Category Archives: Life passages





1848:  Seneca  Falls Convention Elizabeth Cody Stanton and Lucretia Mott presented The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions identifying injuries and usurpations demanding right to vote

1913:   Susan B Anthony  Civil Rights Activist, suffragist, abolitionist in National American Association of Woman’s Suffragist Association.                  

1919:  Jeannette Rankin- Republican/pacifist and first woman elected to congress-two terms 1916 and 1940;  forceful leader in the National American Association of Woman’s Suffrage through support of President Woodrow Wilson and the congress resulted in passage of 19th Amendment ad women’s right to vote.

 1921:  Mabel Vernon, Quaker suffragist, pacifist and national leader in American Woman’s Suffrage Association Sarah Bard Fields prison and health reform.   Worked with Sara Bard Field, Poet and Woman’s Suffrage leader in Oregon and Nevada.  Lobbied for Equal Rights Amendment and led National Woman’s Party in 1930.

1932:  Frances Perkins,  FDR appoint as Secretary of Labor, 1st woman on cabinet

1937:  Emma Tenayuca, San Antonio Texas Workers World Labor leader brought Workers Alliance to workers;  Detroit Housewives’s League and Black Woman’s Housewives Association with Fannie Peck brought workers rights to 10,000 members and created 75,000 jobs for African Americans through protests of over 200,000 workers.

1940:   Margaret Chase Smith-distinction of being the first woman to serve both the House of Representatives for two full terms as well as elected into the Senate.  Republican Representative for Maine also first woman to have her name placed in  nomination for the Presidency.  

 1940:    Margaret Sanger: Advocate for Family Planning in 1920’s fostering healthcare for women;   Founder of  Planned Parenthood.

1942:   16 million men and women WWII;  996,242 casualties; 350,000 Women served in the war effort in uniform and as volunteers or in war industries to support the war. 

1944:  Clare  Boothe Luce, author, playwright The Women; first woman to be appointed ambassador for term in Rome.  Served two terms in House of Representatives.  1973, Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

1948:   28.6% women at work after war; women returned to home after the war ended. 

1947: COMMISSION ON United Nations produced first international law that recognized and protected the political rights of women for all the original 51 UN members determining Equal Voting rights for women equal to men.

1949:   Simone De Beauvoir:  women not born women, become women-begins national conversation on sexual roles and identities.

1952:   Virginia Apgar brought Apgar report for newborns

1953:  The Pill Project-Margaret Sanger brings Katharine McCormick to fund $40,000 for hormone birth control research by Dr. Gregory Pincus.

1954:  Kinsey Report 6000 women studied sexual behavior of females; Masters and  Johnson study of sexual dysfunctions of females and males.

 1955:  Alcoholism at its highest level

 1955:   Women allowed to serve on juries, lease apartments or get credit.

1961:   President John Kennedy establishes Commission on the Status of Women appointing 40 women to give constructive recommendations and action addressing employment, social insurance, tax laws, and federal labor laws as well as legal treatment of women; initially a government agency, the Commission on the Status of Women women who identify the “injuries of sex;” the Commission will leave the government and become a force and voice for women in the Women’s Movement-the 2nd Wave of Feminism of the 60’s.

1963:   Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique best seller; women begin to talk to women about their sex lives.

 1960-77:   Bella Abzug, House of Representatives 1971-1877;  lawyer, liberal activist, woman and civil rights advocate. Formed National Women’s Political Caucus with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem.  American Civil Liberties Union,  Women’s Strike for Peace in 1961.

1964:    Civil Rights Act:  sex, race or country of origin denied in anti discriminatory law defining equality as equal access and opportunity to all Americans.

1965:    Affirmative Action to women and minorities in education and employment empowered by President Lyndon Johnson in War on Poverty.

1965:  Abortion to save the life of the mother/or in case of rape legal

1968:    Shirley Chishom – 1st  African American representative NY

1968:     Gloria Steinem – National Organization of Women- women have the right to work.       

1972:     Equal Rights Amendment passes both houses of congress for equal rights for women received 35 of the needed 38 states agreement for ratification so adoption was not completed. 

1973:     Roe VS Wade; women’s right to choose becomes law of the land

               American Psychiatric Journal:  homosexuality defended

               Yvonne Brathwaite Burke-1st Maternity leave.

1975:     49% women working outside the home

                 First World Women’s Conference, San Francisco

1978:      First year that more women enter college then men

1980:     Elizabeth Dole Secretary of Labor

1980:   Ruth Ginsburg appointed to US Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter

1981:    Sandra Day O’Connor 1st woman as Supreme Court Justice

1984:       Geraldine Ferrara first woman Vice Presidential candidate

1992:      Janet Reno and Madeline Albright, President Bill Clinton appoints to cabinet        

1993:  President Bill Clinton appoints Ruth Ginsburg to Supreme Court-strong voice for gender equality and civil rights

1997:      Equal Rights Amendment

2008:     Lily Lidbetter Paycheck Fairness Act

                 Hillary Clinton Candidate for President of the United States

2012:  UN WOMEN in Commission of Status of Women dedicate global governmental body to the promotion of gender equality and elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against girls.


1945: Power: where does it begin for each of us?

Sisters 1946 Black and white photo

How have women claimed  power for themselves?   Is our definition of power our personal journey?     And how do we map our own power as we move through life.  In 1945, World War II was ending and my family, like so many others,  began picking up their lives and moving forward.  Here is one experience, my experience.

If I were to name one experience of power, being an individual with my own North and responding to that rather than any of the cues from the social context or demands as with the authorities in my life as a young child, it would be nearly impossible.  Examining the earliest memories dusting my grandmother’s staircase for company with the lemon oiled rag at age 5, with my Aunt Mary who had her hair tightly wound in bobbie pins and a red and white scarf tied securely around the pins to hold everything in place.  My grandmother was fussing in the kitchen, and her tone was worried.  My Aunt was dismissing her concerns but she always seemed to dismiss my grandmother, with only a little distain of “Ma, you just don’t understand.”  That never seemed to handle Grammy’s worries, and so they would go on and on.  New worry after new worry.

“Well, you’d think the Queen of England was coming,” I said.  Aunt Mary had taken me to the matinee and the news featured the coronation of Princess Elizabeth.   I piped up probably imitating my Aunt’s dismissive tone.  This had my Aunt burst out laughing.  She sat back in the chair opposite taking a break at this point, and took her Chesterfield out with her long tapered red fingernails, lighting it.  ” No, Peggy Anne, now you just don’t need to be fresh,” she said, but I could tell she was pleased.  “You are going to meet your new mom.  She’ll be here soon and Grammy just wants everything to go right.”  “Finish what you’re doing and we’ll go get ice cream at the corner when you’re done.  We have plenty of time before we go to the train.”


They took me with them in the taxi cab that took us to the train station.  My grandmother with her church hat, church coat and bright blue eyes shining behind her silver glasses.  A blur of legs was all I saw, and some of the people wore the black and white uniform that was in the picture of my dad in his Navy uniform on Grammy’s bureau.  Loud announcements and the sound of the trains in the distance greeted us at the door.  I held my Grammy’s hand.  She had dressed me in  the Navy blue new coat and combed through my hair till it hurt before we left the house.  Her eyes were glisseny as they often were behind the glasses when she knelt over to me and said “Now, you be nice to your new mother,” but I could barely hear her because I was struck by how concerned she looked as she spoke.


As we walked by the big black hissing wheels of the train, Grammy pulled even harder at my hand so I kept up.  The red hatted man came off the train and placed a stand on the cement right in front of us, and people came down the stairs.  A few of them passed before I saw a woman holding a baby with a big red purse, the baby’s pink blanket hanging down as she tried to make her way down the stairs.  She looked at Auntie Mary, then at Grammy and kept walking fast as she wanted to get away from the train so we were walking fast back where we came from.


Once home, all I felt and saw was how tired and how worried my Grammy looked, even as she sat at the table with Louellyn, the new step mom, as they smoked their cigarettes and talked about Joe, my dad.  At least once during that dinner hour, I saw  Lou look my way but her face was expressionless and she was talking to Aunt Mary at that time.


The next morning, the house had new noises and new energy.  I came downstairs to find Grammy, at the kitchen table, saying good by to Grampy  who was off to work, and Lou who was sitting next to a high chair where a little person with brown hair  was happily banging a spoon on the tray.


“Why don’t you sit here with Sally till I get back,” Lou said as she got up when I came into the room.  I sat down, marveling at the smells and sounds of the baby in front of me.  Her eyes met mine and she smiled and I felt it all  through me.   I felt warm inside just looking at her and smiled back and she handed me the spoon that had been in her mouth.


“Go ahead and give her her food,” Lou said as she returned and lit up her cigarette sitting at the kitchen table where Grammy was making the margarine turn yellow as she beat it with a spoon.


The tiny green jar with the baby’s picture on it, and the orange jar sat on the table next to the high chair so I filled the spoon with the dark green stuff and moved the spoon toward the baby.   Sally’s mouth opened and her red lips folded around the spoon and each spoonful thereafter.   She looked at me  again and burst out with a laugh.  Each spoonful, each smile filled me with delicious anticipation and joy.  We in later years have often said, Sally and I, that that was our first expression of love for each other in that exchange.

Days passed that were happy full of Sally in the chair, on the floor and taking small steps from one piece of furniture to the other.  Around Sally, it was like the lights were on and everybody was home and everybody was happy.

There was another trip to the train station with Grammy and this time it was to get “Joe.”  There was quite a lot of crying by my grandmother all the way home and now I realize it was because he had just come home from the war after four years.

Days later, more crying as once again there was a taxi to the  train station.  This time, I got on the train looking out the window happy with being able to see out.  Lou was across from me holding Sally who was playing with a rubber toy and throwing it to me every now and then.  Joe came and sat down as the train jerked.  Just then I realized my grandmother was not coming.  I felt so deeply afraid I couldn’t speak.  I was frozen as I looked out and saw my grandmother waving her handkerchief and I could see that she was crying.  “Why is Grammy crying,’ I asked to no one, now frightened.  I had lived with her only a year and a half after my dad brought me to her house. She had held me when I was very sick with Whooping Cough.  Aunt Mary said that it was while I was very very sick that I had warmed to Grammy.    So now  what I had thought was my North, my place- was moving away from me as the train lurched  forward.

Joe, the dad who I had never known because of my parents never living together, and his being overseas in World War II sat next to me as the train picked up speed.   “Oh, she’s not crying, the train smoke has gotten into her eyes, that’s all,” he said.

I couldn’t see where Grammy was anymore even as the smoke cleared  and sat back in the chair, smelling the many smells of the train feeling not a part of anything.  Hot and Cold, all at once.  Sally scooted off her mother’s lap and came over to me with her toy, drooling and smiling, handing me the toy with glee.

I took the toy, I took the love.  That has always been my salvation, my power, my direction North.



2003: Loss-What We Bring and What We Leave Behind

IMG_3985A mother’s story:  March 25th, 2003


Around her, I brought the warmed cream blanket snug around her  arms cradling her, feeling the heat of her and having her bones melt into my arms.  The traffic outside on the gray day was routine, a bustle as always on Parnassus.  A siren from the street below reminds me of our being in an ambulance just a few days ago that brought her here.  Two very young men in the front kindly offering by words and deeds their awareness of this last ride she would be taking.


It had only been a few days since we were last here, a different floor.   The windows in the room  showing all the magic of San Francisco seemed to mock our situation.   Amidst the promise and potential of this sweet town with all the church steeples exemplary and distinguished, there are houses buttressed against each other and traffic darting about what looks like tiny streets, a celebration of life.    But this room is about endings.


It is a crisp beautiful blue Ides of March sky kind of day.  Everything moving forward everywhere  you see from these windows, except my girl on her bed.  Her warm reddish fuzz on the pillow, the feisty fighter now drifting with the lull the medicine provides.  A look of peace on her face with a smile to the visitor who is holding her hand.  One of the many visitors who have brought the party to her.  They have come from Tucson, New York City, Atlanta, Portland-they have brought outrageous charms, books, lotions, a bright red little  purse, dolls, puppets, a gorgeous red and orange scarf, balloons, and an impossible red wig which she has worn with panache.


Some have entered her room in tears but the room is full of joy as they sit and hold Elizabeth’s hand.   Few words spoken but they are in union with her.    Bicoastal  is what she said she wanted to be, in the buzz and hustle of the internet world, young and vibrant.   All who enter are her cohorts from NY City and the Bay Area.   Three sit in chairs by her bed, people are entering and leaving the room having been with her, and if there’s no chairs available, they’re happy to sit on the floor happy that the hospital is allowing the presence of sometimes ten or more people at once.


The young handsome doctor comes in and takes her hand in his, leaning on the bed to be closer to her.  As is her way of being, she sees everyone in the room, relates to everyone with slight movements, nods and smiles.  Hospice they call this room and it feels like the place of rest after the battle.  There is the absence of poles holding drips, the absence of monitors and equipment-all the steel and plastic that has been the means to keep the battle going, maybe even to win the battle, are not in this room.   The young vibrant bombastic personality of Elizabeth was how the war was waged, with interns, doctors, nurses all lined up for her and with her.  Now they are gone, the room is serene and she sits like the victor, not the victim of this encounter with ovarian cancer.


A victor because every step she took from the first unexpected diagnosis by the doctor who took me into a private room, was full on.    She dazzled the staff with her Betty Boop NY City rags worn jauntily to chemo; she made friends with her direct manner and grace with all the staff.   Surrounded by love, she and I wrote poems on Valentine’s day that ended with” Love Conquers All. ”


Combined -our ability to turn the tide was well known,  it was our history together.  Our enthusiasm to bring about all that was needed in the family was witnessed by most who knew us.  Our conflicts and fights were equally well known, full of passion  and heat.    Still we knew together, aligned, we were a force to be reckoned with.  We figured we had a chance.  It was always we, not hers alone to bear, ever.


It would be  93 days from what was supposed to be laprascopic out patient removal of a cyst to when she left us.  Throughout,  we never considered she wouldn’t  reach her 40th birthday in October.   What we thought we might have to deal with would be a series of  recurrences after remissions as a potential future.   We would have taken that option.    But then, in a moment,  the chaos of her condition became all that there was and there was no return from there.   But then, there was surrender.  Surrender to all the love that was hers from all of her family, all of her friends who came to do battle, hold the line and tangle with this dreaded disease with her.  It was like a race to a finish line nobody wanted to reach.  It did at 6 am on March 25th, 2003.


The truth of that moment is not at all what I would have expected or could have imagined.  She has never left me; I have never left her.  I am refreshed always by the presence of her in so many corners of my life.  I am aware of the color of the rainbow that is gone forever, but I can still  feel and see the color.   Tortured by the simple little things that ran like a current through my body and soul throughout those first months, I found redemption.  Days, weeks and months of the picture of her on her bed when I last saw her, without a blanket on her  gave me moments of anguish.  I suffered with that particular memory well into that first year without her.  Then one day, I closed my eyes and I saw myself go to her and take the covers and wrap her in the blanket holding  her as I had when she was a child. The hurt went away, some peace came.  Life moved on.  But not without her.   I think about that Valentine cards we created that year and how true they were. What my daughter taught me is  indeed Love Conquers All.  Love is forever.


1940 Margaret and Joe-a WWII story



World War II served as a social blender bringing together people from towns and communities into urban life.  The mid to late 30’s for most people was a recovery from the depression.  Communities, oriented around churches and ethnic communities were the source of support for young people who were beginning their lives fresh out of high school.  The growing concern for what was happening in Europe with Germany was a problem for England predominantly but it was a growing concern that our country would be at war again.

For the Irish Catholic community of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings,-most had made their way from Ireland and found jobs and homes.  Those who had the jobs and homes most often had a series of relatives who stayed with my family.  We had cousin Alan who smoked his pipe, read the paper, and was a fixture in the big brown chair always in my grandmother’s living room.  When we visited the cousins, they had Aunt Mary who never married, who helped her mother in the kitchen and went to Boston to get the produce for the family dinner.  A couple of generations shared the homes as they brought family members over from Ireland.  My grandfather first moved in with his sister in Chicago fresh from Ireland when he was 16, then came to Lynn to live with his brother John who worked for General Electric.  

Grammy and my mother’s mother Kathleen came over on the same boat from Galway Bay where they knew each other,  and they ended up working together at the Hitchcock House.   Grammy married Hugh Clancy and they settled in Lynn, Massachusetts where he worked for General Electric which was kind of the IBM of it’s time.

Many people worked for GE, and it was the  center of life in Lynn, Massachusetts, where people got a foothold into good jobs, and it was right before World War II when young men were being drafted into service.    GE gave a statewide exam to all graduating high school students, and recruited those with the highest test scores.  My mother, Margaret took the exam and  scored so well, she was offered a training internship job.   There were less than 4% working women before World War II, so General Electric was breaking a trend in hiring my mother and the other girl among the boys right out of high school.  Trouble was, Margaret lived in Worchester, and General Electric was in Lynn. A plan came about between the two women who came from Ireland together, Margaret’s mother Kathleen and Grammy.  The  two families-Clancy’s and Flynn’s came up with a plan to have Margaret stay with my grandmother Sarah and Hugh Clancy and their children Joe and Mary  during the week so she could go to work for General Electric.  Margaret could return home to Worchester and the Flynn home for the weekends.

Margaret, 19, with her flaming red hair, impish personality and now,  with the recognition working for GE presented, was in a brand new situation for a girl.  Girls didn’t leave their homes till they were married, and though she had a boyfriend, Bill-they had not started with the priests for the six months canon required to enter into the sacrament of marriage.

There was immediate strong reaction from my dad, Sarah’s son Joe, 19 and  daughter Mary, 16 and it was not favorable.  “She acts all high and mighty,” Mary said to her mother in a loud whisper in the kitchen.   Joe teased Margaret in such a way as to have her feel like he really disliked her.  Still she came on to Lynn and Grammy’s house and  went home on weekends  to Worchester to be with her own family, and see her friends.

MORE TO COME:  World War II enters everyone’s lives.

Everyone walked to work or took the trolley and soon Margaret found her route to her job and began her work there.  The day began early for Hugh Clancy who also worked at GE and before dawn, he and Margaret walked together to the trolley blocks away to get to work.  The tasks presented for her she managed well, but coming home after work was something she came to dread.  She was always glad when Friday came because she would be on her way to Worchester returning Sunday night.  She dreaded coming home after work whenever Joe was there, but as long as Grammy was there he toned it down considerably.  Margaret found ways to stay at work as long as she could on Tuesday after work because Grammy would be away on Tuesday early evening at mass every week.   Margaret came home on a Wednesday night and went to her room hearing the familiar sounds in the kitchen that Grammy made when she made dinner for the family.  Radio on, pot boiling.  Often Grammy would have dinner late so that when Grampy got home from GE by way of the pub, dinner was waiting.

When there was a knock on her door, Margaret opened the door wide expecting Grammy, but suddenly confronted  Joe.  His comment to her had her feel the sense of dread that had been there since her first night in the house, but she tried to brush it off expecting that to have him go away. Instead he pushed himself in and closed the door behind him.  The small bed and dresser in the small room was where she landed from his shove.   Because the room was chilly, she hadn’t even taken her coat off from coming in.   Joe pushed aside her coat as she felt his weight on her body.  The urge to scream was there which she resisted, instead she said in a loud voice for him to get up and get out of her room.  She spoke in a manner that Sarah would surely hear from the kitchen.  Surprised that Joe was not moved by her shout, she looked at his angry eyes.  Then she knew.  She knew that Grammy was not in the house after all, that Grampy was not in the house and not even Mary home from high school.  With one hand now over her mouth, Joe fiercely pulled at her underwear and pressed  roughly her arms down as she pushed at him.  She had fought with her brothers growing up, she knew what it was like to fight with her fists and arms, but it was the punch across the jaw that stunned her and had her feel the cold chill of the situation she was in.   She began to cry.  This did nothing but make him madder and he pressed him self into her as she sobbed. He left the room then without saying anything just leaving her as she cried.  She later heard Grammy come in with Hugh,   explaining to him that she had been called away to her sister’s who they took to the hospital.  The smell of the pots now scorching on the stove had both Grammy and Hugh upset, and they made nothing of Margaret not coming out of her room that night.

Margaret got up the next morning, got to her job and hoped the bad dream would be just that.  She spoke to no one of it but was now openly afraid to be alone in the house.  Even with her family or her boyfriend Bill, she mentioned nothing about the incident.  In confession Saturday night with her sisters, she gave an act of contrition and spoke of what happened to the priest.  She and her sisters every Saturday night came together for confession with the priests.  His dark profile in the confessional booth gave no indication of a response.   He spoke to her about the “occasion of sin” – how she might have avoided the incident.  Gave her three Hail Mary’s and one Our Father  as penance and slammed the confession door shut as he opened the one on the other side to the next confessor.

When weeks later, she was sure she had missed her period, she resisted knowing that that incident had anything to do with that.  She went to her mother who took her to the doctor, and then the family came down hard on her.  The thinking of the day was that girls needed to be above doubt, above circumstances that could lead to pregnancy, and so she was condemned from the  first knowledge the family had of this pregnancy.

The Flynn family then went to the Clancy family and Hugh Clancy gave a beating to his son Joe.  His fists were of  frequent  use in the bars and at home to deal with conflict in the Irish community.  Joe had prior to this time had only one beating more severe from his father,  and that was when he began to hang out with Pilino, his Italian friend:  Italians and Irish did not hang out was the message of that beating.  This beating was about the need for my father to marry my mother.  They were both taken to the priests with tear stained swollen faces and married because my mother was pregnant with me.  That was 1940.

My parents spent one weekend together after the marriage, and my mother left and went home with her parents after Joe beat her.  She had lost her job, lost her boyfriend but had her family to rely on through her pregnancy and birth.  After I was born, she went to work and got her own place, and I stayed with the neighbor next door when she was at work.  One day when I was 3 1/2, Joe came to where I was and took me to my grandmother’s.  I had never seen him before.  He had the court’s approval because my mother had a man living with her, the court considered a woman living with a man and not married as  an “unfit mother.”  It made the newspapers in Lynn.

My father had come to get a divorce, having gone AWOL from the Navy and in 7 days, had found out where Margaret lived.   There had been no contact with Margaret  since the weekend after their marriage, nor between the Clancy and Flynn families.   Joe had married a woman from South Carolina, also in the Navy, both stationed in Virginia.   They were expecting a baby.   He needed to get a divorce from Margaret or face being discovered as a bigamist so he had come home to take care of that.  That had been the source of the urgency and desperate measures in going AWOL.  So in 1944, he took me from the neighbor’s house, and in 1946,  I joined his new wife and baby in South Carolina where Dad was a student at Clemson College through his VA loan.

I never saw my mother again, and when as an adult I ventured into learning what happened to her, her sister said she never recovered from the loss of that part of her life,  and died in 1958.

The story of Margaret and Joe during World War II was not uncommon.  There are many variations on this story all indicating that women then in Massachusetts and  in areas in this country as well as in many places in the world today are victims to sexual violence and punished for their sexuality.  Powerless to determine their own fate  and a victim to their sexual roles.   The rules of society that adhere to the conviction of women in many places in the world where bride burning, stoning and abuse are the extreme, but they occur and are sanctioned by societies today.  The  lives of women due to social constraints that limit their choices are just a short while ago of  49  years with the availability of birth control.

Most alarm goes to the fact that today,  members of congress are supporting state legislate  to reduce the power of women to choose.   40 states in our country today are currently attempting to limit, diminish or outlaw Roe VS Wade, and even the use of birth control.

We are making headway with legal consequence to support  women here in this country, recently sexual abuse of women in the military has been recognized, but that can’t be said for many, many other countries.  What the story of Margaret and Joe contributes is that there are  many violent and non violent stories of people who experience  limited and constrained by social rules and expectation prior to 1964 and Roe VS Wade.  What we see, and why this story seems relevant to the progress of women is the distance we have come in the past few decades, the groundwork that has developed in fairly recent times that must be maintained.

All the characters in this story experienced little choice and all did what they considered to make the right response the situations they encountered.  The advance to equality and status of dignity afforded to all women, all people is our challenge, worth advancing on many levels here and throughout the world.


1960 Feminism and sisterhood



The history of feminism from suffragettes to millineals is about the women and men who established the measures of women’s rights, civil rights  and living toward equality  and freedom to choose their politics and their sexuality.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights, not just a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control in some cases, and as such reducing the power for women to choose the use of their bodies.  The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the measures of equality as a reality in daily life.  They step out on unpaved roads and byways to claim equality and dignity for humanity.  As Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate stated, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. ”

Barefoot Frontrunners is about women’s rights, civil rights as lived through,  and makes the claim that  the future of humanity depends on carrying forward the goals of feminism.  Embedded in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,   discrimination due to race, country of origin or sex became unlawful.  But further, the civil rights act provided the affirmative action plan with preferential  access to jobs and education.  Politics was personal, in as much as it was the living day to day in this period of chaos and change that took policy to reality.  A transition for women born in 1940 who came of age at the time of the Civil Rights Act.  Their intimate stories of sexual and political change convey a view of the pattern that is in process world wide.  Significantly, Birth control and women’s right to choose also became accessible to women in 1964, and provided the other side of the equation by which women found their path to freedom and equality.

Barefoot Frontunners argues that the sustainable future the planet needs and wants begins with feminism.   Feminism, humanity and sustainability are wedded in what will have that transformation take place.  Collaboration and cooperation is the future that is sustainable whether we talk about the weather or the economy, and the women of the world are moving toward that in whatever measures are available to them.  Malala Yousafzai, Gabby Gifford are referenced in this work because they both reflect and inspire the spirit of modern feminism by their own steps, they represent the power of their presence in the world.

Barefoot Frontrunners seeks to establish the debt owed by all women to those who have come before us, the gains they have made, the ground they have established as they lived through and brought forward the measures of equality we work with today.  The history of how the rights, privileges and legal changes came to be is a history unknown to many women today, and it is important to recognize and carry forward the goals of feminism.

Barefoot Frontrunners  sounds the alarm that those rights and privileges achieved primarily by having the birth control and choices available to women in how they have children and when although legal for over 50 years, there are grounds for concern about the  serious challenges in state legislation to reduce those rights.  The so called War on Women is evidenced and provided in daily the work of the GOP congress is to reduce women’s rights and reduce the power women have shown in their impact on the changes underway.  Politically and  economically, there is a committed effort  to take women back not forward to a future of their choosing.  The context for modern feminism is to carry forward the work of the previous generations to achieve equality and dignity, and to encourage and support education and choice for women around the world who strive to achieve that for themselves.

The Interviews

The women age 70 who were interviewed tell their story of living through the sociopolitical changes of their lives 1940-2014, where much of the  transformation to sexual and political freedom took place.  These women  responded to an email invitation to share their story:  how they  found themselves consistently  had much to do with finding each other from Seneca Falls in 1848 through the fifty years, it has been about a few women who opened the conceptual doors to freedom for many.    The barefoot frontrunners interviews, for instance, came through a woman’s circle that has met for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The group meets on the 3rd Thursday of the month and is hosted by one of 4 women who have been the hosts for this length of time.  There are women who have come only once or a few occasions over these years,  and some who have become regulars, but most have attended no more than three times.  The population is mixed in education, income, marital status and age and race.  There was a large response of over 50 requests by women to participate in this research for barefoot frontrunners.


Every woman interviewed brought up the value of women friends and women’s groups.  The past fifty years of personal and political passage with economic and legal ground established provided the path to equality as a concept and a context through which the range of choices for these women in day to day was their individual process. 

 Born in 1940,  when it was illegal to have a book on family planning by Margaret Sanger in a book store, each new freedom with each change in the culture and in the world around them reflected in the laws provided both opportunity and challenges.  What they chose an how they chose provided new dilemmas and new responsibilities for them. They were the frontrunners, leading themselves down unknown trails often trial and error being the means to take on the new roles that resulted in the home and workplace. These women were the barefoot frontrunners, in as much as  there was the breaking from the known to the unknown of new identities and responsibilities.  It is safe to say that those who responded were interested and motivated to tell their stories because they were happy with their passage.    Easily several hundred women received the email offer to be interviewed for this research, consistently the ones who participated reported the positive end of the spectrum:  good health, vitality, enthusiastic about their current life and optimistic about the future.    Those who self selected participation would seem to reflect a positive deviance sampling,

We will talk specifically about the fact that for many women coming through the years of change, there was little or no direct experience with those who led the issues and practices of feminism.  In fact, for some there was a total lack of identification and a sense of strong alienation to the images they saw on television or read about in the newspapers to the strident representatives of feminism and social change of the 60’s.

Let’s start with the interview with Carol in the same woman’s group for over 33 years, as well as what she calls now her Palm Springs  golf group.  Jean brought up the women who sustained her after her husband’s passing with annual trips abroad.  Mother’s groups of decades was commonly reported long after there were no children in the lives of the women who participated.  There were many reports and descriptions of how women have relied on each other through periods of transition and  changes.     Consistently through the stories they told, the comfort and creative aspect of being with other women to face life’s changes was a familiar theme  of the women who came forward for an interview.  Sexuality, vitality and enthusiasm for their lives was the consistent finding of these women who elected to respond happy to tell their stories and pleased with the outcome of their journey to the modern context of feminism.

The conditions for change always included alliance with other women in the reports that were given.    For women, growing up in the family of origin, there were changes in location, marital status or career that set up the need for change.  Often the dynamic was unexpected and nor welcomed.  In the face of a crisis and chaos, new choices were presented and with that, shifts in identity and lifestyle.  A disruption to the status quo provoked discomfort and painful departures from the expectations assumed to be what the future was to be.

Each woman provided a description of their process, and the changes that came as a result.   The path for women  born in the 1940’s who passed through the counter culture social revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the choices and options available to them were part of those shifts.  While these women were living their lives, change was underway.  President Kennedy in 1961 brought together a group of women who were educated and experienced from the campaign that elected him to take on the role he offered them to change history for women.  They were the Commission on the Status of Women, and they came up with what they termed “injuries of sex” to women at home and at the work place.  When these women could not get a response to the need for change within the government as a Commission, they left the government and became the powerful source of change within the Woman’s Movement that stirred the nation to recognition of the need for social change.

In 1964, two significant game changers occurred as well.  First,  the  1964 Civil Rights Act prompted granting women more preference in entry to college and jobs through Affirmative Action.  Birth Control in 1964 and Roe VS Wade in 1973 granted choice and access where none existed before.     For the women who told their stories for barefoot frontrunners, their experience of the changes around them were mixed.  Each of their histories relative to the changes underway were shades of recognition and access to college entry, womens studies, and new views of what was available  to them in their lives.  They married, had children, divorced, many crossed the country to get to Northern California.   California was the mecca for those who aspired to the the counter culture presented on television and the magazines as the New Society.

Many of those interviewed said explicitly ” I didn’t  want a life like my mother,”   and yet they had no roadmap for the new choices, the new responsibilities they would encounter.  The transition was trial and error to some extent, and there were many women who looked askance at their sisters and mothers and daughters and decided they wanted no part of the revision of the roles for women.  Tension between the women who chose the path of uncertainty inherent in this new conception of living life, and those who stayed with the traditional was real and expressed in leaving behind family members who no longer spoke as reported by some of the women.

As Anne, 72, described it:  I didn’t want my mother’s life or to be like my mother, but I had no idea how to do my life otherwise.  And every time I failed at some part of my life-my marriage or my kids or my kid’s school, or a job and money, I compared my life with my mother’s and felt a failure.”   It was the peers, the women who were making an effort to go back to school, advocate and support change who found comfort with each other in moments of loss and confusion as reported by the women interviewed.

Jane, 71,  spoke of it as “the consistent challenge to be a free woman to make my own decisions, to deal with my mistakes.  It was hard to learn how not to feel like a failure when I fell short of where I thought I should be.  It was hard to get back on track sometimes when I really didn’t know  where I was going.”


“Counter culture Explosion” is how the period of the late 60’s are described by Sylvia born in 1941.  She, like others, found the life she could not have dreamed possible and as she navigated her way through college, graduate school,  the work she wanted as an artist she was fulfilled. The women friends with whom she shared her intimate fears and passions were her consistent support system.  “Family is just not something I’m good at,” Sylvia says.  Today, her broken relationship with her family in the midwest and her daughter  are the only regrets she has in having taken her life full on defining her own terms. “My friends are my family,” she says and the sense of loss that she still carries that is evident.


Of the sample of 100, serial monogamous relationships were reported by most of the women:  6 never married, 18 married once, 29 married twice,  4 married three times; 19 currently divorced with no  partner, 21 living with other than partner, 3 widowed.


 Phyllis, 72, worked 32 years for a government agency.  She has a pension and her social security.  Her retirement allows for travel with her golfing buddies on a regular basis to Palm Springs.  She is well set, more so than her male friends with whom she has lived in a serial monogamy situations, never married.  Active in her younger years in  Women’s Liberation, she now has a Ladies golfing group who plan getaways three times a year that gives her a life design that works for her.  Still she feels the empty place where “something might have been” that she can’t actually describe, but still has a longing for.  It might be the ‘road not traveled blues’ that she describes in not having had a family or a marriage, but overall she sees she is in a stronger position than her women friends who married, many of whom are single now either as widows or as divorced.

 Patricia, 71, in her interview also relies on her friends for company in her life travels.   She was told as a freshmen when she came to study law in college that the courtroom was not the place for women, and was encouraged to choose anthropology instead as an undergraduate.   There is still the sense of bitterness as she tells this story, even though in the end over time she got her Ph.D in Psychology.  She views her work as a means to encourage people to choose what works for them and has been successful in her work as a coach.    The mother of three children, she expresses strongly that her only regret is her choices in terms of the men she married.  She is single by choice, and happy about it.   She meets monthly, and has done so for 34 years  with a group of professional women with whom she feels consistent support and intimate contact through the years.  As she describes her life, she expresses enthusiasm for the fact that just in recent years she is much more confident about herself than she has ever been in her life previously, lives with a boyfriend of 12 years.

Catherine, 71, a retired Stanford Ph.D in Electrical Engineering still has lunch every week with Alice with whom she worked in Cupertino in 1996.  She was the only woman in her physics lab and struggled for two years behind the overt preference the professors gave to the rest of the male students.  This was 1975, and the belief that men were the primary support for families she feels is why the professors openly gave  preferential treatments to men, a frustrating part of her academic history.  After a severe and painful setback academically relative to the “second class”  status she endured in her physics department, she took leave and  some time for herself with her sisters in Santa Barbara.  Once she had recovered and was well again emotionally and physically,  she returned and did complete her Ph.D which to this day she feels was one of her biggest accomplishments.

She has officially retired from her lab work position that resulted from completing her doctorate, and is satisfied with the career that left her comfortable and well set for her retirement.  Although she is looking for another job because even with retirement and social security, she finds it hard to live the life she wants within the confines of a budget. She lives alone, never married and no longer looking for a partner.

Anna, 74, in her interview reveals what many women  saw in entering a new path emerging for women.  With a family of 4 children, she entered Laney College and explored a new world she had never considered at  Esalen in studies with Claudio Naranjo, becoming a follower of his work and community.  She found her place in that communal living in the 70’s and is still resides  with that group.  Claudio Naranjo, known for his work with MDA in rehabilitating people to get past their fears and limitations had a powerfully positive effect on Anna.  Although her experience in the 70’s was a long time ago, she feels the presence of the impact of those days on her today she shares.  The group changed significantly when Claudio Naranjo left the group she reports.  She is quite happy with her life and has just begun a new relationship with a new boyfriend after being single for seven years.


With few exceptions, the women interviewed stressed their ongoing interest and enthusiasm for sex.  It would be interesting to study the level of interests of women prior to the sexual liberation shifts in attitudes of the 70’s to see if the interest in sexuality is the same or different.  But for most of the  women over 70, even if currently inactive,   sexual experience, good experiences of intimacy and a trust with a valued partner were all acknowledged as very important.  For those single, they specifically spoke of their desire to find that special relationship in a partner relationship, not necessarily to be married.  In this group, those in a relationship, married or cohabiting made it clear they were there by choice and not obligation.

Sarah 74 spoke of her days of exploring her sexuality as a young woman, leaving one lover for another and the marriage she entered into only 14  years ago.  Her husband now has Alzheimers and she said in a confidential tone that these are the sweetest days of their lives together.  “He lives in the moment, and this has resulted in our having the best sex we’ve had in all our years together.”

Dianne 72 as well as four others mentioned the fact that because of their partner’s medication, sex as they knew it was no longer an option.  Dianne said that she and her husband just “don’t go there” and have pretty much forgotten about that part of their lives, and continue to enjoy each other in different ways.  They have a Sunday social group that they have been part of for years, enjoy the Berkeley Rep matinees and are happy with how their lives have evolved.


It seemed that for these women and the many who reported their lives similarly, they were at varying levels of awareness of the changes that were underway for them in the 60’s.   They had the benefit of choice in childbearing and marriage after 1964, having experienced the world without choice in their earliest years.  They made changes in  life partners, had children and navigated the waters of choice with ups and downs, wins and losses not without significant doubt and worry about their lives outside the script of their parents’ lives.  Measuring their success was a variable that changed over the years.  Only one reported real regret in choices that she made, and that was the men she had married.

Significant was the fact that these women were self sufficient only by how they chose to live their lives, having scaled down with social security being the principle means of support.  Alternative senior groups around Berkeley and Oakland accounted by some the means to live life as well as they did due to shared expenses.  Only three reported a pension that allowed more choice in lifestyle.  For sure, those who were cohabitating or married , or widowed.  Very few did not mention the need for extra income that they met by making small amounts of money through creative ventures, like house sitting, dog sitting, driving and shopping for others, or other services in the community for which they were paid.   The women who chose to be interviewed would seem to represent the positive deviance of the aging unmarried or widowed woman challenged and active in determining the means to maintain their lifestyles.  They were all in good health, two having recovered from breast cancer years before.  They presented an enthusiasm for their lives, and enjoyed the opportunity to talk about their lives.

The power of relationship  was consistent in all the reports made by these women in telling their stories.  Through their women friends and groups, church groups, travel groups and interest groups,  the paths they described sustained them emotionally and physically.  Most had shifted careers as they shifted identities over the course of their lifetimes.   Only two  reported the issues of sexism deeply in bedded in some workplaces.


Over the sewing circles of the 30’s or currently,  or in more current times, the women who gather to work together at for instance Hackermoms  in Berkeley, there is evidence that women have always come together to  inspire, conspire, and encourage each other’s desires.   Their shared  interpretations of how they want to live and the choices that are available to define their life’s course have been a source of reference for most. Women, as opposed to men,  seem more flexible in terms of willingness to be led and to lead others to to life choices and identity.  The thread throughout their lives and the lives of women throughout history is  connecting, with each other and in the process expanding the notion of who we are as women.


We know demographically  that women live longer than men, or have in the past but there are indications that women are gathering along with their increased participation in the work force, the medical problems seen as a result of work and stress.  But the skill of connecting and socializing are emphasized as one of the reason for women’s longevity exceeding men’s.

It is a well known fact, that senior women have better skills for maintaining and creating connection and community than men, attributed to their roles based on competition and isolation and independence that have often been their orientation on the job.  The women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners by virtue of the self selection  brought chose to participate, and represented the choice of connection and community in their responses.

For the women who lived through the fifty years since the Civil Rights Act, it began often with breaking the rules that had been unselected in their growing up, and finding the right path.  Discomfort, confusion and pain were definitely accounted for in their process.  Being good, being pretty, not being bold or bossy, waiting for one’s turn-all of these social skills needed to be reconsidered and that process was often accounted for in the interviews.  Often these women, as barefoot frontrunners, had to rely on their intuition and inspiration rather than social approval or access.  It could be said that the response to pain in the world is from those experiences of marginalization and intimidation many women experienced in the workplace or academic environment.  Affirmative Action got them in the doors on jobs and college campuses, but the process of individuation they encountered was difficult and painful as reported by some.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by those who see and feel the inequity and exclusion because of their own experiences.  By simple acts of courage over the years of change and transition in the 70’s and 80’s, these women interviewed through small and large acts witnessed and participated within their lifetime, a full shift in what it is to be a woman.  By how these women have  lived their lives, their daughters and granddaughters have the power to determine the choices brought forward to them.   Born of a social revolution and civil rights bill in the 60’s, those rights and legal principles are the law of the land but under severe challenge now in congress.  How will this generation respond?

The women’s movement, the Anti War movement, the civil rights movement  stimulated the polarity of views that allowed for social change and change in how women were perceived and how they perceived themselves. .   The civil rights act of 1964, Affirmative Action all created the opening through which many women passed to get the education, the job and the life of their choosing.

Fifty years of civil rights and women’s rights has brought change in western civilization.  It’s a bell that cannot be unrung.  It is the promise for all civilization as we learn over and over again that all women, all people deserve the life of dignity and choice.  And that all societies who take into account the value of equality for true prosperity and growth will be the future.  Economies that account for the underpaid woman or man doing the same job are the future.  An ecology that brings sustainability to the resources we share as a planet we share-that is our future, that is the context of modern feminism.



2012: structure and study of barefoot frontrunners


Where are we going, where have we been:  The history of feminism, suffragettes to millineals,  is about the women and the men who established  the measures of women’s rights to determine the use of their bodies, and civil rights bringing equality and access to the role of women in the world.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights that is not a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control.   The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the path to equality, stepping out on unpaved road to bring the gains of equality and dignity to humanity.  Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela stated “freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”  Women’s rights are human rights and the only future for humanity.

Where we have been is the story:  the  historical context of  the sexual and political advances of women  and their intimate stories as they lived through this period of change inside and out.   Where we are going is  to carry forward the feminism that addresses the betterment of humanity.  What has been given by the previous generation falls on the next to maintain and move forward.  



There are many definitions of feminism, for the purposes of Barefoot frontrunners, the inclusion of all, men or women,  who seek equality and dignity for all human beings is a good place to start.  The history of women’s rights as lived through by the women, from Baby Boomers to millenials, here and throughout the world is fresh terrain.  Those women had the benefit of  women’s rights in 1965 through a civil rights act, but brought the possibilities from the act into their lives and  may or may not be aware of how those benefits came to be.  The Barefoot frontrunners took on the rough terrain and  found their way through trial and error to establish their lives.

Another aspect to the showing the history, social and political, of sexual liberation are their personal and intimate stories.  The women’s movement as seen through the historians, like Ruth Rosen of University of California and Estelle Freedman of Stanford is still the essential to the education and representation of feminism throughout the world.  The work is not done, but in process.  As Estelle Freedman states it, feminism has been a middle class phenomena and  has not reached into the areas of the world where women suffering poverty and lack of education.

The continuum of this process of feminism corresponds to the level of humanity and dignity world wide.  The story of the barefoot frontrunners, where we are and how we got here, and where we need to go to expand women’s rights is the content and the perspective of this work.

The value of the stories of the women is to reflect the process of feminism is ongoing, showing up in different parts of our society.  These stories of the women who came through the sexual and political liberation of the past fifty years.  The work of feminism for the women who found their freedom and self expression reminds those who do not know the history, personal or political, the cost born by those who came first to these new interpretations of being a woman.  The women born in 1940 who responded to the invitation to be interviewed in every case had triumphed over the conditions, limitations, obstacles, hardships and disappointments.  There are many women who would have a different perspective and a different outcome, but this self selected group represents the positive deviants of the women who came through the sociopolitical changes of the past fifty years relative to their being a woman.

Positive deviance by definition is a description of those at one end of the continuum:  those who thrive, are inspired by and engaged with satisfaction in a process that could produce a variety of results, like women’s rights.   The fuller picture of those turning 70 would entail inclusion of  conditions resulting from limitations of access, opportunity and education and a range of issues related to health, social or marital, economic disparity.

What these women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners brought to the perspective was in fact that conditions of health and well being, education and economic vitality indicated either the positive or negative outcome of aging.     One aspect that was evident was that the  women interviewed  identified as being innovative and open to a variety of ways to problem solve.  Those interviewed came from a  group that meets monthly for over 35 years.  Rarely the same people attend, they are from all over the country, all ages, all stages, middle class the common denominator is being willing to risk exposure by presenting their question, and open to discovery in terms of the response they get from the group.

From this aggregate, the women who stepped forward relished the opportunity to tell their story though they were clear about the condition of anonymity as an interview process subject.  Consistently, as is probably self evident in their volunteering for the research, they were pleased with their current state of well being with a sense of security in the world.

Still they reported that for  each gain, each law, each standard, there were challenges; they described obstacles, obstructions, imposed limitations prior to sexual and political freedom, and then the new problems that came with civil rights and affirmative action.  They reflected on their responsibility in defining new paths.  Each spoke of not wanting a life “like my mother” in one form or another.  But they didn’t  know what would be asked of them with new freedom, and if they could meet the needs of the situations they encountered.  They reported both significant losses and thrilling gains in their passage through the years of social change.


All the significant changes in law and policy have happened  in the past 49 years for women, most specifically the pivotal year of 1964 when birth control became accessible through the work of Margaret Sanger who opened the first women’s clinic in 1939 and is the founder of Planned Parenthood.   The addition of women’s rights to the  civil rights act in 1965 became the law of the land, not necessarily the law in practice.


How did civil rights and birth control impact women? Unlike today with the ongoing 24/7 news of every place in the world and every significant news item publicized on our phones, on our computers with the newspaper being the slow route, not all women knew or participated in the process of gaining the benefits of women’s rights.  Change is chaotic, and the path and the directions for living life  through the transitions and conflict was welcomed and experienced by some, not all women, or men in the late 60’s.   It was a time of challenging sexual roles by both men and women.   Ultimately the civil rights act and affirmative action sought to provide a more level playing ground.  Given the mothers of the women born in the 40’s could not drive, own property or have access to birth control, this new world of opportunities to discern one’s own choices was confronting to many women.    

Prior to this period of liberation, women were taken in and cared for in the event of loss of husband by  extended family and churches.   Those days were before FDR and the New Deal with public policies to aid the family.   Divorce was rare,  most often the father just went away and left the family.   So change looked risky, liberation and freedom were concepts not all women embraced.  So some women led, some followed and some watched the black and white television reports of women aggressively speaking of equal rights in the 1960’s and didn’t identify with the process at all. Alongside the women who made the changes happen, these women also are barefoot frontrunners. 

The Barefoot Frontrunner

A profile emerges of who the barefoot frontrunners are today and throughout history.  She breaks the rules, finds her own path, and leads to places without the benefit of social agreement as well as those where there are legal grounds, but little social approval.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response  to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by their simple acts of courage.  The Barefoot Frontrunner takes their vision of the world, and expands the awareness and discomfort of the world to inequality and indignity.  Feminism has always been about reform, a social reform:  reform of prisons, a reform to temperance, equal pay, equal access to education and inclusion in academia and the job market.  Feminism has always been about women and men who seek equality through change.  Changes always come in response to the cracks in the solidity of positions held in society.  The struggle over the Viet Nam war and racism provided the conflict and a dawning consciousness that led to the heightened cohesion and action of the women’s movement to facilitate women’s rights.


16.1 million Americans were drafted into World War II on average for sixteen months.  Their jobs in the shipyards, in the factories, on the farms were taken by women who were needed for the war effort.   Rosie the Riveter is symbolic of all the women who took the jobs for the men who entered the war.  Workers’ rights came about during this period of time in the ship factories of Richmond, California, as well as other locations.  Many of the women who came to California left South Carolina, Georgia and Texas because of the jobs available to women at that time.  Those workers’ rights gained disappeared  once the soldiers returned to their jobs. Women were sent home in 1945, and the FHA single family homes launched a new era of independence and relocation for many. The return of the vets and the single family home purchases and baby boom boosted the sagging economy post World War II.

The VA loans for all the soldiers who returned offered access to home purchases and college entry allowing social mobility producing the bustling 1950’s. How were the women faring shows up could be a factor in  the highest recorded level of alcoholism attributed to  dissatisfaction that showed up in the mental and physical health of women .  Masters and Johnsons (Sexual History) Chapter 4) did a significant study on the sexual dysfunctions of unhappy wives. Not directly concerned with their unhappiness, but wanting to have the women more responsive to their roles of wife and mother.

It would be the Viet Nam war that allowed women to come out of their homes again in the mid 1960’s.   Protests, and the Anti-war and civil rights movements brought women together.  Reform of the war that was killing so many of America’s youth in Viet Nam, and the tragedies of three young girls in a Babtist Church in Alabama provoked the women participating in the anti war and civil rights protests.  They began talking to each other and noticed they were relegated to “women’s work of getting coffee and the paper work done” and began to invest themselves  in the Women’s Movement.  Also at this time, the Commission of Women’s Issues which President John F Kennedy brought into existence produced a document identifying 47 Sexual Injuries to women in the work place and in the home.   This group would ultimately leave the government and throw their considerable skills in public life to the work of the Women’s Movement. ( Ruth Rosen: The World Split Open )

Meanwhile Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique challenged women to consider a whole other level of understanding about their sexuality.    For those women,  their roles, society’s view of them and the contradictions they experienced, a new awareness of themselves emerged.  It was far from comfortable, particularly women towards women, to challenge the a priori of what was considered to be a successful woman at that time.  Those that did respond led themselves on a path with no guaranteed destination.  Without protection or structure, barefoot frontrunners, these women were ridiculed in the news reports as unfeminine, with family members who distanced themselves from their “strident and bossy” ways.  Even within the Women’s Movement, there was considerable conflict over what it meant to be liberated and who was and who wasn’t truly free.  In the fray of these conflicts, tv show hosts and comedians made light of the struggle.

For the majority of non urban women who were not in a college environment, there was no real understanding or knowledge of the need for the struggle underway, no way to assimilate what seemed alien to what they knew from the world around them.  The effect on these women was to distance themselves from the stereotype feminists.  As some made  new decisions, taking on new responsibilities and dealing with the hard work of establishing new identities, most women at that time steered clear of the conflict within themselves as well as the building of  external pressure from a changing society.

For all women, recognition of the doors opened with the  Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Chapter 6) and Affirmative Action  which brought more women into college and into jobs previously not available to them.  Life was changing across the United States, but most emphatically in California, New York and Chicago.


Women’s rights – feminism is a  work in progress.  The conditions for the values and practices of women’s rights are unevenly distributed outside the United States and within.  Those conditions that enhance the developments of feminism, that is equality and dignity to all people, are reducing poverty and making education available for all women in addition to having sexual education and responsibility in the hands of women and their choices about the use of their bodies.

Women have come a long way.   More women entered college as early as 1975, and that is the standard now.  Women have entered business and political life with success since the 80’s aided by the Affirmative Action policies of the late 70’s.  An equal number of women are head of households currently as their male partners, and 40% of the family incomes have women contributing equally to the household income.  Marriage is a choice, having children is a choice for women young and older today.(Chapter 5)  Women have their own 401K’s, their own health insurance. as the Barefoot frontrunners sample survey indicates,  women of social security age, most are self supporting, and will work for the remainder of their lives.  The past fifty years of women’s rights have changed the rules and the roles, but not for women in the areas of poor education and poverty anywhere in the United States.  Not for the women in countries where education of girls is prohibited.


Today  40  states  are attempting to reduce women’s rights through bills that outlaw birth control as well as abortion.  Most incongruous is the fact that abortions have diminished by 40% at the lowest level in thirty years because Planned Parenthood, schools and public awareness has given the means for girls and women to be responsible for potential pregnancies.  Therefore, the attempt to do away with birth control and abortion would only damage the increasing number of girls and women who are being responsible for pregnancy and disease.

Going back to the future is not a destination to aspire to.  It’s important that women coming along are aware of the need to carry forward of the work of previous generations to the freedoms earned by women today.  For the younger generations, gen x-ers or millineals for example, the work of the earlier generations gave them the women’s rights they have always had.    It may not be clear that all the changes that occurred for women and minorities were hard won and at a significant cost, and relatively recent, and sometimes an accidental gain.(Chapter 2)    .  They may or may not be aware of the fact that Planned Parenthood  has been around as long as the quest for freedom and equality for women has been, and has served with dignity and respect women, men and our communities with education and treatment.

So it is the Barefoot frontrunners

The purpose of this book is to provide that history, convey the challenges that have been and still are of concern to women, and the society we all say we want.  Those women in our history and in our world  who demand going forward, bringing equality and civil rights to  women through politics and education throughout the  world are the barefoot frontrunners. That is the future, the transformation, that leads from the vision of inclusion, rather than exclusion, -collaboration rather than competition and sustainability rather than opportunistic use of resources shared by society.   The work ahead will have much more gravitas and meaning if we understand the past, how  the gains have been made that have profoundly impacted the opportunities and choice provided by women’s rights.(Chapter 10)  These gains from the voices and actions of women unwilling to tolerate

conditions that violated  personal dignity and potential are ours to continue, ours to guarantee.

Gloria Steinem:  A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.