Lemme tell ya about being a woman lawyer...

from Womankind (1971) The challenge of being a woman lawyer in the days when they were still considered an oddity. (Editors Note: This article fromWomankind explores what it was like to be a woman lawyer back in the days when they were still a pretty rare sight.)

I went to law school originally, it seems now, because it was pretty evident to me that third grade teachers (which I was) were not very much listened to.

Well, five years later, I don't regret that decision, but things certainly ain't what they appeared to be from my vantage point as a third grade teacher. Men still don't listen -- to teachers or lawyers, it turns out. And no woman should have to have a law degree to get ignored. (Women, though, do listen to other women, and you don't have to be a lawyer for that.)

Being a woman professional solves only the most superficial problems around chauvinism. Once, while in law school, I was present while a friend and his brother were discussing their financial affairs. Mostly I was ignored and not a part of their conversation, until I asked a question showing some understanding of the thing they were rapping about. Oh, said the brother, I forgot you were a lawyer -- and only then did they include me in the conversation. So, it does sometimes work; doing what men consider a man's thing entitles you to participate in their world. But it is still not right, because they recognize your degree and not you. The brother didn't say, oh, I see you understand this thing we (non-lawyers, for sure) are talking about. But what he really said was, oh, I see you have a degree that entitles you to talk about what we're talking about.

No surprise, then, that the same kind of nonsense holds true among lawyers. Women lawyers hold the same degree, but very rarely are they counted as respected colleagues. They let you talk, but they don't listen. For advice they go to each other, and, like everywhere else, you have to be an expert, an exception, before you're anybody.

The examples of outright chauvinism in my daily life continue to astound even me. The last trial I did was with another woman as co-counsel. Each morning the judge would say good morning "counsel" to the assistant state's attorney, and good morning "ladies" to the two of us. Maybe he thought that was more polite.

And there's one judge who always flirts with me, rather than bothering to listen to my case. Once, over lunch, that same judge really said to me, I see today is not one of your "no bra" days. He proudly informed me that he had seen me a while back in my neighborhood on one of my "no bra" days.

That kind of thing goes on a lot - from judges, state's attorneys, clients, and, for sure, from one's so-called colleagues. One time, I owed another defense lawyer money. He told me to bring it to his office - and, by the way, to come naked. Later he said, he didn't understand why a woman with a nice body wouldn't just take that as a compliment.

I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I'm a lawyer and not a cupie doll. To men, even women professionals are just things to play with.

What do I do with all that? Well, I've been through a lot of changes. At first I would just get real angry, but not show it, right? We've all been through that. Smile, flirt, look the other way, or try, unsuccessfully, to change the subject. And then I would end up taking the frustration and hurt out on everyone (male) around me. It hurts a lot to put up with that bullshit all day long, and you have to take it out on someone. It seems to me now, though, that that's not always very constructive. Better to take it out on those who most deserve it.

Then, for a while, I took refuge in the support and love my sisters were giving. That was great; we laughed at them, cried some, and it was easier, it was a whole lot better than before. But now, I think, armed with that love and support, and knowing always more coming, I can take on that judge, rather than letting him get away with that sexist garbage. Why not say, right there in the courtroom - with the state's attorneys, the police, the court reporters, the clerks, all of them listening - Judge, I consider your remarks insulting and sexist, and not a part of this proceeding (or some such). It does put them very uptight, and it does make me feel better.

Answering back doesn't solve the whole problem but it does let you get on with whatever business you're about. Because there are other real enemies in that courtroom, in addition to the sexists. No matter what else is going on at the same time, I don't want to see the state put another black person in jail. And no matter what else is coming down in that courtroom, almost all of the defendants are black or brown, and almost all of the judges, lawyers, and state's attorneys are white. Sexism is always an enemy to be fought. But, them, so is imperialism, especially the domestic variety, which makes sure that 95% of the defendants stay black.

When it comes down to it, my job is no different from any other woman's. Sexism is there, it's always there. We must grow strong, become leaders and smash it. At the same time, it seems to me, we've got to fight the other battles too. I take a lot of cases for women - because I feel better and the women clients feel better. But the enemy doesn't change: it's the state, and all its agents - the police, the prison wardens, the landlords, and the welfare system. Being a woman lawyer is, for me, fighting on behalf of and with my sisters against all of these enemies.

Working Women Get Together

from Womankind (1971) A report from an AFL-CIO women's conference held in Wisconsin. by Dagmar and Laura from Womankind (1971)

(Editors Note: This report on an AFL-CIO women's conference showed the impact that women's liberation was having on the labor movement.

"We've got to stop being jealous of each other. We've got to stop putting each other down because we see things in others that we hate in ourselves. We have to start feeling positive about ourselves and our sisters. Only together and in unity can we win our rights."

These words of a union woman reflect the strong feelings of solidarity and enthusiasm at the second annual AFL-CIO women's conference sponsored by the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Women's Committee. The conference was held in Milwaukee on October 2 and 3. Over three hundred rank and file women representing a wide range of unions throughout the state met to discuss the problems working women face in the shop, in their union and at home. The meetings did not stop at the talking stage -- twenty-one resolutions dealing with the struggle for women's rights and with specific legislation addressing discrimination against working women were passed unanimously.

The first speaker, John Schmitt, President of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, threw the program off schedule by taking a half hour longer than his scheduled ten minutes. He was criticized for spilling over into time that was not meant for him, but congratulated for having learned in the past year that his audience consisted of union women, not 'girls".

Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, Director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, stressed that children need more than a mother's love and affection and mothers need more than their children. To terminate job discrimination, she stated, women must collectively struggle to free themselves of destructive myths and to end unequal treatment in their work and unions. Women must no longer be penalized for their reproductive function nor should their needs and desires for fulfilling work continue to be ignored. Her plea for a women's conference in every state tied to a resolution prepared by the Women's Committee calling for an AFL-CIO sponsored regional conference, and ultimately a national one.

Other speakers addressed issues such as "Equal Rights for Working Women," "Legal Routes to Women's Liberation," "Birth Control -- A Woman's Right," "Equal Opportunity for the Advancement of Women," and "The Role and the Need for Daycare." Talking on "Women -- the Articulate Majority," Kathryn F. Clarenbach, Chairwoman of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, said: "Simple justice does not direct the body politic -- it must be won and taken. The special needs of women can only be met by women themselves." At the workshops, participants related the issues to their personal experiences and to their daily worklives. The emphasis was on ways and means to develop tactics for the fight against discrimination and sexism.

There was a strong consciousness that women had to take up their struggle not only outside of but also within their unions. Some of the resolutions urging the AFL-CIO to action demanded:

  1. an increase in the number of women in leadership positions "at least in proportion to its membership" and to "wholeheartedly encourage its affiliated unions to form Women’s Committees."
  2. that the Wisconsin AFL-CIO bargain for day care as fringe benefits, provide day care through union sponsorship and aggressively involve themselves in community day care efforts.
  3. that the Wisconsin AFL-CIO "actively and vigorously support the adoption of the maternity leave policy as proposed by the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations and negotiate for insurance programs which eliminate discriminatory provisions pertaining to pregnancy and maternity leaves."
  4. that women be considered for appointments to local and state commissions and that two rank and file members, one being a woman, be appointed to the State Legislative Committee which presently has no rank and file member on it
  5. increased efforts in organizing unorganized women. Unfortunately, the original motion which requested the development of specific programs toward this end was presented in a somewhat diluted version. The sentiment, however, remained unchanged.

The conference went beyond the exchange of ideas and the analysis of oppression. From the beginning, the women agreed that "crying and moaning" was not what they had gotten together for, but that their sharing of experiences should lead to developing action and tactics. Solidarity, courage and confidence in yourself and your sisters -- this was the outcome of union women getting together, freely discussing their problems and frustrations and committing themselves to immediate and far-reaching change.

Don't Think

from Womankind (1971) The life of a secretary as told from the point of view of a CWLU member. from Womankind (1972)

(Editors Note: Before the women's liberation movement, a clerical job was one of the few types of work open to women. A CWLU member who worked as a secretary gives us an inside view of the "pink collar ghetto".)

Three months ago I got a job as a secretary. The contrast between having a job and being a secretary is pretty stark. (In my old --job I was pretty much my own boss. The man I was responsible to exercised some high level decision making authority, but I handled all the every day work.) In secretarial work, nothing you do is your own work. Nothing, literally, has your name on it. And, by extension, you yourself are not supposed to have any identity apart from the identity which the other persons--your bosses--have in their work. What’s theirs is yours, and you are they. The secretary is totally alienated from her labor. Her objective conditions of labor erase her existence as an ego. The transfer of the secretary’s loyalty to her boss which union organizers and women’s liberationists have noticed is a function of this alienation.

A woman co-worker introduced me to the files: His #1, seven or eight tall cabinets, half of which contained a library of scholarly articles; His #2, a similar amount of drawer space; His #3 (actually a Hers), four cabinets; and mine, one small drawer. For every dozen or so letter copies and memoranda I get to put away for the gentlemen there is one scrap that goes into “my” files.

The monthly budget statement is “my file” and I do a few cursory balancing operations on it each month. In the old job I managed and balanced 150 accounts which represented the people and reports I dealt with as my own, real job. I hated those accounts (I hate number work). Over here, I look forward to that monthly expenditure statement. It’s the only thing that’s mine.

Day after day, the secretary types letters to sign with her boss’s name and send off. Even the most insignificant trivia: “Thank you for sending me blurf,” “Please send me a reprint of your gezap analysis,” “So nice to see you in Afghanistan, please tell me when you’re next coming to Chicago”.. .even these “nothing” letters are composed and presented to her to be typed up. Spiffy. What a groove, to let your professional colleague in outer Mongolia know how much you enjoyed his chopped liver--with your secretary’s discreet lc initials after yours at the bottom of your letter headed formal professional stationery.

After a while the secretary may ask if she can’t possibly relieve a little of the burdens weighing down her boss, whose time is valuable, with the eager service of composing as well as typing and signing his nothing letters for him. There are (so far observed) two possible reactions to this blushing request. (1) “Gee, do you think you could? My old secretary couldn’t handle that.” (2) “I think I’d rather not. There are always things I’d like to say that you wouldn't know and don't need to know to do your job.":

#1 translation: dumb broad
#2 translation:you’re threatening my masculinity.

Take #2

To do what job? The basic contradiction, once we get past the sledge hammer variety of chauvinism which assumes the dame can’t invent a coherent sentence, is the contradiction between the secretary’s having no independent job identity and the boss’s refusing to give up any more of his work identity to her, lie has to remain superordinate to her. In words of one syllable, your sole job is to do things for him, but he won’t let you do more for him than he feels you “should.”

The universe of things the hireling should do for the man varies from boss to boss. Each secretary must find the bounds of this universe by trial and error. She knows she has found the bounds when she gets the bad vibes in response to her request to do more for him.

After one or two scenes where the had vibes have come down fairly strong, the secretary begins to get the message; she does as she is told. No more, no less. Her behavior pattern changes. She stops looking for more things to do, more information to understand the boss’s specialty. She stops asking questions. She assumes that when she is told to do something, the boss is pressing the remote control garage door open button; all she has to do is open the door. Here again, conflicts emerge. The boss is not always programming her with all the essential information needed to open the door. He withholds data, assuming the secretary will petition him for advice at every stop of even a routine procedure.

Sometime last month, one of my bosses told me to get So-and-so long distance. I dial. I get So-and-So’s office. My counterpart, So—and—so’s secretary, says So—and—so is not in. I say, okay, goodbye. I go into boss’s room and announce that So—and—so has left, so sorry. Boss wrinkles eyebrows in characteristic gesture somewhere between anguish and anger: “Well, I wanted to know if there was going to be a meeting tonight. Now we’ll have to call them back."

Translation: You dodo, you should have asked. I react silently: I should have asked — whom, what question, and at what point during the exchange? You didn’t say you wanted information, you said you wanted So—and—so. I am supposed to read your mind? Why am I getting the dodo vibes?

Other secretaries understand this episode, the boss’s behavior, attitudes, and my frustration. But they are puzzled. All one has to do is hold the call and intercom the boss asking what do we do now. That’s what they do. I react again, verbally: “What horse manure! How needlessly complicated; what a waste of time and call money!’ Setting aside the fundamental absurdity of placing the call for the boss, I try to enlist them to my point, that the boss ought to say what he wants in the first place. They smile, they no longer experience the keen feeling of humiliation which the act of going back and forth between the call and the boss would evoke in me. Humiliation. That’s really what it’s all about for the non-person, the secretary. Every day in tiny tiny pieces, a word, a gesture, an incident. One of my bosses tears out of his room each time he has something he wants of me and he starts talking at me from a dozen feet away. While I am in the middle of typing, in the middle of taking a phone message, in the middle of a conversation with another of my superiors or one of their students. In the middle —on the simplest level, this behavior is discourteous. There is a deeper message being put over, also. The secretary has no time or task that cannot be violated. She is there to jump for the boss, whatever and whenever he wants. Nothing she is doing is anywhere near equal importance to what he wishes to ask of her at that very instant. She has no rights.

The Third boss, a woman, displays none of these attitudes. Although she has said nothing to indicate she may hold any explicitly liberationist analysis, it is as if she perceived the drains on the psyche created by the others.

Three days ago when I woke up I could not keep my balance. I wasn’t exactly dizzy, but each movement made me feel like I would fall. The condition persists. The doctor has put me on Phenobarbital. When I walk it feels as if my head does not move quite the same distance as my body: either it moves further or it moves less far. My body is telling me that the contradiction between this job and my self is total. Where I stand in relation to the bosses is not real; the real me cannot stand there but must be suppressed into the not—me, the them—arm, the them-voice, the them—work. My body has gone schizo in advance of my mind.

There are three choices. Quit. Talk back to them. Go mad.

Mr. Smith, Take a Memo

from Womankind (1971) The intensely sexist world of clerical work as told by an insider. (From Womankind- October 1971)

(Editors Note: Clerical work had one of the largest concentrations of women in the workplace, yet supervisors were usually males who relied on sexist conditioning to divide and rule the workplace.)

I have been doing clerical work for six years now, ever since I graduated high school. I can remember the anticipation of my first job as an airlines reservationist – the excitement of travel, the good pay, and contact with the public – everything a girl could want! I went through the training period and passed with flying colors onto the floor.

But with supervisors standing over my shoulder and calls being surreptiously monitored by the office manager, my excitement soon changed to fear, insecurity, and desperation.

Although more than 80% of the reservations agents were women, at least 80% of the supervisors were men. The division between the supervisors and the agents was very distinct on the job, on breaks, on lunches, and socially; we just never mixed anywhere.

That job ended shortly after an incident between the supervisor and me. I asked him a question and he shouted at me, insisting that I should know the answer to that “stupid” question, making me feel like a complete idiot. I burst into tears and ran from the room. I’d been humiliated and frightened by the scene. I soon realized that there was no way I could fight that kind of treatment – the supervisors could do no wrong. I quit.

I had other jobs, figures clerk at Proctor and Gamble – row upon row of women tallying salesmen’s orders in groups of 10 or so, each group supervised by a man; Playboy magazine, front desk receptionist , glamour job of them all, where men are kings and women are dolls; I had no consciousness of sexist attitudes then, but I knew I spent too much money on clothes and having my hair done every week, and too much time in the bathroom and in front of mirrors trying to look like one of the girls in Glamour or Vogue. My appearance seemed a very important part of my job. The pressures to be beautiful were very great both a social asset and in job progress.

Each job had its own characteristics but I began to notice similarities between them. For instance, in every office the supervisors or their supervisors have been men. There was always a division between the supervisors and the clerical workers. There seemed to be some competition between the women – cliques formed, leaving out the more poorly dressed, the more unkempt. The work women did was always typing, filing, counting – any of the little details men can’t be bothered with. There were always arguments between sections of departments. There was often a social and physical separation between the women who were less skilled and those who could take shorthand or type very well. These divisions were in a lot of ways set up and encouraged by the supervisors and managers. They only considered it a problem if it got in the way of our following orders obediently.

We were all called “girls” too, whether we were 19 or 60. But a girl is a child, and a child doesn’t have enough experience or rationality or strength to originate useful ideas, organize and act. Being called a girl reinforces the idea that women are incapable of doing any but minor tasks in a business. It’s an attitude that serves the needs of a male-dominated society. Men don’t have to compete with women for their jobs because few women seriously think of themselves as competitors. Even if they did, they soon find that no one else did.

The Anti-Rape Movement in Chicago

by Helena Aarli —  The Anti-Rape Movement of the 1970's in Chicago, Illinois, provided an opportunity for women to feel empowered by being able to create change in the institutions which only added to the pain and trauma of victims.

 (Editors Note: The women's liberation movement organized the first anti-rape groups in the 1970's and showed how the courts, hospitals and police abused rape survivors.)

The Anti-Rape Movement of the 1970's in Chicago, Illinois, provided an opportunity for women to feel empowered by being able to create change in the institutions which only added to the pain and trauma of victims. The hospitals which, if they did admit rape victims, were not sensitive to the needs of the victims and were unskilled in gathering evidence for possible prosecution; the police who, if they gave credibility to the charge of rape, treated the situation as a joke; the courts, who assigned untrained, hurried prosecuting attorneys to the cases -- all created what we called "the second rape".

Two situations worked simultaneously to assure the success of our movement: a powerful, determined and committed group of women emerged to take on the issue and society was ready for us. This is the story of the institutions we took on -- the before and after of the anti-rape movement and some of the vivid anecdotes which will not leave my mind, almost thirty years later.

Early Beginnings:

I was asked by the CWLU to start an older woman's group. I didn't see any need for that -- after all, didn't we all have similar issues? Jessie Bernard did convene such a group that year. The next year I was asked again, so I said that I would do it. I put a notice in the newspaper and six women showed up at my house. We started by exchanging our experiences -- in a consciousness-raising group style. After a while, some of us felt we wanted to get involved in an issue. A workshop on rape was being offered by -- I believe -- Andrea Medea. A few of us were totally intrigued by the idea of immersing ourselves in this issue, so we started our own local group. Andrea was quite dramatic. I can still recall that at one point in her talk, she broke a record over her knee -- a record known for its harmful, sexist lyrics….

(I was later to realize as I sat in a car with Mary Meyer on our way to a meeting that I had been nearly raped by a sheriff in Texas …. Some twenty years earlier….. a memory I had buried so deeply that it had been the much-hidden part of my psyche that came up as an immediate 'yes' when the possibility of working against rape came into my life).

Some of the older women stayed to work on this issue; some left the group. We were not trained organizers and had no special skills in this area. What we had was street smarts -- when you have experienced discrimination you gain a certain sense of what to do and how to do it. Eventually some law students joined us. Renee Hanover, a local attorney, worked closely with us. 

We soon recognized that there were three institutions that we had to confront, train and change, in order to improve the picture for women who had been raped: the hospitals, the police, the courts.


We found that one hospital (at least) in Chicago did not admit rape victims.

That was Weiss Memorial. At a presentation before a committee of the Chicago City Council, I announced that there was such a hospital. Alderman Bill Singer asked which one. I hesitated, not knowing whether to announce this, but I finally did. That evening, a local newspaper called me, did some investigation, and did a story on this. Lo and behold -- Weiss Memorial began to accept rape victims.

Hospitals also need awareness and training on two other issues (which we conducted with the doctors and other personnel). They seemed to be unaware of the tremendous effect of the rape on the woman mentally as well as physically. She had to be treated gently and carefully and preferably with a woman present (a nurse or later, as we became better known in the community, an advocate from our group). Hospital personnel also needed to collect evidence of the rape if the woman decided to prosecute -- samples of semen, photos of any bruising, clothing she wore to the hospital. Hopefully, women did not shower -- which was, of course, a natural instinct (many reported that they felt incredibly dirty after the crime).


I can recall our first visit to a police station. It turned out to be very traumatic. We were sent to the sexual assault section. There -- hanging right above the sign leading to that department -- was a very, very large pair of pink women's panties! Clearly, this was a joke to our local Chicago police. I don't recall the rest of the visit, only that we returned the next day with a camera, but the panties were down. This was typical of the attitudes we had to combat with the police. At one point, I accompanied a woman to the police station to report a rape. I did not identify myself as a member of the rape crisis group. The police officer said: "If she was raped, I'm a monkey's uncle." 

The police had issued a manual that stated that the first thing a police officer should do is to question a woman's veracity. I confronted a police detective at a forum and he denied the existence of such a manual. That day I was at a library in a public building and a young man approached me. As I recall, he was a lawyer with the ACLU. He showed me a copy of the manual that "didn't exist". I made a copy of it in the library and the next time the detective and I were on a platform together and he again denied the existence of such a manual, I produced it and quoted from it. Lo and behold, the manual was then revised.

We pushed for a team of detectives to answer rape calls -- one male, one female. We asked for training of police officers in this special field which included sensitivity training and efficient collection of data to be used to apprehend the suspect.


But if a woman got through the ordeals of the hospital and the police, what then happened in the courts could be even more detrimental to her. Women were afraid to press charges because their lives were examined and the women were made out to be loose women who were "asking for it" -- by the audacity of the way they had been dressed or had acted, or if they were not virgins. The victims were made out to be the criminals. The women were represented by state's attorneys who might be well-meaning but were inexperienced, had no special training in rape cases, and, as one young man told me: "I have only ten minutes to interview my client before I have to enter the court." That particular incident involved a teen-aged young woman from the Phillipines who had been gang-raped. Her culture did not allow her to use the necessary legal language which described rape. On that basis, the judge could have said there was no "probable cause" and dismissed it. But he looked at the young woman, looked around the courtroom (a row of women sat there observing) and said: "There is clearly something happening in our society; I am going to find "probable cause".) Yes, there were people who "got it" and responded positively.

On the other hand, there were others who clearly didn't "get it". Paulette was a young, African American woman, who went into a bar one night because she felt like dancing. (It seems to me that the issue of the way she dressed was raised at this time, but no details come back). Four men in the bar raped her. The Chicago court room was large and full. Judge (Dunn) called in the four young men and included, in his remarks, that "boys will be boys". I remember gasping and standing up in shock and saw, from the corners of my eyes, court police coming over to seat me.

Lee Phillips hosted a noon show in Chicago and I appeared on her program. Something was triggered in Ms. Phillips and she became very involved in the issue. She made a film "The Rape of Paulette". (Wish I had a copy)

We started to go to court as lay advocates, both to give moral support to women who chose to prosecute, and to monitor that all legal roads possible were pursued. 

I recall going to the home of a woman on the south side of Chicago. Approximately seven women were present that afternoon. We sat in a circle and one by one the women told their horror stories. One woman was walking into her building after a day of work -- a man was standing by her mail box and he raped her. She was too embarrassed to tell her husband and daughter. After that, she walked her teen-aged daughter to school each day. When we went to our respective cars, she asked if she could walk me. I was concerned about HER ….. this conservative, rather shy, quiet woman, carefully opened her purse to show me a Saturday night special …. Which she carried with her at all times!

Another young woman was not there because she, her husband and baby, had moved to Canada. She had gone out for milk early one morning, carrying her baby. A man forced her back into her apartment, raped her in front of the baby, slit her throat, and left her for dead. She was a nurse, and obviously was able to control the bleeding sufficiently to save her life. She was too traumatized to remain in Chicago.

What was the commonality that had brought these women together? Each one had identified the same man. When we confronted the state's attorney handling the case with these facts, he said it was a case of "mistaken identity"…. And, since the court system was (is?) set up to introduce only one case at a time, with no reference to other rapes and victims, the jury would never know that this was indeed NOT a case of mistaken identity, but rather a miscarriage of justice.

When we suggested that the state's attorneys might try to come up with some creative ways to somehow put this menace behind bars, we were treated with some hostility… i.e., how dare we question their handling of the case??

Eventually, we were heard. Some state's attorneys were trained to handle this area with expertise; many more women became involved in this aspect of the law. Questioning a woman about her history was no longer allowed. Defense attorneys were less likely to question what a woman wore or how she had acted to "cause the attack".

We had a rape crisis line on the north side and the calls we received were learning experiences for us. We found out what women wanted and needed. We listened and we learned. We found ourselves on radio shows and being interviewed by the press. Clearly, the time had come for change and we were ready.

I hope this project (the book and the website) make that very clear to young people today.

These years were clearly so important to me -- how else explain the power of these stories that can last almost thirty years?

I became able to talk to individuals, to groups, to press. I learned to confront when necessary.

I learned how empowering it can be to work for social change and to achieve it.

So -- if you can get the positive message out to youth today --what an incredible service that will be to the world!

Good luck.

Growing Up Female

by an anonymous CWLU member (Mid 1970's) — My mother got divorced when I was still in the crib. That was a heavy thing, back then in the 50's, especially because we lived in a Catholic neighborhood. I grew up with just her and me.

 (Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Womankind in 1972).

My mother got divorced when I was still in the crib. That was a heavy thing, back then in the 50's, especially because we lived in a Catholic neighborhood. I grew up with just her and me. She at least had a good job so even though there were times when I was young that we didn't have any extra money for nice clothes, or food like bacon or fresh vegetables, we never went hungry. Because she and I lived alone, I learned a lot about how women are treated. There was never any man around, not even an older brother. We were real self-sufficient and my mother knew how to do all the things that fathers do around the house and I learned how to take care of myself. Because she worked full time there was always a problem about my getting taken care of after school. When I was real young I went to a friend's house but by second grade I came home and watched TV until dinner. Growing up this way I saw women being strong and taking care of themselves. I also remember how people, especially landlords, discriminated against us just because she didn't have a husband to live with us. Lost of people won't rent to a divorced woman. And teachers always hassled me because my father didn't sign my report cards. 

High school was when I really started to get ideas about women's liberation. There was no women's movement then so I didn't know that what I wanted was women's liberation. I just knew that guys really treated us bad. Both me and my best friend have really large breasts and one day we were just walking down the hall together and these guys screamed out, "Hey, look at them tits coming down the hall." Also, there was always pressure to have a boyfriend. Everyone was always worrying about it. It was the main topic of conversation in the bathrooms and the caf. I was 'lucky' because I had a boyfriend for most of high school. I say it like that because sometimes I think I would have been better off without him. He was real big (6'4") and when he got mad that was it. WHACK One time we were having a fight in the care and I got out and started walking away. He came after me, so I ran. Finally he got me and knocked me down hard enough to knock me out. 

The final straw with him was when I got pregnant. I was 16 and we had been screwing for over a year with no birth control. It didn't even dawn on me I was pregnant, I just thought I was sick. When I went to the doctor, he asked if I thought I might be pregnant (to which I said, 'NO') My mother had enough money ($600) in the bank and had a Mafia abortion. My boyfriend was no support to me at all. And I didn't dare tell my friends at school. All my support came from the women in The Courts (the housing complex I lived in). One woman, Lou, had gotten pregnant when she was 16 and had married the guy. She told me 'Don't ever give me the bullshit I shoulda had the kid. That's what I did and look at the mess I've got.' And wow, did she have a mess. She had never finished high school, her husband was in and out of jail for drugs and a lot of other things. Also, he was running around, and when he got mad he used to beat her. This all made me think about why I was different from Lou. I was having an abortion and being able to have my life go on. What was different? Sure, one thing was time. She had gotten pregnant in 1960, me in 1968. But the bigger thing was my mother. I was real lucky that my mother had $600. (By the way, a month after I had the abortion my boyfriend cut out.)

Another big thing for me in high school was cutting out on my mother. She and I had fought all the time and I had wanted to leave for a long time. One day Lou told me that she and her husband were busting up and would I watch the kids while she worked the bars, night shift. I jumped at the chance. Living with her was when I really learned about raising kids alone. She worked her ass off every night just to make ends meet. The school was always on her back because the kids didn't look right (no ironed clothes), the landlord was hassling her about why she wasn’t living with her husband. And her job. To work she wore a low cut blouse, dancing briefs, black nylons and high heels. That's all. She was the piece of meat to sell the drinks. One positive thing I learned was women sticking together. The women in the Courts always fronted for each other. If Lou's husband came around wondering what was up (if she was going with anyone) no one talked. Even though no one ever talked women's liberation there was a lot of unity among the women.

During high school there were some SDS organizers around. They used to plan anti-war meetings and some of my friends went. One day when I was a senior (1969-70) I went to a meeting and one of the women had on a women's liberation button. I didn't know that was what it was, but I figured that a women's symbol with a fist inside it must mean something good. The Chicago Women's Liberation Union had just been founded weeks before. This woman was one of the founders and it was through her that I met women from all over the city who were into women's liberation. That winter the Union had a high school women's conference. I had dropped out of school in January and had a lot of time so I went. Most of the conference we sat around and rapped, but we also went to a demonstration that the Union was having at the American Medical Association offices. There, were a whole lot of women them. Some were chanting and I went over to them and we started rapping. It turned out they were from this group if filmmakers and distributors called NEWSREEL. They said they had some really good films that I should come and see. I checked it out and I really liked the films. I asked them if they would show them to my friends out in my neighborhood. They said yes, and the films went over real big. The films had, really heavy revolutionary politics and were about women's liberation, drugs, imperialism, the army, racism and just about everything.

I joined NEWSREEL and went around to a lot of schools and neighborhoods with our films. We got into a lot of heavy raps with people about what was going on in this country. This was the first organized political work I did. The women's union was just beginning when I was in NEWSREEL and I went to some of the meetings and stuff. While I was in NEWSREEL I started to understand why women were oppressed, that women's oppression is linked to the economic base of this country and that our liberation is linked to changing the basic nature of America. Since 1971 I've worked with the Women's Union trying to spread the ideas of women's liberation to other women and trying to build a women's organization that will fight for and end to all the ways we are oppressed.

And then I began noticing injustices all over the place.....

by an anonymous CWLU member (1973) ♦ Why one woman from a Southwest Side Chicago Catholic upbringing joined the women's liberation movement at her community college.

Getting out from behind the successful man’s back and actually becoming a successful person was the idea that launched me into the women's movement. Growing up with three brothers on the southwest side of Chicago taught me that they (males), were no better than me (female). I could never deny that they were different, but we were all different from each other. Also, I can really remember all those times that my mother and I entered in battle as a team against the boys and their father. It would really aggravate me because my mother would say that it was the women of the family who did the work, while they would continue to watch baseball, football, or whatever was the season's sport.

When I was still pretty young I told one of my uncles that I was going to be the first American pope (just to be cute), but oddly enough the thought of becoming priest grew up with me. I didn't tell too many people because everybody knows women aren’t priests, they 're nuns. I knew that I didn’t want to be a nun. (Heaven forbid!) As late as senior year in a Catholic all girls high school, the interest in becoming a priest still nagged at me. While talking to somebody about my possible "vocation", they asked me if I was doing it to prove a point about women’s liberation, At the time, which was early in 1971 I flatly stated that I was doing anything that I was doing because I was personally interested in doing it. That was all. Just two years later, I'm not embarrassed or afraid to say that my possibly wanting to be a priest has a lot to do with women's liberation.

I realized that there was no good reason why a woman couldn't become a priest or anything else she wanted to be.

After four years of an all girls school, it was a little difficult to get adjusted to a normal situation. But that's when it began to happen, sure, going to school with all girls had been unreal, but sometimes reality isn't always the easiest thing to face. Now it dawned on me it was the only good thing about my time in high school. It gave me a chance to really learn to respect my "fellow" classmates (how come there is no word for female colleagues?) I also learned how to be aggressive and self-sufficient. I had been working only with other women and not having to deal with all that "masculine ego building" common to mixed groups. It began to irk me when some guy wanted me to take notes or type something up because it was real stereotyping.

But still, I began noticing injustices all over the place. And let's face it; there is no such thing as a "minor" injustice. Any injustice means a complete loss of freedom, for you can’t have partial freedom either.

Well, about the same time all these injustices were springing up around me, I had been attracted to the Southwest area YWCA (3134 W. Marquette) through a Youth Conference co-sponsored by the local YMCA and them. I didn't know what the Southwest YWCA offered, It surprised me that they didn't have a pool, or gym or classes for that matter. I started getting involved by hearing things here and there about what the YWCA was doing. The programs were good, even great. There were discussion groups, the beginnings of a couple of tot lots, talk of a women's health committee, and the YWCA had only been around for around ten months. Then I got a job at the YWCA, working 20 hours a week. Interest and involvement turned to commitment. In the year I've been employed, I've seen lots of background work and enough changes to convince me I wanted to work for women. The health committee blossomed, starting a free immunization program at Marquette Park once a month and securing women’s cancer testing at a private community hospital. The tot lot program has expanded, and an ecology club for young girls was formed as well as a consciousness raising group for high school students. 

Then the Southwest College Women's Union was founded, The SCWU came out of a particular frustration junior college women feel. In addition to the general discrimination aimed toward women plus the usual educational inequalities, women attending a 2-yr. city school have problems. The reasons for going to a jr. college are lack of funds, and needing to work and/or living at home. Many families don't consider their daughter's education as important as their sons so many are hassled by all three reasons. Also, jr., colleges offer the opportunity for older women to finish school, but the school makes no attempts to ease the return. That's basically why several women attending Southwest Community College got together in January, 1973 to discuss the idea of a women’s organization on campus. The idea sounded so good that the SCWU appeared at the beginning of the Spring semester.

The SCWU's first major activity was a day long celebration of International Women’s Day. Other events included a leadership training workshop and dance with the Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, Three liberation school courses (given by the Chicago Women's Liberation Union), - self-defense, introduction to women's liberation and women and their bodies- were offered free to students at the college. The SCWU also met with women from other jr. college groups in the city to work on some projects together. The discussions themselves did a lot to give support and ideas to everyone. It seems like the possibilities are limitless for the things we want to see happen in the future.

What the Southwest College Women's Union is doing is important to me. I'm committed to it's work, and the Southwest YWCA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. I believe they're all vital for the survival and advancement of women and for all people. These organizations will mean a world of difference. A world changed significantly by the women who will demand their rights, unify to get control over our lives and a better way of living for everyone and create the alternatives needed for a liberated society. The women's movement means a future where a woman can use her talents to add a new dimension to "success"... where it won't matter so much that a woman prod men to success, but that she herself achieves freedom and happiness by doing what she wants to, trying what she'd like to try, even if she wants to be a priest

She Said

By Judith Arcana ♦ On the phone she said, I have a friend who's got a problem, but she couldn't get to a phone so I'm calling for her. Do you know what I mean? Is this the right place?

 Judith Arcana was a volunteer for the Abortion Counseling Service. Better known as "Jane", the Service performed an estimated 11,000 illegal abortions before the Roe vrs. Wade court decision of 1973. This memoir takes the form of a prose poem.  picture on the left was taken during her days in Jane and is from the video Jane: An Abortion Service.

On the phone she said, I have a friend who's got a problem, but she couldn't get to a phone so I'm calling for her. Do you know what I mean? Is this the right place?

When she lay down, she said, Are you a doctor?

Then she said, Aren't you afraid you'll get caught?

When we were putting in the speculum, she said, Oh, I had breakfast before I came. I know I wasn't supposed to but I was so hungry I just ate everything in sight, is that ok?

Later she said, I think I have to throw up.

Or, I have to go to the bathroom right now. Stop. I just have to go to the bathroom, and then I'll come right back.

Or, on a different day, I don't feel so good, should I do it anyway?

The next week she said, Infection? I don't have any infection. Oh, that. That's not really an infection. That infection's nothing, I've had it before, it's nothing, go on, go ahead and take that baby out.

Sometimes she said, Can I see it before you throw it away?

But another time she said, I don't want to look at it, ok? When it comes out, I'll just close my eyes, and you take it away, ok?

Once she said, What do you do with it all at the end of the day? Boy, you people are gonna get in trouble sometime, this's against the law.

And when we were done she said, What if it happens again? You know – this. Would you do me again?

She stood on the back steps outside the counselor's apartment and said, This is mi prima, my cousin, from Mexico. Can you talk Spanish to her? Habla un poco? Un poquito? Si, gringa! We will do this.

No, I'll keep it on, I'm not hot, it's ok, I'm fine. She was wearing her boyfriend's baseball jacket in the kitchen. She said, Just tell me what I have to know.

This is my husband, Ed. He's going to sit here with me. She leaned over, touched his arm, and said, Ed, honey, this is Julie, she's my counselor, the one that got assigned to me when we called the number.

When we told her she should pay whatever she could afford, she was quiet a minute and then said, I think I can get nine dollars.

My father brought me here today. He's paying for this but he's really mad at me for it. She took a hundred dollar bill out of her pocket and said, He thinks if everybody got liberated, like with civil rights, that there'd be a lot of trouble, and he says I prove his point, because look what happens when you just do what you want. He says that's why we have to have so many laws on everybody, because if you let people be free and do what they want they'll just do evil things.

When the sister-in-law was asked why she called the police, she said, It's a sin, she can't do this. She has to have it, we all have to. Jesus doesn't want her to get rid of this baby, that's why I did it.

He doesn't like me to talk to my mother. Him and his mother, they don't let me go home to visit. She put the tiny baby in her mother's arms and said, We sneaked to come for this appointment. He doesn't know I'm pregnant again. My baby is so new, I can't have another one right away. He wouldn't even want it really, he thinks this one makes too much noise. He doesn't like me to do anything without his permission.

Holding her purse, wearing her gloves, the girl clinging to her coat sleeve, she said, You take good care of her, she don't know no better, she's just a baby her own self, she don't even know how this happened. She don't know what it's all about, this whole thing.

My mother told me I couldn't keep it, she told me she'd get the baby taken away from me right away if I had it. She cried, loud crying with snot and choking. She wiped her nose and said, She knows I want to have it. I could be a good mother, I've taken care of babies and I know what to do. But I'm only fifteen so she'll get them to take it away from me, I know she will. That's why I'm doing this! I'd rather not even see it!

After the cervical injection, she said, How did you learn all this? Did you read a book? Is there a book?

Every now and then, she said, How come you let us bring our boyfriends over to your house to wait? Aren't you afraid they'll tell? And, Jeez, who are all these little kids? What're you guys doing, running a kindergarten on the side? Are those doughnuts for us?

When we finished talking and gave her our phone numbers, she said, What if it comes out alive? What should I do then? I can't have it be alive. Should I, you know, should I...? Can I do it by myself? It could be alive, right?

Now and then she said, Oh I'm so sick, what a mess, oh I'm so sorry, I really feel fine but this just happened oh oh here it comes again. Oh god I'm so sorry, I can't help it, I'm such a mess, oh thank you.

She rang the bell, and when we buzzed her in she said, My girlfriends are downstairs. They brought me over when I called you about the cramps. Should they come back for me or can you give me a ride home? How long will it take for it to, you know, all come out?

Another time, waiting to miscarry, she said, I'm sorry it's taking so long. I'm sure you've got other things to do, I know a lot of women are waiting. But thank you so much, thank you for letting me come to your house. I couldn't have done this at my house, for sure. My parents think I'm at my girlfriend's house, I just hope they don't call to check on me, cause my girlfriend's mother could say something wrong and then I'd really be in trouble.

Ok, it'll take me about an hour and a half to drive home - I live over the line in Indiana - and here's what I'm going to do, she said one winter weekend. My father's a heavy sleeper, so if the cramps come in the night while he's sleeping he'll never hear me; I'll just go in the bathroom and lock the door. I'll do it all in there. He won't even hear the toilet flush, he never does, even when it's just ordinary, you know, flushing for regular reasons.

She looked at the clear plastic sheet on the mattress, the speculum and the syringe. Then she laughed and said, You ladies somethin, doin this up in here; you somethin, all right.

Why do you do this? She looked around the small bedroom and said, You're not rich. With what you charge, you can't be doing this for the money. What's it all about? Are you a bunch of women's libbers? Is that it?

I'm not nervous. I think you are good women. I'm never nervous, maybe cuz I'm always tired. She was so tired that when the woman beside the bed rocked her shoulder softly to wake her up, she said, It's over? I'm sorry, I just closed my eyes after the shot you gave me down there. I'm sorry, but I was real tired, I had to work a double shift and din have no time between work and here.

Ohmygod, does this happen all the time? This bleeding? She gasped and said, The blood is so dark. OOh! Ice?! Ay! Make it stop! This ice tray is too cold! Ohmygod! You better not be scared, I'm the one scared, not you. Orange juice, are you kidding? Ay, what if I faint? I know people faint when they lose blood. Can you still do me? Did you finish?

She leaned over to the woman driving and quietly said, My daughter's in Children's Memorial, she's only two, she's having an operation on her stomach valve today – it doesn't work right, since she was born. My husband's over there, with her, for that, while I'm here, for this. Could I leave right after I'm done? Could you take me back right away, so I don't wait til everybody is done? Would that be ok? Would the other women mind, do you think?

She gulped some water in the kitchen and said,Oh thank you, you'll never know what this means to me, thank you so much. I can't thank you enough, I'm sure. I know some people say it's wrong, abortion, that you shouldn't take a life. And maybe you did take a life. But it’s all give and take, isn’t it? My mother always said that everything always comes down to give and take. So the baby, today, that was the taking – and me, me, my own life, I think that was the giving.

Judith Arcana. Do not use/reproduce without permission. First published in CALYX, Winter, 1998, 17:3.

After her days in Jane, Judith Arcana became a writer, and is currently writing fiction about tattoos and poems about abortion. Her work is supported by a Poetry Award from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, a Poetry Fellowship from Oregon Literary Arts, and grants from the Rockefeller Archive Center and the Union Institute Graduate College.

Her poems and short prose pieces appear in anthologies, newspapers and literary magazines including ZYZZYVA, Nimrod, Fireweed, CALYX and Prairie Schooner.

A longtime teacher of writing, literature and women’s studies, Judith’s nonfiction books are Our Mothers’ Daughters, Every Mother’s Son and Grace Paley’s Life Stories: A Literary Biography. Fifty years resident in the Great Lakes region, she moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1995. Judith is a member of the Graduate Faculty of The Union Institute.

Heather Booth: Living the Movement Life

edited by Gina Caneva from an interview conducted by Becky Kluchin ♦ The beginning of the women's movement was a time a joy and excitement, of building a better world and finding ourselves.

(Editors Note: Working from an interview originally conducted by Becky Kluchin of Carnegie-Mellon University, UIC student Gina Caneva edited Heather's interview into a memoir. In it Heather Booth talks about her lifelong commitment to social justice.)

The beginning of the women's movement was a time a joy and excitement, of building a better world and finding ourselves.

I was raised in a loving family that believed in equality and taking action for what is right. I grew up in Brooklyn, but went to a suburban high school where I felt that I didn't really fit in. I was head of a lot of the social organization like chorus, history club and yearbook. There was a sorority in the school, and I quit it when I realized that they didn't accept anybody who wasn't conventionally pretty. I'd been on cheerleading, and I quit that because they weren't letting blacks onto the team. I was ready for the sixties, and the sixties weren't here.

Then I hit college, and the world burst open in the most wonderful possible way. I went to the University of Chicago in 1963, in part, because it had no sororities. And sports didn't dominate the scene. Within weeks, I became very active in the civil rights movement. There was a school boycott that would've been for integrating both integrated and neighborhood at quality schools. Blacks and whites lived near enough to each other; it was a time when you could have integrated schools. But instead, they created these wagons--like trailers--on the overcrowded black schools. And the wagons were named after the superintendent of schools, Benjamin Willis. The black kids couldn't walk across the street and go to the white school. I ended up coordinating the South Side Freedom Schools. That propelled me into the center of the civil rights movement in the city.

I became active in what was the citywide group called the Coordinating Council of Community Organization--CCCO. From that, I also decided to set up a campus chapter of SNCC: Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. And at the time, I was volunteering at a mental institution, working particularly with a set of women on a locked ward. I ended up being involved in a tutoring project that SNCC was also involved with. It was for tutoring young African American kids nearby the university. I was also active in the documentary film society and the folklore society.

For raising all of the concerns that I was raising at that point, there actually was a lot of reinforcement from the university. Professors initially thought that this was exciting--there was a positive response initially. It was clear that the university itself had this double role--one being this extremely exciting place that taught me to think critically, brought people together and allowed certain kinds of freedom. In high school, I was just miserable because I couldn't figure out a way to express the concerns I had. At the same time, there were other forms of traditional social control, and the school explicitly function as what was called "in loco parentis" or in place of parents. In those years, there were dormitory hours when women had to check in and when men had to check in. I remember that a friend of mine was nearly suicidal. I spent time with him to talk his way through a broken romance he had with someone else, and when I came back after check-in, I was searched for contraceptives. I was outraged--but this was a very innocent time.

Later, there was a sleep-out to protest the hours. In 1965, a friend of mine was raped at knifepoint in her bed in an off-campus room. When she went to student health for a gynecological exam, she was given a lecture on her promiscuity. She was also told that student health didn't cover gynecological exams. So we sat with her and they called it a sit-in.

In 1964 at the end of first semester, I was recruited to go to Mississippi for the civil rights movement. I'd been very active in SNCC already, and I was also active in the emerging anti-war movement on campus and student government. And I became a leader of the Progressive Student Political Committee called SPAC. In the civil rights movement, women played these extraordinary leadership roles. A lot of things were happening at once.

When I got back to campus I traveled, talking about the civil rights movement, SNCC and I did fundraising and promotion for it. We did local organizing, and there were rent strikes in the black community It's not like there was just one strand. All of these strandS together meant being in the Movement. Women, civil rights, anti-war, students rights--it was all part of the Movement.

In 1965, my sophomore year, an ex-boyfriend told me that his sister, who had also been in Mississippi, was pregnant and needed an abortion. I don't know if I'd ever really thought about it before. On being told there was someone with a problem, my reaction was to try to do something to resolve it. I called doctors in the Medical Committee for Human Rights, the physician support team for the civil rights movement. I found a doctor who was on 63rd Street--in the heart of the Woodland black ghetto. That was successful. All I did was just make contact with someone. It turns out that the doctor, TRM Howard was a great hero of the Civil Rights Movement and left Mississippi only when he was on a Klan hit list.

Then, a few months later, someone else had heard about it and asked for some more help. I made another contact. And someone else called, and someone else called, and someone else called. I told people when they called they should ask for Jane.

For a while, there was just one doctor. Then he died. And I had to find another doctor. It was just talking to one person and then another. First I needed to understand the procedure. What amount of pain is there? What health risks are there? Is there emotional problems? Do they counsel? What's the cost? The cost was $500. Would they bring down the cost if we gave for every three people who came through? Would they give us one for free? Would they be there in an emergency?

I'd have conversations with the perspective doctors. If I ever heard any criticism, I'd tell them that someone said there was a problem and ask them what they were going to do about it. We just had back-and-forth conversations. He arranged for his assistant to meet me, both to check me out and for me to check them out.

I was petrified about everything. I think there's a tendency for when people talk about these conversations to think they are brave. In hindsight, you gain confidence as you do it. I was always scared. It's also easier to talk about it than it was to do, and I think we forget about how scary it was. I also was very insecure. I've been insecure my whole life. I don't know that it's so much that people who do this are more secure or confident. But I think there are just ways that you decide to take action in spite of lack of confidence. I met with his assistant in a downtown Walgreens and was pretty satisfied. We reached some terms with payments and at least felt we could trust each other. We had much more regular communication then, and a lot more people came through Jane. It was a few a month. There were a lot of students, many from the Midwest. There also were some housewives. At least a couple women, one of the housewives and a younger woman were related to the Chicago police. It made me believe that the police department knew about it, and for all I knew, was even referring people. It made me pretty scared.

But I kept on counseling women, preparing them for the abortion and doing the follow-up with them and the doctor. I'd meet with them in person, and we'd talk, then follow-up by phone, and I'd follow up with the doctor only by phone. Also, there were some public demonstrations about abortion. There were some organized speak outs, ads in newspapers and some meetings with the Clergy Consultation Service. But mostly, it wasn't a focus of the women's movement. A lot of other stuff was going on. There was still anti-war and the world was changing. Then in 1966, at a draft sit-in at the University, I met the person who became my husband. He had been the national secretary of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and their national office was in Chicago. We have been life partners in the movement.

We decided we'd get married when I graduated in 1967. Then we had a child right away in 1968. With all of that happening--and I was trying to get a doctorate, working full-time, had a Movement life full-time and I was expecting a child. There just a lot going on, and the number of people coming through Jane were increasing.

I decided we had to get more people involved, and I wanted to move on. Jane wasn't something that was really discussed a lot. I almost never talked about this with anyone. It was illegal; I didn't want to go to jail. I was willing to risk it if that's what it took, just like in the civil rights movement. But I didn't want to flaunt it. There had been exposes that the Chicago Red Squad was spying on people. The Red Squad in Chicago was different from CIA exposes but occurred at the same time. I remember when members of Jane were arrested (in 1973)--it was horrible. We needed to come to their defense. We had to do anything that we could do. We had to support them personally. We had to clarify that it was a political issue. We had to see if the abortion service could continue. It was a rush of many things at once. I remember going to meetings, trying to figure out what to do about it.

But I'd go to meetings and try to recruit people to be part of Jane. At the end of every meeting I went to, I'd ask if anyone wanted to talk. A few people were recruited--Jody, Ruth, Eleanor and a few others. Then we had conversations, and I led people in a training session before I gave the doctor's name. I used role play to make sure that they knew how to counsel. Then we went through all the questions and made sure that people would be attentive and responsible. I turned Jane over to the collective in 1968', and Jody rose to the leadership.

By then, I had one child, and we had another child right away. It was wonderful having these two great babies. It was also a bit overwhelming. I was in school. I was in the Movement. I was working. We had no money. I had been organizing, and I was fired in two different places for Union organizing. With money I Won from a back pay suit for organizing, I started the Midwest Academy, which is the activist training center. I helped organize some speak outs on abortion and was an active supporter, but it wasn't the main area that I focused on.

My start in the women's movement began after a national SDS meeting in Champaign-Urbana in 1965. I went to the meeting because they were going to discuss the woman question. One of my teachers, Dick FlackS, an SDS member who had been at Port Huron, told me about it. And I knew about SDS because it was allied with our political party on campus.

At first, men and women contributed to the discussion. It was very large, but it was clear that men were denying the women's experiences. The women would say, "We're made to feel that we're not equal partners, or we?re not given a chance to be leaders.? And someone would say, "Oh no, of course you're given a chance." It was ridiculous. But initially, I said, "Let's keep talking together. We can work this out." Just as I didn't want the civil rights movement to divide black/white, I didn't want this movement to divide men/women. We needed to deal with our common problem.

But then a guy named Jimmy Garrett, an SNCC and African American organizer and a boyfriend of one of the people I lived with in Mississippi, said, "Look, you women are never gonna get this together unless you just go off and talk by yourselves. You just have to do this." And he walked out. Later that evening, I realized he was exactly right. A number of us went off and talked alone. We committed that we would go and pursue these kinds of discussions

I went back to Chicago, and I set about and formed a group on campus for a year called WRAP--Women's Radical Action Program. One of the women in it was the assistant head of student affairs and government activities. Then we formed another group for a year called the Center City group that included not only people on campus but also people with campus connections who were organizing in the city. The campus group began as discussion. We did this study of significant response, looking at how often men or women teachers responded to students depending on whether they were men or women. The comment back was either that's stupid or that's wonderful, let's discuss it. It was like four to one more significant responses to men than to women students. The woman student would say her comment and then it was just passed over as if it never happened.

Then we tried to go to classes and discuss it as part of the subject. It needed to be discussed in sociology, but this was before there was a language--before women's liberation. I remind people it's when "chauvinism" meant intense national feeling. We put radical into our title because in the Movement, you were radicals because you tried to get at the root of the problem. But we didn't have a language. We were just figuring it out. I started WRAP because at an SDS meeting, I was talking and one of the guys yelled at me to shut up. And I was a really, really nice kid. And I stopped talking. I went around and tapped the shoulder of every woman in the group and we went upstairs and made a separate group. We basically pulled out half the numbers.

Then, in the Center City group, we started forming more consciousness-raising groups. I must have formed about ten myself, and the others did too. We started talking about a demonstration at Playboy, and helped to create a WITCH group--Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell--where we just basically did guerilla theater. There were four of us in the Center City Group were really good friends. Amy Kesselman, Vivian Rothstein, Naomi Weisstein and myself. We recently got together and wrote a chapter in The Feminist Memoir Project. But even in that we all had different recollections, and it was quite a stitch trying to even figure out how to write jointly.

Then the Thanksgiving conference came around in 1969. Our second son was born in October, so he was about five weeks old. And I took him with me. The women's movement really couldn't absorb children at that point, so I wasn't part of all the meetings. Partly everyone was a kid themselves, and many of them had trouble in how they had been raised. We weren't familiar with how to take care of kids as a group. Rather than have childcare, it was, "We really don't want your crying kid over here". Rather than, "Can I help you out?" it was "Can you go into another room when you're nursing?". I had gone to my women's group, with Jo Freeman, Amy Kesselman and others and asked them if we should have kids. My husband was going to be drafted, and there was going to be a punitive draft because he was an anti-war leader. One way to get out of the draft was to have a kid. We were only married three months before we had to face this decision--it's a pretty big decision. I went to the group. They said, "Yes, you should really do this." And then when I had the baby, most of them just couldn't deal.

This is a sad part of the movement, because having these children was so important and wonderful, but, as I said, in the movement, we were really children ourselves at this point. Our children are our future. My kids are a center of my life and concern.

Still, a lot of very exciting things happened at the conference. People left from it and formed the coordinating committee that I worked on which helped set up the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU). Through the Women's Union, I was in the Liberation School, and I set up the Action Committee for Decent Childcare. There were two kinds of groups in the CWLU. One was a workgroup and one was an affinity (usually geographic) group. I had also set up this city-wide organization called Action Committee for Decent Childcare in 1970.

There was a move to create nationally-funded childcare, and Walter Mondale promoted it. A number of states were trying to set up these childcare coordinating committees, which became semi-political operations. This was to get parents voices in the movement as well as to revive the childcare licensing laws.

We had tried to set up a day care center called Sojourner Truth in Hyde Park. But there was no city funding for childcare. The childcare licensing procedure was rigged in support of contractors, and twenty or thirty years before, this horrible fire burned down a church that had a childcare center. Because of the fire, the laws were changed to make it so you had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to create a childcare center--more than was probably needed. It just made the contractors rich. It was almost like there was a rule against being in a church basement. If you had kids who were under two, you had to have an on-site generator, and exit signs marked with a lighting system that would survive a blackout. But you could get glow-in-the-dark exit signs that were a dollar.

So, we formed the city-wide organization, created a multi-racial group and were part of an effort that finally won a million dollar city investment into childcare. It became one of the issues in the governor's race. We won new licensing procedure. There had been thirty-two stops, and they made one-stop licensing. We created a board made up half of clients and half of childcare providers that reviewed licensing and childcare problems. We won a lot of victories and also built a wonderful multi-racial direct action organization.

Again, it was all just part of the Movement work--all parts of the same thing. In my senior year in college, there was a move by the civil rights movement. Dr. King came to Chicago and said, "The way to secure civil rights is through union strikes." Remember that he was killed during a strike of sanitation workers. He believed that union strikes were front and center.) From that, there was then a move to unionize Chicago hospitals. While I was going to school, I was a full-time nurse's aide trying to build a union. I didn't just view that as healthcare work or civil rights work or women's work. It was just part of the Movement-civil rights, health care and women's movement all together.

Some final thoughts: I also think that recognizing the inside of the women's movement--the personal is political--is so powerful and important. In so many ways, I think it's just been stood on its head in this era. Before, ideas that we felt were personal we realized were political and needed political action to solve. Now it's been reversed. Things that we know are political, we treat as if they are only personal. You care about the environment; you get a green shopping bag. You're for the women's movement; read non-sexists books to your kids. All of which are good things. But it's missing this context that allows us then to actually change the society.

The Movement may have been a different experience for different people and at different points. But it wasn't so much that people took risks; it's that people decided to take action even in the face of risks. I think there are some people who think they are not good enough. They don't know enough. They won't do it right. They won't be effective. But there's still this leap of faith that says in the face of injustice, you need to act for justice and figure out the best way. Even having all these concerns, we need to realize that we actually do know enough--we can make this change happen- if we organize. We need to reinstill in people this sense that regular people acting together can make history. I think the loss of that belief is the worst thing about this current period of time.

We're Everywhere!

by Mary Ann Gilpatrick (2004) —  A while back, the Unitarian Church I have gotten involved with went through the process of becoming a Welcoming Congregation. This involves learning to be not just tolerant of alternate sexualities, but to actively listen and understand the issues of gay members (such as demeaning language and other thoughtless exclusions).

(Editors Note: Mary Ann Gilpatrick was a member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. She is now working as a librarian in Walla Walla, Washington. )

A while back, the Unitarian Church I have gotten involved with went through the process of becoming a Welcoming Congregation. This involves learning to be not just tolerant of alternate sexualities, but to actively listen and understand the issues of gay members (such as demeaning language and other thoughtless exclusions).

This cast my mind back on the bad old days of not that long ago, when I came in to the women's movement via the anti (Vietnam) war movement. Sisters had the "We're Everywhere" buttons under their collars and lapels, back when we wore collars and lapels.

I imagine some thought they were shocking the rube I was, but actually I had several gay friends in college when everyone was stiflingly in the closet. I was very wary of men which is something gay people notice and they checked me out. (Well, I WAS very leery of men but for other reasons, having been inappropriately fondled as a girl and not yet having THAT out of my system.) These were very interesting people and i was happy to have a place to hang in the very backward undergrad school I attended. (I graduated too.) For a long time I thought of myself as bisexual but time has proved that not to be the case. I find maleness attractive; I enjoy intercourse. I can't help it; it just seems to be the way i was born. I am very glad to have had close women friends relatively early on, pre-women's movement, who introduced me to how tough it was to be not straight in a rigidly straight society.

I remember once remarking that CWLU had a lavender streak a mile wide. This was in the context of course offerings for the Women's Liberation School, and I remember comrades on the school work group cracking up at that simple statement of fact.

I remember the NOW "Don't Iron while the Strike is Hot" demonstration in August of 1970.

(I was the CWLU speaker; I'll try to write that up in another essay. I did have notes once upon a time but they are gone.)

After the official speakers were done the planners encouraged people to stay and listen to some semi-official speakers. Shelly got up and said, "I'm going to say a dirty word. 'Lesbian.' " She went to give a very cogent talk about the oppression of sisters who are gay.

It was a good talk and I was aware that from the first, people hostile to "Women's Lib" dismissed us all as "a bunch of lezzies."

This flip dismissal was I think consciously or unconsciously designed to make us defensive and say Oh no, I'm straight, I like men, I have a boyfriend, I'm (happily or unhappily) married, or whatever.

Instead it had the opposite effect. We were learning to not let people who were not our real friends define us, our movement, our issues, anything about who we were and why we were doing what we were doing. There was a lot of nonsense going around about that.

What we did instead was to take a good hard look at the issue of gayness and why gay people had such a tough time of it and mostly lived in the closet. We discovered a lot of common ground. Articles on gay oppression routinely appeared in Women's Movement publications.

We examined the rigid sex roles still expected of all of us back in that late 60's early 70's time and why on earth human beings would be forced into something so unnatural. The gay liberation movement reminded us that sex was for pleasure and not just for babies. We jointly confronted the impossible Puritanism of mainstream American society. (May those days not succeed in making a comeback , Dr. Laura & friends notwithstanding.) We analyzed the oppressive nature of the traditional nuclear family.

It all seemed to came down to the same ol' Divide and Conquer crap. Attack lesbians and separate out the Lesbian Liberation women and the Women's Liberation women, who would then by implication all be straight and not be interested in serious support of gay issues.

I am very proud of CWLU and all of us who made a conscious decision to make the public response which more or less said,

My personal sexuality is not what we are discussing here; your attitude is such that you are never going to know.

We closed ranks. We did not retreat into comfortable public heterosexuality.

I think this was one of our many victories. It is not so strange to see "straight but not narrow" buttons in states where the reactionaries are waging battles against the civil rights of our GLBTT comrades.

It makes me smile to think that now the "none of your business" response to the "bunch of lezzies" charge garbage sounds old fashioned.

We made a difference. The struggles we waged and continue to wage make a difference.

Mary Ann Gilpatrick

The House of Love

(2005) by Naomi Weisstein — The first rule of a hospital is: don’t believe the patient, even if she’s shouting with pain. She may just be kidding.

The House of Love: or My two weeks in the hospital fighting to stay alive against the sexist, ageist, authoritarian, negligence of the hospital staff by Naomi Weisstein

(Editors Note: Naomi Weisstein was hospitalized and tells this story of our modern medical "system". Naomi isbattling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but is still an active feminist and does her best to keep up to date in her scientific field of psychology. Naomi is a former member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union).

The first rule of a hospital is: don’t believe the patient, even if she’s shouting with pain. She may just be kidding. When I got there, on a Tuesday afternoon, I’d been throwing up for 3 days -- and throwing up clotted blood for 2 days. My stomach was so distended you could trace its hard outlines pushing out around my abdomen.

But on Thursday night, two days after I got to the emergency room, where it had been established that my stomach was paralyzed and nothing was passing through it, and hence, the head gastroenterologist had said I had to have an NG tube and a pump at all times, I was without the tube and screaming with pain again. My stomach was the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon.

An NG tube is a nasogastric tube that would be used to pump the accumulated blood and other fluids out of my stomach.

“You don’t need an NG tube, Mrs. Messtein” said the good-looking resident with a number 9 on his T-shirt, Dr. Ortiz. “I’ll give you a Tylenol suppository, honey, and you’ll be okay.”

“I won’t be okay. I need an NG tube.”

I was flabbergasted. Since Tuesday, it must’ve been all over my chart that I should be using a nasogastric tube and a stomach pump. Didn’t he read the notes? After hours of agony in the emergency room the day I got there writhing and moaning, a Chinese doctor entered the isolation room where I’d been placed, strode over to my stretcher and said in a high, shrill voice (the standard of beauty, I hear, for Asian women’s voices)

“Mrs. Meinstein?”

“Yes,” I groaned.

“I’m Dr. Lee. Please swallow this.”

She inserted the first of the many nasogastric – NG – tubes I was to receive. It was a rubber length of tubing that went in my right nostril and down my throat all the way into my stomach.

“Swallow. Swallow. Swallow. That’s good. Keep swallowing.

Great quantities of coagulated blood, “coffee grounds” came erupting out of the other end of the tube. Then she took a hand pump, and more quantities of coffee grounds came out.

“There!” said Dr. Lee, “You see? I’m the only good doctor here!”

“Thank you.” I whispered. The NG tube hurt my throat and my nose, but my stomach stopped threatening to explode.

“I’m the only doctor around here who knows what she’s doing.”

She left the room.

She had left instructions that, until my stomach started working, I should have an NG tube and a pump at all times except when they were doing procedures. The staff seemed to be following her instructions. The next day, after a procedure -- a CAT scan – where the NG tube had been removed, three floor doctors walked into my room unbidden by me or my nurse and reinserted the NG tube.

I gave the name Dr. “Parsnip,” to the head of the team, because although he was tall, he had a tiny head that hardly blossomed out of his neck. Dr. “Violin” was shorter, with cute curly wide lips that looked like the bridge of a violin. And poor Dr. “Junkie”, the lowest in the rank of the three and therefore, the one who was constantly deprived of sleep, was twitching like a heroin addict in a Raymond Chandler novel.

(The second rule of a hospital is that if you aren’t important in the status hierarchy, your sleep is not important either – not for the patients, not for the interns, not for the residents, -- at times, not even for the young attending physicians).

When Dr. Parsnip had inserted the tube in my nose and I had swallowed it, Dr. Violin took a hand pump, and pumped out more coagulated blood, like Dr. Lee had done the day before..

“We won’t attach the mechanical pump until the x-ray technician checks that it’s in your stomach.

“Too bad!” I said grinning. “I thought Dr. Violin was going to stay here all night and pump the stuff out.”

Dr. Violin came alive. His wide curly lips stretched into a movie star smile, and his cheeks colored.

“I could,” he said, flirting. “I’m on the floor all night.”

(And he did pop in later on. “Supersex!” he said, an old joke, to which I answered “thank you but right now, Dr. Violin, I think I prefer the soup.”)
And now here was Dr. Ortiz telling me I didn’t need a tube?

“Didn’t you read my chart? I asked.

“I read your chart”, said Dr. Ortiz.

“Dr. Lee said I should keep an NG tube in at all times.”

“Now look,” said Dr. Ortiz. “I have six patients on this floor that are in much worse shape than you.”

The third rule of a hospital is that yours is a trivial case and you shouldn’t be attended to until they deal with all the other really important medical emergencies there. Maybe in about 3 weeks they can get to you.

I was bellowing again with the pain.

“I don’t need this,” said Dr. Ortiz.

I stopped shouting. “Are you telling me - ?”

“I’ll give you Tylenol. Nurse!”

“Are you telling me –” I was trying not to howl. “Are you telling me I was ambulanced to the hospital, sirens wailing, my husband Jesse sobbing, and me trying to remember my bruchas, just to be told –

“I’ll get you Tylenol.”

I was shouting again. “Just to be told YOU DON’T NEED THIS?”

“I’ve had four patients who –“

“Look at my stomach. Look! Look! I need something to pump it out. I’m having Rosemary’s Baby!!”

Bad joke. Number one, he didn’t know who Rosemary’s Baby was. (He was 7 years old and still dressed in his little red velvet shorts suit when the movie about Rosemary having a monstrous baby after being raped by the devil was playing). Number two, if he’d had known who Rosemary’s baby was, it would have gendered me even further than did my age, small frame and obvious distress. I would have become some little old lady who might be psychotic – might actually think she was having the devil’s baby.

“You aren’t having a baby, honey. I’ll order some Tylenol.” He walked out of the room.

I took the Tylenol. The pain was intermittently awful, and a half-hour later I was screaming again.

The floor nurse came in. We had been joking about her childhood in Antigua before, and she was friendly.

“What’s the problem?”

“I need an NG tube like I had yesterday. The doctor took it out to do an endoscopy, and forgot to put it back in.”

“Doctor doesn’t forget things like that,” said the nurse, but she was feeling my huge protruding stomach with some concern. She adjusted her stethoscope and listened.

“There aren’t any bowel sounds,” she said.

“I know. My stomach is paralyzed. I’m not passing anything down to the gut. I need an NG tube to get these fluids out of me”, I moaned. Why was I having to act as my own medical spokesperson? What if I was too weak to talk? Who would be my advocate then?

“I’ll get the doctor.”

An hour and a half later, Dr. Ortiz came back with a little length of rubber in a plastic wrapping. The NG tube.
“Okay, Mrs. Murk, you know the drill.”

I opened my mouth and swallowed the tube. Then he hooked up my NG tube to the smooth sounding machine with tiny flashing red and white lights. Again, as in the past, quantities of coagulated blood came pouring out, and into a plastic tub that was placed on the floor, at the foot of the machine. The relief was instantaneous. I tried not to, but I thanked Dr. Ortiz anyway.

“Oh thank you Dr. Ortiz. Oh thank you. I feel so much better...”


“Why do you have that “nine” on your shirt?” I asked.

“No reason.”

“You didn’t win it in LaCrosse? Field hockey?”


Dr. Ortiz had pretty black-circled green irises and long black lashes. Like most of the young residents at Lenox Hill, he had hard abs and prominent deltoids. He talked like he watched the television show “E.R.” devoutly -- half tough, (e.g. the “drill”) half-faux sensitive: (e.g. he probably thought I’d like his calling me “honey.”)

Underlying the arrogance, there was that faint whiff of ”I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” If he knew, he would have at least listened for evidence that I had my bowel sounds before he told me I didn’t need an NG tube. He would have at least felt my stomach. For that matter, although it would have prolonged my suffering, he would have called in an x-ray technician to make sure the NG tube had landed in my stomach before he connected the pump. But I was so relieved. I fell asleep for the first time all night, at four in the morning. (It turned out, as I learned later, that I had already been identified as a “troublemaking old lady” when Dr. Ortiz came to see me. Apparently, this stereotype was sufficient information about my case for him to conclude that he didn’t need to read my chart, and thus he didn’t need to insert the NG tube and stomach pump that Dr. Lee had said I needed at all times. More about this later.)

“Good morning Dr. Weisstein”

I jumped awake. “Huh? Have I won the Nobel Prize?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

“You called me by my actual name! I must have rocketed up in the hierarchy.”

“Hah hah.”

“Well .....”

It was my lovely private duty nurse, Anne St. George. I realized she was using a formal “Dr. Weisstein” because others were in the room, and she wanted the hierarchy-ridden Lenox Hill staff to have respect for me.

“You have to get ready, Dr. Weisstein. Transport will be here in five minutes to take you to your barium swallow. We have to find out why your stomach is paralyzed. You can’t have an NG tube in there forever.”

It was now Monday morning. They had been testing me since the previous Tuesday, -- almost a week ago -- when I had finally agreed to go to the hospital.

I’d been in bad shape when I went in. I had been throwing up anything that I put in my mouth for three days, even a sip of water. The vomit looked like fresh blood. Also, a series of blood tests given Tuesday morning, showed my white cell count was past critical – 40,000/ mm3. (I was usually below 10,000) My blood sugar was alarmingly high, 450 mg/ml (110 is considered normal). My heart rate was also dangerously high at 180 beats/sec – 60 is normal. One of my main doctors had pleaded over the phone with Anne: “she’ll die if she doesn’t get to the hospital right away. Please convince her to go.”

When I arrived they had flooded me with antibiotics and my white cell count was now down. They were giving me insulin twice a day, and my blood sugar was back below two hundred. They had done an electrocardiogram and a carotid artery scan to see if I was in danger of cardiac arrest. I wasn’t.

But my stomach refused to pass along its contents further down to my gut and all week long they had been testing me to find out why. While my stomach distention and pain had been greatly relieved by Dr. Lee’s NG tube, and the subsequent ones that Drs. Parsnip, Violin and Junkie and Dr. Ortiz had put in, everybody kept telling me, “You can’t keep an NG tube in there forever.” We had to keep exploring the mystery of my paralyzed stomach and get it to function again.

They were getting close to giving up on the tests they could do for what was wrong, though. They had already done a total body CAT Scan to see if there was an obstruction someplace in my GI tract. No blockage found. They had done an endoscopy to further check blockage in my stomach. Nothing there. They had done a gall bladder scan to see if the bile ducts were closed. No problem there. They’d given me some radioactive eggs and jelly, and I watched from my supine position underneath the digital camera in Nuclear Medicine as each successive one-minute computer picture of my stomach showed the equivalent of powdered radioactive eggs and jelly just sitting there, not moving (they pumped it out later in the day). No stomach motility, even though they couldn’t find any blockage.

What was wrong? That morning I was scheduled for a “barium swallow”, that would radioactively outline my entire G.I. tract and trace any obstruction, pathological narrowing, blocking mass and/or diverticuli that I might have.

“Are you ready for transport?” Anne asked when the team came in.

“I’m always ready for transport.” I answered.

Transport to my various tests down at Nuclear Medicine, and other places in the hospital had become one of the high points of my day. It didn’t have to be. It depended, first, on the transport staff available that particular time of the day. The initial transport team I had on Wednesday, when I was taken for my CAT Scan, was horrible. There was Vernon, who looked like a solid block of concrete from his (probably) ex-con’s head through his barrel chest to his huge feet. He was accompanied by an unnamed young man with a razor face and tattoos all over his arms and neck (“got ‘em in the military” he mumbled when asked. “Gulf War”). They made me think I’d descended to the 4th circle of hell. Vernon yanked the lavender goose down comforter I had brought from home off the stretcher where I was clutching it. Hospital temperatures were extremely cold, night and day, as I’d found out from previous stays. They were protecting the equipment and letting the patients go to hell.

“You can’t take that with you” he grunted.

“Why not?” said my angel nurse Anne. “She needs it.”

Vernon was not expecting opposition. He didn’t answer. Anne started placing it over me again.
“It’ll.... get ...uh ..[he thought hard] ... uh ... dirty!” said Vernon, and yanked it off again.

“She needs it” said Anne, and placed it on again.

The staff nurse intervened, being ranks above transport in the strict and strictly enforced, venomous hospital hierarchy. “She can take it.”

“Okay” said Vernon, flashing the nurse a murderous look. “Whatever.” Razor face joined in. “Whatever you say” he fumed.

“It’s not your job to decide”, snapped the nurse.

“It’s not your job to decide” mimicked razor face in a soft high falsetto.

The hatred was flying.

But transport got much better after that, and this following Monday for the Barium Swallow I had another, much more laid back team and as I found out later, an affectionate one as well: Carmelo and Sharon. They were gentle in transferring me from the bed to the transfer board and from the board to the stretcher. They asked me if I wanted to have my head up a little so that I could better see what was going on as they wheeled me down the corridors. They let me keep my lavender blankie.

When they started wheeling me along the corridors, I became, as usual, happy. Later on, I’ll talk about my twenty-two bedridden years lying in a mostly darkened room; for now, I’ll just say my exposure to all this brightly-lit activity was thrilling.

One has to imagine a music/computer sound track to accompany the wheeling. There are electronic beeps and small squawks, a speeding two-four drumbeat and a running rock bass. When you’re on the stretcher with your head raised high enough to observe what’s going on, it looks like frames of a movie just jump-cut fast enough so scenes fly by staccato. You see people being caught in mid-intention as they move to accomplish whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing.

The hospital is a honeycomb of job status, gender, race, class, good looks and experience. These form the six walls of the cell of peer interactions: the young Asian nurses’ aides; the Jamaican custodians; the Puerto Rican transport workers, the American black female administrators with their hair in drop-dead straight or balloon-frizzy weaves, the old white-haired Irish-American shipping and handling men; the young white female technicians with the just-washed bottled blond hair shine, the Jewish, East Indian and WASP doctors. Everybody on the staff probably recognizes everyone else, but their interactions are largely limited to their position in the hierarchy.

One’s particular cell of the honeycomb determines the appropriate salutation. Transport personnel greet each other with an almost surprised “hey!”, the vowel shortened like in Spanish, and modulated by how friendly the two people feel towards each other. (Unless they’re actually Hispanic, in which case they say “Esta?” or “Como esta?”)

There’s a longer “hey!” for a patient on a stretcher with an unusual appearance, in my case, a screaming lavender quilt so different from the white basket weave blankets usually inadequately covering the patient’s body.

“He-ey!” said the six Black custodians lounging on some dumpsters as I whizzed past. Three of them rose.

“I like your blanket”

“I want your blanket”


“Sharon, please hand me that pretty quilt.”

“Hey!” said Sharon, in standard shortened-vowel-transport-greeting.

I was rolled into a long, chilly corridor outside of the nuclear medicine testing suites, and parked along side three other supine patients on stretchers who had been waiting for godknowshow long. My fascination was replaced with boredom, cold and finally distress. The nurses hurried by, rubbing their arms from the chill. Mike, the head tech of radiology came out many times to assure all of us patients: “You’ll be next,” or in the case of female patients, “you’ll be next, sweetheart.”

When I was warehoused here in Nuclear Medicine on the first Thursday after I got to the hospital, waiting for my abdominal motility test, a stretchered patient ahead of me kept making jokes. Good ones, if familiar. We both were given radioactive eggs to eat. “I’ve always been known for my glowing personality” he said. And when they told him he’d be next: “Ready for my motility test, Mr. DeMille.” But after an hour of waiting, even he got cranky.

This frigid morning, however, nobody made jokes, even at first. A woman on a stretcher in front of me was near tears. “I can’t be left in the cold like this” she protested. “You know I’m still recovering from pneumonia.” “Oy vay,” I thought to myself. I’d contracted pneumonia once before in another hospital. I asked my nurse Anne to go over to her and see if she could help her.

“What can I do?”

“Who are you?”

“That patient’s private duty nurse”

“Get me out of here. I’m freezing”

Anne went to get Mike. “She’s next” said Mike.

Of course the fourth rule of the hospital is that patients must wait.

The patients must be awakened after nights of little sleep, rushed to Nuclear Medicine, or Endoscopy, or Gallbladder, or the Morgue, and there the patients must expect to wait. They must expect to wait on their stretchers interminably, warehoused up against other patients, with no nurses in attendance, shitting and peeing and groaning and shivering and sometimes shrieking for, literally, hours.

I myself had two urgent bowel movements, “bee-ems,” while I was on the stretcher, in public. Bedridden as I am, couldn’t walk off the stretcher and into one of the toilets on the corridors. So I shat to the accompaniment of the transport “heys!” and the scheduler’s “you’re next” and the headnodding doctors greeting each other in their honeycombed way: (Nodding one’s head is the shortened equivalent of “hello” in the doctor’s status cell of interaction) Dr. Wolf nods his head and says “Dr. Fox?” Dr. Fox nods back and says “Dr. Wolf?” A third doctor joins them. They both nod and say, “Dr. Budgerigar?”

When I was first brought to the Emergency Room, I waited on a stretcher for 10 hours before they wheeled me up to a room. (I was lucky enough to have a private duty nurse, so that I could shit and pee in a pan.)

First, I was put in an isolation room. But eventually they needed it for a much worse case, and I was wheeled out into the main “ER”, and jammed up right next to a teenage girl who was coughing great hacking coughs and who was said to have encephalitis. (There was a plaid curtain suspended from a track in the ceiling closing off her bed from mine, as if that visual barrier would have prevented the spread of anything.) In the ER, I had my NG tube in until I coughed and sneezed it out at about 11:30 P.M. Then they realized I wasn't supposed to have an NG tube there at all, because it meant that the contrast fluid I had ingested for easy identification of organ blockage for my CT scan had been pumped out. They had asked me if I would take more fluid, and wait another two hours until it seeped back into my major organs.

That would have made it two in the morning before the CT Scan would begin, and four in the morning before I got out. I said no. “But the CT Scan is very busy in the daytime, and it’s much less crowded at night. You’ll like it much better at night.”


I didn’t know about it then, but that was my first bad move in the hospital – even before I had made the joke about Rosemary’s baby that Dr. Ortiz didn’t understand. The word went up to the floor that I was scheduled for that I was a “troublemaking old lady”. (My private duty nurse, Carmen, adept at making friends, wormed this out of the nurses at the station later on in my stay). I myself had wondered at the initial hostility of the nurses when I got to my room.

“Now, I’m the head nurse here”, said the tall nurse with a thick Irish brogue, “and I don’t want any trouble from you.” At the time, I thought she said it to every patient, or at least every old, female patient. But I had been stigmatized.

This freezing morning, I waited for my Barium Swallow for 4 hours. But it wasn’t because I was a troublemaking old lady; everybody, as I said, was waiting.

How do you wait for four hours? First you don’t know it’s gonna be 4 hours. So you start to pass the ten minutes you think its going to take. I joked with husband Jesse and nurse Anne. Then Anne sat down some distance from me on a crate of empty enema receptacles that we overheard the white-haired Irish-American shipping-and-handling men say was going to be returned and Jesse went off to argue about the delay with all the relevant administrators in charge: nursing, transport and radiology.

I myself began that morning’s observation of the anthropology of the hospital, -- this time of the action outside the Nuclear Medicine administrative station. From having waited for a variety of tests, I was already familiar with the players there, so these were continuing stories. The priapic male who had made an appearance when I was waiting for my gallbladder scan was back again, flirting with the light skinned and well coifed (one would say she had “good hair”) black sub-administrator behind the wide counter that also held another, darker-skinned sub-administrator who was lean and tall and had on a soft-looking sweater that invited cuddling. The concupiscent man was rubbing his crotch against the counter while talking to “good hair.”

Then good hair got up and came around the divide for a short errand. Priapus turned his attention to cuddly sweater. They were almost out of earshot, but it seemed the dialog went something like this.

Priapus: “That’s a cool sweater. So soft.”

Cuddly Sweater: “Thank you.”

Priapus: “May I feel it?”

Cuddly Sweater holds out her arm.

Priapus: “No, not there. Hah Hah Hah

Hah Hah Hah Hah.”

Cuddly Sweater: “Hah Hah.”

In general, the hospital is a “hot” place for much of the staff. Nurses’ flirt with doctors; doctors, as I found out when Violin, Parsnip and Junkie inserted my NG tube, flirt with patients. Sub-administrators flirt with transport, transport flirts with everybody.

The flirting is mixed in seamlessly with ferocious prison guard behavior. While I was waiting the Thursday after my arrival for my stomach motility test, a Nuclear Medicine tech aide with hair the color of a can of lemon pledge got furious at Jesse and Anne for daring to try to visit with me after I had already been placed under the camera (but was waiting for the techs to get ready). She almost pulled out what I imagined was her tiny pearl-handed revolver that she might have carried inside her white tech coat. But as she was, I imagined, reaching for the gun, the head tech walked by smiling and she careened off into a hip swaying, jokey, sweet-faced giggly, wouldn’t-hurt-a-flea conversation with him.

She was present again this morning, making absolutely sure that Jesse didn’t use his cell phone (only permitted in the case of doctors and nurses. The cell phones were assumed to alter the functioning of the machines; (recently they found out that this isn’t true) but then why did the hospital permit doctors and nurses to yap away at their pleasure?)

I asked one of my other private duty nurses, Nicole, why she thought the hospital was such a hot place (when it wasn’t being such an angry place.)

“They get angry because they’re allowed to,” she answered. “And they flirt because everybody has a job.” I think in certain ways, she’s right, about the flirting. It’s a giant mixer where everybody in the hospital, at least on certain shifts, gets familiar with all the others working the place and they begin to look good to each other. And there is another reason for the heated up atmosphere of sexuality I think, having to do with the altruistic meta-purpose of a hospital, namely to heal the sick. Healing, altruism, selflessness may bring out the erotic in people. I’ll get back to that reason in more detail later on.

After the anthropology I started reading a trade magazine, half of which was devoted to reporting scams in the hospital biz, and half of which was devoted to sharp new schemes -- future scams -- that had turned specific hospitals around and made them profitable.
Then I closed my eyes and started reviewing my “case”.

I was sick long before my stomach seized up and I had to go to the hospital. I’ve been bedridden for twenty-three years with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, more accurately called Myalgic Encephalitis and Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, ME/CFIDS. I have continual killer headaches that make migraines look like a picnic, photo-and audio sensitivity, hypersomnia alternating with frantic insomnia, constant fatigue so severe that even brushing my teeth is equivalent of a triathlon, and devastating vertigo. I can’t keep my eyes open or read for long, or I start clutching the bed to stop myself from imagining that I’m spinning off the surface. Then I close my eyes for a while, and take some dopamine eye drops, if it’s time (they have to be three hours apart) and if I’m lucky the spinning will stop. If I’m not lucky, on bad days, even with my eyes closed, the acute episodes alternate with the sensation that I am on a capsizing ferry steaming towards New Jersey.

The worst part of ME/CFIDS is what they call “Post-Exertional Malaise.” If you try to do more than your body can do, you get horribly sick, and the collapse can last for months if not years.

When I first got ME/CFIDS, I refused to admit that I had to slow down. But, as a CFIDS buddy keeps telling me “the disease is unforgiving. If you overdo it, you pay.” And I did pay: two years after I fell ill, I got so sick from overexertion, I couldn’t read, talk, listen, look, visit or get up from a supine position. I had to wear a light-blocking mask over my eyes in a darkened room at all times. Nurses had to feed me. They had to whisper if and when they talked to me. All I did was lay quietly as best as I could, -- interrupted by my moans of pain and screaming from the acute vertiginous spinning – all day long, and half the night (when insomnia attacked).

“Your wife’s a vegetable” one helpful doctor screamed at Jesse during this period. It wasn’t at all true – my mind kept racing and tumbling, and I wrote five novels in my head during the time I was so sick, just to keep myself from going crazy with the boredom and pain. But on the outside, I could have been mistaken for a head of broccoli. I was almost completely locked in.

At various times after that, a variety of neurological interventions and a transfusion of 12 pints of whole blood improved my condition, so I’m not as bad as I used to be. But no medical therapy works for very long. I develop tolerance to even the most effective of them. Additionally, if I am required to do more than I can muster the energy for – even as small a task as listening to someone with a loud voice, or listening to the radio for more than my allotted 5 minutes a day, I suffer horribly all the next day, or all the next week, or all the next month, depending on how serious the over-exertion is.

That is why I resisted going to the hospital so adamantly in the first place, even though it was clear to me that something was horribly wrong. Every interaction and procedure in a hospital is fraught with terror: will this be the final push over the brink of “post-exertional malaise,” back into the almost completely “locked in” state of former years? “Vegetable” on the outside, bored, pain-compounded frenzy inside my head.

When I open my eyes again, I concentrate on the two prints on the wall above my stretcher. Lenox Hill has prints on all the walls, beginning with the late 19th century impressionists, through fauves and modernists. It makes transport even more delightful.

I play Descartes with the prints. I call the game “Descartes” because I am trying to figure out why something is the way it is with out any help from the facts other than those immediately before me – the rest of figuring something out is only from, as Descartes said, the pure and direct light of reason. It’s an old game: I introduced it to Jesse a long time ago, when we began courting, and took a wild ride from New Haven to Chicago. Jesse drove with his pants off all across Ohio, while we commented Descartes-style, on everything by the roadside, and waited for the state troopers’ siren to tell him to pull over.

“Well you see officer, my elastic broke and then I had to pee and .....”

Now I turn my attention to the logistics of the prints. Who ordered these prints? Why these? Why no “old masters”? I decided that it was a package deal, -- 100 prints framed under glass for, oh, say $10,000. I hypothesize this on the grounds that nobody on the hospital staff has the time, patience, or expertise to choose these particular prints one at a time. Maybe in the seventies, when all services, even private hospitals, weren’t so starved for cash,(hadn’t yet gone into skimming and scamming schemes like managed care so only those on the very top profited from whatever revenue came in) they might have had an “environmental therapist” who chose prints for the walls. (And decided not to have any old masters because it would make patients think they had already died.) But not any more. These prints were from an outfit that specialized in medical, and maybe other “ambiences.” “For you, no old masters --- $7,500!”

After three hours of waiting, I also play Descartes with the particular prints I’m looking at – trying to concentrate hard enough on what the artist was trying to convey so that I won’t have another explosive, watery, embarrassing, messy “Bee-em” right in the hall with all the traffic spinning around me.

At noon, Mike came out and told me I couldn’t have the barium swallow anyway. They needed to do a more probing endoscopy – an “enderoscopy.” The waiting in the glacial corridor was in vain. They were sorry.

What was I to say? “But you didn’t consider my post-exertional malaise. You have to be careful with me. I can get sick as a dog at any time.” I was wheeled to the endoscopy section to wait another hour.

Jesse, who, after talking to some administrators about the wait had come back to keep me company took off again to argue with them about this latest muck-up. He was extremely angry. But they were waiting for him. They apologized, smiling, for the unfortunate scheduling “problem” with the barium swallow, and then they counter-attacked. Jesse, who had been posting bulletins via e-mail to my various listserves, friends and colleagues, described it this way:

Readers who see this on CVNet or the feminist psychology listserve will be interested in learning that, perhaps for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, a high administrator angrily tore down a posted copy of a Science reprint. To give Naomi a face in this depersonalizing situation, I posted on the door to her room a copy of her 1977 "Adventures of a Woman in Science," a copy of her "Neural Symbolic Activity: A Psychophysical Measure," (Science 1970); and a couple of supportive e-mails (with names and addresses rubbed out.) 

Nurses had found these informative, and one spoke movingly of her daughter's attendance at a special science high school in Queens. These were all torn down while Naomi was waiting for the Barium Swallow by the hospital's Director of Nursing, probably because of content (one supportive letter had spoken of the writer's family's bad experiences at Lenox Hill); but, seeing that objection to content wasn't a very acceptable reason, various other contradictory rationales were offered, including vague "regulations" (which were never shown), and, from the hospital's legal department, reference to "infection control"! I took a picture.

Later, the hulking Director of Security and his assistant, two huge suits, came down the length of the seventh floor, in a High-Noonish scene, to threaten me for having taken a picture of the tearing down of the material on Naomi's door. One of Naomi's most admirable moments in all this was a rasping but eloquent speech delivered despite the NG tube to the Nursing Supervisor, in which Naomi offered her condemnation of the tearing down of her work, and objecting to the warehousing of herself and her fellow patients.

When I was wheeled out of the Barium Swallow holding area into the endoscopy suite, I asked, “When will Dr. Lee be here for the endoscopy?”

“She’s usually on time”, said Marie, “What a lovely purple quilt. My favorite color.”

“And mine” I said. “I hope she’s on time.”

Endoscopy was a suite with relatively young techs, and the young Dr. Lee whom I had already encountered in the ER. She was as thin as a paper clip, and dressed in suits so sleek and tailored, they were beyond what was worn on the TV show “ER” – arching over, perhaps, into “Law and Order?’

While we were waiting for Dr. Lee to arrive, the young techs played rock, from one of the amplifiers they had hooked up to a snazzy desk-top radio. You couldn’t fault Lenox Hill for technology, although they might’ve hired a good queuing theory tech to make a computer program of schedules that would minimize patient’s waiting.
As usual neither Jesse nor Anne was let into the endoscopy suite, although it had been their practice to accompany me every place I had to go, -- and to be shouted out of the rooms that I was in. Why did everybody get so angry?

When Dr. Lee arrived, my second endoscopy went as smoothly as my first, and as before, no obstruction or mass was found. The anesthesia I was given was superb. I remember the endoscopy I had had twenty years before, when I had been told to swallow an even thicker tube than the naso-gastric one, with a probe on the end. It was as if you were experimenting with a horrible new way of asphyxiating yourself. But here, from almost the minute Dr. Lee took out the NG tube and put in the endoscopic probe and told me to swallow, I remember nothing. The anesthesia was timed exactly -- a technological marvel: When Dr. Lee was done, she said “Okay? Okay!” I heard the first dimly; by the second I was wide awake. Technology! Don’t nobody ever knock it when it’s done in the service of the patient.

“You’re Sharon, I know” I said to the original transport team when they came to wheel me back, and the virtual movie soundtrack began again -- the two-four beat, the computer squeals, the “Hey!” and “Como esta?” to friends in the halls.
“How do you know that? You’re very observant”, she said.

“I heard somebody calling you that.”
“And you’re –“

“Carmelo” said the other transport worker, happy to be recognized.

I had concluded that patients rarely talk to transport, maybe adopting the poisonous hierarchy that you only talk to those of higher rank, or maybe because you are just too weak or sick or in pain to hold any kind of conversation except to those you actually have to talk to.

I found the various kinds of hospital workers below the status of nurse friendly and happy – sometimes even thrilled to have a patient actually talk to them. And, of course, given my twenty-three years of painful isolation I was thrilled to talk to them. My Jamaican greyhound-hipped custodian had said “You know who I am” with delight, when we had exchanged pleasantries about our earrings. Carmelo was even more forthcoming. Back in my room when I was transferred from the stretcher to the board, and the board to my bed, he noticed I was wearing socks with black and white blotches on them. Carmen, my night nurse had given them to me as a birthday present.

“Mooz socks” he said in his lilting Puerto Rican accent. (He had already described the history of his travels back and forth between the U.S. and the pearl of the Antilles, as we were riding in the elevator.), “Ooh! Ooh!” He closed his eyes and pretended to swoon. “She’s wearing Mooz socks!” (Moo socks). We both laughed. (Nicole later told me not to get too cozy with the hospital personnel. She’d also picked up on the sexual overtones radiating in all directions like fireworks – the kind that form a sphere of radial spokes – and she was worried that some “angel of death” orderly would sneak into my room in the middle of the night and lethally inject some air into my veins.)

Endoscopy had found no masses or obstructions. But my stomach was distending again, since I had been without the NG tube for a couple of hours by this time. Anne found Dr. Geller, another sleep-deprived resident whose eyes were permanently pasted open so that the pupils were whittled down to tiny points.
Dr. Geller didn’t give me a hard time about the NG tube. “Which nostril?” asked Dr. Geller.

“Left, please.”

“You’re not going to be able to have an NG tube forever,” he said, as he made me swallow.

“I know.” I said, “I’ve been lecturing my stomach.”

I swallowed and swallowed.

“There. I’ll get an x-ray technician to come in and see it’s in the right place. Then we’ll start the pump.”

“Thank you .....Hey! Didn’t you used to be on TV levitating trays and bending spoons?”

“That was Uri Geller. I’m Dr. Ari Geller.”

“Oh .....but why did you go to all that trouble to change your name?”

Geller laughed, but when I saw him next, rollicking along on my transport movie, on the way to the next Barium Swallow, I said “Ari!” and he stiffened and said, “Dr. Geller to you.”

“Dr. Weisstein to you” I said back. “And a happy birthday to you as well!” I added, hoping that it would be the beginning of a musical number, orderlies and nurses flinging off their uniforms to reveal gold-sequined short shorts and Zircon-encrusted sweetheart bustiers as they tap-danced to the virtual music. And I would be the center of it, on my stretcher, because I was still wearing my Mooz socks.

I slept for a while after Ari – Dr. Geller to you – put in the NG tube. Apparently, the anesthesia I took for the endoscopy hadn’t worn off as effectively as I had thought earlier.

I woke up to a full house. Staff nurses, as usual, were poking and pricking: blood sugar, blood for pathology, new veins for IV antibiotics, NG tube contents to empty, nasal cannula for oxygen in place; and Anne was making sure I was getting my standard CFS meds.

When she saw I was fully awake, she asked

“Are you comfortable?”
“I make a living” I answered back, showing her I was awake, and repeating a standing joke between us.

Jesse who was at the hospital every day, had made himself comfortable, in a corner of my room, typing on his laptop, the new newspapers, books, and e-mails he brought for me piled precipitously on the desk next to him. He had pushed some of `the profusion of flowers over to make room. He told me that there was also a pile of e-mail to me on the floor.

The attending doctor walked in. Dr. Jemail was a somewhat authoritarian, somewhat irritable critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist, who seemed to have a good nature underneath, and also seemed genuinely to care that I recover. He was good looking in the style of French movie star who plays sensitive, laid-back, a bit feminized non-tough-guy heroes, like the sensitive laid-back, a bit feminized racing car driver of “A Man and a Woman,” (if one can conflate race-car and sensitive in the same description). He was Lebanese-Christian, had done his training in France, wore playfully dressy clothes like plaid shirts and suspenders beneath his White Doctors Coat, and had enormous blue eyes.

He seemed faintly to vibe a European male fussy fastidiousness.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Better,” I answered. “I was down in Nuclear Medicine waiting for four-“

“I know.” He cut me off. “Jesse already told me.” He looked at the oxygen delivery. “You’re still taking oxygen.”

“it helps with the vertigo” I said.
“Okay” he said. None of the doctors knew what to permit for my underlying CFS condition, and what not. He was liberal in what he okayed, like the Procrit, B12, and Dopamine and Adenosine drops Anne administered.

“Dr.Lee says she couldn’t find anything wrong in the enderoscopy.”

“So can I go home now?”

Jesse and Anne laughed. Dr. Jemail didn’t.

“We have to find out what’s wrong. You can’t use an NG tube forever.”

I changed tones, got serious.

“Tell me again what it could be.”

Dr. Jemail went through the possibilities: A blockage we haven’t found yet; a mass; a cancer that has destroyed some of the stomach muscle (unlikely); a “lazy stomach” from lying supine for 23 years or from diabetes, or both (I myself thought both of these unlikely because I had neither reflux nor nausea in the days preceding my attack of gastritis).

“Would you have to operate to bypass the stomach that wasn’t working?” I asked.

“It’s too soon to think of that yet” (i.e. “Yes”).

“Why are there always coffee grounds in my stomach fluid?”

“Possibly because of your previous vomiting.”

“Oh,” I said ...“Then here’s my hypothesis:,” I began. “I ate take-out Thai food, and caught a virus that 2/3 of New York is having – the Norwalk virus. It closed down my stomach, irritated it so it bled, made my diabetes and immune system go kablooey and now I’m slowly recovering.”

“Then why is your stomach passing nothing?’

“That’s a problem” I conceded.

“Naomi is a scientist, you know,” said Jesse.

“I know”

“She’s probably right,” said Jesse.

“We’ll see.”

Jemail left, and I worried. Then I fell asleep again – soldier’s sleep. You get it on the run in the hospital. Then I woke up and scratched at a rash that was developing on my left shoulder. Then I read and reread the e-mails from my friends.

A nurse came in and did bloods and IV’s and NG tube measurements. I still couldn’t take anything into my stomach except ice chips. “And don’t go crazy with them,” Dr. Geller had warned sternly. “Just a few at a time!” Jesse left. Carmen, my super-competent night nurse came on, and we talked for awhile. I thanked her for my Mooz’ socks. Then she turned the lights out. Time to try to sleep.

But I stayed up worrying all night about what was going to happen to me.

“Patient agitated,” it says on the nurse’s notes for Monday night, that night.

Carmen had closed the curtains in my large corner room with the huge TV that we refused the fee to get it to turn on (I couldn’t watch anyway due to the vertigo TV always induces). My flowers smelled fresh and like earth and grass, still blooming in profusion on the windowsill. The red and white lights of the NG pump shone bright in the dark.

What if I had to have an operation even just to find out what it is in there? I’d never survive.

I asked Carmen to open the curtains and lift the blinds. Unlike the foggy, streaked glass in the windows of my bedroom at home, these windows shone with a lapidary brilliance. (There was a special custodian who came around to wash the windows every other day) It was still early night outside, and the lights of my city of diamonds were blazing, like glowing dominoes stacked in regular patterns up to the sky. My room was facing Park Avenue, and impressive, lighted architectural spandrels seemed to tumble over each other. A brilliant verdigris tower stood above the rest.

An orderly came in to monitor my blood sugar. She started to close the drapes.

“She wants them open.”

“She won’t get no sleep that way.” All three of us laughed. As if patients ever get sleep in a hospital, what with the continual blood drawings and temperature readings and IV adjustments.

But I figured I should at least try to doze off so I asked Carmen to close the blinds and windows, and I started my calming-the-insomnia procedures. I played Descartes: Q: Why were some of the sheets imprinted “Oceanside Linens” and others “Mt Sinai hospital” A: Oceanside was the service, and they mixed up sheets from their various clients all the time. Q: Why did the buildings across the street on Park Avenue look so close to my window? There was a median strip with plantings – flowers in the spring – between the two sides of the street. A: There were no perspective clues between my room and what was across the street, because, from my bed, I couldn’t see the median strip, so the two structures looked nearer.

I recited my special calming poems: “Death be not proud”; “Jesse is my shepherd” (I added verses and rewrote some of what was the 23rd psalm); “The owl and the pussycat.”

When I get sleepy, unfamiliar images crowd into my mind – women in harem costumes doing belly dances; iridescent rabbits with huge purple teeth. It’s called “hypnogogic imagery” and it means I’m going under. I tried to summon these images, but they wouldn’t come.

“What if cancer has already eaten half my stomach away? ...Well, there are a lot more tests, they’re going to do.”

I can’t meditate. I think it may be because, bedridden and unable to read, talk or watch TV for a good deal of my waking hours, I get so little stimulation ordinarily my brain is in no mood to shut out even more stimulation. A former graduate student used to tell me that when he tried to meditate, his teeth would start to grind, he’d get so on edge. He was a pretty wired person anyway, but then, so am I.
If it were cancer, wouldn’t I have felt it for months now? Well...my appetite has been bad for a while...

The orderlies came back for 6:00 AM bloods. I was wide awake..

“Your eyes are all red. You been awake?”

When they left, I asked Carmen to open the curtains and blinds again, and I watched the turning earth lighten the sky. Pretty soon, windows flared red in the beginning streaks of sun.

Time to start another hospital day.

“Dr. Weisstein” It was Anne.

“Have I won the Nobel Prize?”

“Are you comfortable?”

“I make a living.”

“Wake up sweetie, you’re going back to the Barium Swallow in ten minutes.”

“I’m up. Two Swallows do not a diagnosis make. My stomach is paralyzed.”

“Oh, Naomi! They’ll figure it out.”

But they didn’t figure it out. At least, not that Tuesday morning. I couldn’t manage to swallow all the white chalky radioactive barium they put before me, even though the helpful intern working in radiology that day cut the solution with sweetener. But my stomach just ballooned up, and no more would go in. They started some pictures but it was obvious nothing was moving. So they sent me back to my room.

Around 2:30 Tuesday afternoon, as I was bee-eming, explosively, as usual, Anne noticed a white streak in the stool.

“Barium?” we shouted almost simultaneously.

The Breakthrough!

“That’s what it looks like” said Anne. “It’s traveling from your stomach to your intestines.”

“Let’s call Nuclear Medicine and tell them the good news. That means my stomach’s working again.”

“You’re supposed to go back there in a half hour. We’ll tell them then.”

Sure enough, my stomach had cleared its contents in the interim. They took another couple of pictures, but again they stopped, because there was nothing to image. The barium was all gone, my stomach was empty.

Empty! I could go home now.

But, it turned out, not that fast. While I was waiting for transport – again a wait, after all their promises, and after the speedy morning and afternoon appointments, I broke out in large, thick demonically itchy hives all over my chest. We told the head of radiology, showed them to her.

“Take her up yourselves,” she said quickly. It was a desperate decision. Hospitals are very strict about transport. The liability to the hospital of non-transport workers moving a totally supine patient must have been quite dizzying. Jesse and Anne and I played a little Descartes, and decided that she was afraid I would develop anaphylactic shock, -- my lungs would close down – right there in the corridor on her turf. This was a greater risk than liability. She wanted me out of there fast.

“She’s got hives the size of strawberries” Anne announced to the nursing station as we hurried by.

The nurses moved fast this time. I had been transported with my left and right arm antibiotic IVs still chugging away. They turned them off. They substituted Benadryl to the right arm. They interrogated me – was I short of breath? No. Was I wheezing? No. They stethoscoped my lungs. Dr. Jemail was informed.

I was delivered from the emergency of stomach paralysis into a nightmare of itching. I tore at my skin on my knees, legs and chest, scratching wildly and trying not to for the remaining 8 days I was in the hospital. Dr. Jemail cancelled some tests for subsequent days because the rash was so intense. Some remaining tests required drinking contrast fluid that might have induced an allergic reaction, and we couldn’t risk it. But the crisis was over, although why my stomach had closed down was still a mystery. They probably wouldn’t have to operate, I probably didn’t have GI cancer, and I wasn’t going to die. Phew!

Things were lightening up all around. I was out of danger. The staff had become progressively friendlier to me, the longer I stayed. They were getting to know me, and Jesse’s campaign with the flowers and the writings on the door, especially my autobiographical “How can a little girl like you teach a great big class of men ....” turned female nurses who were initially hostile to the “troublemaking old lady” into friends. People stood at the door reading it, page by page. Almost all of them had experienced some sort of discrimination or their daughters were experiencing it now. And just as long as you don’t say the word “feminism,” its analysis and critique is still dimly in the air. The women medical students responded even more enthusiastically. They were all over my room asking me questions about my experiences in graduate school and as a professor and even about some issues in neuroscience, my field.

Even Pauline, the Irish nurse came in, although she’d been transferred to another part of the floor, to tell me how wonderful the article had been, and to recount a couple of horror stories of the discriminatory hard times she’d gone through herself.

But then, Monday night, just before I was scheduled for my last test, a colonoscopy, with the discharge date set for Wednesday, a run-in with two residents reminded me of just how scary, potentially dangerous, nasty and irrational the hospital could become at any time.

The laxative I was supposed to take to completely clear my colon for the colonoscopy seemed to consist entirely of highly concentrated, foul-tasting salt solution. I got through one dose, and couldn’t take the second one. I became extremely nauseated. Carmen begged and cajoled me, and I began on the second one. And then I started to throw up. Not only that, but my stomach blew up again to twice its size, and became rigid, reminiscent of when I was first ambulanced to the hospital. It had clearly closed down again.

We tried to call Dr. Jemail to tell him my stomach closed down again, and I needed another NG tube. Also I needed to stop the laxative, at least for the time being, until my system was a little recovered from what had just been going on with it – which was still a mystery. My pain was growing by the minute.

But we had misplaced the phone number that Jemail had left us. He had explicitly told us to call whenever we needed to after we had recounted the difficulties I had had with Dr. Ortiz. “Anytime,” he had said.

Carmen walked down the corridor to the nurse’s station, and asked for his number. They were unwilling to give it out. Would they call? No. There was no way they were going to call to “bother” the doctor for a non-emergency.

“It may be an emergency”

“Doesn’t sound like one.”

“Could the resident on-duty come and see what she thinks?

“She’s very busy.”

Back to square one, I waited an hour and a half, beginning to moan again, and to wonder all over again about what dire things might be happening. Maybe I did have cancer after all.

“I’ll give you Milk-of-Magnesia” said that night’s on-duty resident, Dr. Dev, when she finally showed up.

“Don’t you think you should listen to my stomach first” I gasped. “Or at least feel it?”

“You’re getting a colonoscopy tomorrow. That will be soon enough to find out what’s wrong,” Dr. Dev spit out. She was having none of me; and any sister feminist feeling I had detected in the other female staff was missing from her. I wondered later whether the staff had told her I was a Harvard Ph.D. neuroscientist, and fearing a potential challenge to her authority she was determined to put me in my place. Or maybe it was still the “troublemaking old lady” that she was reacting to.

“I’m putting the colonoscopy off. I’m not going to take it tomorrow.”

“You can’t do that.”

Dr. Dev was East Indian, with extremely wide set eyes and a large mouth. She looked like she could have posed for the picture of the beauty for whom that rich Rajah built the Taj Mahal. Why were they all so good-looking at Lenox Hill? Was that one of the criteria for employment?

“Please feel my stomach. It’s distended and rigid. Please call Dr. Jemail. He especially left instructions with me to call him if anything like this happened.”

“Are you refusing the Milk of Magnesia? Stop scratching!”

“If it were appropriate in this circumstance, why wouldn’t Dr. Lee have given it to me last week when my stomach wasn’t passing anything?”

The question set her off. Her luminous Taj Mahal eyes narrowed.

“They told me you were a troublemaker,” she said. “Are you aware that the stomach and the bowel are one and the same organ?

“Then why was my stomach paralyzed but my gut was working fine?”

“Your stomach wasn’t paralyzed.” Another resident who hadn’t read my chart.

“What I give you will help clear the stomach.”

“Then they would have given it to me before if that were the case. Please help me. I need an NG tube. The laxatives I just took brought on the stomach problem again, so I definitely shouldn’t be taking any more of them now.”

She left the room without another word to me.

I started to scream in pain. Carmen hurried down the hall to tell the nurses.

Two residents came in the room this time. Now it was Dr. Dev with another woman introduced as the head resident.

“What is all the ruckus about?” asked the head resident, just in case I thought I might be getting a sympathetic advocate.

“My stomach has gone into paresis again” I said. “I need an NG tube.”

“Take the Milk of Magnesia” said the head resident.

“I don’t think __”

“ You won’t be able to take the colonoscopy tomorrow if you don’t take that now. And stop scratching!”

It was obvious that they weren’t worried about what was happening to me that moment, and were only concerned that if I kept “making trouble”, I wouldn’t be able to meet the schedule for the colonoscopy in the morning.

“I’m not taking it.”

“Then we can’t help you.”

“Call Dr. Jemail. He specifically instructed me to get in touch with him if anything went wrong.”

“If we have time.”

They left.

I moaned. I asked Carmen to call Jesse. It was 3:00 in the morning. He didn’t have Dr. Jemail’s number. Carmen looked all over the hospital room again. I asked her to go back down to the nurse’s station and get one of the staff nurse to come feel my stomach. She demurred, wisely. It wouldn’t be good to so antagonize everybody down there that even if I ruptured my stomach they wouldn’t come to help me.

Then at about 4:40 AM, just as suddenly as the attack came on, it went away. You could almost see my stomach going down, like time-lapse photography. The nausea and pain diminished. I started breathing regularly.

“Should I go tell them not to call the Doctor?” asked Carmen. “Stop scratching.”

“Let’s just not mess with them anymore. They had had no intentions of calling Dr. Jemail anyway. They just wanted me to take the damn laxative. All they could think about was, how dare I put off the colonoscopy?

Carmen nodded.

Later that morning, Dr. Lee, the thin-as-a-paper-clip gastroenterologist visited. She agreed that I better put off the colonoscopy for a while. I could come back to the hospital and get the test as an outpatient, when my GI system was no longer so reactive. But I should stay in the hospital an extra day, just in case my stomach blew up again. No, she still didn’t know what had happened. Maybe the colonoscopy would have the answer.

Dr. Jemail visited still later, and he agreed also. He was more and more happy with the hypothesis I’d put forward that the whole episode was started by a virus picked up from take-out food that had secondarily affected my immune response and my diabetes, which closed down my stomach. As long as we were careful with the stresses I put on my stomach, the paresis probably wouldn’t recur. Nobody wanted to get alarmed about last night’s attack – maybe the harsh laxative had paradoxically set it off; it wouldn’t happen again; blah blah blah. That was fine with me. I was ready to go home.

“No Thai food,” Dr. Jemail said. I laughed.

“Naomi was right then!” said Jesse.

“Oh she was perfect” said Dr. Jemail, picking up on the generally silly interplay between me and Jesse. “Perfect! See. I’m getting it right between you two, aren’t I” We all laughed.

We were in a celebratory mood when the ambulance drivers came to get me. (Recall, I’m flat on my back, bedridden and wouldn’t have been able to make it out of Lenox Hill on my own two legs, or even on one of those pre-industrial looking wheelchairs.) As usual with the side of health care that involved muscle – the transport workers, security, paramedics – they were huge burly men. Also, they were sporting the fashionable facial hair of the day. They had on working-class goatees; a mustache continuing around the outside of their mouths and down to their chins, making them look like their mouths were permanently open wide in astonishment. On the cleft between lower lip and chin, they also had a little stubble of hair.

They asked me if I wanted to take off my nasal cannula delivering oxygen.

“No,” I said “I’m making a fashion statement.”

They liked that.

Then Jesse said “You’re not going home, you know, Naomi. You’re going to the mental hospital.”

They roared with laughter.

“Oh, goody! With all the trees and grass?” I went along.

In the old days, when we used to make comical faces at each other just for fun, Jesse used to do a southern sheriff act that was downright scary, as mean as it could be. He’s short, but stocky, and when he wants to simulate being a member of the macho club, he’s generally quite successful. (My lawyer father used to do an obnoxious version of such a simulation by referring to my mother as “the wife”, as in “the wife, she wants the flowers planted over there.” But Jesse doesn’t go over the top – I always know he’s still on my side.)

“You’re using the Miller board” he announced to the paramedics as they transferred me on the surfboard–looking device that takes patients from bed to stretcher.

Stunned, the EMS man, with the more pronounced goatee said, “You’re Mr. Miller, aren’t you?”

“No. I have nothing to do with the Miller Company” said Jesse, failing to add “I’m a professor of history.”

“Come on, Jesse,” said Bob, the black paramedic with the just-beginning goatee. “Don’t pretend.” (Later, playing Descartes, we decided that the head of the company was widely known as a scrappy Jew from Brooklyn who started out in linen supplies, but had made an empire out of hospital paraphernalia by sharping out the opposition.)

The air was cold and crisp outside, a sunny New York February day. The small trees stood naked in their circular iron fences, as if the fences were preventing them from running away, like the siderails in the hospital beds. The Park Avenue traffic wheezed and rumbled. I was out of the hospital.

The ride home was lovely.

When I was ambulanced into Lenox Hill, it was a frightening, jerky, pot holey, careening ride that terribly exacerbated my vertigo. This time we asked the driver to be especially gentle, and the ride home didn’t bump at all. It might have been a macho turn, showing “Mr. Miller (Jesse)” how well he could drive, but I didn’t mind one bit.

Jesse shot some pictures of me just as I landed on my home bed. I’m still wearing the oxygen delivery cannula in my nose so I look like a patient. But I’m also wearing a parka and blue jeans, that we had me get into for the ride home, and my expression is one of pure bliss. Hence, maybe I also look like an Everest climber resting in base camp before tackling the final reaches of the North Face. The oxygen is necessary, of course, because the atmosphere is so thin up where I am.

I got home at around 4:30, blissful. But by 9:00 that night, I was worried. I was still itching and scratching. I had a terrible irritation around my rectum from laxatives I had taken for the colonoscopy. The laxative effect wasn’t going away, and my explosive evacuation was threatening to turn the rectal area into bed sores unless I rested on a special pad that Jesse’s health-care sister brought over. The pad was difficult to place correctly beneath me. I was back on a whole-foods diet for just a day or two, and I didn’t want to eat much of anything. But mainly I was worried that my stomach would blow up again. Nobody knew why it stopped functioning, so nobody could predict when it might stop again. I kept feeling it to make sure it was still soft and at its regular size.

When I worry, it tends to escalate from the small to the large. So next, I turned my attention to my fragility. I had been in bed 22 years, and my body was deteriorating. Lenox Hill had done an MRI scan, and the results indicated both an atrophy in the right frontal lobe, and multiple small scars, “foci”, in the visual areas. The ME/CFIDS was taking its toll; and there were no known remedies for my condition.

And I had diabetes, so whereas other New Yorkers threw up for a couple of days from Norwalk Virus, (which I was sure I caught) my diabetes interacted with the virus and paralyzed my stomach, so I was throwing up for a week.

What else would diabetes do to me in the months and years to come?

And “post-exertional malaise” sometimes takes a week to appear, so I wasn’t at all sure that I’d survived the hospital stresses without significant ill effects. I might turn into a vegetable tomorrow.

And, and, and........ Even if there was no “post-exertional” reaction to the hospital ordeal, I wasn’t any better. I didn’t die, yes, but what did I come home to? Bedridden, 24/7 nursing, hardly able to speak or read or listen or write, few visitors, severe headaches and vertigo, endless empty painful hours. I would have to re-exert the strict mind discipline, that I had dropped somewhat in the hospital, that told me all this was where I was in my life at present –a phase, a thing that I could get through calmly and with cheer, or not get through at all. Remember the discipline, Naomi: This is the way you live now, and, anyway, you’re lucky that you aren’t any worse.

I was also troubled about the hospital. The hospital was part happy times, part ordeal. The happy times: I’d been bedridden and isolated so long that just the sheer volume of new faces in so many different roles was thrilling. But the bad taste in my mouth from the hospital’s abuses wouldn’t go away. The random sadism, power plays on sick patients who can’t fight back, refusal to pay attention to what the patient is telling you, breakdown of ordinary hospital functioning (such as the 10 hour warehousing in corridors of bedridden patients scheduled for tests) was appalling. At least I had a private duty nurse cleaning up my various messes. What of the patients who didn’t have a person in attendance when they had to void or evacuate? I remember seventeen years ago, when I was hospitalized at St. Vincent’s for an esophageal hemorrhage, and I couldn’t stop peeing all over the bed when the staff nurses didn’t show for a while after I called. It was an awful feeling. Going-to-hell-in-a-basket.

And this time, I’d been at Lenox Hill, supposedly one of the “better” hospitals in New York.

Why are hospitals such nightmares? Partially for economic reasons. Even at the “best hospitals,” managed care has done its depredations in the name of “efficiency” and profit. They fired so many nurses in the quest for dollars that now there’s a critical nursing shortage. The nurses that remain are so unconscionably overworked and stressed out, it’s hard for them to be pleasant. It’s also hard for them to stay on the job, contributing to a further reduction in staff.

But, economic reasons aside, hospitals are sinks of abuse, anyway. As I’ve just described for myself, the patient is on bottom. Friends and relatives are next. From the sub-administrators screaming at Jesse to put away his cell phone, the nurses shouting at Jesse to leave the room when they were doing a “procedure” (blood pressure; bed pan) to them shooing Anne and Jesse out of testing sites where it made absolutely no difference to the test whether or not they were present, and I was captive there for hours with nothing to distract me; to the meta-administrators tearing my scientific and biographical writings off the hospital door so nobody would be able to get to know the person beyond the patient -- the hospital resembles boot camp with a malevolent sergeant bellowing orders designed to humiliate you. They’re going to put you in your place or this ain’t Uncle Sam’s hospital.

This grotesque abuse is part of the hospital culture; we must view hospitals in the light of a deeply hierarchical and sadistic culture originally modeled on military organization (as hospitals were). Then the warehousing of patients, groaning and sometimes even screaming with no one to attend to them; their interminable waiting in cold and drafty halls is part of what the hospitals want, because a scared and abused population is easier to control. They identify the “troublemakers” in that population, and are especially abusive to them. Women and old people are targeted for especially contemptuous treatment, because that’s what a militaristic, macho culture brings out in folks. Sleeplessness is also promoted, not only for the patients but for the jittery interns and out-of-their-minds-exhausted residents, even though medicine certainly knows better than to deprive their caregivers of sleep. Like the Ph.D. oral exams that some of my colleagues made as ugly as possible, just to savor that last twist and screw of power before they had to relinquish it and greet the new Ph.D.’s as colleagues, these unnecessary rules and rituals stay in place to reinforce the power differentials among the various actors, and keep everybody submissively doing their thing.

One might argue that none of this “psychological” abuse is particularly relevant to the real business of the hospital; that ministering to the organic needs of the patients. I doubt this argument will hold up. I think pretty soon they’ll do a study comparing two types of hospital culture – a sadistic one, as is ordinary and the new type of “compassionate” “palliative” care and they’ll find that, relative to the new compassionate one, patients die like flies in the ordinary type of hospital culture. Psychology matters.

But suppose I’m wrong and psychology doesn’t matter. The problem is that the “psychology” spreads over into the physiology. The personnel in the hospital do the wrong thing because they’re just too status-ridden, and pissed-off, and sleepless and sadistic to do otherwise. Corners are cut; stereotypes like “troublemaking old lady” stand in for accurate information.

Some of the doctors and residents were caring or concerned, even when they weren’t particular friendly and/or were careful to emphasize their high position in the hierarchy compared to my low one (e.g. Dr.-Geller-to-you).

But some of the doctors made the wrong calls. They didn’t read the history; they didn’t consult with the attending doctor or the specialist; they just acted out of sloth, spite, prejudice, ageism or sexism. Dr. Ortiz was wrong not to consult with Dr. Jemail and not to listen to my stomach; Dr. Dev was wrong to try to force Milk of Magnesia down my GI tract when it was obvious that laxatives had brought on another stomach paralysis.

I would argue that it was the standing culture of the hospital – hierarchical, nasty, sadistic and spiteful, that led to these potentially dangerous calls by the residents. The psychology and the physiology merge: The hierarchical and sadistic hospital culture is ubiquitous in America. And it makes them dangerous places.

It’s not just Lenox Hill. The day I got home, I heard on the CBS News that a woman with breast cancer was suing the University of Michigan Hospital for removing the wrong breast. The e-mails sent to me when I was in the hospital were full of stories like that. The husband of a friend was not fully under anesthesia when he heard the doctors arguing about whether to leave his leg intact, in which case he’d die, or whether to amputate the leg. Arguing about it!
“Remove the leg” said the husband.

“Who said that?” one of the doctors demanded angrily.

The daughter of my angel nurse, Anne, recently died from a heart attack in the emergency room. In the emergency room! Isn’t the emergency room where you go so you don’t die when you have a heart attack?

When I finally got to sleep that night, I dreamed that Dr. Violin was making love to me. There he was, his face blurred with sex, smiling up at me with sticky cheeks from between my legs. But he wasn’t alone. The two other floor physicians – the parsnip -- and the junkie -- are there with him and they’re helping him give me pleasure. They have vibrators for my clitoris and labia, their own hard silky penises to rub gently on my body, their hot hands stroking my belly.

While they’re making love to me, they’re also monitoring my vital signs and changing I.V.’s and plumping my pillow, with the utmost tenderness and care. After my fifth orgasm, Dr. Parsnip tells me gently and regretfully that we have to stop now, because they don’t want me to get too tired.

“One more?” says Dr. Violin.

“Okay one more” says Dr. Parsnip. We all start laughing.

I wake up in the middle of the night, happy and nodding.

“Get it?” I eventually say out loud to the billowing curtains and the dark furniture, “Get it, Naomi?”

I had been dreaming of sex, yes, but also I was dreaming of a ceremony of healing. I had been dreaming of the way a hospital should be. The sex was a metaphor for the hospital as a place of giving one one’s life back.

That is what I suddenly understand.

Like the Kung San! Bushmen of the South African Kalihari desert, where the whole band is collected together, led by the healer, to sing and dance all night and fall into trances to cure the sick tribe member, the hospital could be a utopia of altruism and fellow feeling. That is, after all, its metafunction, from the ambulance drivers, to the transport workers, to the orderlies, to the nurses, to the technicians, to the physicians. Nominally, they’re all there to help you recover. They attend to you, their concern is you, they try to help you. They give you pain killers and adjust your pillows so you’ll be more comfortable. They even bring in the vibrators so you’ll have pleasure despite the pain.

They do this, or they should do this. The hospital should be a utopia of concern and compassion. A place of love.

Sometimes, when I was there, I even felt that – hence the dream. The good doctors who weren’t so worried that I call them by their proper titles. The nurses who read my article and realized I was a person behind the patient. The transport worker who liked my Mooz socks. The orderlies who knew how to insert the IV’s without pain or blood. And even all the flirtation going on within the honeycombs.

But, Americans don’t believe in altruism, even though its presence is everywhere, in nature, in human society. From elephants and mongeese to associations of patent lawyers, creatures take care of each other. Only a sick culture, a militaristic, corporate-driven, competitive, violent, abandoning, sink-or-swim, paddle-your-own-canoe culture would manage to transform the hospital, the house of healing, into such a hierarchical, stressed-out, snotty, malevolent, irresponsible, ageist, sexist, dangerous place.

We can do better than this.


by Jo Freeman(2005) I stood on the shoulder of the highway with my thumb out, half frightened and half excited about what promised to be a great adventure. & I lugged a large plaid suitcase, the only one I owned, that was much too large for a 5,000 mile trek.

(Editor's Note: In the summer of 1964, Berkeley student Jo Freeman, veteran of the Bay Area civil rights movement, hitchhiked across America. Her destination was the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City where the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party were challenging the segregationists for control of the Mississippi Democratic Party.

Jo Freeman was the editor of Voices of the Women's Liberation Movement, the first national publication of the women's liberation movement, and is a contributor to the Herstory Project.)

Read this exciting chapter from Jo's book At Berkeley in the 60's now and then order the book published by Indiana University Press.  It tells the story of Jo Freeman's coming of age as a political activist during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. At times highly personal, it also traces the complex history of a political movement. As such it speaks across generations to today's young activists who face many of the same challenges that Jo Freeman did as a student at Berkeley during the Cold War.)


I stood on the shoulder of the highway with my thumb out, half frightened and half excited about what promised to be a great adventure. I lugged a large plaid suitcase, the only one I owned, that was much too large for a 5,000 mile trek. I had filled it with everything I could think of that I might need -- buttons, camera, film, and clothes. It weighed about fifty pounds. I also carried a large purse and a coat. I had thought long and hard about what to wear, one of the very few times in my life that clothing concerned me at all. Personally I preferred pants. But the dress code of the day required respectable middle-class girls to wear skirts in public. In all my years at Berkeley I never saw a girl go to class in pants or shorts; they were prohibited at dinner in the dorms. I knew girls got rides quicker than boys. Despite my long hair, from a distance a driver might think a hitchhiker in trousers was male and pass me by. On the other hand, I didn't want drivers to get the wrong idea. I had heard that girls who dressed provocatively invited assault. And while I did not personally know anyone who had been sexually assaulted (it wasn't something good girls talked about) I believed the conventional wisdom that you ask for what you get. I finally settled on a blue pleated skirt hanging a few inches below my knees and a plain blue striped blouse as the best compromise between attracting a ride and deterring assault. I had not yet thought about who would stop to pick me up, and whom I should refuse. I soon found out.


When I hitched with Toni, and the other girls, the drivers who stopped for us varied. Most were men, but there were also families and even single women, and the guys were often young like us. Ninety percent of the cars which stopped for me when I hitched alone were occupied by single males, mostly middle-aged. Initially I turned them down. Soon I realized that if I kept refusing rides from men I'd never get anywhere. I changed my rules to include cars with only one man, but never more than that. Offers from men were not in short supply.

Neither were problems. For a young California woman of the early sixties, I was relatively naive and innocent. I knew little of the animal side of men from direct experience; most of what I knew I had learned from Toni. The first truck that stopped to pick me up had two men in the cab. When one eagerly leaned out his window to invite me in I could see lust contorting his face. It scared the shit out of me. It was a long time before I would accept a ride from a trucker, though they were the most likely long distance drivers. I was wiser when I returned a month later. I calculated that roughly 90 percent of my rides were with single males, and about 90 percent of those propositioned me. Initially I tried to figure out which men were safe, based on the few seconds I had to size them up before deciding whether to get into a car. I avoided those who seemed too happy to see me, any car with more than one male in it (most of the time) and anyone not going a long distance. I also refused anyone who wanted to make a short stop, any place, or take a short detour. "Just let me out," I would say, "and I'll find another ride."

I quickly figured out that a good story was crucial. The first ride I accepted took me onto Highway 40 past Vallejo. He asked my age, and I truthfully said 18. He then asked why I was hitching, and once again I was too truthful -- no money, I replied. "How would you like to earn a couple dollars," he asked. I didn't need to ask how. I just said NO definitively, and that ended that. This taught me my first two mistakes: I admitted to being of legal age, and implied I might need money. After that I lowered my age to 17, sometimes to 16, and talked about a need to go see my boyfriend or my brother, who had suddenly become ill, was conveniently located several hundred miles away, and would be concerned if I didn't show up soon. Someone had told me to hint that I had VD -- that would be the best deterrent -- but I just couldn't do it. Saying NO early and often was generally my best defense. I was often surprised at some of the men who thought a girl in his car was sexually available. In the midwest I was picked up by a fortyish man who said he had just dropped his daughter off at college, and I reminded him of her. Ten minutes later he asked if I would go to a motel with him. By the end of my trip I had learned that it was neither provocative dress nor physical attractiveness that turned a female into potential prey; it was vulnerability. As one guy told me: "a piece of ass is a piece of ass is a piece of ass." All he cared about was could he get some.

Most of the men wanted to talk, and conversation was the one thing I was willing to provide. Some of the guys were interesting. Outside Sacramento an immigrant from Holland picked me up and told me about all the people who called him a "damn foreigner" because of his accent. I spent the first night in a bus station someplace in Nevada; I wasn't willing to hitch at night. The second night I lucked into a driver doing an all-nighter. I dozed, but was reluctant to sleep. I carried maps -- available free from gas stations -- planned my route, and if a driver wanted a different one, checked to be sure it would get me where I wanted to go. I had been told to avoid Utah -- the cops were merciless -- so I turned north at Highway 93 before Highway 40 entered that state, and picked up Highway 30 near Twin Falls. Superhighways were just being built; these Western roads were generally two lanes. From there it was a straight drive to Chicago. I had no reason to go to Chicago, but I needed some sleep, and had the address of the CORE Freedom House where I expected, and got, a warm welcome and a comfortable pad on the floor.

Dear Mom: August 15, 1964

Made it to Chicago. This is a BIG city. And it has subways, though I think they call them "els." It feels so crowded here. The buildings are tall and they are so close together. Have you ever been here?

Hitching out of a city was often harder than hitching in, but Chicago made it easy. Just south of South 61st Street a ramp rose from Michigan Avenue into the Chicago Skyway, which took you to the turnpike. I waited on the block before this entrance until someone stopped who was going well into Indiana, and would let me off at a rest stop. I didn't want stand with my thumb out on an exit/entry road where toll takers might look askance on my solicitation of a ride from a private vehicle. The rest stops were a challenge. I tried standing at the exit lane, but cars were accelerating and didn't want to stop. Eventually I moved to outside the restaurant and just asked those departing where they were going and could I have a ride. A lot of people looked at me strangely, but it worked. The turnpike went to New York; I was going to DC. I had to find just the right car taking the US 70 turnoff. When I arrived it was late, and all I had was a phone number. I didn't phone the aunt I had lived with two summers before, or the two that lived in Arlington, because I knew that they would disapprove of what I was doing and my mother would catch flak for "letting" me hitch (as if she had a choice). Fortunately someone answered for CORE, and gave me the name of a CORE couple who housed civil rights workers. I ended up in a large house in Northwest Washington, with four times the number of rooms as people.

Dear Mom: August 18, 1964

I'm in DC. No, I didn't call Leslie. Don't think she really wants to hear from me. Besides, I found a great place to stay. I've got an entire room, not just a couch in a crowded studio. I'm trying to get press credentials; will see if my local pols can help.

It was one week before the Democratic convention began. I went to the MFDP/SNCC office to tell them I would be in Atlantic City and available for whatever was needed. The staffer gave me an address to go to when I got there, but didn't know of anyone driving I could ride with. I showed her my anti-Goldwater buttons and said I was going to finance the trip by selling them. Someone in the office was fascinated by them (maybe another collector?) and offered to make a large poster replicating the button, as advertising, in exchange for a few. I returned two days later to pick it up. I also visited all the campaign headquarters to collect more buttons. My largest finds came from the Goldwater headquarters; Republicans seemed to have more of everything and were eager to give it away.

My primary task in DC was to get press credentials so I could get inside the convention hall. The Democratic National Committee told me that all media credentials were given out by the Congressional Press Galleries, and it was really too late to get anything. I went to see Joe Beeman, now working as Cong. Philip Burton's administrative aide, whom I knew from CFYD. He made a couple phone calls. The bad news was that my Daily Cal press letter was useless; college publications were not given credentials to the Democratic convention. The good news was that my letter from KPFA might get me something. Joe sent me to the Radio/TV Press Gallery, and the man I showed my letter to told me to see him in Atlantic City and he'd see what he could do; while all the press passes had long since been allocated, not all would be claimed.

Despite the fact that my Daily Cal letter was of no use, I still felt obligated to interview the ANP leader as I had promised, or at least to make a good faith effort. The leaflet I had picked up when Forbes was on campus gave the address of the National Headquarters as 928 N. Randolph Street in Arlington. I hopped on a bus and went looking for Nazis. At that address I found a small house on a large but bare lot on a nondescript street lined with other small houses. A sign over the porch said "WHITE MAN... FIGHT! SMASH THE BLACK REVOLUTION NOW." I knocked on the door not knowing what to expect and was rather surprised when a polite young man answered the door. He was dumbfounded when I said I was from the Daily Cal and had come to interview Rockwell.

After asking me to wait, he brought the "duty officer" to see me. Frank Mengele said that Rockwell was not there, and only gave interviews by appointment, but if I wanted to come in and talk to them, I could do so. I did.

Inside were four rooms; one had an offset press and printing paraphernalia; another was a wood paneled office with a shrine to Adolph Hitler. Pictures of Hitler, Rockwell and George Washington stared from the walls. I interviewed four men, ranging in age from 22 to 36. Two were high school dropouts; one had served in the Navy and then gone AWOL; all had been in jail. The one who had gone AWOL was recruited to the ANP while in jail.

He said the party gave him a sense of purpose in life; he no longer fought the cops, he fought for the white race. Most of them said they had stopped drinking, smoking and brawling after joining. While the ANP tried to distinguish itself from the German variety of Nazis, the ones I spoke to made no distinction between "kikes" and "niggers" -- terms they used as though they were names rather than epithets. As for the whites who supported race mixing, they were all dupes. Mengele told me that the ANP had 700 members nationally, 20 working full time, seven in jail, and a mailing list of 15,000. I took several photographs with my Brownie Bulls-eye camera and left. Back in Berkeley I took my notes to the Daily Cal and offered to write a story, but there was no interest in anything but an interview with the ANP's main man, and that I did not have.

Saturday I hitched to Atlantic City. I thought it would take a couple hours, but it took all day. I caught a bus to the Beltway, the large expressway which surrounds DC, but while I got a ride on to it with no trouble, it was a long time before a car stopped that was going to Baltimore, and he wasn't going all the way. Although the expressway had shoulders, the cars were going so fast and were so close that it was somewhat dangerous for drivers to stop. After two hours I was only on another beltway outside of Baltimore. The next car that stopped had lights and sirens; it was the Maryland Highway Patrol. My heart sank. I had visions of being arrested or at best driven far from the expressway and dumped. I told the officer that I was going to New Jersey where my sick brother was anxiously awaiting me. He noted the CORE button I had forgotten to remove, and said "This is the South, you know." I quickly removed the button. "Get in the car," he said, opening the door to the back seat. He drove off, with me quaking in the rear, but didn't get off at the next exit. I heard him talking on his radio phone to another officer about me, but wasn't sure what he was saying. Many minutes later he pulled up under an overpass where another Highway Patrol car was waiting. I was moved from one car to the other, and the second one drove off. The officers didn't tell me what was going on, but at least we were going in the right direction. Miles later I was transferred again; the third officer let me out at the Delaware border. The Maryland Highway Patrol solved the problem of what to do with an errant female hitchhiker by ferrying me out of their state. I should always be so lucky.

I wasn't. Getting to Atlantic City took the rest of the day, many, many rides, constant consultations with my map as drivers took local routes to their destinations, lots of waiting with my thumb out, some walking with my fifty-pound suitcase, and a fair amount of trepidation. It was like tacking against the wind. I couldn't get there directly, but I did get there eventually. When I checked in at the CORE/SNCC headquarters, I was even given a place to sleep. Local families housed those who came early; those who came later would sleep in a church. For the next week I shared the home of Mrs. Evelyn Moore on North Ohio Street.

Cleaning Up

By"Mary Blake" from Womankind (1972) — I don’t know if I could get my job today -- I took my civil service exam and passed, but most people today are on patronage. But my main gripe is that we women get paid so much less. Men and women here do mostly the same work - the men don’t even do it as well - and the men still get paid more.

by Mary Blake

(Editors Note: "Mary Blake" (her name changed for this article to avoid retaliation), talks about growing up in Chicago and facing racial and gender discrimination. She was a City Hall janitress and active in the campaign to end job discrimination there.)

Mary Blake is one or the hundreds of people who enter downtown office buildings when most of us are just leaving for home. Twenty years ago, when Kennelley was mayor, she was able to get a job as a janitress in a downtown government building without any political connections.

I don’t know if I could get my job today -- I took my civil service exam and passed, but most people today are on patronage. But my main gripe is that we women get paid so much less. Men and women here do mostly the same work - the men don’t even do it as well - and the men still get paid more. Most of them work someplace else all day, and then here in the evening, so you know they have to be tired. It’s because they’re political jobs -— private business would give them the door before they even got in good. I’m not trying to get any more than they get, just to be equal. It’s always been unequal. When I first went to work here, the difference was about $300 a year, now it’s around $900. They pushed us all up some, but pushed the men up more. The others say for me to watch my step about this, because they heard that they ‘re trying to get rid of all the women. Course, you never know who says these things. But the fact is, they hired a lot of men over the summer, but not one woman in two years.

We’ve often told our man over at our union local about this pay difference. The only answer he can give is “Well, we can’t ask a woman to go out and put the flag up”. That’s the only reason he’s come up with, he’s never said anything different. I wonder why can’t he find something else. That’s our union --it’s never been any help, and they’ve got more women members than men! Once I was asked to sign a petition for somebody to become steward of our local, and I was asked this by the management. Well, management isn ‘t suppose to select a steward, and I know it, so I refused.

Our new bosses came in as foremen, from someplace else. They didn’t work themselves up from janitors. As far as knowing about the work, I wouldn’t say they learned from doing it... they must of read a book or something. I swear they don ‘t know one end of a mop from the other -- and they ‘re telling us how to do our work!

I was the fourth black woman to work in this place. As far as I know, there was no pay difference between black and white women, but white women got to work days because they had political sponsors. I went in to ask for a transfer from the night shift to days. And all he said was “How the hell did you get in here anyway?” Black women today are wider employed, in more jobs - although we may have a little difficulty getting them. You’ll see black women working places now that wouldn’t hardly let them in the door before, like in department stores. This thing about women assuming so much initiative., some white women are just beginning to get out and get a job, work all day and then come home and work. But the black woman has always had to do that. She has always had to go to work, take care of the children , come home and cook - - take care of the children over there, feed them, clean their house, and then come home and do the same thing at home. I have had to do it.

I took exams once to transfer to be a cook and passed, but unless my boss released me from this job, I couldn’t go. He said “You don’t want that job”, and I said, “Of course I want the job —- I wouldn ‘t have taken the exams three times if I didn’t. “ He said that I make more money here, but that’s not the point. I’ll never make more money here than I do now, unless we get a raise -- some years we do, some we don’t. There I could work up from one grade to another, but here, if I stay a 1,000 years, I’m just like the person who came in yesterday. A woman starting today makes the same as I do, and I’ve been here 20 years. I’ve talked to the other women here about this, and we wrote letters to our Con-Con delegates about this pay difference. But now a lot of women are afraid. They seem to be afraid to sign anything of protest. And I say, “Well, do you realize the only way we’ve ever gotten anything was through protest? Had it not been for protest, you wouldn't have been to first base yet.” I remember when I was a little girl, with woman suffrage, my daddy used to read the paper out laid to us after dinner--so I knew what was going on. Most of them, they say “I’m already liberated” and all that kinda bunk. Half of them have husbands, not that that means so much, because I don’t think it does. But the other half, like me, this is our sole income —— that ‘s why I’m scratching so hard about it!

Most men think they ‘re superior to women, and when they ‘re not, they want no part of it. They think women are too independent if they work. Like a neighbor of mine, he said “I can ‘t handle her now, and if she gets a job, I won’t be able to do a thing with her”. See how shaky he is about it? So a lot of these husbands are telling these women to have nothing to do with this pay thing, not to sign anything.

I’ve been trying to tell them “the more you have, the stronger you are. “ I don’t want to lose my job, either, but I got something to say, and I’m telling it, right up to the mayor. He just might do something about it, because you sees if we can get enough outside interest, besides the women who work here —— well, they don’t want this showing. The women’s lib was over there about two weeks ago (Aug. 26 Women’s Day rally) to talk to him, and he didn’t want to do it

I’m not afraid, although as I say, I do need my job. I’m going to take this as far as I can.

Mary Blake is not her real name. She was not afraid to use it, but we don't want to make it harder for her to organize and still keep her job.

Mayor’s Recommendation

janitor $677.00
janitress $596.00
1971 1970
Dept. Request Appropriation

(Recommendations for 1971 submitted to City Council, taken from Budget Document for Year 1971, Dept. of Public Works, Bureau of Architecture and Buildings Maintenance, Positions and Salaries, page 323.)

DARE and the City Hall Janitresses

from Womankind (1972) An account of DARE's work to help end discrimination against the Chicago City Hall janitresses. from Womankind (1972)

(Editors Note: DARE (Direct Action for Rights in Employment) was the CWLU workgroup involved with work and discrimination. Their best known and most successful campaign was their work with the City Hall janitresses, who were battling gender and racial discrimination.)

One of the programs of the CWLU is DARE - Direct Action for Rights in Employment. The following is an account of the work they have done in the past year.

In January, 1972, the CWLU began to plan a program around the grievances of working women. We did this because we believe that women will not be liberated until we are able to earn enough money to support ourselves, and our families when necessary. We will not be able to do this until we win many changes: equal pay for equal work; (and the right to equal work!); maternity leave; retraining programs; child care for when we work, to name a few.

We found many women who wanted to work with us. We met many women through the Liberation School class “Women and the Economy.” Lots of women who had been fighting sex discrimination for years by themselves without the support of any organization backing them up came when they heard about us. The program quickly became made up of an assortment of women ranging in age from 20 to 60, working at many of the jobs that women usually work at: secretaries, janitresses, nurses aides, factory workers. Women from many jobs and backgrounds can be united against job discrimination, we found out.

In late 1971, the CWLU had been contacted by one of the janitresses at City Hall. Her grievances were: she received less pay for equal work, her seniority was ignored when she asked to be transferred from night shift to day shift, and her supervisor had refused to release her to a new and better position that she qualified for. Her grievances had been ignored by her union (Building Services #46), and by the Civil Service Commission. She wanted the CWLU to give her new ideas, lend moral support, and act as a pressure group on the city. We decided to focus first on equal pay for equal work because it was a very concrete demand. Our first step was to research the issue. We learned the civil service codes, the anti-discrimination laws, and got hold of a copy of the city budget. We then heard of a study on sex discrimination that Alderman Leon Despres, one of the few aldermen who really represents the people, was doing. We talked to him and agreed to be part of a coalition to release that study. The coalition of women’s groups included NOW. the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, and the CWLU.

On June 29 this coalition of women’s organizations held a press conference to release Alderman Despres’ sex discrimination findings. His report, showed that 80% of all city hall employees making over $14,000 per year were men and that 90% of all city hall employees making under $8, 000 per year were women. The city’s official response was “The ladies of Chicago are the finest in the country. There is no discrimination against our ladies. “

Our strategy was to have a demonstration at the end of the summer with a short play about women in the economy and speakers. We spent the summer leaf letting city hall and a few other city buildings about Despres’ findings and about the city’s response. Lots of women were outraged that the Mayor and his cohorts discriminated against women the way they did; we also met women who were machine hacks, wives and sisters of influential machine Democrats who were hostile towards anyone disagreeing with Hiz Honor.

We wanted the demonstration on August 26th, a day that for the past few years has had women’s liberation demonstrations all over the country. That was the week of the Lakefront Festival, though, and the city wasn’t about to give a bunch of angry women their Civic Center Plaza. The demonstration, finally held on September 1st, was a success. The demands were:

  • End job discrimination in city government, starting with equal pay for the janitresses.
  • Begin an affirmative action program (a program whose goal is equal pay and equal opportunity in all job classifications. It makes the employer responsible for seeking out qualified women.)
  • The Mayor publicly should say that he is for an ordinance banning discrimination against women.

We started the day off by marching over to the Mayor’s office. We didn’t get to see hizzoner. He had had a hard summer, with the Democratic Convention and all, and wasn’t up to meeting with more people who were angry at him. We spoke to Deputy Mayor Ken Sain. Mr. Sain was very nice to us, saying oh yes, well he would get us a meeting with the wonderful Mayor, and yes, tsk, tsk, the poor janitresses, and his secretaries would set up another meeting between us and him and he would work on it.

Later, at the rally, we did our skit and everyone loved it. NOW spoke, as did AFSCME (The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a good union), and CWLU. Lots of people, men and women, came.

The second time we met with Mr. Sain his attitude had changed quite a bit. He claimed the city already had an affirmative action program, which we knew was false. He did agree to investigate the job category of janitresses and janitors. In mid-November we went into our last negotiating session with Ken Sain. He told us that the Budget Dept. had reviewed the case of the janitresses and that “compensations had been made” in the 1973 budget. We were skeptical, but took his words to mean janitresses pay had been equalized.

On November 15 the budget was released and we found out what slippery Mr. Sain meant by compensation. The title of janitor had been changed to custodial worker, and janitress to custodial assistant, while the pay gap between the two increased even more. Now the janitresses would have to suffer under a job title which implied subservience to the janitors as well as continue to do equal work for less pay.

Learning what the compensations were, we went on to attack the 1973 budget. Once the Mayor releases the budget it is very hard to win changes. We decided to give it a try and went to the public hearings of both the Finance Committee and the City Council. On November 20, the day of the Finance Committee hearings, we started the day off with a very successful press conference. We then read testimony denouncing the sex discrimination in the 1973 budget. At the hearings we blasted the change in job classifications and the $1060 difference in pay between the men and the women.

After these hearings, many janitresses who were not in the group got in contact with us. They had heard about their new job titles and were furious. They wanted to get together, but were afraid for their jobs. We set up anonymous interviews with three city reporters and got some very good stories, one on the front page of the Daily News.

On December 15 we testified at a public city council meeting again demanding equal pay for the janitresses. When Jennifer R., acting as spokeswoman for DARE, finished her testimony, members of the DARE group sitting in the galleries held up a sign which read “Give the city budget a clean sweep”, which was promptly ripped down by the council policemen!


One thing we have learned is how much women’s passivity holds us back. We have been taught from childhood to be passive. Women don’t run around making demands for things we deserve. We either take what we get or have to try using our feminine ways to get what we need. It is very hard to get over this! The way Mr. Sain treated us and our typical women’s response (believing him, not demanding he prove what he was saying) taught us a lesson we’ll never forget!

We also learned how a very mixed group of women could unite around an issue that affects us all. Secretaries, factory workers, janitresses and nurses aides were all working together to fight for an end to job discrimination. We also learned the powerfulness of how the newspapers and TV have portrayed women’s liberation for the past few years. Many women were scared of us because they expected us to be the whole image of bra burning wierdos. Only our continued growth as a strong women’s liberation organization that fights for real changes in women’s lives will change that image.


The next thing we have planned is a Liberation School class, Self-Defense in the Workplace. It will be about day to day issues in the workplace, negotiations and government intervention. The class will be on Sunday afternoons, starting March 4th, for 6 weeks. Call the office later in the month, to find out where it will be held.

If you are interested in working with DARE, call the office, too. We are open to new people and our group has a lot to offer working women fighting job discrimination.

NOW Press Release on Gender Discrimination

(1972) A press statement from Chicago NOW on gender discrimination in Chicago's City Hall.

(Editors Note: Gender discrimination in Chicago city employment was rampant before the advent of the women's movement. The reigning Daley political machine was very adroit at fending off challenges, but organizations like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union were not easily brushed aside.)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 1, 1972, 11:00 a.m.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) has been working (for the past two years) for passage of city legislation which would prohibit discrimination because of sex. Partial success was achieved in 1971 when two of four of NOW's proposed bills were passed by the Chicago City Council, thereby adding sex to the classifications of persons discriminated against to the Ordinances on Housing and The Commission on Human Relations. However, to date the council has refused to pass what N.O.W. considers its most important proposal, namely, its employment ordinance which would prohibit discrimination because of sex in employment.

N.O.W. started working for a city law on sex discrimination in employment in 1970 when Atty. Charlotte Adelman, Legislative Chairperson, addressed the City Council to speak in favor of such an Ordinance which Alderman Leon Despres (5th) had then introduced. Ms. Adelman was the first woman to address the Chicago City Council on the subject of equality in employment on the basis of sex. But, two years later, after numerous meetings with assistants to the Mayor, phone calls, letters, reintroduction of a similar ordinance by Alderman Despres and publication of his study revealing massive sex discrimination in the City government itself, the Ordinance is still unpassed. If the City feels it has something to hide, N.O.W. points out that those seeking relief from city sex discrimination in employment can file, as Ms. Eleanor Protos recently did, a complaint with the State of Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC).

The American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois Division, joins the alderpeople and the organizations present in denouncing employment discrimination on the grounds of sex by the City of Chicago.

The essence of the fundamental civil right to equality of treatment under the laws is recognition of individual merit, without regard to the race or sex into which a person happens to be born. When a person's own city practices a clear pattern of job discrimination against him or her, the basic right to equality of treatment by ones own government is seriously abridged

DARE Press Release Challenging the City Budget

(1972) A press statement from DARE(Direct Action for Rights in Employment) challenging the gender discrimination in Chicago's city budget. (Editors Note: Gender discrimination in Chicago city employment was rampant before the advent of the women's movement. The reigning Daley political machine was very adroit at fending off challenges, but organizations like the Chicago Women's Liberation Union(CWLU) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) were not easily brushed aside.)

On June 29 several aldermen end women and a coalition of women and labor groups presented a report documenting severe sex discrimination in city government employment practices. As a specific example of discrimination the report pointed out that city hall janitresses earned $1,000 less a year than the janitors . Over the past three months representatives of the coalition, after trying unsuccessfully to meet with the mayor, held a series of negotiating sessions with Ken Sain, the deputy mayor . One of our demands as that the categories of janitor and janitress be eliminated and replaced with a single neuter category with the minimum pay to be that which the janitors now receive . At our last meeting with Mr. Sain, he smilingly told us, "Compensation would be made in the 1973 budget."

Mr. Sain’s idea of compensation infuriates us . The job titles janitor and janitress were changed but not to a third category. Instead, janitor was changed to custodial worker and janitress to the demeaning title of custodial assistant. Now the women will not only be paid $1,000 less than the men, but will be given a job title which clearly implies subservience to male custodial workers. Where do the people who changed these job categories get their gall?

Once again City Hall has shown its contempt for its women employees. In the entire 1973 budget there are no pay raises for women except in consideration of longevity. This budget in an insult to the women of Chicago. In the budget hearings today we are going to demand that the phony classification of custodial assistant be changed to custodial worker.

Chicago Women’s Liberation Union
852 West Belmont
Chicago, Illinois 60657

On Being a Waitress

from Womankind (1972) An experienced waitress explains what it is like to serve your food. Not always an appetizing job. (Editors Note: A true life adventure about real life in food service work. The author was a community college student on Chicago's Southwest Side.)

After doing waitress work for seven years, I've come to the conclusion that restaurants are all alike. I used to think I could escape intolerable conditions by quitting. But, after doing that many times, I found that each new jobs presents the same problems.

The first problem encountered is usually the bartenders and cooks. They will chase you around the kitchen, try to corner you in the stockroom, and accidentally bump into you and touch you every chance they get. If you don't cooperate, they have ways of getting even with you. They can hold back on your orders so when your customers see other people who came in after they did getting served faster by another waitress, they think that you are goofing off and don't leave a tip. Sometimes the cooks even get violent. I have had cooks threaten me with butcher knives, and a few times they have thrown hot mashed potatoes at me.

If you can make it past the cooks; they next problem is the customers. I guess they think that because they 're paying you, they have the right to grab your leg while you're taking the order. They make lots of remarks, pat you on the ass, and always want to know if they can have you for dessert. Almost as bad as being a sex object is being a work object. People talk to you as if you're a computer. They rattle off a bunch of stuff that they want and expect it to drop magically out of the ceiling. They are completely oblivious to their surroundings. If the place is really busy, and you're running around like crazy, they don't even notice. One time a man was harassing me constantly about where's his soup, where's his salad, and I finally told him, "I'm sorry but I'm not God." After that he was very nice to me, but before that it never occurred to him that I am a human being with limitations on how fast I can move. He only knew that he wanted his food, and it's my job to get it to him.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure being a waitress. First of all, you might have seven or eight different tables going at once. The customers are in a hurry, so they demand their food immediately. When you go back to the kitchen to ask the cook for it, he is snowed under with orders, so he screams at you to come back later. Then the hostess comes to you and hollers about your not having given so and so their rolls and butter yet. By this time, you're extremely nervous, so you drop something and the owner comes over and screams at you. Everything is high tension. No one talks in a normal tone of voice. You are not a human being, but a machine to get people their food. In the midst of all this, some moron wants to know why you're not smiling.

Obviously, this constant tension is very bad on your nerves. To make matters worse, you never get a break or a lunch hour. You just have to grab a sandwich on the run. And your day is usually longer than eight hours. Because you only are paid 75 cents per hour, the owner doesn't mind having you stay extra, and it's very difficult to get out when you are supposed to. It's even harder to get a day off. They never hire enough waitresses, so if a special party is scheduled, you have to come in on your day off.

Why anyone would put up with all this must be a mystery to those fortunate enough to be on the outside. One example is a waitress named Margie. She is 27 years old, divorced and has three children. She has only a high school education and no marketable skills, because her life was geared toward becoming a wife and mother. She can make more money being a waitress than working in a factory or office. Also, she can work nights so she can be home with her children during the day.

Cathy lives only a few blocks from the restaurant and can't afford a car. She also is divorced and has six children. Because the owner knows her predicament - that she can't quit, he harasses her constantly. She is given all kinds of extra work, made to come in on her days off all the time and is always being pawed.

Some women are only waitresses on the low-paying regular jobs. Theresa is a widow with five children still at home. She works downtown all week for a multi-million dollar insurance company, rides the bus home, and is gone from 7 am to 6 pm every day. On the weekend, while the men who sit next to her doing the same work are out playing golf, she is working in a restaurant.

Besides the fact that women put up with this kind of oppression, we are considered stupid if we are waitresses. We're not even supposed to know how to read and write, let alone add. Some women even find themselves lying about their job, because it automatically stamps you as stupid.

In conclusion, I guess the actual work of waitressing is okay. It's better than pounding a typewriter all day because you get to talk to people. But if people would accept the fact that waitresses are people and not machines, our lives would be much more livable. The reason that people can't accept that fact is probably because they have so much pressure on their own jobs. If cooks had more help on the job, they probably wouldn't scream so much. The owner could hire more help of he weren't competing with huge corporate chains. And even the customers would be less demanding if they weren't always in such a hurry and pressured by their own jobs.

Our Output=Their Income from

Womankind (1972) Life for the women of one small Northside Chicago factory. (Editors Note: Life for the women workers in one small Northside factory-Chicago 1972.)

The factory I worked in is in the Paulina-Barry community, just on the edge of an industrial area. Ten of us women worked together in this small plant -- 8 hours a day, $1.60 an hour, standing all the time -- putting plastic alphabet letters into plastic bags.

The women I worked with came from different parts of the city and different backgrounds, but with one thing in common -- being poor, and depending on this job for a living. One young woman quit school at fourteen when her family moved from Tennessee -- her life is now this work and the neighborhood gang. Another, who was still in high school, works to help her family with money troubles and comes all the way from 115th south. There was a Puerto Rican woman who spoke little English, and three other young mothers, two black and one white, who had been deserted by their husbands. A big part of their paycheck went for baby-sitters and transportation, since none lived close by. Our supervisor was a woman from Kentucky (a lot of the workers came from the mountain country) who spent her energy on making money, putting the other women down, and sweet-talking the managers in order to keep her job.

Most of the men in the plant were in their teens and made frantic attempts to impress us with their prowess. This was quickly put down or ignored by the women. All of us had enough of the same treatment by men before to know how to handle it, and the strength of our numbers and experience really came in handy.

Not surprisingly, the main topic of conversation among the women was families and men, in that order of importance. All of the married or once-married women had children, and talked about the difficulties of finding someone they trusted enough to look after their children. They didn't want their children to always be carted around from one place to another, from one baby-sitter to another. When their children were sick they couldn't take them to a doctor for lack of money and for fear of losing their job if they took a day off. This happened twice -- women took their children to the doctor's, and were fired for taking time off work unnecessarily, and losing the company money Although none of these problems were their fault, most of the women felt guilty about not being "good mothers"- and not spending more time with their children. None of them had been able to get on, or stay on, welfare, because they "knew men" or "had no reason not to work". At least once a day, each mother would worry out loud about her children.

One day one of the older white women came in puffy-faced and missing a tooth -- her "old man" had beaten her up. We got into a discussion of bow many times different ones of us had been beaten up and how badly. These women knew better than to see their men as knights on white horses, which is often the illusion of middle class women. They had experienced enough to know that macho behavior (a Spanish word for super-masculinity) is not the sign of a superior being, but only a front. Men are seen as companions, but the women liked the company of their girlfriends better. With other women, they could talk, but men often treated them as sex objects. They were resentful of this treatment, but it had also been pounded into their heads that they were - or would be -- someone's "old lady”. The attitude of most of the women towards men was that they wanted one or were holding on to the one they had, because a man could support you and your children and take off some of the burden of working.

Besides families, we also talked about money and jobs. It was hard to talk to each other except at lunch time because talk among the workers was often prohibited -- it "slowed us down". We all got an hourly wage, and then a bonus for output. This "bonus" was often used against us by the owners. They expressed concern that we make extra money for ourselves, but on days we didn't make bonus, they would start talking about firing some of the "slow" ones. Bonus for us meant twice as much income for them. Their favorite tactic was to pit us against each other by picking out one woman on the line, and saying that because she was so slow, the rest of us wouldn't make any extra money -- so we could thank her for ruining it for us. This worked for a while, and would get us backbiting and picking on each other. Then we’d get yelled at for something they started.Sometimes, as punishment for not making bonus or talking the fan or radio would be taken out of our work area.

It was a hot summer, in an even hotter factory, and the combination of heat and monotonous work gave most people headaches, and made a couple of women faint. The fan and radio were our only relief. After a while without them, we told the managers that we would use the fan and radio when we wanted, or else would work a lot slower than we had been. We weren't strong enough to threaten quitting (most of the women couldn't afford the risk), but we got back our fan and radio with the strength we did show.

Race was something that none of the working women used against each other, but which the management did. The white women came from backgrounds which "experts" would call racist--Southern white, and the black women all identified to different degrees with black culture and present black struggles. But the common-ness of our situations and experiences, some as women, some as poor women, gave a unity to our work group. The managers' racism was very strong and very open -- when they picked on people, it was always on the black women for being slow, or on the Puerto Rican woman for having "that funny Latin accent". They eventually used her accent and slight knowledge of English to fire her -- "She can't work well enough without speaking English". How much English does it take to put plastic letters into plastic bags, especially when talking is almost forbidden?

I recently went back to the factory to pick up an old paycheck which somehow got "lost". All of the people I had worked with were gone, except two. There were new women in our place, all Latin, and a new white woman had been made supervisor. The male workers had gotten a raise.

Higher salaries, transportation, day-care centers, and control of our working situations... all of these things are necessary. What is needed to get these is strength with the people we work with and strength with the people we come from. I'm a woman, and a working with women. Our strength comes from this, and has just begun. Viva the common woman!

DARE Press Release Announcing Susie Bates' Filing of Gender Discrimination Charges

(1973) Announcement of a press conference with Susie Bates who was challenging the City of Chicago's discriminatory employment practices. Bates was a a leader of the City Hall Janitress campaign.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Press Conference: October 23, 1973, 9:15 am, 189 W. Madison Street, Suite 900

(Editors Note: Gender discrimination in Chicago city employment was rampant before the advent of the women's movement. The reigning Daley political machine was very adroit at fending off challenges, but organizations like the Chicago Women's Liberation Union(CWLU) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) were not easily brushed aside.)

Susie Bates, a janitress at City Hall, will present her charges of sex discrimination against the City of Chicago ~ in a Public Hearing before the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). Preceding the hearing she will hold a press conference at 9:15 am at 189 West Madison Street, Suite 900.

At the press conference Ms. Bates will discuss:

  1. the specifics of her case against the City
  2. the relevance of her case to the women ‘s rights movement
  3. the importance of her case to Black working women

Ms. Bates is employed by the City of Chicago as a janitress. For 21 years she has worked side by side with janitors who do work equivalent to that of the women but are paid over $1000 more per year. In addition, women workers receive unequal pension benefits and are denied equal hiring and promotional opportunities.

Ms. Bates has been carrying out a campaign against the City of Chicago for over 1 year. Through the City budget hearing she attempted to have the discriminatory job titles (janitor and janitress) changed to one category, custodial worker, with a corresponding equalization in pay and benefits. The City’s response was to come up with the equally discriminatory classifications of custodial worker (men) and custodial assistant (women).

Thus far Ms. Bates’ case has received the endorsement of District Council 19 Of AFSCME the AFL-CIO State Women’s Caucus, and Black Labor Leaders of Operation PUSH. The support given to Ms. Bates’ case by these Black and labor organizations indicates the importance of her case to working women in Chicago.

A DARE Analysis of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

(1974) A report from the founding convention of CLUW. from the DARE archives (1974)

(Editors Note: This analysis of CLUW from the archives of Direct Action for Rights in Employment (DARE) is a thoughtful and optimistic view of CLUW written shortly after its founding convention.)

The possible shape of the American labor movement of the future was underscored when more than 3,000 women from at least 58 international unions met to gain a voice in union and nationwide affairs. The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) — brought into existence by an extremely diversified group of women — may prove to be an extremely viable force in this country. The striking fact about the founding convention was that the large majority of participants (at least 2,000 out of the 3,000) were not left women, nor were they union staff women. They were rank & file women whose presence indicated that there are enormous numbers of women who are angry and that those numbers can be brought together.

Without the rank & file participation this convention could have been just another arena for movement and union staff women to fight in. Because the national response was so good and the enthusiasm people left with was so high we are left with a mass based organization beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

The following is an analysis of what happened March 22-24 and some thoughts on what will happen now. Copies of the Statement of Purpose and Structure and Guidelines which came out of the convention will be available in the CWLU office soon.

A discussion of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) must be divided into four general, but overlapping, categories:

  1. The forces involved
  2. The struggles within the conference,
  3. Assessment of the conference, DARE’s role, and overall reaction,
  4. Potential of CLUW

The women who planned the conference were from union staffs, without exception. Though they had varying political perspectives, they had a common interest in the implementation of their original ideas for CLUW. The importance of CLUW — getting so many women together to fulfill real needs within a collective (and hopefully activist) framework — is obvious. However, the amount of control which this small influential group exerted,at times, served their own interests and not the interests of the larger, less powerful, delegation on the floor. As the issues discussed at CLUW do affect all working women — staff and rank and file alike. It cannot be said that all control exerted was out of self—interest.

Many times it was hard to decide what was an overbearing exertion of power and what were legitimate decisions in an attempt to represent all groups.

The original planners indicated that they were concerned that CLUW’s birth was “legitimate” so that they would be taken seriously by the labor powers that be. Thus, in discussions of issues which dealt with liberal attitudes (e.g. racial issues), no control was exerted. However, in discussions of issues which, if brought to a vote, would have made CLUW too radical in the planners’ eyes (e.g. passing a pro—UFW resolution despite AFL—CIO neutrality), their control was definitely felt.

A large number of women at the conference were on the left, some staff and some rank and file. This was a fairly influential force in that they were at the microphones many times to encourage everyone to make CLUW a strong radical organization. Some of these women were able to sway the conference because of their ability to clearly state their arguments pro or con on issues. Hence, language changes in the Statement of Purpose created a more militant stance, including international solidarity with all working people and, especially, with minority women, who are the most oppressed.

Others within the left forces were much more militant their presentations and DARE feels strongly that their influence was detrimental to the future of CLUW. (The most vocal were the Militant Action Caucus of the Communication Workers of America [CWA] and the Sparticist League) By insisting that all language, issues, ideas, resolutions, etc. be stated in left rhetoric and that CLUW be put forward as a body to fight capitalism, these women succeeded in alienating almost everyone, used up valuable time on essentially unimportant points, and, in effect, played into the hands of those in control. Their actions created widespread support for the chair to close discussions and to adjourn sessions before important votes were taken.

This problem must be dealt with at future conferences or control will continue to be handed to the labor bureaucrats on a silver platter.

A large majority of women at the convention were rank and file. Out of the 3,300 women who attended, at least 2,000 were women from the factories, shops, and offices who had never been to anything like this before. Few had experience in the movement outside of activities within their own unions. Many were overwhelmed, yet still excited, by the weekend. By the end there were strong feelings of unity among everyone and a positive atmosphere in terms of the future of CLUW. Despite the length and intensity of the weekend (perhaps because of it) and despite the antagonisms perpetuated by the “militant” left, everyone appeared to leave with an identity as a CLUW member.

There was a great deal of struggle within unions (between the more active rank and file and the more dictatorial leadership), between unions (most the UFW and the IBT), and between the left and the planners. Because of the strong sentiments on both sides, the UFW issue was the biggest struggle and took precedence over all else most of the time. Because of a threatened walkout by the Teamsters if a pro—UFW stand was taken, and because the convention seemed to be much in favor of taking a pro—UFW stand, an enormous amount of time was spent lobbying, making speeches, and generally trying to start or stop a movement toward a vote. The UFW issue might not have taken on such importance if the conference planners had not tried to prevent it from coming up at all, and if the vocal left hadn’t been as antagonistic over the issue from the beginning. The planners orchestrated a solution which did not jeopardize their position — a show of sympathy without official support. A representative of the UFW was invited to the platform to speak and then ~ Clara Day of the Teamsters made a general statement of sisterhood without endorsing the UFW cause. Amidst the high emotion created by a UFW—Teamster embrace, one of the planners announced that the UFW and the Teamsters had agreed not to take a vote, which the UFW later flatly denied was true. When UFW and militant left forces tried to force a vote, the sentiment could not be swayed away from the chair. (Previous left attempts to demand recognition from the floor and to demand that the rules be suspended created hostility to these attempts at this time.)

Because the resolution supporting the UFW was referred to the National Coordinating Committee (NCC), there is still a chance that a position will be taken, but that remains to be seen.

Other struggles were not as clear, but were possibly more important in that they dealt with decisions on CLUW’s structure and guidelines and resolutions. No final votes were taken on these and they were referred to the NCC. This suited the planners for the Statement of Purpose, which had been fully discussed, modified, and voted upon section by section, was changed to include some very militant perspectives.

During the UFW discussions a significant vote was taken which shouldn’t be ignored. A guideline which gave CLUW authority to refuse its support in any jurisdictional disputes was deleted from the Structure and Guidelines. This deletion was significant in that it clearly proved that the consensus was with the UFW.

Jurisdictional disputes are very much a matter for concern for not only labor staffs but for the rank & file as well. It was only because of the feeling that this guideline was there to block any action for the UFW that the convention voted to .delete. This is a clear example of how attempted manipulation on the part of the planners was overruled.

It is important to say that no one faction won or lost any of the battles during the convention (except perhaps the planners). The organization ended up with a progressive character, and though future practice by chapters may not reflect that character, the basis is there.

Assessing the conference, several conclusions can be drawn. One is that the left forces (excluding the more militant factions) must be better organized and have a clearer understanding of how to influence such situations. DARE members were prepared to speak to certain points in smaller workshops, but was not able to join forces with other left women in a common strategy at the microphones on the convention floor or some other means to influence the convention. A mass base must be developed before this can be achieved.

The second conclusion is that there is a need for CLUW — as proved by the fact that 3,300 women came, despite poor publicity and little monetary help from the unions. With work, these women’s needs can be met.

Third, CLUW is important to the whole labor movement. With good strong use of its potential power, it can become much more than a source of concern for the labor powers that be, and for the employers at the workplace.

Fourth, CLUW does have the resources to realize that power if the NCC, the state conveners, and everyone who attended organize immediately.

Translating CLUW’s stated purpose into practice is the job of local chapters. The first step has to mobilize and organize the women who attended the convention and women who are interested in CLUW.

The goals of CLUW are large and must be narrowed down to give women the feeling that they can be part of the movement in concrete ways. CLUW activities must speak to definitive problems which all the women can relate. That means that CLUW cannot take on the task of organizing the unorganized without first speaking to the needs of members of CLUW.

A possible first step to initiate Illinois chapters could be a statewide meeting to discuss structure of chapters and, more importantly, to provide some basic information the women can take back to their union locals to start work. One possibility is a panel—workshop day on collective bargaining victories in the areas of equal pay, maternity leave, etc. and a discussion of how and why these victories were won.

Another high priority must be in mobilizing women who were not at the convention into CLUW, possibly by using speaking tours of women who were at the convention.

There are several categories of concern — education, legislative reform, affirmative action, organizing the unorganized, encouraging women to become leaders on all levels in their unions, decisions etc., but where to go with these are decisions which cannot be made yet. Establishment of a steering committee of sorts to work out a program for individual chapters should be a priority.

CLUW’s founding convention is a beginning of a potentially strong and influential organization. With struggle by those who want to achieve progressive reforms beyond their own sectarian interests, the women’s movement and the labor movement will move.