Veteran Feminists of the Midwest
For further information about
contact Judith Gardiner at 312/413-1924
MidWest VFA "Unfinished Business" Planning Group
Back row/left to right: Heather Booth, Jean Peterman, Wilma Stevens, Mary-Ann
Lupa, Joanne Kantrowitz, Sheila Tobias, and Alice Dan;
Front row: Kathy Rand, Mary Lynn Myers, Estelle Carol, and Judith Gardiner. Not pictured: Laurel Lambert Schmidt
|Gene Boyer, one of the founders of NOW and VFA,was from Wisconsin.
She always felt that Midwestern women didn'treceive the recognition they deserved for their work and achievements
in the women's movement of the 1960s and'70s. One of Gene's last wishes before she died last year was that VFA
honor Midwestern women.
This event, dedicated to Gene, is meant to honorkey Midwest activists, celebrate our achievements, bridge the past
gains of the movement with the present dangersand opportunities and energize people of all generations to ensure
a brighter future for women.
We're hopeful that this exciting event will produce an action plan to ensure that the rights won for women duringthe
'60s and '70s are not eroded, given some of the current dangers.
left to right: Judith Kagen Gardner,Mary Lynn
Myers, Sara Evans, Rev. Addie Wyatt
Midwest VFA Focus on Unfinished Business
by Kathy Rand
"Unfinished Business of the Women's Movement," the first Midwest VFA event held
in Chicago August 27-28 was dedicated to the late Gene Boyer, a founder of many feminist organizations, includingNOW
and VFA. Gene hailed from Wisconsin. When she died last August, one of her final wishes was that the feministactivists
from the Midwest be recognized for their many contributions.
The event was a great success. More than 200 people registered, exceeding expectations. Second wave feminists fromthroughout
the Midwest reunited and reminisced and celebrated the achievements of the movement in the Midwest.Excellent media
coverage included stories on three television stations and in several newspapers.
(Pictured left: HeatherBooth and pictured right:
A steering committee began meeting last fall to plan an event dedicated to Gene. We decided that late August wouldbe
the perfect time for such an event - immediately following the 84th anniversary of women's suffrage and a fewmonths
prior to the presidential election. Our premise was that women today risked losing the rights won for themby the
second wave feminists if they didn't exercise the right to vote won for them by the first wave feminists.
On Friday night, August 27, at a banquet at the Chicago Athletic Association, more than 90 women who had been activein
the movement in the Midwest prior to 1975 were honored. Speakers at the banquet were former U.S. Senator CarolMoseley
Braun (D, IL), and the Rev. Willie T. Barrow, former co-chairperson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Saturday brought a full day of speakers, panels
and breakout groups. The first session was "How the (Mid)West was Won - theUntold History of the Women's Movement in the Heartland." Speakers includedVFA
board member Mary Lynn Myers, feminist author Sara Evans, labor leader Rev. Addie Wyatt and former IllinoisState
Representative Laurel Prussing.
The second session was "Dangers and Opportunities - A Focus on the Unfinished Business." Speakers wereVFA
board member Heather Booth, Mary Jean Collins of People for the American Way and NOW officer Veronica Arreola.(Right: CongresswomanJan Schakowsky & left: Rev Addie Wyatt & Judith
The final session, "Where Do We Go From Here - Moving Toward a Brighter Future," featured VFA board chairMuriel
Fox and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D, IL).
Additionally, there were nine breakout sessions that focused on key issues. Topics were: how politics change women'slives;
getting out the vote; countering the right; women, religion and politics; women's health; the work/familyconflict;
women of color; reproductive rights; and work and employment. (right: Mary Jean Collins & Chi.NOW Pres Veronica Arreola)
Saturday night was devoted to fun and celebration - before returning to the hard work of the upcoming election,where
women's votes are critical.
(picturedleft: Mary Jean Collins)
As Joanne Kantrowitz (pictured left) wrote in athank
you to VFA supporters...
"What a collection of women of all sizes,shapes,
and backgrounds! The range of their backgrounds and activities was really amazing and demonstrated theextraordinary
energy of our generation of educated women. I always said the big mistake was educating all thosewomen, not to
mention the vote, of course. They surely have rocked a few boats! And this Midwest event excitedand thrilled the
whole group. Congratulations to all of you for your contribution to celebrating those women whowere once so maligned
and are now old hands at the process of social change. The Helen Harrison Fund and its trusteesshould lift a toast
to itself and, in that, and we join you wholeheartedly! " (right:Dr.
Judith Kagen Gardiner)
A Generation of Troublemakers
Veteran Feminists Celebrate at UIC
by Joanne Kantrowitz, co-Chair of the Midwest Event
Forty years ago--yes, 40--Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, the book that shook the rafters of Americansociety.
Soon, in 1966, a group of women meeting in Washington as part of the federal Commission on Women got togetherand
formed The National Organization FOR Women. Then the fights broke out, touching major areas of American lifeand
attacking the sentimentalized version of woman so parodied in The Stepford Wives.
Ten years ago, those pioneers created yet another organization: The Veteran Feminists of America. At its beginning,they
gathered those women who were activists before 1978. Their membership includes Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem,the
stars, as well as the women who made the changes happen. These are the women who changed the credit laws, lobbiedfor
Title VII and Title IX, eliminated the segregation of job ads to male and female categories, sued the banks,the
corporations, the universities for discriminating against women, sat in at men's clubs and bars, dressed upas witches
and "hexed" leading male chauvinists, formed support groups for abortion clinics, lobbiedfor maternity
leave, child care, attacked Supreme Court candidates, and ran women's campaigns for local and nationalpolitical
office. These are the women who produced too many "actions" to list in one paragraph and whomade it possible
for women now under 50 to reach for the opportunities that were denied their elders.
These are the women who came to UIC on August 27 and 28 to celebrate the founding feminists of the Midwest. Althoughthe
national media tends to focus on the east coast, feminist activity was and is intense and effective in theMidwest.
(Steinem grew up in Toledo, Friedan came from Peoria. We produce hearty women here in the heartland.)At this first
VFA celebration in Chicago, 88 women received medals honoring their contributions to the women'smovement during
the years before 1975, among them UIC professors Alice Dan and Judith Keegan Gardiner.
In a joyous reunion of veterans and sisters, the women remembered the past and planned for the "unfinishedbusiness"
still remaining. They created an archive of oral interviews, part of their ongoing focus on gatheringand preserving
their history. They planned voter registration drives to get out the vote of young women, they examinedfeminist
solutions for motherhood and family, they looked at the far right and asserted the religious feministrole in their
movement. They came together to celebrate, to criticize, to plan again and again to exercise theirinfluence in
the future. It was a glorious season, a glorious tribute to the anniversary of women's right to voteon August 26.
That amendment produced by the "radicals" of the First Wave is now enshrined in Americanhistory. So,
too, the radicals, the "troublemakers" of the 1960's and 1970's are now approaching theirown places in
the history of women's assertion of equal partnership in the American landscape.
Those who missed this event can find some enlightenment in our website <www.vfa.us>. As VFA co-chairperson of the reunion, I salute my colleague
and co-chair, ProfessorJudith Gardiner and the Center for Research on Women and Gender who provided so much of
the organization and expertisethat made our "Unfinished Business of the Women's Movement: Dangers and Opportunities"
a sell-out success.It's wonderful how women work together! The Veteran Feminists of America joyfully acknowledge
their partnershipwith the women's center at the University of Illinois in Chicago and thank them for their kind
and gracious hospitality.May we live to celebrate together again!
--Joanne Spencer Kantrowitz, Ph.D. ( U. of Chicago, 1967)
For further information about the event
contact Judith Gardiner at 312/413-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org