Veteran Feminists of America

From Zoe Nicholson’s forthcoming book, The Engaged Heart.

I never feel confident that I have expressed my abiding respect for the VFA. Please let me offer a few of the paragraphs I wrote TODAY from a book I am working on. It is an expansion of the little article I wrote a while back – into a full life memoir. I hope you feel my heart.



I sat at my desk for hours on end, wedged between the TV, garden window and Microsoft Windows, free to create. And somewhere between West Wing and Law & Order, an email arrived from my sister faster, Dina. She attached a questionnaire and said that Barbara Love was writing a directory of biographies of feminists who had worked in the Second Wave. At the bottom was a note that Barbara was also looking for editors.


Twenty-five years ago, her book, Sappho was a Right-On Woman had been MY coming out book. Barbara Love and Sydney Abbot’s book was the one I handed a customer who came to The Magic Speller Bookstore looking for sisterhood, for safety, for a book about US. And now I had her email address. I was submitting my answers to her questionnaire. She was just beginning a great treasure hunt to collect information by and about the women of the Second Wave. Her dream was to create a directory of pioneer feminists, complete with information about their archives. Now, with the electronic age, there was no reason for another American feminist life to be lost in obscurity.

I wrote her a simple email ~ I still have it.

Dear Barbara,

I am so very grateful for your work. Over the years I pass through bookstores and I can never resist looking for feminist history books.... I find a bit about Sanger, on Anthony, on some foremothers, but, from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, so many wonderful women have gone unnoticed. If I can be of any assistance ~ it will be my privilege to do so. Please ask me for anything.

Zoe Nicholson
June 1, 2003

On June 18, Barbara wrote me back with four bios and “Q’s” to show me how the process worked. On my PC were the entries for Marie C. Wilson, Gloria Steinem, Virginia Carter and Deborah Rogow. I was sailing on the chariot of Boudicca, the needle of Harriet Tubman, the blotter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. My email back was a lesson in restraint looking for a balance between volunteering for service and begging for the honor to contribute. A week later I got my first Q; it was from the woman who founded the first woman-owned art gallery in SOHO.

Over the course of the next two years, I was privileged to transform one hundred and twenty Q’s into biographies but what was actually happening to me was a Christmas Morning Miracle. I was reading, in their own voice, about the founders of NOW, NWPC, AAUW, Planned Parenthood, The Boston Women’s Health Collective, Women’s Studies programs all across the country, librarians, PhD’s, professors, doctors, nurses, authors and artists. It was as if there was a virtual parade of Second Wave Changemakers pouring through my little house, giving me a sacred trust to see that details were protected, stories were relayed, nothing was trivialized; they were safe with me.

And I was safe with them. I was a woman of the Second Wave who had stepped off the curb to seek in another way. I was lifted in their stories, inspired in their triumphs. Their lives were thrilling, one more courageous than the last; sit-ins, marches, protests, the first abortion clinic, the first self-help group, the first in their field. Page after page about publishing, art, music, academics, politics, ministers and rabbis. They were tapping me on the shoulder telling me to wake up, open the door and join in the River of Change again.


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