Veteran Feminists of America


My Mother's marriage in 1938 was kept a secret in order for her to keep her needed and beloved job as a first grade teacher. She was "outed" by her pregnancy and my subsequent birth in 1940.  Accordingly she lost her position as required by the dictates of the time. One of my earliest feminist "clicks" occurred when she related this to me some years later.

The childhood "clicks" kept coming. After my Mother opened her own private kindergarten, I observed my exhausted Mother in the kitchen one evening receiving instructions from my Father as to how she could better iron his shirts. She had worked all day; the next day's kindergarten preparations were yet to be done; and the dinner she was preparing was cooking on the stove. With a child's sense of justice I asked why she didn't tell him to iron them himself. She looked at me and said nothing, but soon thereafter a housekeeper arrived to handle the household responsibilities, including the ironing. There were times when the housekeeper, "Mary", arrived limping and with bruises on her face and arms, administered by an abusive husband. On those days my Mother took care of her. Mary came to us as scheduled until the day she died.

In her quiet way my Mother strove continually to make a difference for girls and women, offering supportive and encouraging help whenever she could. Our home was always open for visits and stays by young women training for careers at nearby hospitals and colleges. A college education for me was a given; my Father, while strongly imbued with the male privilege mindset of the time, was supportive and at times an active advocate on my behalf.

Young Lynne

My high school years presented their own lessons of proscriptive womanhood and I spent them actively rebelling against the requirement that girls must wear dresses and take "Home Economics". When the session on doing laundry came up, I enjoyed the orchestrated overflow of bubbly suds spewing throughout the room. Similar "accidents" occurred during the sewing, ironing, and cooking phases. While the teacher gave me a passing grade I'm sure it was out of spite and a fervent desire to never see me again.

 In 1957 I graduated from high school and entered Stephens College where I learned to fly and became a member of the competitive collegiate flying team, the "Jack Aces". Having a special aptitude in higher math and the sciences and an interest in aeronautical engineering, Stephens paid for and enrolled me in classes at the University of Missouri which would be creditable toward an engineering degree. Buoyed by a new sense of justice when I graduated from Stephens (A.A. 1959), I entered Penn State's engineering program that same year. There I was totally unprepared for the hostility of a particular professor who repeatedly attempted to humiliate me in class and who assigned me a final grade of D when I deserved an A or at worst B+ --- a situation he was forced to amend after my Father, an accomplished engineer and former professor himself, drove to Penn State and arranged through the Dean to meet with the professor and me to review the final exam, which was to be "90% of the final grade". No mistakes were found. It had not even been scored. My grade was changed but also my life. The message was clear: without an influential Father there would have been no vindication. Engineering was not survivable for me as a woman. I left Penn State.

Thereafter I went on to graduate from the University of Missouri with a B.A./M.A. in political science. During the years at "M.U." I took a special interest in the politics of the Cold War, minored in the Russian language, and taught American and comparative government on an instructorship. In 1961, having achieved fluency in Russian, I was selected to be one of a group of exchange students to the USSR pursuant to the Cultural Exchange Agreement of 1957 negotiated by Eleanor Roosevelt. Before we embarked on the trip, Eleanor Roosevelt met with us at the UN headquarters in New York. It was the year before her death and she was frail, but still magnificent and inspirational.

Husband Bill

After my return from the USSR, I wrote my master's thesis about the life of Rosa Luxemburg and married that same year – 1962. Bill and I celebrated our 50 years together on September 22, 2012.

 When I began the job hunt in 1963, jobs were sex-segregated, and needless to say, the most and the best were in the male columns. After seeing a "male wanted" ad for which I was particularly well-qualified, I took it to the private employment agency with which I had contracted and pleaded with the reluctant agent to call for me. Agreeing that I was highly qualified for the position she relented. I watched as she asked the employer whether he might consider a highly qualified woman for the position. She grew quiet, her face flushed with embarrassment, and she kept repeating "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. It won't happen again." Not only was the call the waste of time that she said it would be, but it possibly jeopardized her standing with the client. It was a crushing experience.

I went home bereft of hope, sat on our staircase, and cried a very long time until very still. My worried husband talked me back and vowed we would fight this together. Thereafter providence moved.

Motivated by role models Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, I took the civil service exam which resulted in a good score and thus the ability to compete against the veteran's preference in effect at the time. Soon thereafter Bill came home excitedly one afternoon with the news that he had approached a man at the handball court who reportedly was about to open a subregional office for the National Labor Relations Board. At the interview it was clear that gender was no problem for this man who appreciated my preparation for all questions relating to the National Labor Relations Act. Thus began my professional career as a Field Examiner with the NLRB in 1965. Later I held the position of Head Mediator with the National Mediation Board (the agency's first woman mediator), followed by various supervisory, managerial and expert level positions with the NLRB. I retired in 1995.

The early NLRB years were interesting for the complaints the Officer-in-Charge received for sending a "secretary" into the field and for staff issues such as male entitlement for the best offices, all of which the Officer-in-Charge dispatched with unwavering fairness. This changed, however, upon assignment to a different region a few years later, where I was precluded from performing important parts of the job such as Hearing Officer, and subjected to scrutiny by the Director no male agent ever encountered. During this period I found the National Organization for Women and joined in 1968.

Mercifully, in 1970 I was able to transfer to the Seattle Regional office where the Director actually wanted a female agent. While I had heard that the sun rarely shines in Seattle, it did for me.

 Keeping as low a profile as possible given the sensitive nature of the job, I continued my NOW involvement in Seattle. I immediately joined the Seattle Chapter, and was a prime mover in founding the Snohomish County Chapter in 1971. Also that year I was elected to the National Board of the National Organization for Women where I worked on many issues, including the ERA and employment issues, but most intensively on the Equal Credit Opportunity Project as its National Coordinator and Coalition Head. This effort documented the discriminatory experiences of credit-worthy women. As a married woman I had found that I could not establish credit in my own name regardless of being at least as credit-worthy as my husband: applications were returned with statements that credit is established in "the husband's name only". Since my job required a great deal of travel, I was forced to submit receipts for travel expenses with my husband's name on them.

The implications for women attempting to establish businesses or otherwise fully engage in commerce were enormous. Accordingly I gathered evidence from women all over the country who had been denied credit even when making substantially more money than husbands. I organized protests, such as mass application mailings for credit cards with instructions to issue in the applicant woman's name only; I wrote proposed legislation; I gave speeches and media interviews; I worked with other women and organizations, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg then affiliated with the ACLU Women's Project; I sought the support of Senators and Legislators; and I testified in various venues regarding the extent and impact of credit non-availability. Of far-reaching importance was the presentation of testimony on May 22, 1972, on behalf of NOW before the National Commission on Consumer Finance, a panel of prominent Presidential and Congressional appointees. Senators William Proxmire and Bill Brock took special interest in the evidence I presented, even including leaving the panel to review the documentation of denials. Also testifying that day were the Hon. Bella Abzug, the Hon. Martha Griffith, the Hon. Patsy Mink, and other coalition members. The effectiveness of the day's testimony seemed to be affirmed by the banking representatives who approached me as I left the hearing room with promises of credit --- and attractive job offers. The culmination of the effort was the enactment of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, enabling women since 1974 to obtain credit in their own right and to establish their own credit histories.

My retirement years in Oceanside, CA, are spent irritating proponents of sexist tradition whenever and wherever I find them, playing bridge, and enjoying my final years with Bill. Sometimes during moments of quiet reflection I wish for some female deities, a surname lineage for our daughters, a non-sexist language.... Dreams of a core feminist. Like the owl of Minerva which 'flies only at dusk', the wisdom of gender respect and equity may come only in the later stages of human history after many more waves of feminist struggle.  In the meantime, having been a participant in this wave, I reflect upon Jill Ruckelhaus' stirring speech, circa 1971, "...we will never give up...", and in gratitude for her inspiration I am able to look back at the end of my days and say "Once in my life I gave everything I had for Justice."

Lynne Litwiller

Posted: July 18, 2013

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