Veteran Feminists of America


I was born in 1938 and grew up in a working-class neighborhood of the Bronx, NY. I was the eldest of three daughters; my brother was born when I was 16. My mother, the first of seven daughters of a working mother, had to leave high school to contribute to her family s finances, which she deeply regretted. She and my father, a high school graduate, were adamant that I go to college and have a career.

Early on I got the sense from her that raising children was a duty. It was what women did, and certainly wasn t fun. She wouldn t allow me to baby sit. You ll have plenty of that when you have your own children, she d say. This wasn t the prevailing pro-natal message other neighborhood girls absorbed. Most of them were first-generation American and went to public schools. For boys, education to prepare for a good career was most important; for girls it was important to get a good job as a secretary, sales clerk or similar occupation until they married and had children.

The seed of my interest in women s history sprouted in first grade with a classmate s report about her aunt, the first woman to become Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health. That a woman held such a high position impressed me very much; the only career women I knew were teachers or nurses. Also learning about great women such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart excited me, and I was thrilled by the work of the WACs and the WAVES in WWII.

In fifth grade I was awarded admission to a non-neighborhood school for intellectually gifted children and in 1955 graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. However, despite having the best public education in the U.S. I received no career guidance. After graduation I got an administrative job and attended Hunter College at night.

In 1957 I met Warren Kaplan, just out of a two-year Army stint. I was impressed with his ambition, intelligence and sense of humor and he fully appreciated my intelligence and ambition. We married at the end of 1958. In 1960 I graduated with a B.A. in Psychology. Warren became a stockbroker, and I got my license and joined him. We worked together in various aspects of finance and later in business. I was entrepreneurial before the term was known.

Around this time I read Simone de Beauvoir s The Second Sex, which affected me greatly. I d known that women were not respected for their societal contributions and were expected to dedicate themselves exclusively to husband and children. I knew of areas where women didn t even have equal legal rights, but I didn t think anything could be done to change that.

Until early autumn of 1965. I was pregnant and one day visited a high school friend. On her coffee table was an AAUW magazine with an article about discrimination against girls. We read the article and decided to write a book about the various aspects of this discrimination. We even went so far as to list the chapters of the book and allocate who would write each topic.

After my son was born I returned to work as an insurance agent with New York Life. I d been impressed that NYL had women agents and especially that its board included a woman, though common coffee break chatter was Who did she sleep with to get there? By now The Feminine Mystique was the rage. I read it and immediately called my friend: Emily, forget our book. It s been written.

The conclusion of The Feminine Mystique noted the founding of the National Organization for Women. I searched in NY and Washington yellow pages and libraries but couldn t find NOW. The first chapter, NY NOW, was formed in 1967, but I didn t know about it. As far as I knew there was no NOW office and no meetings.

Yet NOW s activity put it in the news and by the early 1970 s I d found it and joined the NYC chapter. Though I paid my dues, I seldom attended meetings. Then I began receiving notes from someone named Jacqui Ceballos (NOW-NY President) about upcoming events and meetings: Judy, we miss you, please come to this or that meeting or event. So I started attending and signed up for the Image, Religion, and Child Care committees. My first feminist action was a letter to Hallmark Cards about a traditionally skewed birth announcement or birthday card, and I participated in actions at newspaper offices to protest sex discrimination in newspapers and employment practices, especially sex-segregated help-wanted ads.

I found news articles about women of achievement of particular interest and began collecting postage stamps and first-day covers (i.e. an envelope cancelled the first day the stamp is issued) about women s history and noticed that a very small percentage of stamps honored women of achievement.

Soon I was very busy as the chapter s fundraiser and my interest in historic women s items worked to the chapter s advantage. At that time gambling was illegal except as fundraisers by non-profit organizations, so for our first one I produced a Monte Carlo night. I rented roulette wheels, sold Monopoly-like dollars with images of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott in lieu of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln.

The denominations were $100, $500 and $1,000 to instill the idea of women getting used to handling large sums of money. The prices charged for the currency were $1, $2 and $5, and guests bought it to use for their roulette bets. The items were auctioned following the roulette games and people used their winnings to buy things such as books, store and restaurant gift certificates, toys and gifts, gourmet baskets, all donated by local businesses. A book might be first offered at $100 and the winning bid might be $1,000. The currency concept and auction added much fun and the night netted the chapter $700. Later I was elected chapter treasurer. I m happy to say the bottom line profited greatly during that period.

NOW was my primary organization, but I was also a member of AAUW, WEAL, NWPC and other feminist groups at various times. I subscribed to feminist magazines and avidly absorbed articles on women s history.

I proposed to my NOW Board that the chapter produce a collectible Women s History series of First-Day Covers. From 1976 to 1980 I produced and sold approximately 180 different covers in quantities of between 500 and 1,000 each. The series was successful in raising money for NOW-NY, raising consciousness among philatelists about the achievements of women, and pressuring the U.S. Postal Service into issuing more stamps to honor women s history and achievements. I am proudest that many subjects of the NOW-NY FDCs were later commemorated on U.S. postage stamps. (The First Day Covers are sold on the web to collectors by Knottywood Treasures (

All this time Warren and I were raising our son Ronald and daughter Elissa, as well as working in our business dealing in first-day covers. My family attended marches together, many times for ERA and Choice, and once my father joined us. I continued to be involved with NOW and attended conferences around the country. Warren was also a member of NOW; his main interests were abortion rights, gay rights, equal rights, education and career opportunity for women, and stopping violence against women.

Judith Kaplan, organizer of the "Women Speak Out Now" April 6, 2002 conference, summed up the results, "We accomplished exactly what we wanted to. Our goals included celebrating the past 30 years in the advancement of women's rights and women's choices and creating an Agenda to continue to shape women's future rights and choices."
Pictured: Sheila Jaffee, Judy Kaplan and Mary Cameron

We d started our business selling packets of used postage stamps for resale to gift stores in planetariums, history, space and aviation museums and nature centers. In 1980 we moved to Ocala, Florida to expand, where I immediately became active in Ocala-Marion County NOW. Florida was then a target state for passage of the ERA, and our chapter was especially active on that front. We later moved to Boca Raton and I transferred to the South Palm Beach chapter.

I joined VFA as soon as it was formed. On April 6, 2002 I organized an all-day event with NOW-SPBC and FAU Women s Studies Department at the Boca Raton campus of Florida Atlantic University. Titled Women Speak Out, the concept was to hear the concerns and suggested solutions of students enrolled in Women s Studies classes. The first time VFA included young women as part of a main event, it was a most successful day.

The women s history collection--the stamps, first-day covers, signed letters, books and artifacts I d begun collecting in the 1960 s grew in quantity and value over the years. Called the Kaplan Women s History Collection, in 1990 I donated it to Central Florida Community College in Ocala for a Women s History Center. When CFCC changed its focus about ten years later, I purchased it back and endowed the Judith Kaplan Chair for Women s History/Women s Studies/Library Support at CFCC (now Central Florida College). My plans for the collection are currently unformed.

I am on the Board of the National Women s History Museum, now in the process of establishing a world-class women s history museum on the Mall in our nation s Capital. Please go to our award-winning website to read about women s history, women of achievement and the current status of our Museum goal. It is a project long overdue, one that, like the First and Second Wave feminists, will record history and change the future for all.

I believe passionately in the role VFA is playing in documenting the history of the Second Wave. I continue to work with NWHM and VFA to preserve that history to help assure that never again will the story of feminist movements be erased from history.

Comments: Jacqui Ceballos

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