In September of 2004 I lost a dear friend when Ruth Surgal died suddenly after attending a feminist conference. Ruth had been a leader of the Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation, better known as Jane. You can read more about Jane on this website.
I was asked to speak at Ruth's funeral service, so today I'll share with you what I said on that sad day.
I’m Estelle Carol from the CWLU Herstory Project. We are a network of people who are documenting the history of the women’s liberation movement in Chicago, the movement that Ruth Surgal worked so hard to advance. Ruth and I were both members of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union in the 1970’s. This was a city-wide organization made up of many diverse projects and groups.
We didn’t know each other in those days. In a way, that it is a testament to the size and strength of the women’s liberation movement of that time. There were just too many of us to know one another personally.
Ruth was one of the leaders of the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, better known as “Jane”. At a time before Roe vrs. Wade, when abortion was illegal, Jane performed over 11,000 abortions. Jane became legendary on the streets of Chicago for the quality of it’s care and the dedication of its members.
Around the year 1999, some of us of who had been active in the women’s liberation movement became concerned that we were being left out of American history. We came to believe that this was an intentional oversight. Powerful forces in this country want to send women back to a medieval existence, to erase the gains that we have made through our hard work and struggle.
If they could erase us from history, their job would be easier. So we organized the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Herstory Project to pass our history on to a new generation. We’re on the web at www.cwluherstory.org. You can read several essays about Ruth on the site.
Ruth Surgal was one of our earliest and most enthusiastic supporters. She joined our Board of Directors and helped us tell the story of the Abortion Counseling Service for Women’s Liberation or Jane as it is better known. By helping us build our website and through personal appearances and interviews, Ruth Surgal was determined that the next generation would be able to learn from our experiences.....so they could build their own movement from a strong foundation. That was so typical of Ruth, always thinking of others and how she could make this world a better place for all of us.
And young people responded. Students from grade school to grad school did projects and papers to tell the story of Jane from their point of view in the 21st century.
But Ruth did not like to be in the limelight. A few years ago, the National Abortion Rights and Action League wanted to give her an award for her service in Jane. It was a struggle to get Ruth to even agree to go to the awards banquet.
In the women’s liberation movement we had a saying, “Sisterhood is Powerful”. It summed up that feeling we had that our movement would prevail if we could forge powerful bonds of solidarity with each other. Not a sentimental hearts and flowers solidarity, because lord knows sisters do fight and argue--and we sure did plenty of both--but the kind of sisterly bonds that remain strong no matter what.
Ruth Surgal was testament to how powerful sisterhood could really be. Today I must say goodbye to my Sister Ruth Surgal. She has been a good friend and mentor to me for the past 4 years and I will miss her dearly. Thank you Sister Ruth for everything you gave so generously.