Veteran Feminists of America

JULY 2009

This article and picture appeared in the July 1968 issue of The Bent of Tau Beta Pi. I received a Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society Women's Badge my Junior year at GWU. If male, I would have become a member but in 1968 they didn't allow women. Instead they gave us badges and printed our pictures in the magazine. A year later, during my Senior year, Tau beta Pi voted to accept, rather than except, women; and I had the pleasure of becoming the first female inductee from GWU. - Note: Tau Beta Pi was founded in 1885. When I earned the Women's Badge in 1968, I became the 573rd women's badge holder in 83 years since Tau Beta Pi's founding. That gives you an idea of how hostile the profession was toward women both at the university and employment
Karen Spindel was a full-time female undergraduate mechanical engineering student at George Washington University in the mid 1960s. In 1969, her senior year, Karen went with her Student Chapter of the Society of Mechanical Engineers on a tour to Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, MD. When she arrived with her male classmates, Bethlehem Steel personnel prohibited her from touring the plant because she was a woman. They positioned an armed guard in the seat next to her on the bus while the rest of the students toured. In 1968, Karen earned a “women’s badge” from Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, which at that time did not accept women as full members. A year later, when the rules changed, she became the first woman member of Tau Beta Pi from GWU. After her graduation in 1969 Karen faced and fought rampant job discrimination against women, and finally became an engineer for Robins Engineers & Constructors in Totowa, NJ. One of her first assignments was to design overland conveyors for Bethlehem Steel.

In the mid 1970s she organized a protest at the Passaic Public Library, demanding that women be allowed to get library cards in their own names. “Prior to that protest, women had to declare their marital status and use Mrs. followed by their husband’s name on their library cards!”

In 1972 she joined Passaic County NOW, served as membership coordinator for 20 years, and is still active today. She has lectured on the ERA “at any location that would invite us”.

Says Karen, “During my 30 years-plus of activism, I have organized marched and rallied in New Jersey and DC and written enough letters on topics such as equal rights, sex discrimination and gender stereotyping to fill a book.”

Karen lives in Clifton, NJ where she is completing and seeking a publisher for her chronicle of growing up feminist and frustrated in a sexist society. She is also a partner in a clinical quality software company, Database Place LLC which is in its infancy. Karen is the proud mother of two feminist daughters. Samantha, 37, has a masters in counseling and runs an "I can problem solve" program for at risk students in Paterson, NJ. Rachel, 20, is a Junior at Smith College majoring in politics. (September 1986, in Seneca Falls! One of the best gifts I ever received was being honored by daughter Samantha with a page in the Women’s Hall of Fame Book of Lives and Legacies for my 50th Birthday.)

Contact Karen --

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