|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.|
Audio recording of the interview with Sylvia Woods
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||October 25, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (5/2/1985)|
(I) How long have you lived in Teaneck?
(N) It will be 35 years in January.
(I) What brought you to Teaneck in the first place?
(N) Like so many young couples with a couple of kids, we were looking for a, wanted to move to the suburbs. We heard Teaneck was a model community, we checked it out, checked out Long Island and it seemed the most convenient place to live.
(I) Where were you coming from?
(N) The Bronx.
(I) And two very small children, was it?
(N) Yes. Two and four.
(I) So you were looking for country and
(N) Trees, grass, the whole bit.
(I) Had you any friends or . .
(N) No. We knew somebody who did live here, somebody whose sister lived here to be exact.
(I) But once you came here, you seem to have enjoyed your living here.
(N) Tremendously. Witness I'm still living here.
(I) What were some of your activities. When you first came with two small children, you obviously were pretty busy with them but. .
(N) Mostly my activities were taking care of the kids and then I became involved in the National Council of Jewish Women and the American Jewish Congress which met in Englewood but primarily in the League of Women Voters that was meeting in Englewood at that time.
(I) Has this been a lifelong interest in politics?
(I) And after you were going to the Englewood League, then why - you are a charter member of the Teaneck group? How did you decide, why did you decide to organize your own group?
(N) Well, it just seemed that there were a body of women who were interested and it seemed more appropriate to have a League of our own then to go all the way to Englewood.
(I) Who were some of the other people that were involved with you?
(N) I am trying hard to remember all the names but one was Louise Randolph I think and one was Beth Churchman, Isabel Dabrow, Gertrude Schwimmer, there must be some others but for the moment I can't think of them.
(I) And what were some of the things that the League did in the early days? This would have been about 30 years ago.
(N) I should say we worried whether this country should be half free and half slave but it was a little beyond that. I remember getting terribly involved with the budget which doesn't seem too exciting, well it is exciting now. And the Bricker Amendment was an issue at that time.
(I) The Bricker Amendment?
(N) The Bricker Amendment. There was an amendment where I think I may have switched sides since then. The Bricker Amendment was to cut down on the president's power to make treaties. Right now I am prepared to cut down on certain president powers but really the high point as far as I am concerned was what we were doing during the McCarthy Era and a little in the post McCarthy Era where we organized the Freedom Agendas which was a national League project and we called upon various people in the community from every political side and the clergymen and educators and what have you. We had a variety of cottage parties throughout the community where we had material furnished by constitutional scholars and pointing out what our individual rights were, what our civil liberties were. I think it was a good lesson in constitution to many of the people who came and I guess the point of it all was that we found some of our liberties being eroded at that time, some of our rights being eroded, and for that we received an award which I have someplace, somewhere, but it was a very worthwhile study and as an aside, I think maybe people ought to learn about the constitution now.
(I) Who were some of the other people who were involved with the Freedom Agendas?
(N) Well at the time we had Stuart Cook living in town who was a well known sociologist who had worked on the Supreme Court decision, the 1954 Brown decision. He was involved. Rabbi Trachtenberg who is now dead who was a rabbi in the Reformed Temple. Judge Waesche who sitting judge at that point. Bernard Confer, religious leader and some others whose names escape me at this time.
(I) And this covered the entire spectrum of both parties on socioeconomic
(N) Yes. There was no party problem there and we had a series of pamphlets that had been published on a national level where people did some reading beforehand and we talked about it. Pamphlets by Chafey. I am not so sure that Alan Westin hadn't written one of the pamphlets (who now lives in town) but I wouldn't swear to that one. It was a good program.
(I) And how long a period of time did that take?
(N) It must have been over a year.
(I) Well, once that was finished, what else did you do at the League?.
(N) Some place along there, I became vice president and was involved in some of their foreign policies studies which I can't enumerate and as I indicated in our preliminary interview, what I enjoyed most was writing songs for the election.
(I) I wish you could sing a song for us.
(N) If I ever did, you'd hate it.
(I) Well, perhaps if you could find the words to some of them
(N) In other words, these were songs, these weren't just Goodbye Dolly. But at the time we spoke a little earlier about the pool controversy. Some of the League had taken a stand about the need for a pool and some of the school controversies and actually 1 think some of our songs at that time back in 68 when the college campuses were all involved and we had some songs about that. Actually I think one of the songs was involved about the court case because the League of Women Voters had been trying to prove that contributions to them should be tax free and it went up to the Supreme Court and we wanted, well it never quite got to the Supreme Court, we wanted the Supreme Court to rule on it, and this is not the Teaneck League, this is the national League, and the timeless lines that I remember, and I will quote:
(I) Are they copyrighted, do we need a release from you?
(N) Oh no, no, no. As part of the song, and I mean this may give you a flavor and maybe you will think of -"1, 2, 3 a lerie, we want a writ of searcherie". Okay, that's it. After that, it was downhill all the way.
(I) Well I wouldn't say it was downhill. You certainly took part in the school integration.
(N) We marched for the integration and we were. .
(I) Weren't you, you marched before integration. You told me you had marched
(N) Building the school there, whenever, all the school controversies that came up. Yes, that was about 30 years ago and then I was merely a foot soldier. I was not a captain or a general or anything else in the war of integration. And I heard with dismay the women who worried about their children not having hot lunches and getting on a bus and I think it is all to the good that we won some of those fights. As I indicated, I think Teaneck has changed quite a bit in the last 35 years and I think it has changed for the better. It is less homogeneous than it was then. It was mostly a Republican, mostly a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant town. That was my impression moving into it. It no longer appears to be that. I think you have a great mix of ethnic groups and religions and I think this makes it a richer town to live in. I discovered that recently when I ran for office and got to parts of town that I had not been to before and was just delighted.
(I) What prompted you to run for the council?
(N) Well, it seemed to me, now I have more. . , the kids are all married and I have grandchildren and I live alone and even though I work and at the time was teaching at Fairleigh and working at Prentice Hall, I have the time and so I thought I could contribute something to the council being an attorney and having a knowledge of the town and caring about the town so I thought and it was not purely unselfish. I thought I'd enjoy it. And I did enjoy campaigning. I did not enjoy losing. So I guess that prompted me.
(I) Well, before you ran for the town, you've always had an interest in politics.
(I) Would you tell us a little bit about that?
(N) Well, I
(I) Growing up in New York?
(N) Oh sure. Rang doorbells. Had a series of election, involved in just stuff, handing out, and I'm still doing it. Yes, I think you might say that's my primary interest.
(I) When you first came, there was almost no Democratic party here in town then.
(N) No, no. It was just a handful of people. We had a banquet for some Democratic hopefuls that we went to Casa Manor and we went after dinner because Barkley was going to speak. Vice President Barkley. We walked in and this whole banquet hall was empty and everybody said, sit down, sit down. Have a meal. We had to look good. But things have changed since then. My husband was the county committee person at one time and I was somewhat later, more recently.
(I) Do you think you will run for office again?
(N) I may totter off to the street corner and start handing out brochures again. I don't know.
(I) I scarcely think you are ready to totter yet. Have we missed anything in your past.
(N) I should hope so but I'd rather not put that on tape.
(I) Professionally. You did go back to work after your children were grown.
(N) Well they weren't quite grown but I did go back to work twenty five years ago. For a while, I did some substitute teaching in school and then I went back to work and I have been writing about taxes and estate planning for Prentice Hall and did teach at Fairleigh for about the same number of years. I taught Business Law there. And I have volunteered my services for the Welfare Department here in Teaneck. I've taken care of just (pro bono) and I've done some of that.
(I) If you are an attorney, did you also have a teaching degree in order to substitute in the schools?
(N) Yeah. Before I went to Law School. Those were the days when everybody prepared for everything because you couldn't get a job at anything.
(I) Where did you get your degree from?
(N) I went to Hunter College in New York and I went to N.Y.U. Law School and also while I was going to Law School, took accounting at City College and
(I) Prepared for all sorts of things.
(N) You prepared for everything and most things didn't pay well. And so I did some of that. My husband and I went to school together and then of course in those days, when you had a family, there was no question that you stayed at home so I stayed home for a while and then decided, well I better get moving.
(I) As I asked before, have we missed anything? Now I think we've pretty much covered your contributions. Oh, there was one thing you did tell me about coming to town. That you were here before the Royal opened.
(N) I pre-dated, I came here slightly after Oritan but before Royal Delicatessen and before Butterflake. How I even contemplated moving to a town without
(I) Was Bischoff's here then?
(N) Yes, yes. Bischoff's was here.
(I) What else was here on Cedar Lane if this was before Butterflake and Royal?
(N) Well, there was Bischoff's and Cowan's and I think Manor Shoes was probably predated. And really there were no horse and buggies then. It wasn't too dissimilar I guess. Of course, where I live now there were no houses and we would go through the woods and tell our kids - where Ben Franklin is now - and my husband would go through the woods and tell them there were Indians there and they believed him. But I mean I can't say I remember when goats grazed here or anything of that sort. It was a pleasant town then and it's still a very pleasant town I think.
(I) Good. So I thank you very much for all this and thank you.