April 16, 2005


Co-Sponsors; Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF)
Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW)
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
National Organization for Women (NOW)
Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame
Women's Centers and Women's Studies Programs of Area Colleges

JAIMIE CURA, Correspondent

JAIMIE CURA, Correspondent

Being forced to leave work when five months pregnant. Never applying for a job because it was in the men's help wanted section and women could not apply. Unable to get contraceptives because it was illegal. Women in Connecticut have protested, lobbied and fought until those inequalities were abolished. On Saturday, 47 women, one man, and 13 groups were recognized for their commitment to feminism and equal rights at a conference and dinner at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Cromwell. "The goal [of the conference] is two parts an intergenerational dialogue and the creation of a historical record with biographies on the feminists being honored," said Helen Z. Pearl, co-chair of the conference planning committee and an attorney in New Britain.

Pearl was an honoree for coming up with the idea of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in 1972, a state organization dedicated to women's issues and equal rights. The event was hosted by the Veteran Feminists of America and several state groups including the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, the Connecticut National Organization for Women and the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. The VFA is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1992 whose members are part of the second wave of feminists women who were activists for equal rights in the 1960s and 1970s.

First wave feminists were the abolitionists and suffragists of the 19th and early 20 th century, including Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, said Susan Hoover, special projects director for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. (left: Elizabeth Cady Stanton/Susan B. Anthony)

The VFA has about 800 members nationally, said Sheila Tobias (photo left: Sheila Tobias), executive vice-president of the VFA and former Wesleyan University associate provost from 1970 to 1978. Also an honoree, Tobias saw the university through its co-education process. She is the author of "Faces of Feminism: An Activist's Reflection on the Women's Movement." The biographies of the event's honorees are compiled in a booklet that is not only a guide to the conference and a documentation of history, but a guide for carrying on the torch.

"We've got to energize the younger generation," said Kate Swift (photo right: with Davida Foy Crabtree), an honoree who co-authored articles and books advocating nonsexist language. "This movement has to keep going with the third wave who are in their energy years now."

The event included several workshops during the day and concluded with an awards dinner in the evening. Bonnie Howard, 70, from Marblehead, Mass., a board member of the VFA, attended sessions on fair pay, reproductive rights, and women's images. She said the booklet is invaluable. "It's so important that we stay up-to-the-minute historically because if we don't remember what's been done, it's almost like we have to start all over again," said Howard.

The biographies in the booklet are a documentation of a revolution written by those doing the revolutionizing, said Kathy Rand, spokeswoman for the VFA, adding that the goal is to show the younger generation how their rights were won. "It's important for the young women of today to realize that these are the women who opened the doors for them," said Rand, "and to make sure that the things they did achieve have not eroded. Lots of things are happening politically, and rights could be removed if you're not vigilant."

The second wave feminists honored included Barbara G. Lifton, whose first job in the legal profession was in Bridgeport in 1978. Lifton, now a retired attorney residing in New York state, testified in 1975 on legislative proposals that helped bring about a repeal of the corroboration requirement for conviction of someone accused of sexual assault on a woman. "Before, it was almost impossible to convict someone of sexual assault," said Lifton. "There was no other crime in Connecticut that required you to have extra corroboration."

Honoree and conference speaker Mary McDaniel, a former Middletown teacher, was recognized for challenging a school policy in 1970 that required pregnant women to quit their teaching jobs at the fifth month. McDaniel protested to the superintendent on the grounds that she was pregnant before the new contract went into effect, but was denied by him as well as the board of education. McDaniel won the first pregnancy discrimination case after Shirley Bysiewicz, then of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, took the case to arbitration. Bysiewicz was one of eight honorees recognized posthumously. She was the first female tenured law professor at the University of Connecticut Law School and co-authored the legislation that established the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.

Also honored after his death was Thomas I. Emerson. He argued Griswold v. Connecticut in the Supreme Court in 1965, which won women in the state the right to obtain contraceptives. Arguing the case with him was Catherine G. Roraback, a Litchfield county resident who was honored for her activism, including the defense of citizens facing denaturalization during the McCarthy era and defending civil rights workers in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, Roraback headed the legal team for Women v. Connecticut, a group of women's liberation activists in New Haven who researched and found 2,000 plaintiffs who said they were harmed by Connecticut's anti-abortion statute. The legal name for the 1972 class action was Abele v. Markle, and the anti-abortion law was found unconstitutional. The state's appeal was en route to the Supreme Court when Roe v. Wade was decided. After serving as legal council to Planned Parenthood of Connecticut for over 20 years, Roraback now serves on the boards of family and community health organizations. Organizations honored included the Connecticut Women's Political Caucus, founded by Lifton and Lee Novick in New Haven in 1971, helping more women get into public office. With the conference's focus on women's equality, the crowd of approximately 125 people was mainly female, peppered with about 10 male faces, including Mark Rinaldi, 24, from Southington, who came with his girlfriend, Ellen Zitani, 27, of Ellington.

"We came just to be here and learn as much as we can," he said. "We live in a society with both genders one has to protect the other, and vice versa." Muriel Fox, 77, of Rockland County, N.Y., and board chair of the VFA, attended the conference and said that the feminists who were honored should serve as a motivator for the next generation. "We changed the world," she said. "People need to be reminded that it can be done and to not give up."
(photo: right Muriel Fox)


Alice Chapman & Kay Bergin

Jacqui Ceballos

Amy Kesselman & Lucille Dickess.


Barbara Love

Ellen Ash Peters & Susan Wolfson.

Betty Hudson & Ginny Blaisdell

& Chris Pattee

Carolyn Gabe & lMickey Neidtz

Jacqui Ceballos, VFA President: