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Cindy Thomson Interview

Thomson, Cindy
Penry, Misty
Date of Interview: 
National Organization for Women; feminism; women and media; women's work in the home; women's equality
Cindy Thomson tells about her experiences with the Charlotte chapter of the National Organization for Women during the 1970s. Thomson discusses the structure of the chapter, the initial concerns of Charlotte women, and the actions they took to correct discrimination in Charlotte and around the country.
Charlotte; 1972-1980
Interview Setting: 
Study room at UNC Charlotte Atkins Library
Piedmont Stories
Collection Description: 
Misty Penry, as part of her internship with New South Voices interveiwed Cindy Thomson to find out more about Charlotte NOW during the 1970s.
MP (Misty Penry): Today's date is April 1st 2004, and I am Misty Penry an intern with the oral history program here at UNC Charlotte known as New South Voices. I am here at UNC Charlotte's Atkins Library with Cindy Thomson, coordinator for the Charlotte chapter of the National Organization for Women. I'm going to be talking with Cindy about Charlotte NOW and her experience with the organization and some of the key issues within the women's movement. Just to start with a little bit of background, just state your name for the record and spell that for me please.
CT (Cindy Thomson): OK, my name is Cindy, C-i-n-d-y. Thomson, T-h-o-m-s-o-n.
MP: OK, and if you don't mind--
CT: Yeah- [both laugh]
MP: Your birthday.
CT: Oh you're going to ask my age. I was born August 27th 1946.
MP: OK, and where is your residence right now?
CT: I live in Charlotte and I was born here. Born in Charlotte, so-
MP: Can you tell me a little bit about your educational background?
CT: Well, I graduated from high school in 1964. And went to college for a semester and dropped out, got married, had two children, and then went back to UNC Charlotte in 1975 and graduated with an accounting degree from UNC Charlotte in 1978. So I have a bachelor's degree. [both laugh]
MP: And, so, tell me a little bit about your occupation and your history as far as that goes.
CT: OK, well I decided to get a, a accounting degree mainly because I had two little children to raise and my husband and I had spilt up and so I had to support myself and I thought accounting would be a way to support my children. So I worked as a staff accountant for several, several corporations in accounting for about 20 years. And then about, a little over ten years ago, I got more involved in nonprofit work which utilized some of my accounting skills but got into other areas, administration and fundraising and that sort of thing with, with several nonprofit organizations.
MP: OK, and I guess a good place to start would be if you could just tell me what a feminist is to you.
CT: Mmm,kay-Well, its, its really simple. A feminist is a person, could be male or female who believes in gender equality. That men and women are equal and deserve the same opportunities. And the same pay, equal pay for equal work, and that's about as far as it goes. We talk about feminist issues getting into a lot of different things, and a lot of people are afraid of that word, and they'll say well, I'm not a feminist, but I believe that women should be able to do this and women should, you know, be paid what they're worth, but I'm not a feminist. Well, yeah, they are, they just don't know it. [laughs]
MP: So, what initially drew you to join the Charlotte NOW?
CT: Well, its really interesting. I was a girl scout leader and I guess I come from a long line of women that have done for themselves even though they were married and they may have had a very traditional role, they did feel like they did have confidence in themselves and they did good work, you know a lot of volunteer work and church work and things that made people's lives better I think. So, I did come from women who you know, who felt strongly that women were important and had a lot to do with the well being of the planet. So, I was a girl scout leader and we had a girl scout round table in, in the spring of 1972. My co-leader and I went and a woman from Atlanta came up to talk to us about the National Organization for Women. And she was calling herself a feminist and everything she said, I agreed with so I walked out of there thinking, "Well if that's what a feminist is, I guess I am one," you know, after all. So it just so happened that the woman that was working on convening the Charlotte chapter for the National Organization for Women was a woman that I had gone to high school with and I knew her in fact, her, her folks went to the church where I grew up and I'd known her for many years. And she asked if I would help with organizing the first meeting the convening meeting of Charlotte NOW. And I said I would help, so that's how I got involved with calling myself a feminist and then getting involved with NOW.
MP: Now, what was her name, the woman who-
CT: Her name is Jacqueline Frost.
CT: And, she was the convener of the chapter and the first president of the chapter.
MP: OK. So, who were the other key people in the beginning?
CT: Well, I was elected as vice president for the first chapter of NOW, and then Stephanie Carstarphen, and I don't know what's become of her, I've lost touch with her. She was the secretary and there's a Candy Harris who was the treasurer and then Susan Wampler was the she was our pr [public relations]. person that contacted the media, she did a really good job, because we got a lot of attention those early days and she was involved in that. And I've kept up with her she's, she lives in the Myrtle beach area, with her husband, she has teenage sons now. And then another person that wasn't in one of the original officers, but she was involved in one of the task force, is a real good friend that I've kept up with over the years named Karen Edwards. She had a lot to do with some of the actions, and I think she was the president the second year of the chapter, the second year that it was convened, '73.
MP: So, can you tell me a little bit about the structure of NOW?
CT: Um-hum. OK, well, you mean from national on to local or basically the local chapters? 'Cause national, well national has a big office
MP: Um-hum.
CT: And they, they have paid staff and actually the president is elected but the president gets paid. And then there's four positions actually they get elected by the membership but they're paid positions and then they build their own staff and we have lobbyists in Raleigh. And we have a North Carolina NOW, that is, that every body in North Carolina is a member of automatically along with your national dues. And we have a lobbyist in Raleigh and that group meets, that's only, that's not, there's no paid position for North Carolina, some other state organizations do have paid positions but, not North Carolina. And then the local chapter here in Charlotte, no body has ever gotten paid for anything [laughs] in NOW, we're lucky to get reimbursed for expenses. But it's a real grassroots on the chapter level and its meetings and its not that you couldn't, I guess you could raise money and pay a person to organize and so forth, but we've mostly been working with volunteers and all the officers or any body that gets involved is a volunteer on a local level.
MP: Now, is how fierce is the competition?
CT: You mean for-
MP: For, for elections to offices?
CT: Oh, well, [laughs] nowadays, not at all. Because its hard to find people that have time that want to commit to it. So, its, its, its more recruiting and trying to get people that are interested and getting them involved and excited about it. Now, I, I don't know, that well, we have had a little bit of, of controversy in Charlotte in the early years. We had so many members and we had people with different ideas and they would run against each other and lobby and we found, especially in the regional and national level, that, its, that it, people that started NOW and, and even the local folks came out of the political process. They were all involved in the Democratic Party mostly, there were Republicans too. But, there were, they, these people were delegates to the national conventions and all this kind of stuff. And, and Jackie Frost, the woman that I mentioned a minute ago, she was very involved in the Democratic Party and had been a delegate to national convention and everything, so a lot of the ways that we elected people were, were that way. That you would put up your candidate and you know, you'd have your position papers and you would distribute them to the members and then you would try to get votes, and they still do that to a certain extent, at the Southeast conference that we're going to have in May here in Charlotte. We're going to have, they'll be somebody there with a hospitality suite, and trying to you know, get people to vote for them to be on the national board, and so, there's a, its still, its still very rooted in the democratic process, to be done a lot. Now, here in Charlotte, though I remember when, in the late '70s, we had a real problem with this what we saw the patriarchal system of elections and the way, you know these smoke filled rooms and you've got the power brokers and they're the ones that are putting the candidate out there and the candidate better do what they say and all this kind of stuff. So we decided we wanted a more equality kind of thing. And that's why I call myself a coordinator, I'm still kind of involved in that, that, everybody sits around the table in equality regardless of what they are and there's nobody that has more power that has any more power than anybody else. There's somebody that coordinates things, 'cause somebody's got to call the meeting and organize things and get the place for the meeting and do little logistical things and let everybody know, do the communication. But that person is not, you know, I mean, I like to meet at a round table, so that you don't have anybody at the head table and then you've got the hierarchy of people sitting along the sides of the table. I like something that is round, which is a more feminist model that everybody is important and everybody has there own role to fill. And nobody's in charge and telling everybody else what to do. But we still struggle with that. [laughs]
MP: I bet. So, the decision making, is, its not a top-down type of thing?
CT: No, its, its more, a, consensus based. And, we try to listen to everybody and decide as a group what we want to do. And a lot of times, here locally, in a grassroots level, somebody gets involved and you say, "well, what kind of title do you want?" "Oh, I want to be the action director," and "ok, you can do that." So, and then they come up with ideas, "why don't we go do this?" And, and other folks so, "well, I can come, ok that sounds like a good idea." So, its more like, you know, somebody comes up with an idea, this is a very grassroots thing, and other people support that idea or not. And if they don't, that person goes, "well I better think of something else to do." [laughs] So, but we do try to empower and, and support each other and I think that's one of the things that NOW has really done for women is develop leaders because in the past, we, we were helping and there was a slogan, I was writing down some of our old slogans but one of the slogans that we used to say especially with uh, with the democrats, I mean well not, the democratic process, not democrats per se, but, but the political process is that the women had these roles where they were the ones that were making everybody comfortable and all that kind of stuff and then the men were in there in the smoke filled rooms making all the, making all the decisions. So, there was a, a slogan back then that said, "Make policy, not coffee."
MP: I like that.
CT: Women were starting to say, "I'm not making the coffee, its your turn, sir." You know, you, you do it for a change, you know. So, we were sort of shaking, shaking up things a little bit with that.
MP: OK, well, just, just tell me a little bit about the beginnings and how the ball got rolling here in Charlotte.
CT: OK, well, I guess the first thing is that the Southeast regional director, was from Atlanta, and they had a real big chapter going, you know, starting in Atlanta, and she was, one of her jobs was to start new chapters around in different, different places. And, so Charlotte was one of the larger cities in the Southeast and my friend, Jacqueline Frost was, agreed to be the convener here in Charlotte, and I guess she met people though the Democratic Party. So, and I was involved with the Girl Scouts, so, I think that's one of the reasons I got on the slate to be one of the first officers is that everybody else was involved in politics but me and they thought they needed a different voice, and I think that's why I wound up-'Cause I was very inexperienced with working with meetings and Robert's rules, or we used to like to call it, "Roberta's rules" of order and all this. But it was, we had such big groups that we really had to be, to be, to have a formal meeting and people had to be recognized by the chair, and you know, if they made a motion, it had to be seconded before you could discuss it and you know, we went into all that kind of thing. But the first meeting of NOW, the convening meeting was in July the 5th 1972, and Judy Lightfoot was the Southeast regional director and she was there and spoke and the, the auditorium was filled. There was just a lot of people there, the media was there, we were being filmed, we were on the 11 o'clock news on the networks. Well, I mean the local networks, and it was a very exciting thing. It really, really was exciting, heady times. So, we decided to meet again on, on July 18th, 1972. And, the room was filled again, and we had decided to, to break into task forces on different issues that we wanted to discuss and, and so form small groups within the room and meet for 45 minutes or so and come back and each of the committees would report to the chair what they discussed and what they wanted to do. And, I do have those minutes with me, but I thought I'd just mention some of the issues that were brought up. [papers shuffling] One was the Equal Rights Amendment which had been, which had come out of Congress and was being ratified by the states, and it hadn't been ratified in North Carolina and its still not ratified in North Carolina. But, that was one of the issues, another thing that we were talking about was eliminating sexism in children's literature where you always see the mommy with the apron and the daddy with the briefcase and, and the boys were, you know, doing active things and the girls were sitting and watching them. And so, we were talking about, you know, how we could go about doing that especially with text books in school, you know, what the children are being, being inundated with everyday at school. The other thing is to get women to register to vote, to get interested in voting and to go out and elect women. Get women to run for office and elect them. A lot of the people that were involved in NOW were also involved in the Women's Political Caucus which was already up and running in Charlotte at that time. So, so those two groups worked closely together and a lot of the same people were active in both groups. Another one was the abortion issue, now this was the, this was like six months before the supreme court decision and the abortion issue, was, I think it was legal in North Carolina during the first trimester, you could, but it, it wasn't available, not, not many doctors would perform abortions and it wasn't affordable. I mean, it was very expensive and doctors were doing it in their offices and sort of under the radar, you know, they weren't, you know, they weren't, they were calling it a d and c. But they were doing that sort of thing in their offices and not you know, not reporting it as an abortion. But it was very expensive, I guess for their liability. So that was something we were talking about and having it available and having clinics. There wasn't a clinic where you could go, Planned Parenthood started around that time in Charlotte. A woman started it out of her home, you know, giving women advice and finding doctors that would perform this in a safe manner. And later on that became Planned Parenthood and they had a clinic here in Charlotte. The other one is sex education. Getting, getting-- that was a big controversy in Charlotte and it still is, you're still having trouble. But there were, there were people who felt like that was a very key issue to give teenagers information that they would need so that they could make decisions on their own instead of thinking, "well if you tell them about this stuff they're going to get ideas." Like they wouldn't get ideas anyway, [laughter] the way our bodies work. Another one was childcare. And at the time we didn't have public kindergarten. Children, a lot of children had not gone to any kind of preparation before they started first grade. And, poor children couldn't afford kindergarten because they were in churches and, and child development centers, but they cost money, so a lot of children would start first grade never having been in a setting where they were learning anything. Some of them would come right from home and start first grade. So we were pushing for public kindergarten. And I think now, they're, they're pushing for public four year old programs to get children ready for kindergarten. That's something our present governor is interested in doing. The other thing, the other thing another one was maternity leave. That wasn't you weren't guaranteed a job when you came back. And I think what wound up happening and this is a result of the feminist issue, is that maternity is seen as, under the Disability Act. If you have a, a temporary disability of some sort, or you need to get treatment for something, then you can, you know, take a leave of absence. But they weren't allowing that to be done if you were pregnant.
MP: Um-hum.
CT: So, women would you know, get pregnant and then they would just have to leave their job and they couldn't go back to it. And of course they're were a lot of employers who employed lots and lots of young women that did not include coverage for maternity benefits, so put pressure on employers to cover, cover maternity and then give a woman a leave so that she could come back to her job after a certain length of time. Something else we were concerned about is the image of women in media. Women were really stereotyped as being the homemaker, and the one that was cooking and you'd have the-- We had a section in The Observer called "For and About Women." And that was one of the reasons that, that the first Women's Day which was August the 26th, we, we gave an award to The Observer, The Charlotte Observer, called the Barefoot and Pregnant Award. Because of their image of women and they were, that was one of the reasons they had this section called "For and About Women." And it was mostly cooking and so forth, but there were some other interesting things about what women were doing in the community. Women were involved in volunteer work and raising money for, for poverty issues and doing all sorts of wonderful things, and it would be kind of the society column sort of thing in the women's section. But you know, you think a man, they don't call the sports section "For and About Men." Because, I mean women can read the sports section if they wanted to and men you know were put off by "For and About Women," "well I don't need to read that." So, another thing that we were concerned about too at that time was "Help Wanted" ads were segregated there was male wanted and female wanted in the want ads. And they would have specific things if you went through the want ads, for the men you'd see manager and you know, accountant and the women's ads were housekeepers, bookkeepers, and, and other kinds of things. So they had sex segregated ads and I guess it made women feel like, "Well, you might as well not look at the male wanted, 'cause they're not going to hire you." Yet, its against the law to discriminate. So, it just didn't make sense, so that was another thing we were pushing The Observer to, to stop having those sex segregated ads in the want ads. Another thing we were concerned about was women in poverty. We realized the percentage of women that were on welfare especially single women. And the concern for them and their children, which continues today. A lot of these issues are still going on. Another one is equal pay for equal work. There was, we did have the EEOC had been formed just a few years before that, that was the Equal Opportunity Act. And people weren't educated on what that meant and how sometimes the employers were really doing things illegal. And if you would point it out to them they would stop doing that. So, some things were pretty simple and we wouldn't get fought on, they didn't want any trouble. And that's something NOW could do, "I'm from the National Organization for Women' and I see that you're doing this and that and, and, and its, its not legal and you're asking for trouble." And they'd go, "Oh, well, we better look at our policy here." And you know, they'd, they'd put these policies in place. And the other along with that is the hiring and promotion of women. And that's where affirmative action comes in. And we were talking about that, that term was being used here in the early 70's for the first time. Of, of having employers having policies for affirmative action, not only for minorities, but for women as well because the women's movement kind of came on the heels of the civil rights movement for African Americans in this country and women began to see that, that the that movement was really being run by men and the women were making the coffee. And we're going, "Wait a minute, when we're talking about equality for everybody that includes women."
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: So that was a lot of what got women fired up and ready to go. But you can see if all these topics were covered in those ten tasks forces in that second meeting of our local chapter you can, you can see where the women had these issues, you know, on, on the burner already and were ready to hit the ground running. So, the thing was how to focus and what issues to pick and what we could do about it. So that was that was where we were headed. If you want me to keep going I can tell you that, that one of the things we could do with the national organization that had chapters in Atlanta of course, New York, Washington and L.A., Chicago and all these larger cities and then were adding to the mix. Well, they had already worked on a lot of these issues. And they had some ways to go about things that could help us so we didn't have to reinvent the wheel.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: So, one of the first things that we worked on was, was looking at the FCC licensing of some of our local broadcast media and also of course we're, we're talking to The Observer all the time and getting them to straighten their act up. But we, but the license for WSOCTV was coming up soon, and so we wrote a letter to them and felt like they were not meeting the public interest as, as required to get an FCC license because they did not have any programming for women and women's lives other than things like cooking shows. And I don't even know if they had a cooking show, I know there was a cooking show on WBTV years ago. But, yeah, a local one, but I'm not sure WSOC even had that. So, they were, we went back and forth with them it was really interesting how that worked. They were, they had to take us seriously, because we wrote the FCC and said you know, here's what we think. They're not meeting the needs of the women in our community and we want to see some real women's programs that talk about women's issues and women's health and what's going on in our community and so forth. So, they, they were paying attention. They were schmoozing us [laughs] trying, they had us over to a meeting at the president or the chair, what was he the chair of the board or the general manager of WSOC had lunch at his country club and invited the women on the task force to have lunch with him at the country club to talk about this issue. You know, like, you know, all I gotta do is throw these women a crumb and feed them a nice lunch and they'll say, "Ok, we'll just go away now." But, [laughter] what happened was they hired a consultant named Jean Bohn to, B-o-h-n, to go, to look into what the station could do to meet these needs of women in the community. And they wound up hiring her and she was in charge of the programming for women's issues just about all of her career. She worked there for 30 years; she just retired a few years ago. So, and this all started from us, you know, needling them, I guess you could say well, actually we had the legal right to do that. Another big issue, that, that we did right off the bat was talk about that there weren't any women in administration, in positions of power administration or secondary school principals in our Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. And this is where our tax money was going. So, the task force did there homework, got all their statistics together we had a woman that was a, a member of NOW, Dr. Charlene Dale who sort of guided us to what the issues were. And she knew, because she had tried to get promoted into a principal position at a secondary school and had been consistently denied although she had a PhD and all of the credentials. And we found out that there were, the overwhelming, something like 98 percent of the employees of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were women. Just about all the school teachers were women but none of them were being promoted. And then there was 100 percent of the administration and the secondary school principals were men.
MP: Um-hum.
CT: So, that sounds a little odd doesn't it. So, they, they did their homework and went before the school board and, and, and they were told by the administration of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that there weren't any women that were qualified to move into those. And we said, "We have one!" [laughs] And that was Dr. Charlene Dale and she was promoted into, and she always credited NOW with that promotion. And then soon after that another woman Nancy Davis was promoted into that, Nancy wound up superintendent of Union County Schools. And, retired not too long ago from Mecklenburg Partnership for Children. So, this, this, you know, there were some things that were so blatant back then that were so clear cut and you just had to choose your battles, do your homework, get input from other communities that were dealing with this. NOW also felt like it was important based on what we were hearing form other communities along with the Women's Political Caucus here in town, we, we pressured the County Commission to set up a Commission on the Status of Women for Mecklenburg County. And that's still a department today, although its struggling and some people are thinking maybe this year is the day, the year they are going to lose their funding from the County Commission, every year they're on the chopping block, but that is still, still a department of our of our county government, but that started in '73 I believe they started the Women's Commission.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: And so its still-
MP: Now, was the lady's promotion into principal position was that in '73 also, or? Do you remember?-
CT: I believe that was more '74, '75. I can certainly find out for you. Yeah, but that was, it took a few years. That was, that was something we started working on, you know, realized that was an issue. Later in '72, I was looking over the minutes last night and that was one of the things I realized they had started working on that. I think, it could've been '74 before she was promoted, but I can certainly look that up for you.
CT: I'll be glad to do that. Cause it did take a while for that to come about and we worked on that, we filled an informal objection to the licensing of WSOC and it took, you know, they had to come to some terms and I think we, we held it off for a while, they didn't get their license they had to get some sort of an extension on it until they, until they resolved the issue with us. So that was kind of interesting, but and then of course, the other stations would have to follow suit they didn't want any trouble.
MP: Right.
CT: So, you know, that's how that all came about. Yeah. Some of the other things we were talking about back then and some of these things came up you know on the national level. 'Cause we were getting sort of a cue from national about some of the things we were concerned about. As far as women's health was concerned, we were boycotting feminine hygiene deodorant. And, I'm not, its still, FDS is still being sold and all that kind of stuff, but I think they've changed their formula. It, it was causing infections and it was also giving, there were a lot of ads on TV, you don't you hardly ever see them, you see them in magazines and stuff, you don't see all these ads on television, these commercials about how important it is for a woman to smell fresh and you gotta buy deodorant, like how you smell is not good enough you gotta do something about it. [both laugh] And so there's a big market for that back then and, and we it was causing really bad infections for women. It was not good. And, and also douches as well, you know, it had some chemicals and things in it that you just shouldn't be introducing into your body, especially there. [both laugh] And, and so this was something else we were working on was getting the word out trying to expose these things, because it was all based on profit motivation. Something else we used to boycott PET because they were trying to convince third world countries that mothers' milk was dangerous for the infant and that they needed to use PET milk. Which was dehydrated milk, powered milk that they would mix with contaminated water.
MP: Umm.
CT: And so it was actually killing infants and the mothers' milk you know, would've, would've been much better for the babies. But they, were it was all about profit.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: So, we were, we were boycotting them for a long time.
MP: Now, when was that?
CT: That was in the late 70's.
MP: Oh, OK.
CT: Yeah.
MP: And this was a national effort, I take it?
CT: Um-hmm, um-hmm.
MP: Oh, OK.
CT: Yep. Another one was national airlines, and this is where Patricia Ireland who became the president of NOW got started with her, she was a flight attendant. And, flight attendants were supposed to be sexy and flirtatious and serve the business men on the flights. The business men would go with the airline with the best looking stewardesses, and some of the degrading and offensive advertising that they had, this is how they were getting business, was the cheesecake of the, of these flight attendants. And Patricia Ireland was one of the women that, that organized the other flight attendants to have a boycott of national airlines to begin with, and got a union together of flight attendants. But this is where you know the women's image in media was so important where you're showing, you're not showing everyday women and we're still dealing with that and in fact its gets worse and worse. You've got you know, these waif models that just don't look like most women and we're supposed to look like that? You know, so that's we're still working on that today and its almost gotten worse it seems like. So, I don't know what the answer is there, but got to keep looking at it--
MP: So, what was, what was their strategy in combating the airlines, was it a boycott and?-
CT: Yes, it was, it was, getting the word out to grassroots organizations that this was going on and that they needed to stop flying that airline until they changed their advertising policies. So, and that's, and that's what led to stewardesses forming a union across all of the airlines and saying, "We're not putting up with this." I mean, we should look neat and clean and everything, but there was a big brew-hah-hah about stewardesses wearing pants. They wanted them to wear miniskirts. Well, why? I mean, they've got to bend, they've got to stoop, they've got all this work to do, what are they doing? You know, you've got to keep watching that you're not exposing anything in a miniskirt it seems like that would impede you to do your job. What are you on there for?
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: You know, to do your job or to you know, get men excited, I don't know. [both laugh] So, it was just ridiculous. So this is a lot of some of the things that were going on. I remember myself, getting, what they have, they'd have what they call consciousness raising groups or we also called them rap sessions. Now, rap is a genre of music. But rap used to mean just getting together and talking, just telling it like it is, you know, getting issues out on the table and just talking. So, we'd have rap sessions and talk about. So, every time I would, you know, I remember going through this whole thing, every time I'd see an ad on TV, I'd think, "Does that offend me as a woman?" And then I'd see some program on TV, "Does that offend me?" You know, just every time you turn around, you're trying to get all these things in your head. And Ms. had an article, Ms. Magazine, which, which, and I think Ms. started in '72, that was one of our first fundraisers, was selling subscriptions to Ms. Magazine. Well, in, in there was an article in, Ms. defining the term "click." What is a "click?" Well, you can be sitting around at work or something and the boss comes up and says, "Get me a cup of coffee." And you go, "click," why don't the men have to get coffee and there's you're click [snaps fingers], wait a minute this isn't fair, this is not equality. And so, there just things would come to you and that would be a "click," something would click in you're brain saying, "Well, that's not fair, that should be changed." And women were starting to really realize that and forming consciousness raising groups and looking back at the way at the way we were raised and our socialization and what we thought-You know, I used to think what I, you know, what girls wanted to do when they grow up-what would you want to be when you grow up. "Oh, I want to be Miss America." Well, okay, you're life's over at 18 or 20, you know. And what's a little boy say, "Oh I'm going to grow up to be President." Well, you've got until you're 60 or 70 to be President. [laughs] So, I mean, you know, what's going, what's up with this little girls are told, you know, the thing that you want to do is to be pretty and to you know, find a good husband and have children and all that. Which is great, but isn't there more to life than that? And, of course, around this time, I was reading The Feminist Mystique by Betty Freidan and she was very instrumental in starting NOW, but she really started the country dialoguing on what women's roles are and why women should be stuck in a prescription for happy women when, that wasn't, didn't, is not all women could fit into that little mold that they had-
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: And that's why they came up with the term women's liberation, which really turned into being kind of a derogatory thing when they talk to you about, "you're a libber." [both laugh] And, and, that, it would be, the media was making fun at it, and that was the whole bra burning thing. It was the media poking fun and trivializing some very important issues. So, and like the equal pay for equal work. Well, we were convinced that if women got paid the way men did that they could support themselves, they could support their children, they wouldn't have to be dependent. And then it became clear to us, men wanted us to be dependent; because then they could have the control and the power.
MP: Um-hmm. Do you want to talk a little bit about the media's response to NOW here in Charlotte?
CT: Well, its, there was rumblings all of the country of women's lib and what was going on all over the country and there hadn't been a peep out of Charlotte women yet and then all of a sudden we had this meeting and the room was full and the media came to cover it. And they just couldn't get enough of it.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: It was the women, you know, "The Libbers have come to Charlotte!" And, they would you know, whatever we were doing all we had to do was let them know we were there and they would show up with the cameras and the lights, you know. And so, we got to the point where we had to have strategy meetings separate from our public program meetings. So we would have like a speaker meeting and you know, we would have reports from the different committees and so forth, but the committees had to meet in private without the media, or you know, we had a leadership team meeting in other times of the month where we would get together and talk about the agenda for the next meeting and the speaker and so forth. Because when we had a public meeting and let the media know, they would show up. But just as quickly, they got tired of it and went away, and then we just couldn't get their attention. So, it, just its really interesting how fickle the media is. But they were a lot of, you know, talk shows and local like morning shows and so forth where they would have people on. And I know they had, I, I appeared on a talk show on WTVI the educational, I would be interesting to know, 'cause I've got the date of it somewhere when we appeared, we were on there several times on this little program. Because, you know, they were looking for local topics and panels to come on and talk about an issue, but it was called, "Your Own," on WTVI back then. And I know that there were some women that appeared on it on August the 21st of 1972, that would be an interesting thing if they've got that in their archives somewhere to see where that, where that was. And then I was on it the next, I think the next fall, the fall of '73 I think I was, I was on that show. But, we, we one of the first things we did to draw attention was to on Women's Day, which is August 26th every year, 'cause it's the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote, and I had never heard that before. And something else I was doing at the same time that I'm getting up with all these issues, I'm looking back at history and seeing what Elizabeth Cady Stanton did, and Susan B. Anthony reading the biographies of, of women that were involved in the abolitionist movement that became feminist and the Seneca Falls and all this and working for the right to vote in the suffragist movement. So, when, the, August 26th became a big day to do some sort of an action, so we decided to have a speak out on the square and, and draw attention to that and that night we showed a film at an auditorium called, "Three Lives," which was a, a, a film that Kate Millet wrote, I mean, a Kate Millet movie, she produced it, I'm not, I guess she wrote it. And, we also presented those two awards- the "Barefoot and Pregnant Award" to The Observer and then we used to have an afternoon paper called The News, and they had changed their section. START OF TAPE 1: SIDE B
CT: Instead of you know, it wasn't called the women's section, now I can't remember what they called it, but it was, and they, they had started, they would use the term Ms. M-S, for females, now always The Observer said the proper thing was Mrs. And if your married its Mrs. And you put the husbands' name on there, you don't even put the woman's first name at all. Mrs. John Doe. And her name is Jane, but you don't know that from looking at it because it had to be Mrs. And The Observer refused to change that and that was another thing they did. Well, The News had already agreed to use Ms. and use our first names. And, so they got the "Positive Portrayal of Women" Award at that and, and they actually printed it in the paper. So, we wrote, and you know The News did, course they got the good award. And The Observer wouldn't put that in there. We had presented the award that day, we went up to the, in fact I was the one that went, me and another woman went, Mary Sturm. And we went up to The Observer and The News you know, they're in the same building they're right across the hall from each other. And, and The Observer was just like, well okay, and they didn't report on it at all. So we wrote a letter in and, and you know they finally had to put a little article in the paper about getting that award. But, we had to, to pressure them and they finally, I guess they did finally come around for the, well, we don't have sex segregated want ads anymore and they don't call that section, that's you know, that's, you know, a lifestyles section is I guess more what they call it now. But, its, its not the "For and About Women" section.
MP: Right.
CT: So, that was one of the things. We had another early on there before the election in November of '72, we had a forum of candidates that were running for office. And we had a dinner and, and we named it, "If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Back in the Kitchen." [both laugh] 'Cause, based on the old slogan, it was a political slogan actually, it you can't stand the heat, get, get out of the kitchen.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: Which is you know, where things were cooking, I guess. But, we were saying to women if you can't stand the heat get back in the kitchen. So, more and more women were running, and we were sending, in fact Mecklenburg sent more women than men to the NC State House. It might have not been that election, but two years later. And that had a lot to do with NOW and the Women's Political Caucus to get women to run, to train them how to run a campaign and how to get support when men were a little resistant to jump on a bandwagon with a woman because they wanted to appear to be winners and they didn't think women could win elections. And we showed them they could because women could vote. [laughs]
MP: So how did the policymakers here respond to NOW in its early days?
CT: Well, they pretty much wanted to just pat us on the head and you know, toss us a crumb and say, "Well, you've said your peace now you can go away." You know, and its not until we could get women, and its still that way today, not until we can women elected onto the County Commission and onto the city council that, that we get voices of women on there. They have to actually be in the power structure to be heard, because you can go right to them and talk to them all day long and some, some men of course are very good and do understand the issues and they have daughters and wives that they respect. But there are men are still interested in hanging on to the power that they have and only relinquishing it to another man. They still have that attitude a lot of times.
MP: Now, how did the community at large receive NOW?
CT: Well, the discussions were going on and a lot of people were very resistant to it. And they thought we were just, change is very scary.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: And we were talking about shaking up the entire social structure. In fact, we're still talking; we're still working on that. [both laugh] But, you know, we've had some pretty radical ideas and men could not imagine working for a woman. You know, they just couldn't imagine, you'd have a woman boss, "That's just, there's no way I'd work for a woman." And there's still men that say that, you know, I can't work for a woman. But there was this guy I worked with and you know, the women and I would talk about all these issues and so forth you know, and they knew how into this I was and everything. And there was this guy that worked back in the stockroom and he came in for his coffee, and he was an older guy you know, and I said, "What do you think of the Women's Lib Movement?" And he says, if my wife ever did anything, got involved in all that, I'd quit fixing breakfast for her. [both laugh] So, he's like, and that's as far as it went you know. I mean, he didn't want change either. And that and that gets into a whole other issue of how, how men felt like for their wives as long as they took care of their wives and their wives had what they needed, and you know, and the roles were separated you know, dinner would be on the table when he got home and she was doing most of the housekeeping and the raising the children and doing all this kind of stuff. And he was working and as long as all that went, she had everything she needed. But then, if, if she got out of line in any way, he could withhold money from her and she wouldn't have, you know, she couldn't have things, or she'd have to ask him for money for anything she needed and be very dependent on him and have to play some sort of little game to get what she needed or be able to do what she wanted to do because he had the control over it. But in his mind, he has her on this pedestal and she doesn't have to worry about the checking account or how much money they've got, or what kind of investments they've got. She didn't have to worry her pretty little head about that because he was going to take care of her.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: Well, what happened in my case, is that my husband and I split up. And more and more women were getting divorced. So, what happens to us then? Well, I'm not on a pedestal. And, you know, my husband liked to think I was on a pedestal, although he didn't really make enough money to put me on a pedestal, I still had to work. But, they were men that just couldn't understand why a woman wouldn't want to be taken care of. Well, that'd be fine for women who want to be taken care of and want to be dependent. But there are a lot of us that don't have any choice. We're out there trying to, to raise our children and support our children and make sure that they have a decent place to live and enough food to eat. What about those women? Don't they deserve equal pay for equal work?
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: You know, its, its, you know, it was a real issue with some men thinking, "Well, all you gotta do is just be nice to some man and he'll take care of you." You just have to do what he wants you to do all the time. So, that was, that was some of the issue and just really shaking up, shaking things up. And maybe it did have a lot to do with the divorce rate and how I think men are still resistant; still don't understand how to be equal with a woman without her having to meet him more than half way.
MP: Um-hmm. Now were there women in the community that were equally resistant to this?
CT: Absolutely, absolutely. And they were woman that would go to a point with it, but they were, course. You know, women are still saying they're not a feminist because its gotten that term has gotten to be defined by, by conservatives. And that's what really bothers me when conservatives can define us and people are listening to them. That's what really gets under my skin. But, the, but yes there were women. And they're our worst enemies. I mean, one of the loud mouth in the world is Phyllis Schlafly who was going around talking about Equal Rights Amendment, that women shouldn't have Equal Rights Amendment. And a lot of what was going on, is that we had laws, after women got the right to vote, they were demanding protections for children and protections for themselves. And in the 20's there were, there were not the labor laws that there were, you know, women were made to do a lot of different things. And there were laws set up for women so that they wouldn't have to lift so much, you know more than so many pounds and you wouldn't have to, there were all these laws to protect women and to protect children. But then by the 70's those laws were being used to discriminate women. "Oh, well we can't hire a woman for the loading dock, because she can't lift over 20 pounds." Well, how long is a child under 20 pounds? They're, they're carrying around their children--
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: But they can't do that and get paid for it. And then there's you know women can't drive a truck, there's this liability thing. You know, and they were actually, I remember NASCAR would not issue a driver's license to a woman to drive on a NASCAR track. I mean, it was very specific. Women could not drive. There were, there were times when women could not get a full pilot's license. Things like that, I mean it was very specific that you were, you know, it was very, very blatant.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: And so that was something we were really fighting against. But now getting to Phyllis Schlafly, who and there were a lot of debates. They'd set us up, like a feminist would have a debate with a conservative woman who felt like her life was wonderful and her husband loved her and she had everything she wanted and her children were happy and why Well, well, you know, that's fine for her, but you can't prescribe that for every woman and you can't have black and white laws or issues and say, okay you do this and men do this and women do that when we're all different and we all have different needs. And there are plenty of women now, today, I mean we're seeing sort of a backlash of young women that are saying, "Well, I want to have a child and I don't want to have to go to work, I want to stay home with my child." Well, that's what she should be able to do and it's come full circle. Now women are fighting to stay home, they don't want to go to work, you know, and leave their children at home. And they should be able to do that. That's what liberation is anyway, you know, its making your own decisions, what's best for you and what's best for your family and how you can best work it out in your family. And that to me is what is liberation's about. I think its fine for women to do what we would call a traditional kind of life. But how long can you stay home with little children? They grow up.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: And so, and by the time I was, my first child was born when I was 19, so he was 20, I was 39 years old. Now, how many years of working do I have left? There were women finding themselves in their sixties and that had never worked and they were bored to death, they had nothing to do. And then their husband would find somebody younger, [laughter] and all of a sudden they're what they called displaced homemakers. There was a real, a real, issue with that. And that's something else the feminist movement's done is to talk about, and laws, you know, and funding from the federal government for women that have been traditional homemakers and now they need to be trained for the workplace because they've got to support themselves for whatever reason. I mean, women outlive men, but you know, men go through a mid life crisis and decide you know, they want to take a hike and they don't like this dependency anymore, and that happens. That's happened to a lot women. It's been a real phenomenon. So, and, and the other thing too, is that women that stay at home are working and, and are contributing to the national, gross national product, even thought they don't get paid. They should still have some sort of social security or retirement plan. And they've got to be on to their husband, well it used to be it didn't matter how long you'd married, now its, if you're married, I think its, well the last I heard it was something, like if you'd been married 20 years, you know, once you get old enough for social security, you can still get social security through your ex-husband's social security. But it was, you'd been married for 30, 40 years, your husband decides to divorce you, you get no social security, 'cause you, you didn't work outside the home. So, I mean, what is homemaking worth? And should they get paid?
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: You know, should women be forced, should it be against the law for this free labor to go on in the home? So, that's another thing, you know, benefits for women who stay at home and have a traditional, you know, they're working at home. They're doing all sorts of things. There's that whole thing about corporate wife. Well, those women work really hard and their husbands are, are you know going up the ladder and very wealthy in the corporation and they couldn't, they couldn't do what they're doing without the woman doing what she needs to be doing. Being out in the community and networking and having these lavish dinner parties and things like that to entertain the corporate people that her husband works with. That, that's still going on today.
MP: So-
CT: And they get paid nothing.
MP: Right. [laughs] How, how did NOW go about fighting this? Trying to get women you know, recognition for the work that they do in the home?
CT: Well, they're still, we have laws that are introduced into congress all the time to give women protections. And of course, it had a lot to do with, with getting the women that had been married over, now I don't know what it is now, I remember when they first put this into law it was if a woman had been married for twenty years when she got old enough for social security she would be able to get a percentage of her husband's social security. And that also goes but she would get, we're still fighting on that, because she gets a percentage of his social security. If a woman's married and her husband passes away, then she can get some of his social security, but not all of it. Now, if you, you look at it from the fact that it may have been his job, and his social security number, but they were both, he, she was enabling him to have that job, and you know, work 60 hours a week, because he didn't have to do his laundry and he didn't have to feed himself. You know, you look at things like that, she's you know, have, has the home fires burning if you will. And she should, she should, she deserves just as much compensation as he does. But she doesn't get all of the social security; she gets some of it, a percentage of it, because she's the spouse. And so that's, that's one of the issues we're still dealing with. And there's also talking about that women deserve compensation and they deserve their own social security account that their husband would have to put money into. And that she should have her own, you know, rather than whatever the allowance he thinks he should give her. There should be some sort of a, a policy of , of, you know there is minimum wage. I mean, if she went out and worked at the, you know, convince store she'd have to get paid a certain amount of money for running a cash register, but she works 24/7 at home, you know, keeping up with their kids and making sure that the home, things are running smoothly at home, and she gets nothing for that, so.
MP: How, I guess, does NOW, or did NOW access their impact on the community at large?
CT: Well, it was through the status of women commission, the Commission on the Status of Women, and there's a commission advisory board that was set up to do surveys and to find out exactly what's going on and have statistics of women and what their income is, how many women are single parents, living on their own and the demographics of Charlotte, so that they can present those statistics and advocate for the things that women need in our community and that's what that Women's Advisory Counsel was supposed to do. I think it was every two years they were supposed to come up with a report on the status of women in Mecklenburg County and that was part of the County Commission. Our government was supposed to do that. So, a lot of times also people you know, somebody this, NOW is very grassroots and all, locally its all volunteer so somebody can really get interested in something and you know, get support from other folks in, in finding that out. I remember one of the things that we did early on, was we wanted to know, this was after Roe v. Wade but very soon, like within a couple of years after Roe v. Wade, we wanted to know what doctors were performing abortions and what they thought of it. Because some doctors were getting permission from the husband or they wouldn't perform one on the single woman. And they would, they wanted permission, or if she was married they wanted permission from the husband to do an abortion.
MP: Um-hmm.
CT: And so, we had this survey, this list of survey questions and trying to get the gynecologist in town to answer this survey to find out who, you know, what percentage of or how, you know how available abortion services were and this was before we had a clinic that, and then the first clinic I think in Charlotte, no the first clinic was the Hallmark Clinic and then Planned Parenthood opened too. So those were clinics particular, specifically for birth control, reproductive health, not only abortion, but reproductive health and then abortion as well. So, that's I guess, a lot of it was anecdotal though what we find out, that you know, we were able to for instance, make sure that women were being promoted in our school system and making sure that our government even today, there's something about their trying to get rid of the requirement in the, in the Char- in the city for minorities' contracts, which would include women and so that's an issue that's come up lately. That came up in the seventies they were you know saying if the government's paying for this then you have to have affirmative action, you know a certain amount of the percentage of contractors working on a job have to be minority, so that was you know, if your, if its government money, hoping that the private sector will follow suit that they will hire minority contractors. So that's, that's something that we worked on really you know through, first you could get to the government first because that's public funds and so they have to be more fair than, than the private sector, which can still do pretty much what it wants to.
MP: Right. Now, was there any way that NOW tried to gauge maybe changing public opinion towards-
CT: Oh, absolutely and that's what that positive portrayal of women was all about you know, trying to stop seeing women always in the kitchen with an apron on. And seeing women doing all sorts of things and doing non-traditional jobs and showing people, and you'd see advertising you know, people that wanted to sell things to women would start showing women in non-traditional roles because they started realizing that they were insulting women and women weren't putting up with that anymore. And the way we did that was education. It's like I started looking at everything, does this offend me? Well, yeah. You know I'm tired of this. You know, you don't want to show women in these traditional roles all the time. We're everywhere, we do everything. And we can do anything. The only two things, this was so funny one, one of the things coming out of national, I think it said, "There are only two sex segregated jobs. And that is sperm donor and wet nurse." [both laugh] Men can't be wet nurses and women can't be sperm donors and other than that, you shouldn't have any restrictions on any jobs. If a woman's able to do a, you know, a job she should be able to do it. And men can type. [laughter from MP] I mean, come on. [laughs] So that was, that was part of what was going on.
MP: Wow. [both laugh] Well, I do believe we're about out of time.
MP: Is there anything you want to add?
CT: Well, let me see from my notes the little things that I was talking about. Well, I guess well one of the things I had put down here was, was in, in pop culture it became very popular for women to, to find this spirit through, through pop songs and so forth. And one of the big songs, our rallying cry, was "I Am Woman" which Helen Reddy recorded. And she was a real big feminist and I have an album of hers where she wrote a song about her consciousness raising group, the women that she gets together with every week to talk about their lives and talk about you know, what they want from their lives and how they're being held back because of sexism. and so she, she was real popular and just on top of the charts and that was a number one hit. "I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore." So, that was one of our rallying cries, but it got to be there's there was a, that movie that you talked about, "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," which was, which was something else that women were really starting to step out of these traditional roles and realized that there was a whole world out there and why, you know, why aren't we able to partake in, in anything we want to do.
MP: Right.
CT: So, there you go. Yeah.
MP: Well, I hate we're out of time.
CT: OK. Well that was fun. Let me take a sip--
MP: Thank you so much for your time, thank you, thank you. This will be a great addition.
CT: Well if you want to get together and go over the history files or you know do some of that and I was going to, what was I going to look up for you something about a date? Oh, yeah when that, when Charlene got her job.
MP: Yeah. I'm going to go head and stop this.