with the
segregationist whose locker faced mine during my last year of
high school gym. As was typical of sixties activists, I did not
rebel against parental values; I acted them out.4 My
mother was the true rebel; I was merely her daughter.
Rights Movement became an intellectual as well as political compulsion.
I read everything I could find and delved further into history
to read about the abolitionists. Learning that this movement had
been the incubator for the woman's rights movement, and seeing
the parallels between that time and my own, led me to speculate
that the next major movement would be one of women. I didn't tell
anyone, because I knew everyone would laugh at me, but I did tuck
it into the back of my mind as something to look for. "Women"
also became a subtext for my reading about black Americans and
the social and psychological consequences of racism. I looked
around and applied what I learned by analogy. This in turn forced
me to confront my own very real prejudices about women.
As I plunged
into civil rights activism my only doubt was about committing
civil disobedience. For kids of my class and generation, getting
arrested was beyond the pale. It took six months of reading, discussion
and introspection to decide that civil disobedience was not only
possible, but necessary if my beliefs were to mean more than theoretical
positions. My mother disapproved. She found out about my first
arrest on March 7, 1964 from a colleague whose daughter read the
fine print in the San Francisco newspaper listing all 167 arrestees.
Her scorching phone call still rings in my ears, as does her final
admonition that if I ever got arrested again, I could forget about
further financial support. Six weeks later I was arrested again;
I've been self supporting ever since.
I was arrested
three times that year and again in Alabama and Mississippi in
1966. All told my record was five arrests on 10 counts; three
convictions on four counts; 27 days in six different jails in
three states. As I was to learn, criminal records have many long
term consequences apart from the official penalty, particularly
when one applies for jobs, school or fellowships. Although I am
now a member in good standing of the New York State Bar, my mother's
anger that I was ruining my life was not irrational.
arrest kept me away from Mississippi Summer. I spent two weeks
in court and enrolled in summer school so I could graduate early
and join the freedom fighters in the South. By the time sentence
was pronounced in late July I was so impatient with study and
so anxious to "put my body on the line", that I wanted
to go South without my degree. Jim Townsend, my Poli Sci honors
professor, talked me out of this. Instead I sublet my apartment
and hitchhiked to Atlantic City, New Jersey to join the vigil
of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic
Convention. I had to hitch because the only students with a car
were three boys who didn't want a girl along. I returned a month
later with a couple hundred dollars from selling buttons on the
boardwalk and a lot more knowledgeable about civil rights and
the Democratic Party, and a few other things.
Free Speech Movement happened my senior year. I was on the Executive
Committee from the very beginning to the very end but, except
for a few days in October, I was not an insider. I was in the
minority faction of hated "moderates". We thought of
ourselves as the loyal opposition -- agreeing with the goals but
not always with the tactics. The radical faction saw us as a fifth
wheel; the fact that I was the official representative from the
University Young Democrats didn't help any. The few women in the
leadership got there because of their relationship to important
men. Ordinary women were supposed to do the scutwork and take
care of the boys. The sexual revolution was just starting (or
coming out of the closet) and complaints of unwarranted sexual
pressure were hesitantly surfacing. Sleeping around was called
"FSMing". Those that didn't do it were prudes. Besides
being a Democrat, I was a prude. I'm not sure which was worse.
week of graduation I was on my way to Atlanta to join SCOPE --
the 1965 summer project of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
(SCLC), otherwise known as Dr. King's organization. Most went
for the summer; I went for the duration. SCLC concentrated on
voter registration to illuminate the need for the Voting Rights
Act then being debated in Congress. Even after the bill passed,
SCLC tended to use both staff and volunteers more as shock troops
to garner publicity than as local community organizers, which
was the SNCC strategy. SCLC would send mostly black teams of subsistence
staff workers to the small towns of Alabama to register voter,
while also testing the waters, and the support of the local churches,
for the feasibility of marches and demonstrations. For this men
were preferred, though not exclusively. After the summer was over
the Director of Southern Projects, Hosea Williams, tried to keep
the remaining women in the office, but some of us got out. I credit
my escape not only to my willfulness and intentionally poor typing
skills, but to the hand-cranked mimeograph that two friends in
Berkeley, Tony and Carolyn Scarr, sent me. Until you've written
out 300 mass meeting leaflets by hand, you don't know how valuable
this was to any project director -- and I went with the mimeo.
In the next
year I worked in Newberry, S.C., and Abbeville, Selma, Greenville,
Birmingham and Tuskegee, Alabama. Although I was not conscious
of it at the time, my observations of black women in these communities
nudged me in the feminist direction by reforming my attitudes
toward women. Living with local families, often at risk to them,
and spending most of my days knocking on doors in black neighborhoods
or standing in line at the courthouse, and most of my nights going
to meetings, gave me a lot to observe. Black women seemed different
from white women. They seemed stronger, and more importantly,
that strength was accepted, not denigrated. They occupied more
social space, played more roles, were a bigger presence in their
communities than I had seen white women occupy. None fit the "clinging
vine" stereotype popular at the time or seemed to want to.
Some of the subconscious contempt in which I had always held women
because of this "feminine ideal" began to melt away.
The black women I saw and worked with provided a different model
of how to be a woman in our society, and the black community displayed
a different attitude toward strong women. This opened up a whole
realm of possibilities.
not go into any town uninvited; the black church was its base
of operations and we always had homes waiting for us when we arrived.
However, our efforts were not always successful. The idea that
an "outside agitator" could just walk in and stir up
trouble was a source of ironic amusement to those of us who had
to wheedle, cajole and beg blacks to register to vote, let alone
march on their courthouses. Their fear was real -- people lost
jobs, homes were burned and churches were bombed -- and I never
fully understood what was necessary to overcome it. From my worm's
eye perspective there did not appear to be a pattern as to which
towns would turn out for meetings, which ones would support demonstrations,
and which spurred large numbers to register to vote. They were
all poor towns. Even in Tuskegee, with its large number of well
educated blacks and 90 percent black population, turning out the
vote for black candidates was like pulling teeth. In retrospect,
I think the crucial ingredient was the strength of the local black
leadership; their support legitimated our efforts. The response
of the white authorities also had an effect; overt reprisal was
a stimulant; covert retaliation against specific individuals undermined
the collective will.
of 1966 the South exploded again. After James Meredith was shot
trying to walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi,
the civil rights organizations took up his call to finish the
walk. People from all over the country, even the world, joined
the trek. Hosea sent the male staff to the March, leaving the
women in Atlanta. New arrivals flooded the office; among them
I found a woman with a car and filled it with other women. When
we arrived in Memphis, Hosea looked at me, shook his head, and
said "When Atlanta told me a car full of women had left,
I knew it was you." He assigned me to stay with the March
and phone in hourly reports to the public relations office.
As the days
wore on under the hot Mississippi sun more and more white women
began to complain, and since I was one of the few white female
staff members, a lot of them complained to me. Black women may
also have complained, but not to me. I heard the phrase "male
chauvinism" for the first time; I didn't even know what it
meant. Someone in the leadership had decided that women should
only walk on the inside of a double march line. Each woman needed
a male protector beside her; two women could not walk together.
Men were not so restricted. No one believed this "protection"
was real. Snipers would shoot from the inside where the bushes
and trees were, not the outside where the Mississippi Highway
Patrol kept the passing cars away. The inside line walked on the
shoulder of the road where the rocks were; the outside walked
on the asphalt. And none of the men who were so adamant about
our need for protection ever offered us their sun hats or first
place in the water line.
we protected from the men, who, when we camped for the night,
became somewhat predatory. What is now called sexual harassment
was then called "prove you believe in civil rights."
had heard this line before. But in my year in the southern movement
it had seldom been more than a hopeful request. True, one white
woman had been raped at an SCLC retreat the month before. I was
not there but she and I had talked about it. Judy (not her real
name) attributed her attack to the distribution of a paper entitled
"Stresses and Strains on the White Female Civil Rights Worker"
written by Dr. Alvin F. Pouissant. Based on Dr. Pouissant's treatment
interviews with women during Mississippi summer, the paper said
white women became civil rights workers either because they had
a White African Queen Complex, or wanted to sleep with black men.5
The paper had been passed out at the retreat by Rev. Andrew Young
because he thought it would help movement workers understand white
women. A lot of the males at this retreat weren't seasoned SCLC
staffers, but gang kids from Chicago, recruited by SCLC as part
of its Chicago project. Judy and I thought the distribution of
this paper by highly respected authority figures -- a psychiatrist
and a minister -- was misinterpreted by the Chicago kids as legitimating
sexual assault. Many of these same males came to the Meredith
Mississippi March the following month. I thought they brought
their crazy ideas about white women with them and spread them
to be neither "protected" nor "prey", women
met nightly to discuss what to do. We made a few cautious complaints
to the March leadership, but we accepted their response that they
really had more important things to worry about than sex among
the marchers -- who after all could just go home. We kept our
complaints away from the press as our first loyalty was to the
civil rights movement and we saw nothing productive from publicity.
As women have done for eons, we endured in silence. But we did
talk to each other. The nightly women's meetings resurrected my
observation of a couple years earlier that the next big movement
would be one of women. Little did I know that similar events were
happening elsewhere in the country.
March, SCLC set up a voter registration and demonstration project
in Grenada, Mississippi, and as usual, I was the only female staffer
in it. On August 18, 1966 just as things were heating up, the
Jackson Daily News, which billed itself as "Mississippi's
Greatest Newspaper" exposed me in an editorial headlined
"Professional Agitator Hits All Major Trouble Spots".
The editorial didn't actually call me a Communist; it just accused
me of working with Communists (Bettina Aptheker), participating
in Communist organizations (SLATE -- a Berkeley student group),
and advancing Communist causes (the FSM). There were a few errors.
Among others, I was not 25 but only 20; I had not been involved
in what was mistakenly called the Filthy Speech Movement. What
prompted Hosea to put me on the next bus for Atlanta was not the
editorial allegations, but the five photographs: front, side,
hair up, hair down. "This thing makes you Klan-bait",
he said. "We don't need more martyrs right now." For
once, I didn't argue.
not my first "exposure" but it was certainly the worst.
Excerpts from a report on the FSM by the California Senate Subcommittee
on UnAmerican Activities had circulated in towns in which I was
working. My four honorable mentions in it were rather innocuous,
but as the Daily News editorial exemplified, could be interpreted
to imply things that were not true. A few months earlier the Birmingham
News wrote that I was one of three SCLC staffers under investigation
by Alabama's HUAC, and the previous fall Stoney Cooks told me
that an FBI agent had told Andy Young to get rid of me. While
working in Grenada, northern summer employees of the federal Department
of Health, Education and Welfare, sent there to investigate civil
rights violations by hospitals, told me that local FBI agents
said I was a Communist infiltrator. Since I was only a civil rights
foot soldier, I found all this attention very puzzling. It was
not until years later when the FBI's campaign to discredit Dr.
King was publicized that I realized my small place in their scheme.
And it was only then that I understood how a photograph of me
speaking at the FSM building occupation in December 1964 appeared
in a Mississippi newspaper in August 1966. I've often wondered
if the FBI agents knew they were setting me up to be killed. They
didn't care that I wasn't a Communist; I was a Democrat.6
my usefulness as a civil rights worker, but I wasn't ready to
admit it. Back in Atlanta I did chores for SCLC's press department,
and then jumped at the chance to do chores for Coretta Scott King.
As a subsistence worker who slept at the Freedom House, I was
affordable. During the six weeks I worked for her my admiration
grew. She was much more than a minister's wife and mother. Her
personal ambitions and concerns had been stifled by Dr. King's
prominence and the need to play her part in the civil rights movement,
but they had not been lost; she had plans to move on her own interests
when times were less intense. Before I left, my growing admiration
led to another feminist "click." I realized that I was
21 years old, and she was the first woman I had ever met that
I truly admired. What did it mean to live so long, and see so
much, and only see men worthy of great esteem?
It was time
to leave, but I was so emotionally attached to the movement that
I found it hard to do. In October I flew to Chicago, where SCLC
was trying to start a movement. Hosea wanted me to do the same
institutional and demographic research I had done for him in Birmingham.
The Chicago project was not successful, and SCLC eventually withdrew.
What worked in the small towns of the South didn't fly in a big
Northern city. In January I switched to a program run by the Urban
Training Center for Christian Mission (UTC). Under sponsorship
of the United Church of Christ, I spent the next six months as
photographer and co-editor of the West Side TORCH, a community
newspaper published by the West Side Organization. I loved this
job, but UCC only paid $34.50 a week, and unlike my stint with
SCLC, now I had to pay my own rent.
In the meantime,
news of a new feminist consciousness was percolating. I didn't
know about the October 1966 organizing meeting of the National
Organization for Women until I read an interview with Dr. Alice
Rossi in the Chicago Daily News. I wrote her a letter but received
no reply. Over the next year I wrote a few more letters to NOW
names in the news, including Betty Friedan, but, again, no reply.
In the Spring of 1967 I met Barbara Likan, a German immigrant
whose son was active in the anti-war movement. Barbara wanted
to organize women, but had no idea how to do it. She gathered
around her an eclectic group of men and women who met monthly
to talk about how woman deserved more respect for her role as
first educator. I wasn't impressed.
worked for the TORCH I looked for support to organize women. After
hearing Saul Alinsky at a UTC workshop I asked if I could enroll
in his Industrial Areas Foundation to learn how to organize. Women
don't make good organizers, he told me. We might let you in, but
you'll have to pay your own tuition of $10,000 per year. In July
1967 I applied to the Institute for Policy Studies, a New Left
thinktank in Washington, D.C. which sponsored students who wanted
to do political research and organizing. "I want to organize
women", I told Art Waskow and Robb Burlage. "There's
no future in that", they replied. My application was denied.
I dropped into the national office of SDS (Students for a Democratic
Society), which was near the TORCH and UTC offices. There I learned
that Heather Booth and Naomi Weisstein were teaching a course
on women at a Free School (i.e. non-credit, no tuition) at the
University of Chicago campus. I made the last class, and heard
Jane Adams talk about the forthcoming National Conference for
a New Politics which was going to nominate an alternative Presidential
ticket. We should run a workshop on women, I said. Jane liked
the idea and organized two meetings of New Left women to talk
about it. They didn't like it. I hitched to New York where I broached
the possibility to women at the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee
and other anti-war organizations. They acknowledged that women
had problems, but weren't ready to devote energy to solving them.
We were in the middle of a horrid war; because men could be drafted,
men had more important problems.
from all over the country came to Chicago for the NCNP conference
over Labor Day weekend in 1967. They were a motley collection
of old guard SDSers, peace activists, black power proponents and
others who wanted to use electoral politics as a forum for protest.
I went there not knowing what to expect and found a woman's workshop
on the program! Barbara Likan had the same idea I had but
took a more direct route. She convinced the conference organizers
to have a woman's workshop by offering the services of her good
friend Madeline Murray O'Hare to chair it. O'Hare was famous as
the plaintiff in the Supreme Court ruling removing prayer from
the public schools. A devoted atheist, she had never shown much
interest in women, but, after all, she was a celebrity; that was
enough to entice the men.
was at its zenith; the conference was segregated by mutual agreement.
Blacks met with blacks. Whites met with whites. Sometimes they
met together. The thirty to forty women who voted to keep the
men out of our workshop merely followed suit. We met every day
and hammered out a resolution to put before the plenary. By today's
standards, it wasn't very radical -- equal pay for equal work,
abortion on demand -- but in those days it seemed very daring.
None of the New Left women I had met earlier in the summer came.
Ti-Grace Atkinson from New York appeared, to talk about NOW, but
no one paid her much attention.
us went to the Resolutions Committee only to be told that just
one resolution from women would be accepted, and one had already
been submitted by Women's Strike for Peace, whose distinguished
representatives had not attended our workshop. The Chair told
us to combine them. The fact that WSP's was about peace, not women,
was not relevant. It began: "We women take our stand on the
side of life." While O'Hare went to talk to them, I took
a short nap, thinking she could take care of matters. When she
returned with a resolution that was the WSP's, with a couple points
from ours added onto the end, we got into a shouting match. I
said I'd submit our original one as a minority report. She told
me I was "stupid, pig-headed, an obstructionist and a Trotskyist".
I walked out. On my way I ran into Shulamith Firestone, future
author of The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution.7
Shulie had said little during the four days of debate, but what
she did say had stuck in my mind.
believe what I told her and went to find out for herself. She
returned madder than I was. Since O'Hare had conveniently lost
the only copy of the workshop resolution, we stayed up all night
writing our own minority report. The more we talked, the more
we wrote, the more radical it got. By the time we were ready to
type the stencil for the mimeograph machine we were both exhausted.
Fortunately, the nice young man who set type for the TORCH came
by around 4:00 a.m. and typed it for us.
all day for the women's resolution to be put on the floor, passing
our minority report around, recruiting support, and preparing
for a floor fight. When the time came, four of us were standing
at the microphones, our hands raised to move a substitute. After
reading the resolution, meeting chair William Pepper recognized
none of us. "All in favor, all opposed, motion passed",
he said. "Next resolution." As we stood there in shock,
a young man pushed his way in front of us. He was instantly recognized
by the chair. Turning to face the crowded room he said, "Ladies
and Gentlemen, I want to speak for the forgotten American, the
American Indian." Infuriated, we rushed the podium, where
the men only laughed at our outrage. When Shulie reached Pepper,
he literally patted her on the head. "Cool down, little girl",
he said. "We have more important things to do here than talk
about women's problems."
cool down and neither did I. We didn't have a list of those attending
the NCNP women's workshop, but I had one from the summer meetings.
I invited everyone to my apartment on the Near West Side of Chicago
where Shulie and I told them what had happened. The other women
responded to our rage. We continued to meet almost weekly, for
seven months, usually at my apartment. But we didn't know what
to do. We were all action oriented, but we didn't have the resources
to do the usual political things like call a march, demonstration
or even a conference. So we talked. And we wrote.
the women at these early meetings had some affiliation with SDS,
and had been discussing the role of women in the movement for
a couple of years. Only the previous summer an SDS national conference
had passed a resolution calling for women's full participation.
But the men regularly ridiculed them and nothing happened. In
the fall of 1964 two SNCC women, Casey Hayden and Mary King, had
written "A Kind of Memo" on women in the (civil rights)
movement which had circulated widely even before publication in
a movement magazine in 1966.8 But despite all this talk, nothing
talked, I was looking for a job. My UTC fellowship at the TORCH
had expired; it was time to decide what to do with my life. I
pursued journalism and photography for a few months, but was turned
down by all the major papers. At my one interview, with the Chicago
Sun-Times, I was bluntly told that very few women were hired because
"women can't cover riots." My application to teach public
school was turned down because of my arrest record, as were other
positions where that question was asked. Several employment agencies
gave me a "computer programmer aptitude" test, on which
I scored high, but the employers said they only hired women who
had majored in math. Want adds listed jobs separately by sex;
when I called the ones under "men" whoever answered
the phone was very surprised, and not interested. I finally found
a job under "women" as an Assistant Editor for Modern
Hospital magazine, where my task was to rewrite submitted articles
to make them publishable. There were four publications in that
office, each with its own staff. I learned that I was already
bumping the ceiling for women. Men started as Associate Editors
and went up. Women ended as Associate Editors, but only after
years in the trenches. No matter how hard I worked, I had only
one promotion to go. There was no future in this. Having heard
that merit was the only thing that mattered in academia, I decided
to apply to graduate school in Political Science at the University
At the end
of the October 1967, Shulie moved to New York, where Staughton
Lynd had told her to look up Pam Allen.9 Together they
went to meetings -- anti-war, SDS, anything they could find --
looking for recruits. Later that fall they formed New York Radical
Women. Among their early recruits were Anne Koedt, who was to
write some of the most important early pamphlets,10
and Robin Morgan who published the first commercial compilation
of movement pamphlets.11 Others included Kathie Amatniek,
Carol Hanish, Peggy Dobbins, and Rosalyn Baxandall.
two or three dozen women attended meetings of what became known
as the Westside group. The regulars included Heather Booth, Vivian
Rothstein, Evelyn Goldfield, Naomi Weisstein, Sue Munaker, Sara
Evans Boyte, Amy Kesselman, Fran Rominsky and Laya Firestone (Shulie's
sister). These women lived in the two neighborhoods in Chicago,
Rogers Park to the north and Hyde Park to the South, which had
concentrations of radicals. By the end of 1967 two more women's
groups had formed in each of these. Sue Munaker and Heather Booth
also helped form the undergraduate Women's Radical Action Project
(WRAP) at the University of Chicago, where one worked and the
other was finishing her M.A.
All of us
traveled. Air fare was cheap. Conferences were plentiful. People
moved. Almost from the first meeting, members of the Westside
group told their friends all over the country that something was
happening. After Heather spoke to Marilyn Salzman Webb, a new
group quickly formed in Washington, D.C., at the same Institute
for Policy Studies that had told me only a few months previously
that organizing women was a waste of time. After Kathie Amatniek
visited Boston, her friend Nancy Hawley invited friends to dinner
and organized a group there. Similar contacts resulted in the
formation of groups of radical women in Berkeley, California and
Madison, Wisconsin, and a lot of other big cities and university
determined that in addition to Chicago, women in Toronto, Seattle,
Detroit and Gainsville, Florida had started small groups independently
of each other and in turn spread the word to others around them.
Chicago birthed more new groups because it was a New Left center
and the Westside women were politically well connected. My impression
was that Heather Booth was personally responsible for the formation
of more early groups than any other single person, but all of
us were missionaries.
our seed on fertile ground. By 1967 the number of graduates of
the civil rights and student movements had grown and multiplied.
Off campus as well as on there was a very rich Movement culture
and a thriving underground press hungry for copy. Every medium
sized city and university town had a critical mass of people who
identified themselves as radicals or movement workers of some
sort. Although disagreements were many and debates often acrimonious,
underlying it all was a shared critique, a critical perspective,
which held the Movement together. Rooted in a Christian theology
that exalted the moral superiority of the underclass as propounded
by the Civil Rights Movement, but influenced by the anti-capitalist
attitudes of the Old Left and the humanistic philosophy of secular
Judaism, this perspective was articulated through hundreds of
small publications, unending conferences and regular demonstrations.
It was easy to get published and even easier to mimeo a pamphlet
and distribute it. And because the Left was committed to participatory
democracy it was easy to get space at a conference merely by asking
for it. This culture created what I later called a "co-optable
women were organizing spread through this network like a chain
reaction. Probably a couple dozen women were primarily responsible
for spreading the word through conference workshops, articles,
letters, phone calls and personal contacts. The men helped as
well. Every time the issue was presented in a public forum, they
laughed. They put us down for not being really political. When
the men laughed, the women signed the mailing list. Their experience
with radical men prepared them for our message. We didn't have
to create a feminist consciousness; we just had to let them know
they were not alone. Male hostility to our merely raising the
issue pushed women into action.
On the surface
the first new feminists looked alike and had similar backgrounds.
We were mostly white women in our early twenties holding down
"straight" jobs to support our political work. Few were
students. Virtually all were political, having worked in civil
rights, campus protest, community organization, or anti war activities.
But we didn't all think alike. More importantly, we didn't have
the same reference group. Most of the New Left women were married
or living with New Left men and often still involved in New Left
activities. In their minds the New Left set the standards for
discourse and action that they wanted to meet. These were the
people whose respect they sought.
her sister Laya) was one of the few with limited political experience.
She was an art student rebelling from her orthodox Jewish upbringing,
without a pre-existing framework for her feminist thoughts. She
had spent some time working with CORE, but not the New Left. I
was a leftie, but without an organizational anchor. Even as a
leftie I wasn't convinced that capitalism was the root of all
evil as did so many of my colleagues. My reference group was the
civil rights movement, even though I was no longer actively involved
backgrounds shaped our thinking; they gave us the frameworks through
which we analyzed the world and the vocabulary to articulate our
thoughts. Race and class were constant concerns. Even though there
were no minority or working class women in the Westside group
there was an unspoken assumption that "their" approval
was necessary for our legitimation. But there was no way to obtain
their approval. Our contacts with minority women were few despite
our roots in the civil rights movement and community organizing
projects. The message white women got from black activists was
to stay away; our presence, our ideas, our whiteness, were oppressive.
A couple black women came to our early meetings but didn't come
back. We accepted the fact that blacks wanted to keep their distance
from whites and assumed this applied to other minority women as
a black presence, the civil rights movement was the mother of
us all. More than any other influence, it ground the lens though
which we saw the world. Nationally, as well as among our generation,
it had prompted a perceptual shift in how people were categorized
and how they were judged. But among my generation of political
activists, leftist frameworks were also important, and the left
had different priorities from the civil rights movement. The latter
was primarily a movement for inclusion into American society.
A piece of the pie, equality for all, was its dominant theme even
while it criticized that society. The leftist perspective said
inclusion was only desirable once society had changed sufficiently
for equality to be meaningful. And the most meaningful change
was one which destroyed capitalism.
homogeneity hid some important differences. Competing conceptual
frameworks structured the ideas we brought, or at least expressed,
to the group. Although I did not then realize it, being a radical
was part of the identity of the New Left women. They debated whether
they were women radicals or radical women -- a fine distinction
not important to me. They denounced the Suffrage Movement for
being a single issue reformist effort which had changed nothing,
a view I did not share. No one called themselves a feminist; it
was still a pejorative term. I was even reluctant to use it for
myself although I had a more positive evaluation of my foremothers'
efforts than the early radical women.
battles of the Westside group were over who was our constituency.
Who were we speaking to? Who were we organizing? Were we a constituency
of the New Left or an independent movement? Was our task to organize
women for the New Left, or into an independent movement? In retrospect
these very questions smack of hubris -- who were we to decide
for other women how they should relate to the Left? But at the
time they seemed of great importance. The idea that women should
organize themselves purely in pursuit of their own interests,
and not also for a larger cause (i.e. to be part of the system,
rather than to change it) was alien to us all. The first paper
written in the fall of 1967 was addressed "To the Women of
In the soil
of these different backgrounds sprouted the first major split
-- that between the politicos and the feminists. Since I was virtually
the only feminist in the Westside group after Shulie left it was
a difference I did not appreciate until I saw it also in New York.
Politicos emphasized that capitalism was the enemy. Feminists
said women were oppressed by men, or at least by male dominated
institutions. This battle was hottest in New York, where there
was a balance of power between politicos and feminists. In places
like Chicago where the politicos dominated, any ideas not clothed
in anti-capitalist rhetoric were simply ignored. Every time I
wanted to add to the discussion, I had to be careful how I expressed
trips to New York and heavy correspondence kept me from feeling
isolated, but they also made me realize that many of the arguments
in all of the new groups were ways of staking out turf as well
as articulating issues. Although I was a feminist in Chicago,
I never saw women independently of other political issues. Uncomfortable
with seeing "men" or "capitalism" as the enemy,
in New York I would have been a politico. How substantive is an
ideological disagreement if the same views would be on different
sides in different places? None of our discussions ever generated
any consensus. Even while we passionately debated what women should
do, an independent feminist movement was growing on its own, creating
new techniques and new issues.
important of these was consciousness raising, developed by New
York women. The Westside group did not talk about our personal
lives. When the discussion occasionally drifted into the personal
realm, someone would jerk us back to reality with the admonition
that we weren't being political. This view I did share; I saw
no value in talking about personal experiences, an attitude I
later discarded only with great reluctance. The New Left women
shared a past in SDS I did not have, and may have shared personal
experiences in private conversations, but did not do so in the
group. Indeed, so impersonal was our talk, that I never learned
that Vivian Rothstein had also been in the FSM or that Heather
Booth had worked in Mississippi.13 The Westside group
contributed many things to the emerging movement, but consciousness
raising was not one of them.
contribution from Chicago was the first national newsletter. The
idea came from a former civil rights worker I had unsuccessfully
tried to recruit, but I proposed it to the group and offered to
be the editor. Everyone loved the idea that they would write the
articles and I would do the work. I spent long hours sitting on
my couch typing a mimeograph stencil on the manual portable typewriter
propped on a chair in front of me. My efforts to fit other people's
words into limited space generated criticism for what I left out.
No one knew
what to call the newsletter. Initially, I put voice of the women's
liberation movement into the tagline, with a plea for suggested
names. There were none. In the next issue I elevated Vwlm to the
bannerline and for another six issues the new movement name was
sent all over the country. Calling our movement "women's
liberation" was a bold stroke, but not an original one. Thanks
to various national liberation movements, the phrase was in the
air. I had read enough history by then to know that women's refusal
to accept their place was called the "woman problem"
or "woman question". I wanted to structure people's
thinking from "the problem with women" to "the
problem of women's liberation". The name did catch on, but
was quickly used to denigrate the movement through such diminutives
as "woman libbers", "libbies" or "libests".
A magazine article by a respectable black female political scientist
was even entitled "Black Liberation and Woman's Lib."
Did she realize what she was implying by that juxtaposition?
the first, second and fifth of the seven Vwlm newsletters, and
was the mailing address for the first, third, fourth and fifth.
In April of 1968 I left town for two months after finishing the
second, and a rotating collective took over the printing of this
one and the editing of the next two. When I returned I resumed
my role as chief clerical worker, accepting subscriptions and
submissions, maintaining the mailing list, mailing out pamphlets,
etc. Since the subscriptions didn't really cover the cost of producing
and mailing the newsletter, and we gave most copies away, we paid
for the postage by selling our pamphlets. This work put me in
touch with incipient feminists around the country. I got a thrill
every time something unexpected arrived, such as when Grinnell
College sent a report on and photos of their "nude in"
to protest Playboy's recruiting on campus. The newsletter got
better and bigger with each erratically produced issue. Someone
designed a good looking bannerline and Naomi Weisstein contributed
her hilarious and perceptive cartoons.
was where I first publicly used the name Joreen. Feminists in
other cities were changing their patronyms to more descriptive
ones like Kathie Sarachild, Laura X, and Betsy Warrior. Although
it seemed daring at the time, it wasn't. In fact name changes
have long been common with changes in identity. Men changed their
names when they became brothers or priests, women religious when
they became sisters. There were noms de guerre and noms de plume.
And of course, all women were expected to change their names when
they married. What bigger change of identity could there be? Unable
to think up a fitting name I decided to just drop my patronym.
I soon realized that wouldn't work. I had always had trouble persuading
people that my name was just Jo; that it wasn't short for something
more feminine. Just Jo, without the Freeman, would be hopeless.
So I combined the two into Joreen.
work either. I used Joreen on the return address of the newsletter,
and had no trouble getting mail. I also had no trouble persuading
the bank to put only a single name on its records. But the radical
women were another matter. They just assumed I had finally revealed
my real first name, and began calling me Joreen Freeman. Celestine
Ware even put it in her book.14 I wrote a couple articles
with my movement name, and then gave it up until years later when
I used it for an encore.
tried to design a symbol for the movement, one which we could
easily apply to walls, buttons and signs, like the peace movement
symbol. We agreed on the double XX, for the female chromosome,
and even put out a button with this on it. It didn't take. The
fist-in-the-female-symbol, created by Robin Morgan and her husband
Kenneth Pitchford for the second Miss America demonstration in
1969, did. I have one XX button left. Definitely a collector's
When I left
Chicago in April, the Westside group dissolved. I returned in
June, moving to Hyde Park where so many of the others lived, to
start graduate school at the University of Chicago (U.C.). Even
before I left I knew that I wasn't welcome in Chicago women's
liberation. What I experienced wasn't so much direct criticism
or put-downs as a form of shunning, but no one would tell me why.
Although the Westside group met in my apartment, outside the meetings
no one talked to me. Articles were written without my knowledge,
let alone input.15 The Westside women phoned each other,
but no one ever called me, or told me much when I called them.
At the weekly meetings my contributions were generally ignored
except when I volunteered to do work. When I asked about this,
I was told it was just my imagination. I was given a couple of
dark hints about my "male" ambitions -- e.g. going to
graduate school -- and told no one responded because I didn't
have anything valuable to say.
I tried to reconnect with everyone. I asked about meetings, but
they were very elusive. There weren't any meetings planned, I
was told, despite talk of a national conference since January.
I learned of a meeting to be held in Sandy Springs, Maryland in
early August, where representatives from the growing groups could
meet each other and plan a national conference for the fall, only
when asked to contribute to the air fare of the two women selected
(by whom ??) to represent Chicago. When I said I wanted to go,
I was told there was no money available for me; others had already
out my thumb and went. Heather Booth gave me $5 toward my expenses.
At Sandy Springs I found the atmosphere so cold that I was unable
to speak unless spoken to or asked. I was also silent at the larger
conference held at a YMCA summer camp outside Chicago the following
Thanksgiving weekend. Over 200 women came from all over the country.
They talked about everything, publicly and privately. I said nothing
in the workshops and meetings. The men in the FSM and the civil
rights movements had not been able to shut me up. But the radical
women silenced me.
most of this first and only national conference asking women to
fill out a questionnaire or submit to an interview on when, why
and how they became interested in the women's liberation movement,
for a possible Masters Thesis. Few were willing. Someone told
me that a rumor was circulating that the information I gathered
would be used by U.C. to screen out radicals applying for admission.
Since the people who declined to be interviewed didn't tell me
that to my face, I couldn't counter it. I traced the source back
to a U.C. undergraduate who had told the chair of the Political
Science Department that she wanted to do a paper on feminism.
He told her to talk to me because I was already writing about
it. I don't know if she wrote her term paper but she did kill
my thesis topic -- at least for a couple more years.
a Hyde Park woman, not previously involved in feminist activities,
volunteered her house to be a women's center. She moved her personal
possessions and those of her three kids upstairs and let any woman
who needed it use the downstairs. This was one of the first such
centers in the country. Some women met there regularly. I came
occasionally. The regulars weren't the members of the Westside
group who had locked me out of their activities, though some of
these eventually joined.
1969 the movement was taking off. SDS roused students at the U.C.
to hold a lengthy sit-in the administration building after
Marlene Dixon, a popular professor, was fired by the Sociology
Department.16 The undergraduate Women's Radical Action
Project (WRAP) took advantage of this to publicize women's issues.
It held one press conference in the building which it tried to
restrict to women reporters and the men accompanying them. The
unescorted male reporters angrily insisted that if they left,
their female colleagues had to come with them but the women reporters
held their ground. No one left. The press conference proceeded.
My response to the sit-in was to burrow into the University archives
to find out just how often women had been appointed to the faculty
since the University was founded in 1892. There were so few in
Sociology that I expanded my search to six departments -- the
social sciences plus history -- to have enough to do.17
stimulated lots of meetings all over campus. I spoke about my
research at four of them. I particularly remember a Political
Science colloquium where I informed our illustrious department
that it had hired the first woman on any social science faculty
-- for a one year appointment in 1893. It had also hired the fewest.
She was the last woman to appear on a political science faculty
roster in the history of the university. The following year the
department offered a joint appointment to Suzanne Rudolph, then
on the faculty of the undergraduate college. Her husband held
an appointment in the graduate department. She was already a distinguished
political scientist; many years later she became chair of the
department. By then I had published my dissertation on The Politics
of Women's Liberation, won a prize in 1975 for writing the best
scholarly work on women and politics, and become an academic exile,
unable to get a regular job in any political science department,
any place in the country.
asked me to go to the 1969 meeting of the American Political Science
Association in New York over Labor Day weekend to participate
in a panel on "Graduate Perspectives on Women in the Profession".
I felt honored and not too perturbed that I would have to pay
my own way. It seemed a great opportunity to publicize the women's
liberation movement to another group of women. I could still hitchhike
and, thanks to the movement, had lots of crash pads in New York.
prepared for the alienation I felt. When I went to other panels
I felt so completely lost and out of place that I found it very
difficult to stay at the convention. It was more interesting to
visit New York feminists. The two worlds were so different that
I couldn't wear the same clothes, or be the same person, in both.
I'd duck into the hotel bathroom and change into my suit or my
jeans -- carried in a green Berkeley book bag -- depending on
which direction I was heading. I did find other women energized
by the idea of organizing women political scientists and hung
around long enough to help them found the Women's Caucus for Political
Science, but not long enough to get any feel for academic life
the sit-in prompted much talk and many meetings about Dixon's
firing and the role of women at the University. The undergraduate
women already had WRAP; the graduate students formed women's caucuses
in the different departments. The University appointed a Committee
on University Women (COUW) to look into allegations of sex discrimination
and a Student Committee to advise it. I chaired the latter. There
was a sizable generation gap in our understanding of women's problems.
The faculty women, at least the ones on the Committee, seemed
oblivious to the ones that seemed so obvious to us. They did fund
a survey of students registering in the fall of 1969, which we
hoped would probe the different experiences of women and men as
well as their different perceptions, but they were only interested
in perceptions of sex discrimination. Our study had a major gap
in return rates because WRAP urged women not to fill out our questionnaire;
our lowest return rate was from undergraduate women in the social
sciences. The COUP wrote an official university report and I wrote
a dissent. What we learned from the study, which the faculty Committee
chose to ignore, was that women students had less interaction
with and feedback from faculty than men students.18
I was energized
by the sit-in, but not quite the way SDS organizers had in mind.
During the weeks it lasted, I wrote or revised "The BITCH
Manifesto",19 which Marlene edited and commented
on for me; "The 51% Minority Group",20 a
compilation of economic statistics which sold well in pamphlet
form before being published in Robin Morgan's book; and finished
two term papers, both of which were soon published. One on sex-role
socialization was reprinted fifteen times, mostly in sociology
textbooks, before it became dated.21 The other, on
sex discrimination in law and public policy, expanded to become
my actual Master's Thesis, and contracted for publication in a
law review.22 I also wrote "The New Feminists"
for The Nation -- the only publication to respond positively
to my many queries. It was reprinted in Japan.23
sit-in I talked about my research to my fellow students, and in
response to popular demand, agreed to teach a "free course"
(no credit, no pay) in the Spring quarter. My archival research
disclosed that decades before Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge
had taught a course on women, law and economics. Although she
held Ph.Ds in Political Science and Economics (1901) and a law
degree (1904) from U. C., she never taught in any of these departments.
She taught in the Department of Household Administration. I called
my course the "Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge Memorial Course
on the Legal and Economic Position of Women." To get a room
I needed a professor to sponsor it. All the left-leaning men and
every woman faculty member I asked turned me down. Finally, Don
Scott, a very junior history professor in the undergraduate college,
agreed to "front" the course. He made copies of the
syllabus and some of the readings for us and gave independent
studies credit to any student who needed it even though he had
to read term papers to do this. U.C. didn't give him tenure, and
probably didn't even give him credit for this extra work.
Out of developing
departmental women's caucuses came the idea to organize a campus
wide conference on women to start the 1969 fall quarter. I took
on the job of co-ordinator, though the event was a group effort
by the caucuses. The press contacts I made during the sit-in helped
me publicize it. Our conference was packed. Students, and some
faculty, presented panel discussions. Naomi Weisstein gave an
inspiring keynote address, filmed by NBC. Women in the U.C. Judo
Club put on a demonstration. The women judoka were late so I asked
the NBC camera crew to bring the judo mats from the gym. They
kindly did so, but grunted and groaned under the weight. After
their demonstration, the four women rolled up the mats, niftily
hoisted them onto their shoulders and walked out. I just loved
the expression on the faces of the male camera crew as they watched
these women do easily what they had only done with strain.
women's liberation became a major media story. Without realizing
it, I became a "source." Local reporters knew me from
the sit-in and the conference; national reporters came mostly
from New York where Robin Morgan had told them to talk to me.
I hadn't allowed anyone covering the sit-in or the conference
to quote me, but I had given the local press background reports
on my research on women and on the new women's liberation movement
and I did the same for the national press.
I set up
meetings for visiting reporters to talk to the other women. I
gave them names to phone for individual interviews. I told them
I would only talk to them on background. But they had trouble
getting others to say anything at all, let alone on the record.
Women came to the group press interviews I arranged at the women's
center but said virtually nothing, leaving me to break the lengthy
silences. When no one else would talk to them I answered the reporters'
questions, and was quoted and filmed.
in general had an aversion to the press. They blamed it for negative
coverage. They criticized anyone named in the press for being
on an ego trip. As a former (minor league) reporter myself, I
had no such aversion. I wanted to get our story out. I knew the
press didn't always write what we wanted, but thought it was up
to us to give them good information which would persuade them
to view us positively. And I could see that at that point any
publicity was good for the movement. No matter how negative the
press reports were, the women who read them knew something was
happening and looked for groups to join.
had a lot of talk shows; since they weren't national, they were
hungry for local newsmakers. Once my name appeared in the newspapers
I was asked to appear on many of them. I did do a couple, but
the roar of "ego trip" was so loud that I stopped. To
forestall movement criticism I once brought on three other women
with me, without telling the host I intended to do this. He freaked
when we all walked on stage and invited us to come back some other
day, which never happened. Caught between my desire to get our
message out and my vulnerability to personal attacks from my "sisters,"
I switched strategies. My academic advisor, Ted Lowi, was a hot
item on the talk show circuit because he was articulate and loved
to make controversial statements. Feminism was controversial.
I watched his appearances and briefed him on the best answers.
A quick study, he became one of our best propagandists. No one
I knew attacked him for ego tripping.
fall I knew I had to leave the movement. No one in it wanted me
to stay, or so it seemed. When I went to meetings some people
literally moved away from me. My phone calls weren't returned.
I didn't get mailings. Everything I did or said was ignored or
criticized. I felt like I didn't exist. I heard that a city-wide
organization was being formed, but no would tell me when or where
the organizing talks were being held. This deliberate isolation
was a very different experience from any I had in previous
political groups. I had been at odds with the radical faction
in the Free Speech Movement, but that was a political fight; we
challenged each others' strategies, not our worth as human beings.
As a white female in the mostly black and male civil rights movement
I wasn't "one of the boys", but I never doubted that
I was one of "us," not "them." Yet, among
the radical women of Chicago I was a pariah. Worst, no one would
tell me why. I heard allusions to being "too male" and
an "elitist", but didn't know what these meant. Nothing
I did or said was specifically criticized; indeed no one said
anything to my face at all though I heard of things "other"
people had said. I asked Naomi what was going on and she said
I was being trashed. Behind the scenes the rumor mills ran wild
with accusations. No one wanted to be seen near me. I asked her
to help me conquer this and she said no; if she tried to defend
me she would be attacked.24
ended I "dropped out." I did this very quietly. I didn't
make an announcement or write a letter or publish a manifesto.
I simply stopped going to the women's center. Nothing happened.
It was as though half my life disappeared. The people I had seen
regularly, and talked to when possible, simply weren't there anymore.
When I didn't take the initiative, contact ceased. Since all my
life apart from going to class and the library had been devoted
to the movement, this left a major void.
I left the movement, it didn't leave me. Being a feminist was
too much a part of my core identity. I couldn't stay in and I
couldn't get out. Being trashed by feminists preyed upon my mind;
wondering why was a minor obsession, a constant background noise
that interfered with everything else. Thoughts about trashing
woke me in the middle of the night, causing a semi-permanent sleep
disorder. I tried to take evasive action by doing feminist work
in other places, but nothing seemed to help. With other graduate
women who had worked on the 1969 fall conference, I organized
a University Women's Association. Despite its pretentious name,
it never became the mass membership organization we envisioned.
The core of UWA shrunk to myself and Hilda Smith, a founder of
the graduate History Women's Caucus and the national Coordinating
Committee of Women in the Historical Profession. Our functions
were largely bringing feminist speakers to campus and organizing
receptions for them to talk to students afterwards.
I lived in a walk-up apartment with two other women, one of whom
thought only of her boyfriend and how to keep him happy. The other
organized illegal abortions by bringing together women in need
with willing doctors who did saline injections. Since each took
several hours, my roommate took care of the women until the fetus
was expelled. I avoided this because I was too public a person.
With memories of HUAC inquisitions embedded in my mind, I didn't
want to know anything if the police, or anyone else, should ever
ask. Once or twice a month I would return home to find the door
barred so I could not enter. Fortunately, the Student Committee
I chaired had a desk in an office, which meant I had a key to
the building. Also fortunately, "ladies rooms" in those
days still had beds in them in case the "ladies" became
incapacitated. I spent a lot of nights on the "ladies room"
bed in the basement of the social science building.
I was already
a member of Chicago NOW, having helped start that chapter in August
1968. That summer I hitched to Washington D.C. to join the vigil
in "Resurrection City" set up by the Poor People's Campaign
on the Mall. While there I went to national NOW headquarters looking
for names of Chicago feminists. What I found was a locked door.
With a little persistence, I located Mary Eastwood, a lawyer in
the Dept. of Justice who ran a skeletal operation in a tiny rented
room after work. She introduced me to several other women, all
federal employees, who helped her keep National NOW afloat and
drafted legal briefs for sex discrimination cases in their spare
One of these
was Catherine East, who, as Executive Secretary of the Citizens
Advisory Council on the Status of Women, probably did more to
nurture the new feminist movement than any other single person.
From her office in the basement of the Department of Labor she
mailed and phoned all over the country, putting people from the
entire spectrum of the movement in touch with each other and feeding
them useful information. Mary had no Chicago names for me, but
eventually gave mine to Catherine Conroy, an organizer with the
Communications Workers of America who had recently relocated from
Milwaukee to Chicago. Catherine asked me and Nan Wood, owner of
a small lab that manufactured radiation counters, to help her
start a chapter. They made the phone calls and organized the meetings;
I did the mailings and contributed some knowledge of publicity
sources and networks in Chicago. When I joined NOW my main arena
was still women's liberation.
I had kept
my NOW membership a secret, to avoid condemnation for consorting
with a reformist organization. Once I left women's liberation,
I could be "out" about being a NOW member. I agreed
to speak at NOW's national conference, held outside the Chicago
airport in the Spring of 1970, and went to NOW pickets of the
EEOC, the Chicago Tribune and men only bars and luncheon rooms.
I liked the action, but not the meetings. I don't think that was
a reflection on NOW, though the generation gap was palpable in
our different ages, dress and lifestyles. It was more a consequence
of my state of mind. It was also hard to get to the meetings because
they were held downtown on weekday evenings. No one willingly
rode the "el" late at night in those days, so when I
couldn't find a ride I couldn't go.
I had made
a few speeches, but with the great press blitz of 1969-70, invitations
poured in. If I hadn't dropped out, I would have turned most of
them down to avoid sisterly disapproval. Since this no longer
mattered, I accepted speaking gigs pretty much any place anyone
asked me to go; it was the only outlet for my missionary zeal.
This way I could stay in touch with the movement, if not in Chicago
at least in the rest of the country. I thought of myself as Freeman's
flying feminist freak show, with a bag of lectures on different
topics, a self defense demonstration, a suitcase full of books,
buttons and pamphlets, and whatever else anyone wanted. I also
felt like a fake; I was speaking about a movement that I was no
longer a part of, except to talk about it.
I had only spoken in Chicago, mostly to community and university
groups. Male ridicule was a frequent experience, but it just steeled
me. After the press legitimated feminism as a trendy topic the
range of invitations to speak expanded and the ridicule receded.
I soon became a staple on the small college lecture circuit, especially
women's colleges. In the next few years I think I spoke at every
small Catholic Women's College in the Midwest, where I learned
to appreciate the virtues of sex segregation. Underneath those
habits those sisters were more radical than anyone in the Westside
group had ever been -- at least when it came to women.
of an audience, as a featured speaker, I was fearless. I handled
hecklers as though they were mere opponents in a friendly game.
But as a face in the crowd I experienced an "allergic"
reaction to women's groups -- all of them. A feeling of coldness
would come over me; I withdrew and became distant. My mental image
was of the Cheshire Cat in Alice, which faded except for its smile.
I never smiled. As I sat in any group of women I felt all of me
fade except for my eyes. I could observe; I could not participate.
This was only a problem in women's groups. In mixed-sex groups
I was as feisty as ever. I don't think any of my male political
science colleagues ever thought I wasn't there.
I also developed
a locational depression. When in Chicago, I felt lousy. When I
left, I recovered. Between the speaking gigs and my appointment
by the Twentieth Century Fund as the token student to a Commission
on Women and Employment (recommended by Catherine East), I left
Chicago once or twice a month, often to go to New York. My emotional
state would rise and fall as I left or entered the city I lived
in. In New York I could talk to other feminists. I particularly
sought out Anne Koedt, who was one of the few founts of sanity
in the movement. She too had been trashed, as had many others.
In June of 1970, a bunch of us congregating at her apartment compared
notes and realized how pervasive the personal attacks had been.
We were all suffering as a result and most were leaving as well.
We dubbed ourselves the "feminist refugees." Ti-Grace
Atkinson was not there, but a statement attributed to her summed
up our feelings: "Sisterhood is powerful," she said.
"It kills sisters".
I met Anselma Dell'Olio, who had given a speech about trashing,
though not by name, at the Spring 1970 Second Congress to Unite
(sic) Women.25 She passed out copies and I sent the written version
to the new Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU) with a note
affirming my support of her analysis. Although CWLU published
Anselma's piece in its newsletter, I heard nothing from it or
anyone else. Indeed, my only contact was a phone call from someone
claiming to represent CWLU after I was one of four feminists profiled
in an April 1970 issue of Newsweek which examined the new feminism.
The profile featured a real mug shot, as bad a photo as any taken
by the cops while booking me for civil rights arrests, and labeled
me a "raging gut feminist." The CWLU caller offered
neither congratulations nor commiseration. She called to inform
me that the Union had decided to censure me for appearing in the
press without its permission.
it was a relief to learn that I was not the only target of feminist
anger, knowledge alone did not provide much succor. What made
the attacks on all of us so debilitating was the pervasive ideology
of sisterhood. Because all women were supposed to be sisters,
isolation and censure were particularly harsh, just as rejection
by family is more painful than by roommates, colleagues or friends,
let alone strangers. On some subconscious level we thought of
the women's liberation movement as our true and proper home, unlike
the predominantly male movements which we had serviced for so
many years. We assumed acceptance and expected to create a community
in which the talents male movements had not allowed us to use
could flourish and we could be our real selves, not what the men
wanted us to be. Instead we found ostracism without explanation.
When our "sisters" didn't want us, we knew we would
never have a home.
I never told this to anyone, I came to think of the women's liberation
movement as a sorority, or more accurately a lot of sororities.
Each group was very selective, pledging only those who would easily
fit in. New recruits were "rushed," or sponsored, by
an established member. If they didn't fit in they were squeezed
out through isolation, but never told why. In college those of
us who didn't pledge were called "GDIs" -- God Damned
Independents. While the Greeks dominated student government, off
campus political groups were populated by GDIs. In the women's
liberation movement I was still a GDI; I could preach and practice
feminism on my own, but could not be a "sister." This
interpretation explained to me why trashing was less common (though
not nonexistent) in NOW, as well as other groups which were more
structured and more engaged in traditional political work. Joining
NOW was more like joining an off campus political group; you didn't
have to rush, you just had to pay your dues and work.
and Shulie were putting out the third and last issue of their
compilations of movement papers, Notes from the Third Year,
they asked me to write about trashing. I declined. I didn't want
to wash the movement's dirty linen in public. I did offer to write
about "The Tyranny of Structurelessness", which I hoped
would shed some light on the problem without being an expose.
By the time I finished the paper they had more copy than they
could use, so I sent it elsewhere. Second Wave published
it first; other publications did so later, not always with my
permission or even copies of the publication.26 Although
I wrote it rapidly, motivated by my need to understand immediate
events in a small population, it resonated with political activists
everywhere. To this day, when I go to conferences, I run into
people who have read it recently, often in other languages. It's
probably the most famous article I've ever written; certainly
the longest lived.
In the summer
of 1970, I took advantage of a student charter flight to travel
in Europe to visit the emerging feminist groups. Hilda Smith was
researching her dissertation in London and had a spare bed. She
introduced me to the British feminists, most of whom thought the
American women were too domineering. After a couple of weeks,
I stuck out my thumb and hitched north with a packet of feminist
pamphlets on my back, eventually touring part of Scotland and
all of Ireland while staying in youth hostels. I didn't find any
feminists in either place; the latter was too locked up in the
"troubles" of the North. I sailed to Belgium, where
I found a couple of interested women.
I hit pay dirt. Women and younger lefty men had created the "dolleminas".
On the other side of the generation gap, Joke Kool-Smit, a professor
of languages at the University of Amsterdam, had organized the
Dutch equivalent of NOW, known as Man/Vrouw/ Maatschappij. We
hit it off. Sharing experiences and observations with the Dutch
women illuminated some of the ways in which both custom and policy
controlled women's actions that I had not been able to see up
close in my own country. I left lots of American feminist pamphlets
with them which Joke later wrote were influential to their thinking.
In 1979 she arranged for me to speak at a major conference on
sex discrimination at The Hague with my way paid by the U.S. Embassy.
This was my one experience as a government agent.
I only passed
through Germany, since I didn't speak German, and spent the next
couple of weeks in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, where feminism
was flourishing and pretty much everyone my age and younger spoke
English. The Danish feminists called themselves Redstockings,
after the New York group, but had their own feminist philosophy.
The Swedish were very cool and distant. No one would talk to me
without a formal introduction and an appointment. I didn't learn
a great deal about the Swedish movement beyond the fact that they
believed they didn't need one since they were so far ahead of
everyone else in the "sex role" debate. In Norway, I
found friends. I had written in advance to European women whose
names were on the Vwlm mailing list. Siri Nylander Maeland had
learned of our movement while in the U.S. in 1969. Now back in
Norway she asked me speak at the University of Oslo the week classes
started so local feminists could use the occasion to organize
a mass movement. Of course I agreed.
why I was in Oslo on August 26, 1970 when American feminists were
marching down Fifth Avenue in the first contemporary mass feminist
demonstration. I told the Norwegians I needed to do something
to commemorate the day and suggested picketing the American Embassy.
"Nah," they said, "everyone does that. Hold a press
conference. We need the publicity for your lecture." I had
never done this before and was quite surprised when reporters
from the numerous Norwegian papers and the one TV station crowded
into a room to hear an obscure American feminist. I was even more
surprised to see my mug on TV and in all those papers. I never
understood why the Norwegians were so interested in our celebration
of the day American women got universal suffrage. But going from
hitchhiking student to visiting dignitary did require a psychic
a few days later, given in a slow, measured, well articulated
English I had taught myself while traveling, was a success. Elisabeth
Helsing and her fellow feminist organizers did a marvelous job
of putting it all together. Hundreds of people came; many joined.
They called themselves Nyfeministene. New groups sprouted everywhere.
Elisabeth and I corresponded for a while and then lost touch.
I've often wondered how their movement fared, though when I read
in the papers how many women are running their government, I know
they did something right. I've never been back; but Norway will
always hold a special place in my heart.27
Chicago, my locational depression returned. I felt I was hanging
off the edge of a cliff by my fingertips. In early November I
dropped off. The precipitant was a bad fall in my judo class which
ripped the ligaments in my left shoulder. The pain was excruciating.
I couldn't move my left arm. The clinic physician gave me Darvon
for the pain. It made me high. Very high. When I started to rearrange
the furniture in my apartment, I knew I had to stop taking that
drug. When I did, I dropped like a rock.
I got up, sat in a chair and just stared into the corner of the
living room as my mind raced and wandered, rerunning an old movie
of my life. The mental cud I mostly chewed was my hitchhiking
experiences, but I did not know why. When I went to class, I sat
there without hearing. When I tried to read my books, nothing
registered. After a week, I just stayed home in my chair. My roommate
did not notice, or if she did, did not say anything. She continued
to hold her regular dinner parties for her friends, to which I
had never been invited, and did not comment that I now went to
my room and not to the library while she entertained. Of course,
no one else said anything either. Perhaps I hid it too well. Or
perhaps no one noticed. Or perhaps no one cared. I don't know.
I said to myself, if I can't work (i.e. read or go to class),
I might as well earn some money. The department stores were hiring
extra help for the holidays; I became a dry cleaning clerk at
Marshall Fields. That job was very good therapy; it gave me a
place to go and things to do every day. It ended Christmas eve.
after Christmas Hilda Smith and I drove to Boston. Months before,
she had organized a panel on the new feminist movement for the
annual meeting of the American Historical Association, and asked
Juliet Mitchell, Alice Rossi and myself to speak. Hilda is a good
talker. I don't think she noticed that I said virtually nothing
during our nonstop 20-hour drive. The depression had left me with
insomnia, which was an asset in driving nonstop, and without any
appetite, which kept my costs down. All I remember of the AHA
convention is that several hundred people came to our session
-- unusual for a scholarly panel -- and responded more like a
revival than a professional meeting. But then what we had to say
was new and unusual, though not very historical. Even the press
were there. We were all in the news.
after I returned home I got a letter postmarked in Boston without
a return address. It was addressed to "Jo Freeman (GUT FEMINIST)
Doctoral Candidate, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois."
Inside was a six page hand-written hate letter which concluded:
"They ought to put your tits (if you got any) in a wringer
and then kick your ass 100 times." A clerk at the University
of Chicago, assigned the task of looking me up in the directory
and forwarding this letter, had stamped on the envelope in bright
red letters: "Please inform your correspondents of your correct
I have written a scholarly account of many of these events in
the "The Origins of the Women's Liberation Movement".
It was first published in the American Journal of Sociology,
Vol. 78, No. 4, January 1973, pp. 792-811, later became chapter
two of The Politics of Women's Liberation (New York, 1975:
McKay, and was reprinted in eight textbooks that I know of. Although
published first, it was based upon a longer work entitled "On
the Origins of Social Movements", which I wrote in 1971 to
fulfill the University of Chicago's requirements for my Ph.D.
It was published in my anthology Social Movements of the Sixties
and Seventies (New York: Longman, Inc. 1983, pp. 8-30), then
reprinted a number of times, most recently as a "classic"
in Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural
Readings in Sociology, ed. by John J. Macionis and Nijole
V. Benokraitis, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 4th ed.,
1997, pp. --. This chapter describes the personal experiences
behind the scholarly analysis.
2 This was the proper term in those days, so I use
3 Flacks, Richard, Youth and Social Change ,
Chicago: Markham, 1971.
4 The paper was later published as "The Stresses
of the White Female Worker in the Civil Rights Movement in the
South" in 123:4 American Journal of Psychiatry, 1966,
pp. 401-5. The footnotes clarify that it was based on interviews
with women who sought psychiatric help because they had problems
coping with life in the Mississippi summer project, not a random
sample of female movement workers. A careful reading would dissuade
someone from generalizing to the entire population of white female
civil rights workers, but a casual reading would not.
5 This was written before the files of the Mississippi
Sovereignty Commission were opened by order of a federal court.
They disclosed that it was the MSC, not the FBI, that was responsible
for the Jackson Daily News editorial.
6 New York: William Morrow. 1970.
7 Hayden, Casey, and Mary King, "Sex and Caste:
A Kind of Memo," 10 Liberation, Part I, April, pp.
35-6, Part II, December, 1966.
8 Pam later wrote a major pamphlet called Free Space:
A Perspective on the Small groups in Women's Liberation, New
York: Times Change, 1970. A short version was published in Notes
from the Third Year and reprinted in Radical Feminism,
1973, pp. 271-279.
9 Three of these were reprinted in Radical Feminism,
ed. by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, New York: Quadrangle,
10 Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood is Powerful: An
Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement,
New York: Vintage, 1970.
11 Author's files. It was reprinted in New Left
Notes, November 13, 1967, as "Chicago Women Form Liberation
12 I learned these things years later by reading Sara
Evans' Personal Politics: The roots of Women's Liberation in
the Civil Rights Movement & The New Left, New York: Knopf,
13 Ware, Celestine, Woman Power: The Movement for
Women's Liberation, New York: A Tower Public Affairs Book,
14 One example is "A Woman is a Sometime Thing
or Cornering Capitalism by Removing 51% of its Commodities"
by A Collective Effort, Evelyn Goldfield, Sue Munaker, Naomi Weisstein.
A footnote at the end thanks "the Chicago Writing Group which
besides ourselves includes Heather Booth, Amy Kesselman, and Fran
Rominsky and with discussions with our sisters from across the
country." These women were six of the nine regulars in the
Westside group, but none ever told me they were part of a writing
group. I didn't know this article existed until years after it
was published in Priscilla Long, ed., The New Left: A Collection
of Essays, Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969.
15 Those who participated in the sit-in were mostly
undergraduates, as were the members of SDS. Undergraduates at
the University of Chicago have their own small College, in a University
composed primarily of several professional schools and three graduate
divisions. Thus U.C. is atypical of American universities for
whom undergraduates are the bulk of the student body.
16 "Women on the Social Science Faculties Since
1892" at the University of Chicago, in Discrimination
Against Women, Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on Education
of the House Committee on Education and Labor, on Section 805
of H.R. 16098, held in Washington, D.C. in June and July 1970,
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971, pp. 994-1003.
17 "General Dissent" to The Report of
the Committee on University Women at the University of Chicago,
Spring 1970. Reprinted in: School Review, Vol. 79, No.
1, November 1970, pp. 115-118. The results of our questionnaire
are described in "How to Discriminate Against Women Without
Really Trying" in Women: A Feminist Perspective ed.
by Jo Freeman, Mayfield Publishing Company: Palo Alto, California,
1st ed. 1975, pp. 194-208, 2nd ed. 1979, pp. 217-232.
18 "The BITCH Manifesto", Notes from the
Second Year ed. by Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt, 1970. Reprinted
in: Masculine/Feminine ed. by Betty and Theodore Roszak,
New York: Harper & Row, 1969. Radical Feminism ed.
by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine and Anita Rapone, New York: Quadrangle,
1973, p. 50.
19 "The 51% Minority Group: A Statistical Essay"
in Sisterhood is Powerful ed. by Robin Morgan. New York:
Random House, 1970, pp. 37-46.
20 "The Social Construction of the Second Sex"
in Roles Women Play: Readings Towards Women's Liberation
ed. by Michele Garskof. Belmont, California: Brooks/Cole, 1971,
pp. 123-41, and many other places.
21 The published version was "The Legal Basis
of the Sexual Caste System", Valparaiso University Law
Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 1971, pp. 203-236.
22 "The New Feminists", The Nation,
Vol. 208, No. 8, February 24, 1969, p. 241. Translated
and reprinted in Fujinkoron, a Japanese women's magazine,
July 1969, p. 239. My query letter was turned down by The Progressive
and The New Republic, and others that I don't remember.
The Nation not only responded positively, but five years
later asked me to write a sequel. I learned many years later that
this magazine had regularly published stories about women's activism
throughout its long history. Indeed its chief editor, and eventually
owner, for most of the post suffrage era was Freda Kirchwey.
23 Although I questioned Naomi's decision to stay silent
at the time, an analogous personal experience convinced me she
was right. The next year the Political Science Dept. named a new
chairman who was not popular with the students. Their badmouthing
of him reminded me a great deal of the movement rumors I had heard
about myself -- long on labels and short on specifics. I decided
to defend him and questioned the basis of my fellow students'
evaluations. As Naomi could have predicted, my refusal to go along
with the consensus did not lead to a reexamination of their negative
assessment, as one would have hoped from incipient social scientists,
but in my being mildly stigmatized for the absurdity of saying
the new chair might be OK.
24 Anselma Dell'Olio, "Divisiveness and Self-Destruction
in the Women's Movement"; also printed as a sidebar to Joreen,
"Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood", Ms.,
April 1976, pp. 49-51, 92-98. The pervasiveness of trashing was
confirmed by the overwhelming amount of mail Ms. received
in response to the publication of these two articles, a large
sample of which was printed in a later issue.
25 "The Tyranny of Structurelessness", The Second
Wave, Vol. 2. No. 1, 1972, p. 20; Berkeley Journal of Sociology,
Vol. 17, 1972-73, pp. 151-165; Radical Feminism ed. by
Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine and Anita Rapone, New York: Quadrangle,
1973, p. 285; Women in Politics ed. by Jane Jacquette,
New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1974, pp. 202-214. Revised version
published in Ms., July 1973, p. 76. These are the places
that asked my permission to publish or reprint it; the others
did so on their own. It was 1975 before I could write about trashing,
and even then I published it reluctantly. "Trashing: The
Dark Side of Sisterhood", Ms., April 1976, pp. 49-51,
92-98, received more letters than anything else Ms. had
published to that time. It printed a sample of these in a later
26 In 1996 Elisabeth Lonnå published a history
of Norwegian women since 1913 in which my visit is discussed on
pp. 230-4. Stolthet og Kvinnekamp: Norsk Kinnesakforenings
Historie Fra 1913, Osla, Norway: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1996.