Veteran Feminists of America


I was born in Owatonna, MN on August 3, 1925, the fourth of five siblings, and "another" girl. With but one brother, my parents were encouraged to "try again" for a boy, who arrived when I was six. The message I received was that there was something wrong with being a girl.

But I remember how proud my mother was on every election day because she voted! She never missed a vote in her lifetime--nor have I. Together my parents laid the groundwork for my devout feminism. I didn't understand the Depression but never felt deprived because everyone was poor. We played softball with a cracked bat and a ball with the stuffing coming out.

At seven I joined the Brownie Girl Scouts
and learned girls were as good as boys. That created a lifelong challenge in a friendly rivalry with my older brother, which I won as often as not. Yet it rankled when my Dad took his sons hunting and fishing while his daughters stayed home to can tomatoes and varnish the dining room floor "so it would look nice when Daddy and the boys carne home."

Then came WWII, with my wonderful brother in Patton's Third Army serving as a Scout ahead of the front lines. One day he was machine-gunned and left for dead in an open field. He lay there until dark, when he could sneak into the forest and make his way back to his own lines.

In 1946 I learned to fly an Ercoupe, the world's safest, "spinproof" plane, and soloed on July 5 that year. When I took my cross-country flight test, I landed in Mankato, MN, headed for the flight shack for verification and was met by some very surprised men. "It's a girl!" they shouted.

I graduated from Grinnell College in 1947, where I had met my husband Mark Spencer. We were married in September, and that was the end of my flying. As all dutiful wives did, I followed Mark as he took helicopter training in New York, then entered FBI training in Quantico, VA, assignments in Savannah, GA, Florence, SC and finally Washington, DC, where I found my niche--politics!

Yet Mark’s mother coerced him back to his hometown, and we were back to the "dutiful wife" bit in Afton, IA. But bear it I did--for 15 rotten years. I had a fourth child, and became a Cub Scout Den mother, taught bible school along with substitute teaching and adult education. After sending two sons to MN for the last two years of school so they would have a chance at college, I rebelled. We moved to Des Moines, where in 1969 Mark became a financial planner.

My mother had died in 1965, and her will stipulated her estate was to be divided into five equal parts. One trust was set up for "Daughter A," another for "Daughter B" and a third for "Daughter C." The next line said "and my sons will be given their inheritance outright." The daughters would be "given" their money for expenses for themselves, their children, and their "last illness and burial." When the wills were written, my sisters were 28 and 29 and I was 20; our two brothers, deemed capable of handling their money immediately, were 14 and 21. Further, if my parents had another son by birth or adoption, that child at any age would be eligible for his share immediately. But that was the conventional wisdom of the day.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

That's when I wrote "Whose Money Is It Anyway?" a 16-page exposé of those practices that I distributed widely through the financial planning industry. I have continued to distribute it at conferences and other venues. Based on my story Congresswoman Louise Slaughter sponsored the "Fair Treatment of Women by Financial Advisors"
bill which passed the House unanimously, was revised in the Senate, and incorporated into the Financial Services Bill of 1999.

After moving to Des Moines I continued my work in Girl Scouting, and was horrified when a small group of businessmen decided to build a hog confinement just south of our new open-air units and dining room. I mobilized farmers and others who had made odor complaints, and we requested a hearing at the Department of Environmental Quality. We lost that battle, but I learned valuable lessons -- including the art of lobbying and using governmental units to apply pressure when needed. I also discovered that women were routinely ignored for appointments on those boards and commissions.

I had joined the American Association of University Women in 1975, and when I decided to run for the Iowa Senate in 1976 I also joined the National Women's Political Caucus. I ran as a Republican against the Senate Majority Leader in a district with only15% Republican registration. I ran a campaign on a shoestring and lost of course, but again found the cards stacked against women.

(above, left to right) Bella Abzug, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Linda Johnson Robb, Maya Angelou, and Coretta Scott King recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the 1977 Houston Women’s Conference. Photo: ©Jo Freeman

We could not even be found in the telephone directory! In 1977 as an elected delegate to the National Women's Conference in Houston I was inspired by Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and all the Big Wheels in the women's movement.

In 1978 I became the Legislative Chair for Iowa, and by 1980 had been appointed to the national Legislative Committee for the American Association of University Women. Then in 1982 I became the National Legislative Chair, followed by two terms as AAUW Director for Women's Issues. At the same time I served on the Board of Directors for the NWPC.

First it was in Iowa, when phone companies began soliciting married women's names in their directories, I something they had fought for years. With my testimony at an IA Commerce Commission hearing I convinced them they were actually losing revenue by this exclusion. That battle was won and soon the practice spread nationwide.

Next it was the fight to get newspapers to list mothers of the bride as something other than "Mrs. Him," followed by listing women by name in anniversary notices. The obituaries were sexist as well. One example from my files says, for example, "Ronald Jones lost his wife when she was killed by a car on Thursday. He was .... " and the rest was about him.

My husband, Mark who had always supported my work. died in 1986.

Probably my most important gift to women was the National Gender Balance Project which I founded in1988 based on an Iowa law made mandatory in 1987. I created a packet and blanketed the U.S. with those packets containing a complete battle plan for getting the law passed in any state, and by 1995 it had already been passed in at least 15 states. Most recently it was brought down to the local level in Iowa--again the first in the nation. I also distributed them at state and national conventions, and even in Europe and Asia. I did a two-hourworkshop in Huairou, China at the Fourth World Conference for Women. One result was the formation of the Florida Women's Consortium.

I used the networking system on a number of issues, and created packets for targeted mailings. In 1992 the Christian Action Council threatened a boycott against Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Corn International for having supported nine Planned Parenthood Clinics in Southern Iowa (none of which offered abortion services). Pioneer buckled and withdrew their $25,000 annual contribution.

I immediately produced a 20-page "Operation Red Alert"--another "How To" piece. I mobilized women farm owners nationwide and sent the packet to women's health networks, women's agenda networks, and presidents of national women's organizations. We got results! The mother of the CEO, who had been a founder of Planned Parenthood in Iowa, sent $25,000 to Planned Parenthood. Other companies and individuals sent gifts and the health clinics survived.

I have attended countless ERA Marches, Marches for Women's Lives, rallies, and presented workshops in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and China. Among issues I have fought for or against are Comparable Worth, The Railroad Retirement Act, Unnecessary Prophylactic Mastectomies, RU486, Industrial Homework, Title IX, Affirmative Action, Reproductive Rights, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Female Genital Mutilation, and the ERA--always the ERA.

Today I live in Sarasota, Fl. I am a life trustee for Grinnell College, and the 2010 recipient of their honorary Doctor of Laws degree. This year I met with two classes at Iowa State University on Women in Politics, and with one at Grinnell on Social Justice Activism. In February 2011 I will be doing a special presentation on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW) for the young women of UNIFEM, who will be walking in Sarasota to create an awareness of Violence Against Women. I will be there walking with them.

I am a volunteer/member/supporter of Planned Parenthood (Iowa and Florida), Girl Scouts (Iowa and Florida), American Association of University Women, Women's Resource Center, United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), National Women's History Museum. I furnish monetary support for the Center for the American Woman in Politics, Iowa State University Carrie Chapman Catt Center, and the Iowa Women's Archives, which will be receiving all of my papers.

For fun, besides music and art I enjoy my four children - Greg, Gary, Dane and Carol; my 8 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

I am still writing Letters to the Editor, writing to my Governor, Congressional delegation, and to special legislators in many states. I have written special handouts for national and state conventions, among them "It's a Man's World Unless Women Vote," "Women Power: It's a Capitol Idea," "Don't Leave It All To The Experts," and "Iowa Equal Rights Amendment: Test your Perceptions.”

Much of my work was painstakingly done on an old Royal Portable. An electric typewriter eventually made life easier, and then the computer, and now the Internet. But even without all the latest conveniences I would still be making waves.

SAD NEWS: Kappie was full of life when we talked about her bio a few weeks ago. After the holidays I tried reaching her for a final edit, but she didn't answer emails or phone calls. I thought perhaps she was traveling, but why wouldn't she respond to emails? I called Sonia Fuentes, also a resident of Sarasota. Sonia learned that Kappi is gravely ill. Sudden pains turned out to be an especially virulent lung cancer. I'm in touch with her daughter, Carol, who says it is just a matter of time before Kappie leaves us. VFA is glad to pay tribute to Kappie while she is still with us.

As we salute another great pioneer feminist we also remind all of you how important it is to leave instructions to your family to notify your friends in VFA when you are unable to do so yourself.

Bon voyage, Kappie. We thank you for your great contributions and assure you that your work will forever be appreciated.
Jacqui C.

COMMENTS: Jacqui Ceballos

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