Veteran Feminists of America Celebrations
VFA HONORED BY THE NATIONAL WOMEN'S HALL OF FAME AND PRESENTED WITH "KEEPER OF THE FLAME" STATUETTE
Until the birth of the Second Wave the lovely little village of Seneca Falls was better known as the setting for the Xmas classic It s a Wonderful Life, rather than the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the birth site of the feminist movement. Great historic figures such as Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, who had attended the first convention, seemed to have been forgotten, as were the gains they had achieved for women.
In 1971 Karen DeCrow, then president of Syracuse NOW, convened a political conference in Seneca Falls. I attended with Connie Comer and Tina Santi from New York NOW. Nowhere were there signs of the town s historic background. Our group was photographed in front of the laundromat that replaced the church where the historic convention was held. What else would replace a women s historical site but a laundromat! someone remarked.
But with the new feminist movement, interest in the 19th century movement was renewed. The National Women's Hall of Fame was established in 1969. Later, the late Senator Patrick Moynihan helped revive the town as a national historic site. The laundromat was torn down and a nice plaque now graces the spot where the church once was. Cady Stanton s house and other historic spots were cleaned and the Women s Rights Park and the National Women s Hall of Fame were established.
The Hall of Fame honors women from all professions, but Seneca Falls is famous because Elizabeth Cady Stanton held the first feminist conference in the local Methodist Church, so some of us feel that special attention should be given to Second Wave feminists who made all this possible. Yes, Betty Friedan, Catherine East, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Charlotte Bunch, Karen DeCrow and a few others have been initiated into the Hall, but every pioneer feminist who worked so hard to achieve equal rights for our sex deserves to be honored. Many have been nominated but not selected, though they very much deserved to be. Without the new feminist movement, there would be no Hall of Fame. So one day I was inspired to call the Hall.
I m Jacqui Ceballos, I said, president of Veteran Feminists of America.
Amanda Bishop, the Hall s deputy director, knew who I am and excitedly called Chris Moulton, the executive director, to the phone. Both sounded very happy to hear from me.
I dove right in. Almost every pioneer feminist deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, I said. It is impossible to honor them separately, but why not honor them as a group? Then I added, Many are in their 80 s and 90 s so it should be soon. Both thought it a great idea and promised to get back to me.
A few weeks later Chris called. We have a date for an event and we'd love to honor VFA. There are places for 100 guests, with 10 complimentary tickets for you and other pioneer feminists.
I immediately sent the word out and the responses poured in. Most couldn t go at this late date. Our Chair and Co-President had plans for that day so it was very important that I, and Barbara Love, author of Feminists Who Changed America, be there.
Along with Barbara, other board members who attended were VFA VP Gracia Molina Pick of San Diego, cofounders Dell Williams and Sandy Zwerling of NY and Carole De Saram, Ann Jawin also of NY; Jean King and Mavra Stark of Philadelphia. Cindy Judd Hill, who d suffered a stroke a few weeks before, came from Pittsburgh with handwritten notes as she so wanted to share that she d attended the first NOW meeting with Betty Friedan in Washington DC in 1967. Judy Pickering, whom I'd not seen in 40 years, came from Connecticut. Other pioneer feminist attendees are listed below.
It is not easy to get to Seneca Falls. Gracia and I had to fly into Syracuse the day before in order to arrive in time. We were met by Chris and driven the hour or so to Seneca Falls and treated to dinner. The next morning they took us to the site of the first convention, where a nice building replaced the ugly laundromat, and we were photographed beneath the sign which announced that this was the site of the first feminist convention. We then visited the statue of Stanton, Amelia Bloomer and Anthony and were photographed alongside these great women.
THE EVENT: Women were pouring in for the reception at 5:30. There was much animated greeting, as many had not seen one another in years. The room at the Hotel Clarence held only 100, and every seat was taken. The place was abuzz, cameras flashing--but there was no videotaping, no filming. I ran around asking if anyone had a camera. Yes, said Katherine Pffieffer Pross, her husband had one in their car. And Jack Pross ran out for the camera, set it up and began filming.
A band was playing in the background making it hard to hear anyone talk. Could we not have the band? I asked Chris.
I can t do that, Jacqui, she said. I have to say that Chris was a warm, most gracious host, who obviously appreciated the pioneer feminists, as were Amanda and the young intern, Marrisa Garcia. We couldn't have been treated better. But I later heard our event was underwritten by a business, and they hired the band.
Myra Kovary, a classical harpist, regretted that she hadn t offered to play the harp, which would have been perfect background music. She is offering her artistry for future events.
The plan was that Chris would introduce me, I would talk for a half hour and that was it.
I must introduce the feminist guests, I said, and each one should be allowed to speak. And I proposed that we begin during dinner.
That wasn t possible, I was told. You may introduce them, but there is no time for them to speak.
After dinner Chris gave a lovely introduction and presented me (for VFA of course) with an elegant glass statuette dedicated To the Veteran Feminists of America, Keepers of the Flame.
I accepted, I hope graciously. I d had a bit too much wine and was a little high on all the excitement. I told the story of VFA s founding, how we decided If no one would honor us, we d honor ourselves, which got a few laughs, and mentioned that the renewal of Seneca Falls was because of the new feminist movement. This may have embarrassed Chris and upset the board women, but I was on a roll. I d meant not to do more than introduce VFA members, but what the hell& this would never happen again!
First I called Barbara, who came up with Feminists Who Changed America; then Cindy Judd Hill, who trembled as she told about the first meeting of NOW. Betty Friedan had heard that she d been fired because she was pregnant and invited her there to tell her story. Said Cindy, "I signed in as Mrs. Robert Hill, and Betty Friedan told me that s not your name!
Judy Pickering told how she and NOW president Wilma Scott Heide had run around the country dressed as Susan and Elizabeth, talking to women about the importance of suffrage. Dell Williams, founder of Eve s Garden, amused the audience with stories of helping women achieve sexual liberation. She brought down the house with her ending: I have a pin that says, An orgasm a day keeps the doctor away.
Jean King, who d fought hard for Title VII with Bunny Sandler, spoke of handling legal cases for women. Carole DeSaram reported on the joy of leading the Fifth Avenue March of 1970, helping carry the WOMEN OF THE WORLD UNITE banner.
I was getting signals from Chris, so it was time to wrap it up. Before doing so I called Sally Roesch Wagner, head of the nearby Matilda Gage Foundation, who had to be introduced!
The place was closing, so the other pioneer feminists guests weren t able to talk! Before leaving, we gathered for group photos. I led the singing of Ruth Hershberger's The Battle Hymn of Freedom to the tune of The Battle Hymn of The Republic.
Our eyes have seen the future and rejoice at what s to be,
WHO'S IN THE GROUP PHOTO?
Next morning we were driven to Syracuse for the train to New York by Trudy Mason, who had graciously risen very early to accommodate us, so early that we had no opportunity to say goodbye to our friends. And after two days in New York Gracia and I left together and took our flights to Phoenix and San Diego.