Veteran Feminists of America


pictured: Alice Powell and Mary Stanley

I was born in 1927. My parents were in vaudeville. When it was time for me to be born, they returned to my mother’s hometown of East Grand Fork, Minnesota. But the hospital was across the river in Grand Forks, North Dakota, so I guess you could say I was born in North Dakota.

Vaudeville died shortly thereafter and my parents settled in New York City. My father became a theatrical agent for William Morris. My mother, a real beauty, became a manicurist at the Best Barber Shop in Times Square. There she met and fell in love with the boss’ son and divorced my father when I was 3, and married my stepfather (whose father was the first manager of Jack Dempsey). My stepfather legally adopted me. Both my fathers were Jewish. My Catholic mother sent me to Catholic school.

We lived in the Bronx on the east side of the Grand Concourse not too far from Yankee Stadium and always hated the Yankees. Why? They wouldn't let the kids go in free when there were empty seats while the Giants always did. And we used to slip under the turnstile at the elevated train with permission because the man knew we were not going any place.

The first place I go to eat when In NYC is the Carnegie Deli (it must be the Jewish part of me). As a child I went to Mass and Communion every school day morning. My mother gave me 10 cents for breakfast after church and instead of going to the bakery I went to the Jewish Deli next door, where they grilled the hotdogs in the window; every morning I would go for my hot dog with sauerkraut and a celery tonic. One day a neighbor lady saw me there and told my mother what I was eating for breakfast. I was enjoying it so much at 7:30 in the morning that my mother laughed and said "That's my Mary." It was okay by her. Memories…… Memories

During this marriage, my mother endured nine miscarriages and finally gave birth to my sister, Joyce (now deceased). They divorced when Joyce was three years old and my mother moved us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was 14 years old and went to work immediately as a waitress. My mother had to go to beauty school to get her license?as there was no reciprocity between NY and Wisconsin.

During World War II, Milwaukee was a popular Navy weekend “leave” town. I met a young sailor three years my senior and thought I was in love. We married in 1943 and were together two days before he went overseas. I had to leave my Catholic High School because I was now a married woman. When he came home from the war two years later, we had three children in three-and-a-half years. He didn’t work; I did. He was abusive and I was miserable, especially when the police were called and would do nothing because they did not see him beating me. Finally, one night after a police visit, and after all had gone to sleep, I took my three children and left, hiding until a few days later. My ex-husband was subsequently committed to a mental asylum.

I got the money to go to Portland, Oregon, where my mother lived and where I had a good job waiting for me. I started work as a waitress at the Best Seafood Restaurant in downtown Portland, working nights (5 pm to 1 am). During the day my grandmother took care of my children, none of school age. My eldest was three when I left my husband, my middle one-and-a-half and youngest three months. Guess what? I was pregnant again – thankfully I was referred to a physician who performed a safe, clean, although illegal abortion in his office for $100. How could I raise the three children I already had, much less another?

To increase my income, I went to work days in direct door-to-door sales. With my outgoing personality, I was a natural. I made enough to buy a three-story house. One of my customers at the restaurant was a progressive bank manager who financed the mortgage. I rented out the three rooms on the top floor to three working women, and this rent made the payments. My family, mother and grandmother shared the first two floors. One of my renters recommended me to her boss of a new freezer food-plan company new to Oregon. I was impressed at the interview and gave it a try, My success at these sales was such that I left my waitress job to work fulltime for the Rich Food Plan.

A promise was made that in six months the most successful agent would become sales manager . If that promise had been kept, it would have been me. But they brought in a man from out of town to be the manager. Looking at the sales records, he was surprised that the top name on the board was a woman. He asked me how I did it, and being a smart aleck, I told him, “Put a ring on my finger and you’ll find out.” He did. We got married three months later in 1953 and lived mostly happily for over 47 years until his death in 2000.

Jay Stanley legally adopted my children and we were a family. He had more confidence in my ability than I myself did and lovingly pushed me forward and joined in my interests. I had not voted–Jay was a Republican and made me become one, too. He was very knowledgeable politically, but not active. The first years of our marriage we were on the road selling ourselves and “time” for a radio program. We had a client that was in our old freezer-food business; we worked for him for about six months and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and then in 1961 to Fresno, California to open our own frozen food business.

Jay ran the sales and I ran the business. My first big decision after arranging the financing at the bank was to hire a meat cutter. The man we inherited would not take orders from a woman and he quit – so what! I hired a better man. By 1964, our business was going well. Barry Goldwater, my Arizona hero, was running for President. I joined the Republican Women’s Club, got active locally, then statewide, and was co-chair of my county’s Ronald Reagan campaign for Governor of California. We won.

Now comes the best part of my long life. Ronald Reagan appointed me to the California Commission on the Status of Women During the years I served I was the only businesswoman on the commission and the only woman from the Central Valley. Fresno and the Valley are not Los Angeles, nor do the women have the same opportunities as those in L.A. or San Francisco. I believe my lack of formal education allowed me to relate more to the average woman in those days. I was elected treasurer by the other commissioners, planned and prepared the budget and as a result, was invited to speak before women’s groups, like the Business and Professional Women, AAUW and others.

I joined NOW in 1967, the year they adopted the ERA as a goal. My feminism and commitment came full circle with my entry into the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. I had joined local NOW before there was an NWPC, if only to prove that Republicans can be feminists, too. I still maintain my NOW membership but FRESNO, my home town no longer has a chapter. Our NWPC-Fresno chapter has 124 members, we meet monthly at a dinner meeting and 45-60 attend every month.

Millie Jeffrey, the 3rd Pres of NWPC changed my life by asking me to develop a logo for the caucus so that we could wear the logo on a pin as NOW did to identify each other. Jill Ruckelhaus gave a fabulous speech at the 1977 Conference. Using her photo and her wording I developed a poster, which is still used today. We have printed and sold over 12,000 posters about the event.

Many years have passed since those early exciting days of the Political Caucus. Today there are more and more women running for office –and winning. But there is still very much to do. One day we will have a woman president and there will be as many women in Congress as men. Until that time our work goes on. And, as long as I have the energy I will be doing as much as I can to make it happen.

JILL RUCKELHAUS COMMENTS ABOUT MARY: I would document the life story of Mary Stanley, who still, to this day, travels the country promoting pro-choice women with her merchandise table and passion for electing women to office. I believe strongly that feminism is the movement of many movements, the story of individuals, each with deeply personal experiences, diverse and profound. All told, our stories speak many truths. Jill Ruckelhaus.

Mary has made great friends among the women she helped elect and for whom she did pro bono fundraising BEFORE they became national Icons --- including Donna Brazile, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe, and Nancy Kassebaum; Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Jackie Speire. And, she headed the Republicans for Geraldine Ferraro for vice president.campaign.

The Fresno Chapter she cofounded elected the first woman to the state senate and has 3 members who served in the Assembly in this RED district -- the mayor, a council member and the County Sheriff and District Attorney and the tax collector, auditor/ controller. Three members are on the Board of County Supervisors, three on the school board. All, Republicans and Democrats, are prochoice progressives.

Mary has received many honors for her work, including VFA’s medal of honor which she received in August, 2009 in Stockton, CA. Jacqui Ceballos

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