|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 8, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (5/7/1984)|
(I) What were, when you were campaigning and obviously it was ardulent, but you were running also clearly as a feminist for the School Board? You mentioned some of the questions about the PTA involved in this. What were some other kinds of reactions?
(N) Well some of the reactions were, that does your husband think of this; how are you going to hold down a job, I was working fulltime as a Director of Public Relations for an engineering firm, an architectural firm in Wayne, NJ at the time; and I got questions like, how are you going to manage getting to school board meetings and so forth and I said, I don’t mind answering that question but I think it should also be addressed to the men who are running for the board who also work and have children and so that kind of squelched that question. There were a number of pointed questions that put my ability to look after my own children in question.
(I) How much of that was there?
(N) There was a fair amount of it because, well people were digging for some way to get rid of this thorn in their side and I think I was able to turn a lot of it aside by asking a question myself but there were planned questions in the audience that were directed towards me.
(I) Was there a concerted movement or was this just individuals?
(N) I think it was just one candidate who was very angry that I got that endorsement and she didn’t after her years of activity in the community PTA.
(I) Do you see that as a feminist issue or was it just an individual
(N) I think it was an individual issue that was directed towards me. The other woman that was running did not have children and the other one was home, or worked part time. Originally it was interesting, because originally Lucille Steinerand and I were clashing on a lot of issues but I think by the end of the term on the board together, there was a mutual respect in terms of where I was coming from. In fact she had come to describing herself as a feminist. Which was very nice. She grasped some of the issues and she is an accountant and that is a non-traditional career, which she started many years ago, and I think in many ways, she was a feminist without knowing it or rejecting the phrase or rejecting the rhetoric. But when she got down to knowing someone who was a feminist, speaking about the feminist issues, she often found herself on the same side. For instance, at the time there was a, we had hired a Vice Principal at the high school. This was after I had gotten elected. We had hired Beverly Minister as an Assistant Principal and the black community came out in great numbers to the board meeting when we were going to approve this. We had hired her, we had offered her the job, all it needed was the formal approval at a public board meeting. The Board Secretary came over to me and said, Judy, you had better call a caucus if you want because your support for your candidate is wavering. Well this wasn’t my candidate. This was someone the board had, as a group, agreed on, but she became my candidate because she was a female.
(I) At this point, do you remember the constituency of female administrators?
(N) Very low. I don’t think at that time we had any female Principal. We might have had one. I don’t know if Pruitt was a Principal at that time or not. But there was no one at the High School and we felt it was important to have someone there. Also she just happened to be the best candidate, which everyone agreed with that she was the best. Well the community, the black community came out and said the black students at the high school needed a black role model and Beverly Minister, who happened to be white and female and was not going to fill that role and we caucused and I remember it very clearly because I said the suggestion that I made was that we hire another one. There were three. I said why don’t we hire a black one too. And Peter Zeleny out his fist, banged his fist on the table and swore at me and said, I’m going to stay on the school many years. He was yelling and he was quite irrational and which surprised me, because I thought that was a fairly good suggestion, and I turned to the board attorney who didn’t like too much either but said, wouldn’t we be up for a sex discrimination suit if we withdrew this job offer which we have given. And he said absolutely. He said, we haven’t got a leg to stand on. So it seemed even more so that we had to go the route of another one. And that is the route the board finally took and we hired a black man in addition to Beverly Minister.
(I) They did do that?
(N) They did do that. They did take that in response to the pressure from the black community. At the public board meeting. We didn’t do it right there but that was one of the things
(I) Do you know how they came up with the funds or how it eventually
(N) Oh you can always juggle things around, you know, and
(I) But there was apparently a very strong, there was a potential there for real devisiveness between the two groups.
(N) And there always is. Through the history of feminist, in fact that goes way back into early American history with the fight for suffrage and you know, women did not get the vote, they were working, women and men were working together to get the vote extended to women and to blacks and blacks got the vote but not black women and then it was many years later and it was after the first World War that when women took an active role and that’s when suffrage came through for women. I think it was 1920. And so there was that dichotomy and the rule that has happened all along. And there have been many instances throughout the history of the black movement and the women’s rights movement, civil rights and the Women’s Right Movement. In fact a lot of the women that became active in feminism started out in civil rights movements. I did myself. In the Civil Rights Movement. And we were working for some rights that we didn’t have ourselves and we branched off and also it became a very clear thing, there was a lot of sexism in the Civil Rights Movement itself. I mean all of us know how to run those machines so we started working on our own issues and this again was an instance of two minority groups, although women are not a minority in numbers, in terms of opportunities and so forth they have been historically, two minority groups pitted against one another in terms of getting a piece of that pie
(I) Now that’s an interesting with Teaneck which is widely noted for encouraging ethnic diversity and that’s one of the first things people think of when they think Teaneck. You’ve given on example of a time when
(N) But I don’t think there was an opposition in terms of, you know, we weren’t advocating – we were not in opposition to having a black administrator in the high school. We thought it was a good idea. And I don’t think they were in direct opposition to having a woman. I think if we had proposed both, it would have been fine. But in a way, because of resources that were available and so forth, that we hadn’t thought of hiring two originally until this came about. But she was clearly the best candidate. In fact, the candidate that we hired for that job had not been one of the candidates. I don’t think. He was an Assistant Principal in, at the
(I) So there was a second search for
(N) There was a second search, I think so, he may have been one of the candidates but I don’t recall that. But he was very quickly hired after that.
(I) What were other major
(N) An Assistant Principal at the
(I) What were some of the other major battles or issues that you remember
(N) Well one of the issues was the sports issues and the access for girls to practice in prime times and the gym facilities, the tennis courts
(I) Explain that
(N) Well, it is traditionally the girls were the cheerleaders and the boys the big bucks in the high school and other places go to the boys’ basketball team. They have girls cheerleading, When the girls play basketball, it is usually at less optimum times, their practices are squeezed in when the boys aren’t there, their games are not held at prime time, they don’t have cheerleaders, and they are just not prompted in the same way. Not given the same emphasis or importance, and when it came to tennis courts in the town, there was a shortage and the boys had the first options on the tennis courts for the boys team to practice. That became a controversy because we felt we are paying the same amount of money to educate our daughters in the school system and the sports program is part of the education and they should get just as much.
(I) There is a boy’s tennis team and a girl’s tennis team.
(N) Yeah. We weren’t trying to integrate them. We were trying to get them equal access to the sports facilities.
(I) And when you say the boys’ team had first
(N) Well they would get the prime times in terms of the practice times. Times it would be more convenient and girls would fit in shorter periods of time
(I) They were getting more time?
(N) They were getting more time and better time in terms of
(I) How did his come to light? Do you remember?
(N) I think through our sports committee and Mary Lou Weller and some other people that were doing some research there and also it came to light in the school budget in terms of dollars allocated to girls and boys sports.
(I) So this was one of the things you were involved in looking at when you were on the board.
(N) Also there was a big controversy at the time, and this wasn’t strictly a feminist issue although many feminists were involved with it, the open classroom. People felt that they were under attack and that the administration wanted to cut back on this program and so the board was active in trying to ameliorate that, that whole scene and trying to accommodate with limited resources both the open classroom people and others and it was attacked on the basis that there weren’t enough blacks involved in open classrooms. Some of the classes were not well integrated racially, and it was also argued, the reciprocal argument to that was that we didn’t really need to worry. This was an option. That it wasn’t that the opportunity wasn’t there. It was just that they wanted a more structured; that it wasn’t a matter of discouraging them from applying to open classroom or that anyone was denied who wanted it. But it was that they wanted the more structured learning environment, the parents.
(I) With the sports issue, now when this was going on, what was the context in terms of state or national legislation?
(N) Well this is the time that the little league was being integrated with great controversy. NOW had filed suit against the little league for exclusion of girls.
(I) In Teaneck or Bergen County?
(N) In New Jersey and really I think it was all the, it was a national suit. It took place in Pennsylvania. We attacked their main national group. Many of the issues in Teaneck were a reflection of what was going on elsewhere and sports was part of it. This sports is an ongoing thing. It is still going on now. NOW is still filing suits against certain school districts in this state.
(I) In Teaneck, were other people on the board with you in terms of the, was it a unanimous by thing or did you have to fight?
(N) It wasn’t unanimous by any means. In fact, some of them thought it was ridiculous, particularly some of the men. Eric Simon was the other school board member that ran on the slate.
(I) But you did manage to get it
(N) We did manage to get it because it was the law and I brought up a lot of questions on that board because I knew the law and I knew the regulations because I was active in working for the State Board of Education as a Consultant in doing workshops to explain to school boards what and superintendents and various representatives what those laws entailed. And one of them was that you do not do business or that try to look for places to do business that are non-sexist so you look at your vendors and when this was questioned by me at the school board meeting, when it was a routine resolution about Teaneck putting its money in such and such and such and such a bank and I said, are these Equal Opportunity bankers. That is do they have a history of sex discrimination, race discrimination, whatever. One of the board members threw his pencil across the desk and another one, you know, they said, you know, we just can’t look through every vendor and this is an impossible thing to do and I said, well I am just questioning this one. I’m not suggesting that you do it right now but it is the law. And sure enough about three or four meetings later, they quietly inserted a resolution about the banks the banks having been investigated and being an equal opportunity lenders and so forth. And Aubrey Sher said to me after the meeting, I don’t think you really got credit for this one but you must feel better having it passed.
(I) This was the Superintendent of schools then or
(N) He was Assistant. And there were a lot of things that the board members felt was controversial but really the law and there were other issues. There was an issue that came to the fore that was kind of interesting. One of the board member’s wife’s applied to be School Board Secretary or Superintendent’s Secretary. Switchboard Operator at the main office I think it was. And I opposed the appointment on the basis that here was someone that going to be a privy to an awful lot of information, who calls who at the board and so forth and, at the office, and then privy to information at the other end through the board member and I didn’t feel that this was a, I though there could be a possible conflict of interest involved here. And I was accused of being anti-female and here I call myself a feminist and now I am, you know there was no separation. It was really, things were put in a focus and I was typified as because I am a feminist, therefore, I am for appointing every female that comes along and I can’t question any of the issues surrounding it.
(I) Was that, did you feel, a sense of isolation on the board?
(N) No because I had a lot of community support. I had FACT members at every board meeting. I had a lot of support all along through FACT. And at one point, I stood up to Peter Zeleny because he was just being downright, he was Chairman of the Board at the time, and he was just being really abrasive and abusive, clearly abusive. And I said to him, the next time that I get an attack and you swear at me, it is going to be a public issue and I am going to bring it out at a public meeting. And he said, oh, you know, you are making too much of it, I yell at my wife all the time. And I said, that may be and she may want to put up with it but I am not married to you and I certainly am not going to put up with it. And he took to mumbling under his breath at me and remarks about me me and that were audible to me but not to others. But he never did attack like that before, like that attack. I brought it up before the board and fortunately, I have a very good grasp of Robert's Rules and I asked Peter Zeleny if he would recognize me because before the board’s business was decided; I had a point of personal privilege. He said no, you can’t bring that up. We have a board meeting and there’s a set agenda. And I said I think a point of personal privilege takes precedent over the agenda. And he turned to the Attorney and he said, yes it does. And so he had to let me speak. And I said that I had not appreciated that attack and swearing at me at a board meeting and I was not intending. I was elected to this board with a constituency and just as everyone else was and I was not going to take this kind of abusiveness. Ann Misrule told me later that she used to come home from board meetings in tears. I think when you talk about isolation, Ann had hung in there. She was on the board before me and she had been very much the brunt of attack but she said she wouldn’t let them know it bothered her but she came home and was very upset. So I think she appreciated having
(I) In what way was she isolated. Was it ethnic or
(N) I don’t know if it was that out front but I think her opinions were ridiculed, her ideas, and if she wasn’t in the group that was going in a certain vote, she was attacked by them. So she told me that she had felt that kind of abuse before me. She said it was much lessened after I got on the board and there was another voice. Sandy Glick was on the board at the same time and she was also a force in supporting me and vice versa, you know. There was a coalition.
(I) So these people were behind, among other things, Feminist issues.
(N) Yeah. Gradually. And some of the men were too. Eric Simon would certainly, for the issues and John Alexander was. Even Bob Morrow, as much as he blustered and took stances of being macho man, he never attacked me personally. He didn’t like some of the ideas, he disagreed with me but he always disagreed with me on a logical basis. He never attacked. He never went below the belt. I don’t know if I am getting into too many personal things.
(I) No, in terms of what is happening historically, I think that is important information but there was a resistance in a way.
(N) Yeah. And I think too the fact that I was so active in feminist issues was a threat in some ways and at one time, we had a board auction or a service auction and I had offered to bake bread as my contribution and Bob Morrow said, well, I’ll bid for that but only if you will come in my kitchen and bake it. And I said, sure, I have no problem with that.
(I) So this was a strange thing for people, some people to
(N) You know, how could I be domestic and have this other. I just could never quite convince some people that they are not roles that are in opposition, that you can be a feminist and you can be for women’s rights and you can still enjoy putting an apron on and baking and cooking.
(I) You named some specific things that you accomplished while you were there. Anything else, whether tangible or less tangible
(N) I don’t know, some of the things that I had suggested, for instance the board always met, when I was on it the board as a whole. There wasn’t a finance committee, a personnel committee, we always met as a whole so there was all the work was done as a group. My feeling was that we could have broken up in committees and done things more quickly and then come together. That was done later. Maybe it was just a different constituency of the board blend that trusted one another more to do those kinds of things. At one point, everyone on the board had to approve the bills and this was, I mean every retty bill that came into the board. It would be a foot high stack every time the superintendent dropped it and all of it got Xeroxed and so forth and one of the things that was suggested was that we don’t all have to do this. Why don’t we take turns and go through them. And it seemed like a logical thing but it just hadn’t been down and I was looking for ways to cut down this tremendous amount of work and I know that sometimes the arguments would be so heated that when you came home at night, at 1:30, you just couldn’t even sleep because you had to unwind, you know, so I would end up being awake and reading until 3:00 and getting up to be at work at 8:00 the next morning.
(I) This seems to be probably the characteristic of all sorts of groups like this. It does seem to be a continuing characteristic of the school board in Teaneck.
(N) Yeah. I think one of the reasons is that we were in transition in terms of a, the board was not pleased with its present superintendent. We knew we were going to replace him and then there was a whole series of meetings and discussions about what we wanted in the next superintendent, and then a series an interviews with the superintendent. The board was really I think in many ways wavering and trying to do some of the work of the superintendent rather than really seeing ourselves as a policy makers. We had gone into too much, I think many times, of the running of the schools in the decisions that we really could have just ratified rather than getting embroiled in.
(I) What made you decide, besides just as you mentioned before being tired out
(N) Transition in terms of the superintendent. The superintendent isn’t firmly entrenched and at the helm, knows that his term is, his or her in this case, it was his all along, his days are numbered. The board has more or an opportunity to come in and fill the gap so to speak and I think we did that. We questioned a lot of the superintendent’s decisions. They didn’t let him make decisions. So that wasn’t a feminist thing, that was just a matter of I think it would happen on any board given the circumstances.
(I) Now you chose not to continue, to not run again.
(N) I felt that as a feminist, my input in terms of really impact could be felt more in another area and in an area that I would feel happier performing. I will tell you, two or three nights a week for three years has got to be like a term, you know, a prison term. Many of the other board members felt comfortable not going to meetings. I never missed one. I think once in a while I was on vacation when there was a meeting but I was religious about attending those meetings. I felt I was elected and it was my job to be there representing the people that elected me.
(I) What happened to that constituency. Was it there throughout?
(I) So this is from whatever, from 76 to 79, or some three-year period.
(N) Right. And it was a constituency I was able to go to for both support and advise and also to get more information about what was happening in the community. I had a lot of pipelines to that community which was very helpful and so I think the support from FACT throughout was an important thing. I had to cut off some of the involvement because the people that I was very, very close to during the campaign and shared all information with both ways, once I got elected to that board and we began having executive sessions, there was an expectation that I would share what went on at the Executive Sessions and I couldn’t do that. You know, it just wasn’t something that
(I) The terms had changed.
(N) The terms had changed and there was discomfort with that and, I put you there you know to vote a certain way. I said, well I thought you put me there because I, you, respected my judgment to vote in a way that would be for feminist issues and also to represent my own integrity and if you put me there thinking that you could pull strings and tell me how to vote, then I guess we’ve had a serious misunderstanding and we weathered that. It was, I think that part of it was such an involvement with me as a candidate and identification that they felt it should go on.
(I) I was wondering because it seems that after that period of time or great involvement in feminism at the local level as it was reflected in Teaneck, you have more or less turned your attention back to larger issues of feminism or the state or
(N) Well all of the larger issues, many of them are the same issues in a different form. It was some time after that I was asked by National NOW by Ellen Mismeal (?) to come to Washington and work on the last part of the ERA Campaign. I felt that this was a great opportunity and a great time in history and I just felt I can’t say no, I can’t be not involved. I’ve been asked to help. In one week I distributed two dogs and three cats and three children and rented my house and was in Washington and quit a job and was in Washington.
(I) So you left Teaneck for a while.
(N) I left Teaneck for almost two years. I got back two years ago so it would be the last 80/81. Came back in 82.
(I) How did, in terms of activism and the kinds of feminist issues you have been involved in, how had Teaneck changed when you got back or did you see a change?
(N) That’s hard to gauge because I had not been that involved. I got back and I had kind of a disaster. My house was totally demolished when I came back (End of Tape 1, Side B – Begin Tape 2, Side A) and that took a lot of my energy and so I was not involved locally and also my youngest child has now graduated from the high school so I don’t get a lot of feedback from the town and I have not been involved with FACT since I got back because it hasn’t had any meetings that
(I) As far as, to your knowledge
(N) I think that a lot of people around with the consciousness and awareness that if issues come up, we could very quickly get back together and move on them. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, Betty Schectman called me and said, so you realize that as a result of the schools, some schools being closed and the reorganization plan in Teaneck, we may well lose every female Principal. I said, do I hadn’t realized that. I have not followed it that closely. I know from the Teaneck News that schools are closing but I did not realize that this would be an effect. She said she doesn’t think other people took that into consideration and didn’t take into consideration in making this move. She wanted someone to raise it. At the school board meeting. I had a class that night at the new school so I couldn’t be there but I went through my address book and picked out you, Cathy Bonello, Marjorie Lightman, a number of people who are active in Teaneck in feminism who could speak very easily to that issue with some briefing from Betty on what the reorganization plan is so
(I) I am not sure, maybe you would view this differently, but it seems from what you describe there was a time in the beginning of the development of FACT organization in its full activity with your board service when there were many people that would have been very active around that and that that has slacked off somewhat. Have you thought about what might account for that?
(N) Well I know what has happened with many people. Many of the people who got active then expanded their won roles in terms of their lives as their children reached a certain age, like Mary Lou Weller, went to work. Linda Suskind became an attorney. And these became all involving commitments that they weren’t available to run the organization or to really call me and to go to me and to spend evenings on issues and going to board meetings and so forth. They developed themselves and moved on but I think remained interested and also are using those skills or can use those skills to come back in.
(I) Do you feel that there are still issues of concern to feminist?
(N) In Teaneck specifically?
(N) To tell you the truth, that’s a tough question to answer because I have not been involved in either town politics or school board. I haven’t gone to a meeting since I got back of any kind in Teaneck. NOW meetings are the only meetings I’ve gone to in Teaneck and of course we NOW meets at the public library, the local chapter, the Northern New Jersey Chapter of NOW so that I go to those meetings but those are not usually focused in Teaneck.
(I) Let me just ask, to go back a little bit with the forming of this organization of a local town grass roots organization, do you have knowledge of whether or not this is a common phenomenon were there other groups that were similar around here?
(N) There was a Tenafly group, I’ve forgotten the name of it now, but it was a feminist group in Tenafly. I think it was called Women in Tenafly, or something like that. And I haven’t heard anything about them lately either. I don’t know whether the issues were solved and people moved on or whether the issues are still hanging out there but the people that were active have moved on. Maybe what we need is another generation with the energy to come up and attack again.
(I) Do you see the Teaneck group, as having any characteristics particular to the fact that it was group in Teaneck per se?
(N) Well I think we were probably a reflection of the town in terms of the way we became active, the way that we made ourselves known and to all organizations in town. We did a lot of speaking in temples and churches and to other groups. And in terms of getting politically active very fast. That is something that the other groups did not do. The other ones did not run people along campaigns. They more or less did speaking and consciousness raising rather than the kind of role we took. We also became involved in the varied committees that we were active in, making for instance, a textbook review committee. In fact the committee was mainly made up of some FACT members who were fairly representative of the community as it turned out.
(I) Would the textbook advisory committee also review books for racism as well as feminism? (Yes) And you mentioned that there were times when those two things overlapped.
(N) Yeah. Or that we would support each others issues because any stereotyping is not healthy in our beliefs so whether it was racial stereotyping or ethnic because of being a female, we just didn’t feel it was good any more than we would want men to be stereotyped in a particular role. We liked that role broadened so that men could be seen in textbooks in the father role and in the home and in the supportive role as they are in life.
(I) Let me ask you if there is anything you would like to add that pretty much covers the territory that I was interested in in terms of timeline on Teaneck and if you think of things at another time, we can do another sessions. Anything now that
(N) Nothing comes to my mind at the moment but I am kind of worried about you getting home in this storm.
(I) I know. The storm is definitely a factor. Well (End of Tape)