the Origins of the Women's Liberation Movement1
from a Strictly Personal Perspective
by Jo Freeman
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.
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.
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.
The Civil 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.
My second 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.
The Berkeley 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.
Within a 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.
SCLC did 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.
In June 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.
Nor were 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."
I certainly 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 around.
Wanting 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.
After the 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.
This was 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
This ended 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.
While I 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
Lefties 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 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
Black Power 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.
of 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.
Shulie didn't 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.
We waited 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."
Shulie didn't 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
Most of 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 had happened.
While we 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 of Chicago.
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.
In Chicago, 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 towns.
I later 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.
We sowed 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 communications
News that 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
Shulie (and 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
Our political 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 well.
Even without 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.
Our superficial 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.
The first 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 the Left."12
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 myself.
My frequent 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.
The most 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.
One major 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?
I edited 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.
The newsletter 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
This didn't 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.
We also 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 item.
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.
On returning, 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 been chosen.
I stuck 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.
I spent 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
That fall 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.
By early 1969 the movement was taking off. SDS roused students at the
U.C. to hold a lengthy sit-in 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
The sit-in 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.
Prof. Rudolph 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.
I wasn't 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 or discourse.
At U.C., 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
During the 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
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.
In 1969-70 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.
The movement 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.
Chicago 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.
late 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 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
1969 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.
year 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.
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 time.
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
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.
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.
1970, 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.
front 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.
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".
Anne's 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.
though 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.
Anne 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.
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
Holland 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.
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.
is 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 shift.
lecture 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
in 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.
morning 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.
December 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.
day 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
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 address."
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.
I did have one woman teaching assistant, in Poli Sci 2 (comparative
government). Laurel Eisner, née Weinstein, was good, but she dropped
out of graduate school to go into social work. I ran into her twenty years
later when we were both students at New York University School of Law.
This was the proper term in those days, so I use it here.
Flacks, Richard, Youth and Social Change , Chicago: Markham,
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
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
New York: William Morrow. 1970.
Hayden, Casey, and Mary King, "Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo,"
10 Liberation, Part I, April, pp. 35-6, Part II, December, 1966.
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.
Three of these were reprinted in Radical Feminism, ed. by
Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, New York: Quadrangle, 1973.
Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings
from the Women's Liberation Movement, New York: Vintage, 1970.
Author's files. It was reprinted in New Left Notes, November
13, 1967, as "Chicago Women Form Liberation Group".
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, 1979.
Ware, Celestine, Woman Power: The Movement for Women's Liberation,
New York: A Tower Public Affairs Book, 1970.
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.
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
"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.
"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.
"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.
"The 51% Minority Group: A Statistical Essay" in Sisterhood
is Powerful ed. by Robin Morgan. New York: Random House, 1970, pp.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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 issue.
In 1996 Elisabeth Lonnå published a history of Norweigan 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.