Veteran Feminists of America


DEBORAH BIELE  EDITOR OF THE NOW YORK TIMES   "All the news that would give The Times fits." 

I was born in New York City at the French Hospital in 1939.  My parents were both children of Jewish immigrants fleeing from oppression against Jews in Russia and Hungary. 

By my grandparents’ standards the life they made for themselves here was a god-sent gift; despite the fact that they worked till they dropped.  I did not know my paternal grandparents and on my mother’s side only my grandmother remained.  For me she was the great refuge I needed during my pre teen years.  She died when I was twenty-one.

After WWII, my father and my mother’s sister started a small manufacturing business  making private label bras contracted  for by the Peter Pan Company and perhaps one or two other well known manufacturers.  My grandmother and aunt worked as the Foreladies of the business and my father was the treasurer/accountant of this dismal pursuit.  Mother was working for Fadiman Associates (Clifton and Edwin Fadiman) in mid town New York.   Every day she took a bus into the City from Bayonne, NJ where we were all living in only a 2 bedroom apartment.  I slept in a small bed in the same room with my grandmother and aunt who shared a double bed.  My grandmother used to store her home made raisin wine and her home made dill pickles in huge glass jars that were stored under my bed.  On wash days, my grandmother and my aunt Ann would pull a clothes line across the room above the middle of the bed and hang their corsets on the line along with other large, ugly ladies bloomers.  Despite the cramped apartment and corsets and bloomers hanging out to dry over my grandmother’s bed, it was a place of love and security for me.  It was short lived.

After my father came back home and moved into the 2nd bedroom with my mother every one shifted their focus to him.  My parents argued and my mother argued with my grandmother and I felt lost in the cracks that were separating all of us.

The legacy of those years is that I learned to fend for myself.  I was an angry and distrustful little girl who found ways to escape through art and imagination.  I was sullen and lonely with no girl or anyone my age to play with except two little boys who always tried to draw me into games of sexual exploitation that I successfully resisted with my fists.

My mother and father finally moved out of Bayonne to the Bronx, NY when I was nine years old.  Space, my god, I finally had space, my own room, my own closet and chest of drawers.  My first couple of years there were wonderfully happy.  I had friends who lived in the same apartment building and at school, which was just across the street from my house.

The cracks in the relationship between my mother and father widened and my relationship with my father completely collapsed.  By the time I was a junior in high school I could not wait to get out of my parental home.

Therapy, a lot of therapy carried me through my early twenties and I started to put my life into some kind of reasonable order.  By 1969 the news of the feminist activists was reaching my ears.  At this time, I was working with my partner, Maria in an art studio business we began a year earlier and it was doing well.  

Though later in life my sexuality evolved into a bi-sexual orientation, at the time I considered myself  a lesbian.  I was  in a relationship with Maria  and most of the women I met in the movement just seemed to accept us without questioning us about our sexuality.  Maria and I joined NOW, New York and began  going to meetings. 

 In 1970 Betty Friedan was planning a national Strike for Equality on the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and NYNOW”s committee led by Jacqui Ceballos, was planning many of actions for that day in the city.   Three weeks before the 26th  a press conference was held to announce Strike events.  Bella Abzug, then running for Congress, and the very popular Gloria Steinem, who had made it clear she was a feminist, were invited in order to impress the press, which at that time, was all male and mostly anti feminist . But Betty didn’t show… later we learned that the Long Island Railroad was , as usual, late… so  Jacqui Ceballos  took charge and  told the press   several things women would do on the 26th…including writing and circulating  a newspaper written as though women ran the world.

The press picked up on it, and we had to make it happen. I volunteered to produce the  newspaper  and several NOW members, including the president, Ivy Bottini, eagerly became the Editorial Committee, and we turned the fabulous NOW YORK TIMES … now a collector’s item.  I  was editor, Articles were written tongue in cheek by   Dolores Alexander, Lee Walker, Betty Berry, Pat McQuillan,  and other  New York  NOW members.   On the 26th  we  handed the newspaper out to all the writers at the New York Times building  and later plastered it   all over the city.   

I became the first chair of a new Women in the Media committee and the group of women who came to the first meeting at my house became the core group for a research project to demonstrate how women were negatively portrayed in programming and also how biased the media was towards feminist causes.  We also were able to prove that women were very underrepresented in jobs in television.  We decided to focus our efforts on WABC  because we felt that Roger Grimsby, the news anchor at the station demonstrated a particularly egregious attitude towards feminists and feminism generally.  We challenged WABC ‘s license with the FCC and we WON!  Their license was denied and the station was forced to negotiate with a committee to upgrade their programming and to come into compliance with the hiring of more females in higher positions at the station. 

Maria and I separated in September of 1971.  I was still in my early 30’s and I had a secret desire to go back and finish my college degree.  I moved out of the city to Stony Brook, NY to go back to school.  I finished my undergrad degree and went straight into the PhD   program there.  I was in my third year of the PhD program when I started interviewing for jobs as a professor.  That’s when reality hit me, as the kids say, upside the head.  I was not prepared to take a vow of poverty to teach sociology.  That being the case, I abandoned my pursuit of a doctorate and settled for my master’s degree.  In 1980, the job market for a woman with an advanced degree was a fertile field and I started a new career as a social scientist.  I have never had regrets about leaving the art world.  The last years of my research career were spent at the University of the Miami School of Medicine doing really interesting work on diseases that have a dramatic impact on families like Type II diabetes.  I am retired now but I have a research idea in the pot and I hope to have a proposal that will interest a publisher who has a track record for putting out work in gender studies.

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Comments: Jacqui Ceballos

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