Interview with Jane Guthrie2019-06-04T10:09:43+00:00

THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT

Jane Guthrie

“Close Your Eyes and Imagine a Sea of Green and White.” – Jane Guthrie on The Last ERA Walk

Interviewed by Kathy Rand, VFA Executive VP, May 2019

KR:  Good morning. Thank you so much for being willing to participate in the VFA Pioneer Histories Project. Start just by telling me your name and when and where you were born.

JG:  My name is Jane Guthrie and I was born in Ames, Iowa. In 1944. My mother was an Iowa girl. She lived in the city of Ames. She met my father when he was at Iowa State studying veterinary medicine. They married and moved back east, which is where he is from. I grew up in Wilton, Connecticut.

KR:  What was your life like growing up?

JG:  In Wilton, my father had a veterinary practice. We had 40 acres of land and they had a veterinary practice and we lived on the same property, so it was full of dogs and cats and people with their dogs and cats.  I have five brothers and sisters. We went to the local public high school. I was an average student, but I was really good at art. I was a cheerleader, and I was involved in all the arts programs and it led to an interest in graphic design. 

KR:  How did you get involved in the women’s movement?

JG:   I went to George Washington University and that’s three blocks from the White House. So, I got a taste of politics and an interest in it. I was studying graphic design and most of my classes were at the Corcoran Museum. We used to see the parades for the dignitaries when they’d arrive in town. I got sparked in politics a little bit and so what got me really involved was when I married and moved to Los Angeles and I started working in advertising agencies and got a good taste of what marketing can do. We were selling high end cars. You see how it works or doesn’t work. I got really frustrated with the fact that so many people didn’t know what the ERA was, and time was running out.

KR:  This was about what year?

JG:  I got involved in 1979 with L.A. NOW. But I got involved because I was frustrated that the ERA didn’t seem to be getting much press. People didn’t know about it. In three years, we were going to expire, and nothing was going to be done and the ERA had only three years left. By then I was single, and I had a little more time and so I went to a fundraiser at NOW. I couldn’t find anybody in the local chapter, so I went to a fundraiser. It was like a hundred dollars and that was a big deal for me. It was at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

I tracked around the room and tried to figure out who is running the chapter and I found Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli and chatted them up and said hey I’m a graphic designer and I’d be happy to work with you if you needed help. They did a lot of the graphics as it turned out for National NOW, so it was a good score for me as far as work. I ended up working with Toni and Judith and they did The NOW Times out of their home. I started doing layouts on The NOW Times, not in the news section but it was the beginning of the ERA campaign. Judith was also doing a lot of the t shirts and buttons, so we started designing things for the ERA. The rounds and the T-shirts and the buttons and the banners and I was doing the ads in The NOW Times.

Then I got involved in the chapter. My first job in the chapter I was observing the media. I can’t remember the name of that title, but we watched television and recorded the number of commercials and the number of women in the commercials. And [there was] a great little group of us who did that and that was really fun. I still wanted to get involved in the ERA and we had been to the L.A. NOW national conference with Toni and Judith and I got a taste of it all. And then we started working harder on the ERA. In the chapter my first job in the chapter with the ERA was to do The Last ERA walk, which was Ellie’s name for that – The Last ERA Walk.

This was The Last ERA Walk poster and back then we had the idea that we all walked so much that our shoes were worn out. Peggy Cutts gave me a pair of her old shoes and we took them to a shoemaker, and he changed the stripes to green put in old laces. I did have a photo taken and then designed the poster and we used this all over town and then we actually continued to sell it to people. I can’t remember what we charged –  a little bit but we sold a lot of copies, especially out here. It was the cover of our program for the walk and the parade and the rally. It worked hard. I still use it sometimes. I do events with the National Women’s History Alliance. We auction off one or two of these posters at every event. So, it’s had a lot of life.

Regarding the Last ERA Walk, I convinced them that we could do it much bigger and have more of an impact if we did it and made it appealing to all people at all times. I went downtown and applied for the parade permit and made it a really fun application because they never had a parade down Avenue of the Stars. I said – Well it’ll be two or three thousand people and it’ll be kids and dogs and families, and it would be a walk down the Avenue of the Stars and then we’ll do a 10k Walk on the city streets and a rally in Rancho Park. We had to get permits for all of those. The application was in the basement of the police department in Los Angeles, which is a huge dungeon and I just kept smiling.

KR:   Did they know what it was for?

JG:  They knew it was for the ERA and they knew it was for NOW. We heard back from them pretty quickly and it was March. They knew we were organized, we were ahead. I guess they thought maybe they could manage two or three thousand people. We started working in March. We started working and Tony drew this backyard. We made all of our own banners and we started doing all the rounds and hand cutting them. We had a quilting frametable to make all our banners and we’d sit around and when you get tired of one thing could go sew on one of the banners. We silkscreened – all the honorary guests had badges and in addition to that we were doing events in Los Angeles.

We started reaching out to all the women’s organizations to get them involved really early. They each brought a contingent of their own. We let in anybody who wore white or green, they were on the list. Nurses and girl scouts.

Every meeting I’d start with a visualization. I had started doing mindfulness stuff at that time.  I would say –  just close your eyes and imagine looking down the Avenue of the Stars, and just coming over the crest of the hill you see this sea of green and white and there is a mass of people and everyone got on board. They all had this great visualization in their heads.

We sewed banners too or we made banners for all the different organizations and they paid the cost. We ended up with one hundred delegations and three bands. We reached out to all the unions. It was the first time NOW that I knew of, that we reached out to the unions. We worked with the AFL/CIO and we worked with the unions for the entertainment industry. We ended up with a bunch of people in the entertainment business, which is easy to do in this town.

We started sending people to those meetings and we pitched this parade and walk from March all the way until August. It was great. And we went to a lot of union rallies and there was Solidarity Day events and spoke and talked about the ERA. We were doing all that there was, state board meetings and those kinds of things and so we would reach out to all the chapters in and around Los Angeles County and get them involved. It was very successful organizing and it went on for a long time.

KR:  How many people ended up showing up do you know?

JG:   They said ten thousand people marched. One of the best parts for me was we had Mayor Tom Bradley. We had Maureen Reagan and Betty Ford. Two republicans and the Mayor on the front line. Ronald Reagan was in the Central Plaza Hotel on Avenue of the Stars when we marched by. We had three suffragettes and a male accompany us and dressed in white and tried to pay homage to our fore sisters. It was a very successful event. The walk that we have, which was the normal summer walkathon raised ten thousand dollars. Between the parade and everything else, we raised over 300 thousand dollars according to the Now Times. It was a lot of people.

We also had a fair at the Park, and we had great speakers. We had a lot of celebrity speakers plus the governor was there, which was Jerry Brown in his first term and Betty Ford and Maureen Reagan. And the mayor was there, and we had quite a few well-known feminists there. It was a big success. And it was good. I started in NOW in 1979 and then the parade was in 81. I stayed involved in NOW. I continued with the ERA campaign – the countdown campaign had started actually in June. They launched it here in June and that’s when they signed Alan Alda and Betty Ford.

We had the kick off here in L.A. It was a luncheon and a press announcement and then all those materials had to be prepared for the walk and the countdowns. And we walked Morman neighborhoods down in Orange County knocking on doors. And we did street petition signing. What you can do in California is pretty limited. We had great fundraisers, but we had already ratified.

It’s a pretty blue state. But we did outreach and a lot of education with people. People would come up to you on the street when you were doing a petition signing and they would say – Well I don’t understand what is. You’d have to go through the explanation of it. That we’re trying to get an amendment to the Constitution, so women have equal rights.  It’s still a problem for people to understand.

KR:  We still don’t have it.

JG:  I know, we still don’t have it but maybe we’re closer. Were two states closer.

KR:  Did you stay involved in the L.A. chapter?

JG:  I did, I stayed involved until 1985, but I had to get back to my job. I stayed involved, but after the ERA expired I was kind of a support figure in many ways. I didn’t do any other office. I was the actual vice president for a while. I kind of stepped back a little bit.

KR:  And what was your job during all this time?

JG:  I’m an advertising art director. I’ve worked in advertising in Los Angeles for 30 years and mostly in ad agencies or freelancing for ad agencies.  The main business in Los Angeles is cars and motorcycles – anything on wheels – we called it the wheels business.  I worked on a lot of those things and I continued to use that experience in marketing. I worked with a lot of non-profits along the way. I’ve done work with NWPC LA Westside which is a great organization too. They do an annual event – they honor women. I’ve worked and helped out a lot of other small non-profit organizations.

KR:  Did your women’s movement experience help you in your career?

JG:   I wouldn’t say it helped me in my career.  At the time I was doing the ERA and all that time organizing, I was working in an agency that been the agency for the Ronald Reagan election campaign. I think that’s another reason I got spurred because my job was like – oh my gosh I’m working with this group all day every day. I continued to work. It didn’t really help but it didn’t hurt either. But one of the guys at the agency I was working at was a big Reagan supporter so he would check in with me every week or so and say – So what’s happening and what I was doing?

He knew I was doing the parade. Right after the parade he came in and complimented me. They were very reasonable people. After the ERA some of our people did go on to work and in politics and my dear friend Sandra Farha did and she started working on the Mondale/Ferraro campaign. She traveled with Geraldine Ferraro and she toured California a couple of different times and then she went on and worked on a lot of different organizations.

She worked with the unions for a while, but then she also worked with Hands Across America and People for America. And she had a wonderful career. She was California NOW president after all we did the ERA campaign and then eventually left and went into more political stuff. I wanted to mention her because we lost her early to cancer and I don’t think we have an audio recording of her or on camera, but I had to pay tribute to her.

We did a bunch of fundraisers together and we also did two Women on the Bench tributes in SF and LA. And the Women for Bradley campaign when he was running. Sandra and a lot of our people went on to work in the women’s movement and to work in politics. A bunch of them actually went into some of the unratified ERA states. We also worked on a bunch more political campaigns. Since then I’ve worked with the AAUW and the NWPC and CARAL. A lot of times on graphics or programs or invitations or small campaigns. I got a taste for what you can do for a nonprofit for not a lot of money.

I also made a film with Martha Wheelock. We made a film on women’s history. It is called California Women Win the Vote. California women won the vote in 1911, nine years ahead of when the 1920 Federal Amendment was passed. We toured California and marketed that to a lot of small chapters or AAUW, Women’s Clubs and NWPC chapters and women’s history chapters. We went all over the state. We were giving it away for free because you’re not going to make back what you spent. We decided we will just make lots of copies and give it away. We were trying to educate people on the history of California.

It was fascinating to me and some of those questions and answers, I was thinking about that this morning. We had American history high school teachers challenge us and say – women weren’t voting in California in 1911 and we said – yes they were, and they were voting in presidential elections. There were several Western states where women were voting at that time. It didn’t really become a problem until Wyoming elected a woman to be a representative and then it was like – How can you not have a vote and you’ve got a woman in Congress. I think it’s just crazy.

My new thing is I’m working with a group of women – it’s a cold start organization. They are just a group of women working in conjunction with the National Women’s History Alliance. A couple of them came from Rochester originally and retired in Pasadena. And a bunch of other women from Pasadena and we’re trying to raise money for a float for the Rose Parade which is on very early in the morning on January 1st. We wanted to be the very first celebration for the Centennial of Women Winning the Right to Vote and we really want to do it in a big way because this is a parade where you have floats by Honda Motor Company and all kinds of corporate major advertisers. The president of the whole Tournament of Roses Event this year, is a Hispanic woman, and she’s really big on celebrating Women’s History which is great. If we get it built, we’ll get a good position in the parade.

That’s why we want it to be a stunning testament to women and that 72-year struggle that it took to win the vote. We’re working very hard to raise the money it will cost to build. We would love to have corporate sponsorship. We’re working hard to do it. We don’t have a lot of the corporate connections so we’re working hard to make those. If we wanted to we could have one or two logos on the float. They do it very subtly and I’ve been really against it, but I think if they gave us enough money it would be great.

In the meantime, we’re going the go fund me route and we’re doing a lot of Go Fund Me and we have a website (www.PasadeneCelebrates2020) and we’re doing email blasts and Facebook pages and as much social media as we can. The problem is people don’t understand that the money for the float – half of it is due in June. And when you’re starting cold – we’ll see if we can make it. And then if you don’t make it, even if the float is built, it doesn’t roll down the street there’s an ominousness about raising it.

But like the ERA – I love a parade. I’m in to parades and it’s interestingly it’s we raised three hundred thousand dollars on the ERA events, and the float costs pretty much the same amount of money. I’m encouraged and active in trying to make that happen. That’s my new love.