THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Ann Juliano Jawin
“What Would Susan B. Anthony Do?”
Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA board
AJ: My full name is Ann Juliano Jawin.
MJC: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
AJ: I’m the youngest of seven children from an Italian American family. My parents came from Sicily. My father was recruited because in Sicily, in his hometown there was a sulfur mine. People like him – with those skills were actually encouraged and enticed to come to the United States. They had their way paid and then later on for their families to come over. We settled in Pennsylvania at that time. My mother came later with three little children and she was very upset because the coal-mining town was very dangerous. I remember stories and getting nightmares about people saying don’t come to the mine tomorrow because something’s going to happen because of the coal dust and everything else. And then the Depression came and my aunt who had settled in Brooklyn kept asking her to come. And with the fact that there would be a lull in employment, she was able to come to Brooklyn and we settled there and what we now call the Bedford Stuyvesant. And I grew up in Brooklyn. I loved growing up in Brooklyn.
I Didn’t Know That We Were Poor.
We were very rich in family and extended family. With cousins and aunts and uncles and it was really a rich environment in many human ways. I had a lot of things going on because we were in New York City. I had the opportunity to go to Hunter College free. And I did. I went to Washington Irving High School, which at that time was a really privileged place. And I traveled as a young kid. If my mother had known all the subways that I had to go through and the crowds she probably wouldn’t have allowed me. But I never told her those things. We grew up very independent. Being the youngest of seven children she didn’t really worry too much. And even though there were crowds, it was very safe, because you had people around you and I had a very good education at Washington Irving High School. I thought I didn’t want to go to college for a while and instead make some money and I stopped going to school for six months.
That was very important to me, because it was the middle of the Depression and you only got very stupid little jobs and I thought, “Am I going to do this for the rest of my life?” And six months later I went to Hunter College and I really felt grateful. And I came across some of the young women who I had grown up with at Washington Irving and they seemed to me like babies, because they didn’t appreciate the value of going to college. And I think that helped me a lot. So I went on and I found that it was very limiting. I didn’t really know what to do, because I didn’t want to be a teacher and I didn’t want to be a nurse.
And I thought the closest thing I admired [was] the movies with Rosalind Russell, these career women; and I thought, “Well that’s like business,” so I decided to be a secretary and train for that, which turned out to be the most practical thing I ever did. I learned typing and stenography. And some women didn’t want to learn typing – they didn’t want to be stereotyped. But I did, and that helped me to get my first job, which was a meaningful job. It was in the personnel unit – they used to call it personnel administration. Now they call it human resources. And I felt comfortable in that field and interested in learning more about employment and women. I got my first job in a company called Davis & Geck in downtown Brooklyn. And it was a subsidiary of this multinational corporation, American Cyanamid at Rockefeller Plaza.
I Learned All About Big Business and How they Operate.
This was a company that manufactured surgical sutures. And what I didn’t realize is that this was the foundation of my lifelong commitment to women and their advancement. They had 100 people in the office and 300 in the plant. They were women who were trained to work on surgical sutures. And one unit we had was sutures for the eye. It was so delicate, we used to give tests for dexterity before we would hire them. We would have certain tests, which would demonstrate whether the eye and the hand could move. And for the eyes, they found that the women could do it much faster and better than the machines that they had developed. And these women – they paid them piecework. [This was] exploitation because these women were very needy and supported their families. They didn’t even take breaks. They only took what was fundamentally necessary and ate lunch at their desk so that they could make more.
The men who supplied them with the materials made more money than they did. And I thought, “How could this be? They did have a union.” But I learned about company unions. This guy was just a patsy. And so technically they were unionized, but he never really fought for them. And on the other hand the women were very passive. They didn’t even want to stay for a union meeting because they had to run to their homes and things like that. I learned a lot. And also I was responsible not only for [that] – later on I became an assistant to the manager, because they recognized what I could do and I had already started to go for my master’s in business administration. And I saw the way that these women – I also monitored their records for attendance and some of the people – were out three days and they’d come in with marks on their faces and some of the women missing teeth. They were poor women. They would give me kind of lame answers. I began to understand these women had a rough time. And they didn’t quite say they were being beaten up, but why were they looking like that? And they wanted to work. And that kind of got tucked into my psyche. And at the same time I was going to school at night for my MBA.
I Never Valued My Hunter Training.
I thought well it’s a girl’s school and it’s free so I went to Columbia at night and I was so disappointed. Then I went to NYU because it was easier and I saw that teacher was the same professor I had had at Hunter. And I realized I had a wonderful opportunity. So I enrolled in this class towards my MBA – business labor and practices and I loved it. It turned out there were only two girls in the class. And at that time I had gone to all girls school – was all girls and I was used to women teachers and you know and I guess I felt very frightened and I was afraid of my mouth. I thought they would think I’m stupid. And I didn’t want to talk. And I was really uncomfortable. The other girl dropped out after the second day – I was the only girl. And I would stay outside in the hall till it was time for the class, because I really didn’t feel comfortable. And they were paying too much attention to me. So I just felt uncomfortable. And the professor was very kind. He didn’t call on me. It’s just that when we took attendance [it’s just] me here with the woman’s voice.
So this young man came up to me and got to talking to me before class and we ended up going out together and getting married so it was a nice situation. And he always tells people, “I married Ann, I should have been more careful and it was unfair labor practice.” He was very supportive and very advanced. Very approving of women and career development and things like that. And the first big personal obstruction that I felt was when the personnel administrator – the director resigned and I expected I would be given the job. And they hired a young man, same age, and same kind of background, very nice guy. And he understood that it was unfair but I thought, “Why am I not…?”
He said, “Well you’re married now. You’ll leave and you’ll have a baby.” I said, “Number one, I’m nowhere ready, because my husband has been in the service. He was just starting out his career.” I was really very upset by it. And he said, “Well that’s the way it is.” But they were very honest. “There’s no question you are qualified – you’re doing the job and all of that – but you’re married and we don’t have married women in these jobs.” And I tested it and I started going out on other interviews. And I said the same question – the same response, “Well you’re a young married woman. We don’t expect you to stay long,” etc., etc. And at one point,[for] one job, I tested it out when I said, “You know I’m married but I can’t have children. I’m sterile.” I put my head down. I got the job. And I was ready to start, and then I just felt so uncomfortable about having lied. I was just a young kid – I was 25. And I thought maybe psychologically the fact that I lied would prevent me from getting pregnant [when I actually wanted to].
Who Advised Me? Nobody Advised Me.
I had been remarkably successful for a young woman my age in those days. And to be in this advanced education – advanced masters – advanced job. I was the highest paid woman in the company except for one woman who was the official Secretary of the company and been with them for 30 years. So I said to myself, “You know what? Maybe this is the time since I can’t get anywhere I’ll start my family. And when they’re older I’ll get back into the field.” And so that’s what I did and so the next few years I had children and then we moved from Brooklyn because of the housing shortage – to Queens. There had been a development that the government sponsored for veterans. The housing shortage was pretty rough and they had these developments in Queens and Brooklyn and Long Island. And you’ve got a wonderful area in Bayside, Queens near the Fort Totten and Throgs Neck Bridge and [it] was completely level and quiet. Maybe some one family homes here and there and they built these garden apartments.
And it’s a great opportunity. And we decide to move there. And I had one boy of three and another one on the way. And in 1955 we moved there and I spent 10 years in that area. Which ended up because I was really very bored – one part of me enjoyed what I was doing, but then I was [in] the area [that] needed servicing. You’ve got the basic apartments and then a school and that’s it – no bus lines of any consequence, no traffic lights, no playgrounds and so I got to know these people. They were very much the same as I was, having grown up in the city. And most of them were the same age group with one or two kids. So we had a lot to draw us together. And it was really very interesting how we ended up in my clusters – self selection of people who were like-minded. And that was a group that we got to know each other and felt compatible and we ended up developing like a community group.
We Decide to Form an Organization.
And I was president for five years and I had never done anything in community work or leadership or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I had stage fright. I would talk from my seat, but I never wanted to join to be in a play or anything like that. And I remember dimly Bella Abzug was in Hunter at the same time and I kind of envied those women – being so active. I never knew them – just that year. And I just said, “I wish I had that guts.” But my group was so often very quiet and I never really got to develop that part me. So when I was put in this position we would meet in the school and people had to talk to the group because we formed this organization. It was really very difficult. And then I was forced a few times. I had to get up and face the group. I thought I was going to die and it ended up – I didn’t die.
I got over it and I found I liked it. I liked the back and forth. And we found out that the only way we could get things done was to go to the local political club and talk to them and they were just thrilled to see this new development with a lot of new families and that we were vocal. They encouraged us and they encouraged us to join. I did and they put me up for a state committee woman and I just was so excited about it. It’s a very small little job, but it was important. You pick candidates and I liked the whole experience and I developed into a District Leader. Because you had to have a woman and a man in every assembly district. And I really loved it. It became a problem with my husband, because while he liked my being a career woman – he didn’t like being stuck with the kids at night and my phone ringing all the time and all of that. But I really loved it and I really developed and I was working with the PTA and working with the community.
That’s Where Women Can Develop Their Skills.
You don’t have to be good at it but you develop. From somebody who wouldn’t even get up and talk in front of a group – I had no problem. I thought there was an opportunity to run for the Assembly and there was nobody and no woman in my area had ever run for a paid political position. It was okay if you worked in the club and stuffed envelopes – but run for office? I went to the county leader who was Mathew Troy at the time. And I told them, “You know they like me a lot because we ‘re active in this new community.” And I told him I’d like to run. And he said, “A woman running for the assembly – how cute.” He completely ignored me and a guy who just became a district attorney was allowed to run for the office and they funded him and everything else. I ran in the primary and did pretty well, but when the regular party didn’t support me I had to develop my own little crew and I didn’t win. I kind of felt, “Gee, I liked that – why shouldn’t I be?” I said well, for a while I have to wait, because I found other women were not easy. They wouldn’t help you and as a matter of fact they would say, “Why would you leave your children to go to Albany? What kind of a mother are you?”
I Realized We’ve Got to Get These Women Together.
We have to make them understand what’s going on. And then my husband had some reverses and the industry went down and he had to go and he had worked for Ford and they wanted us to go to Detroit and I didn’t want to go to Detroit – I wanted to stay in the city. And so for a while it was really a problem, because he had no job. And I thought – temporarily, until he finds something, I’ll substitute as a teacher. No way did I want to be a teacher – but that way, like most of the women, you go to school the hours your children are in school, so it’s compatible and that’s why these very smart women ended up in the school system. And so I decided I’ll just go just to be a sub for business, because I know stenography and typing and just work one or two days a week. I won’t have any worries and help out with grocery money until he gets a regular job and then when the children grow up – they were both in school but not quite ready.
And my husband’s job normally would take him a lot of traveling so he couldn’t be around [and] I’d have to be around. And I didn’t want to just get any old person to watch them. I wanted a person of quality and I wouldn’t have the money. I went ahead and I got some basic education courses, because at Hunter you had to say you were going to be a teacher. So I had said I was going to be a teacher in business subjects just to cover me. There were no other majors for a woman. So I ended up and I didn’t expect to work steadily in that field, but this woman that interviewed me insisted that I take a class. I said – I just wanted to substitute. And she was a very well educated woman and I was kind of in awe of her presence. She said, “Mrs. Jawin, do you think I don’t know what I’m doing? I would rather have you with your background and your ability to be a leader and doing all of this in your community (because I’d given her my references) than any of these kids straight out of the library.” And she insisted I take the class – it was a vocation high school.
I Was Scared to Death – You Couldn’t Say No to Her.
I said to my husband just maybe just this week. And I went one week at a time; she promised to help. There was no help – the other teachers resented a newcomer coming in and I tried to learn by observation. And I would take my prep period in a classroom next to the person that was teaching the class and listen. And that’s how it went and I managed with background and just initiative. I worked there for a while and then I went to another regular high school – Martin Van Buren High School near me. I thought just for a while until the kids grow up and then I’ll be able to go back into my field. Well when I got into the real school system and really concentrated on what was going around I was pretty horrified at the lack of professionalism that existed towards the teachers and even their own value of themselves. As a new teacher I was getting the whole six thousand dollars a year – very underpaid and the union was just forming under Al Shanker – The United Federation of Teachers. And they’d have meetings and I talked to the faculty – “What’s the matter with you people? You’re in the dark ages. You have no respect – nobody respects you because you’re not making any money. People on the outside are making much more.”
They Made Me Chapter Chair Because I Had a Different Vision and Strength.
And we ended up – I led a big strike. It was on the picket line – we were interviewed. I was having meetings in my house and I remember being hidden. They said, “Ann, the police will come and they’ll see you, because you with your red hair you’ll stand out. Don’t go in the front.” It was really very exciting. And I kind of thrived on it. My husband was more miserable than ever because my house became the meeting place. I moved by that time. I moved to Douglas because I wanted my own home. So I had space and I really thrived on it. It developed my political skills, but then I saw the school system. And I saw how sexism was routed – inbred. There was one day that three or four things that happened that really turned me on to the movement. It was the need for the schools to be sensitive to the girls and their background. A girl came to me and she said, “Mrs. Jawin, why do I have to have a higher average than the boys to go to college?” And I said, “Who said you have to have a higher average? Who ever heard of such a thing?” She said, “I have to have three points higher and the boys don’t.” I said, “You’re mistaken.” And so I went to see the college advisor. She said, “Well that’s true.” “What do you mean that’s true?!” “You know boys don’t mature as fast as girls so you have to give them an allowance.” I was horrified. “Why?”
Who Gives Girls a Break on Anything?
“Why shouldn’t it be equal?” And the other thing that turned me on was there’s one day people could choose electives. The girls got a pink sheet and the boys got a blue sheet. And the girls had home economics and typing and stenography and the boys got machine shop. That’s just ridiculous. Actually one boy came to me complaining. He was from a Spanish background and the men in the family were cooks and he liked cooking and he wanted to get into the cooking class. They wouldn’t let him because he was a boy. Another girl came to me because she wanted to take auto class. They wouldn’t let her because she was a girl. She said, “If I get stuck on the road I don’t even know how to change a tire. ”
And they were beginning to talk about Sex Discrimination. Things like that were beginning to be part of the conversation. And I had a very good friend, Alice Harvey – a very vital young woman who liked me a lot. She was very interested in the union. And she was telling me about National Organization for Women. And at that time the publicity was that they were very radical. Burning bras and doing this and that – and I’m not radical – she said, “You belong in this organization.” I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “No, that’s just in the newspapers – they’re not like that at all and they believe in equal rights and with your background…” And anyway she said, “Do me a favor. There’s going to be a conference on women and employment and I want you to be on that panel. You have the background, just be on the panel.” Well I thought, “That can’t be bad to go on a panel and talk about women.” And I thought I better do some reading if I’m going to be on a panel and I want to know what I’m talking about.
The Light Bulb Went Off
And somehow I came across Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics. And the reading that I did – well that was [when] that light bulb came on. All the things that I was experiencing – how they wouldn’t let me be the director, how I had no choices, I had to start out as a secretary. It just changed my life. And I joined NOW and I joined their employment committee. And I talked to them and similar people in NOW about the school system and how these kids were being held back and choices that girls [had] were being limited. And in between, things kept happening. This girl came to me – because I got a reputation in the school. And this girl came to me and she said she wanted to be an engineer but she can’t take the test. “Why can’t you take the test?” “Because I’m a girl.” They let her take the test – the test even said [it was] for boys and they let her take it. She said, “I’m going to fail.” I said, “Why?” “Because they asked me – one of my choices – do I want to collect butterflies, do pictures in an album, watch a football game or go to a stag party?” She said, “I don’t want to do any of those things.” She says there are a bunch of questions like that. I thought, “What’s going on? What kind of a test is this?” I got to know a woman, Erma Gogglin who did a lot of work on this.
MJC: Do you remember what year that was?
AJ: It was around 1970 – 71. These were the years that it was all new to us. When I went to the NOW meetings we understood what we were talking about. I said the board is education – and then the other thing I noticed when I had gone to high school – we had school superintendents that were women, a lot of women and now at that point they were all men. Even the departments in the high school that were commercial were all men. In the elementary school – some of my friends who also went back into teaching so that they could be productive, they were all women but there would be one guy and he would end up being the principal because he had to make a living.
In the meantime, the other women, were maybe heads of their families and needy and the divorce rate began – and they were heads of families. But even the other women were very passive about their rights. So these were all things that – and the Mayor came in – Koch. He came in and they decided to destroy the merit system and appoint people by recommendation. And all of the women who were qualified who did go out but they weren’t being picked – the men were being picked because there is no more list right where you rose to the top. And I saw that a lot of the women who were applying by that time – I had gotten a license in guidance because I realized that my skills were in employment and training and things of that sort. I had been appointed as a great adviser in the school. But I said I really should be in the guidance department to help these young kids because they were coming to me. I got a license to be a counselor. And in order to be a counselor – it was OK to be a counselor but the heads of the counseling units and the assistant principals were men. Why was that? You know – the same thing I had faced when I worked at Davis & Geck. There was no merit system so I worked with other women in the system and the guidance department and the head of the guidance department and the city was a woman and she was very sympathetic.
We All Supported Each Other to Make Changes.
And in the meantime, in my school I had been requested to develop an in-service course they would have for extra credit. They came to me and said, “Ann, you know all about the women’s movement, why don’t you make a course? Why do we have to go to other schools and learn about things we don’t care about? And we’d really like to learn.” OK,so I wrote a curriculum. They began to object, because I gave them too much work. They wanted to just sit there and knit while they got their extra credits. They had not been treated with respect. There were two levels, one was regular, and then there was the graduate level.
I said, “If you’re asking me to work and do curriculum, I’m not going to sit here and just allow you to relax and talk. You have to do some work.” And so they agreed. My course was developed and accepted as a graduate level by the board of ED. And in the end they incorporated my class – my units. Any new teacher had to take a class in human rights that included those units. I got to know the head of Guidance for the city. They appointed me a representative to New York State. It was very exciting for me to do that. When they had a day for professional development they made me talk to principles to explain to them about sex bias in the classroom and the various subjects. Even in math for example, Jane had to bake a cake. Jane had three eggs – in the meantime Robert was worrying about the speed of the plane. So there is no image – no models for women scientists.
Every Class – Every Discipline – Sexism Was Part of It.
It was amazing how we had accepted all of that. I’m looking at the baby congratulation cards. She’s now pink and she’s going to be a credit to her mother and father and the boys are going to be strong and it’s blue. It starts right then. And I said this is more exciting and more important than what I intended to do because you’re shaping lives and you’re changing lives and the work was very exciting.
MJC: Do you want to talk a little more about your specific work with NOW and other women’s rights organizations?
AJ: Well we realized you had to have power. Because the education law of 1972 where you had to have equal [education] was a real ticket and I leaned on that a lot. And I went along with other women in NOW and in Employment and Education Task Force. We documented – we had to report – Sex Bias in the New York City Public Schools and [in less than a] year I edited one of those and we talked to each other about how the Board of Ed promotes these policies of segregation and we have to change it. And we made complaints and we had a hearing there. And one of the most exciting times was we went to the hearing and each of us would get up and say something. And at that time the Chancellor said – we don’t practice any sex discrimination. I said, “Will you please look on your platform here – the members of your board – how many women do you have? None.”
And the audience laughed. They really laughed because there wasn’t one woman there. “And we have to have women on the board so that you understand and be sensitive to what is going on. And you have to have somebody in every school that will monitor and be able to be there for complaints and to see that policies are equal etc.” And at the same time with NOW I was helping women. There was the big recession and a lot of people were changing, were losing jobs because of the economy. And also there was this subtle change going on with computers coming in. And a lot of the women when they were in college they picked a major that was interesting such as French literature – what was interesting to them. And the men went into accounting or finance – whatever they could get a job in. So the women were not practical. And a lot of the women lost their jobs, because nobody was registering in French literature. There were men registering in law – accounting – things of that sort including the women because they saw the trends and they saw what was happening. They had no jobs and some of them didn’t even know how to type.
They Were Lying About Their Backgrounds Just to Get a Job.
I began to have workshops for the women to see how I could help them to direct their skills and rewrite their resumes to make it more [about] ability. And I decided these workshops were very popular and the lessons were popular. I went to a friend who said to me – he was a writer and publisher – and I asked him to help me to make a little brochure or catalog. He said, “Ann what are you talking about? You have the makings of a book here. What you’ve been doing is much more important than just a couple of mimeographed copies of something.” And I began to think about it and I said, “You know, I do know quite a bit about employment and testing and how to decide on a career, because most of these women didn’t have a clue as to what they should ask for or look for. They just knew they didn’t want to be a nurse or a secretary. What other careers are there?” And so that kind of thing and I talked to some of the women at NOW, and this woman and I don’t remember her name, but she knew a publisher. And she said this woman publisher worked for Anka Press and she was a real feminist.
I Didn’t Even Know the Name Feminist.
We didn’t know that word had developed. And she said I’m going to talk to her about you. She made an appointment. And I went to the appointment. And the woman gave me a contract for a book.
MJC: What year was that?
AJ: I finished it in ’79. This is the book and she guided me. That was the first book that I was aware of that talked about women and careers and how they could get funding and things like that. It took me a couple of years to write it, because I was working all the time. It got a lot of attention. And I went to certain conferences, I was on the radio – it was a good time and I had books and I sold them and then we got so busy because I decided to run again for office. And a friend said, now that you wrote this, now you write the next one. I didn’t have time, because I still had a family, I still was working, and I’m running for office? My husband was really very unhappy with what I was doing but he put up with it because he really had not much choice – but he didn’t like the other choices. He told me at one point, “You have to stop all this. You can’t do everything you do running the household, watching the kids, I travel and doing all that too – you can’t.”
I said, “You’re right. I’m going to give up working.” I said, “Is what you are telling me [that what] I should give up is what excites me? I want to help the children. I want a good household but I don’t have to work now – your working. He said – “You have a pension, you’ve got security.” I said well then you have to put in your share. He was a good guy – unusually good for those days but like most men – you take care of the kids. You know – it’s your job to handle the kids, it’s your job to run the household, it’s your job to decide what we’re going to have for dinner and all of that. And you know he didn’t like that kind of interruption. As long as I made the money – came home and had the checks – I should be home at night and keep him company. He actually liked to write plays so he wanted the freedom to write his plays. Which was fine. But it was a struggle.
A lot of women in those days were going through a very hard time because their families weren’t necessarily supportive. I had cousins – guys that used to taunt me all the time. Oh here comes our women’s liber. You know that was the way they greet the family and kind of taunt me and a lot of the women weren’t that supportive. One of the sister-in-laws, I heard her say to the others, “Must be something wrong in her life that she needs to do this. Why isn’t it enough for her to have a job? Something must be missing in her life.” And that’s what I was faced with – a lot of us were faced with. So it was fun to be with other women.
It Was Important to Be with Other Women Who Spoke My Language.
MJC: So what did you run for and how did it turn out?
AJ: I started to run and I had this little core of people who started in from my days at my civic work because I lived in the area. I ran for the Assembly again and didn’t win – a couple of times – but they never let me be the candidate. I always had to run in a primary and you didn’t get that kind of support. One time, I had a big issue – we had State Senator Frank Padavan who had passed away recently – but he was known as one of the two most conservative legislators in the state. He had been in office for years. He was right to life – not only Republican, but right to life and the County Leader who was Donald Manes at the time, was going to support him. I said, “How could you support him? He’s against women’s rights, he’s against reproductive rights, how could you support him?” “Well nobody wants to run against him.” I said, “You’ve got a million lawyers here. Give one of them 10,000 bucks – at least run somebody.” “Nobody wants it.” I said, “If nobody wants it, then I’m going to do it.” He said, “If you do it Ann, I have no money for you.”
This is Donald Manes who was head of Queens and very powerful. He and Koch were very close. And some of the district leaders, even the Democratic leaders, used to play along – make little trade deals and everybody was happy and nobody really encouraged me. But I said, “Well nobody wants to run. I will run.” You have to understand – even do it on your own. I said, “Well I’ll do it with my own little core.” That was the year Geraldine Ferraro ran for Vice President with Gore in ’84. I was doing very well. I got a lot of support because a lot of people had not known this guy’s stand on reproductive rights. Then Mondale made a speech on the radio that he was going to charge people taxes and my husband turned to me and he said, “Ann, you just lost your election. Nobody’s going to vote for a guy that’s going to raise taxes.” Mondale had the worst defeat. I was doing very well up until that point and I lost too.
NOW Gave Me the Susan B. Anthony Award, Because I Ran and It Was Tough.
And it’s no fun to lose even though you know you can’t win. You don’t want to lose. You put your heart into it and it was really the thing that I really wanted to do – to be in government and to have a hand in it. After that time I was really pretty dispirited about it and thinking now what? I did not like working in the education system anymore because it was still very much – these principles and things were still very sexist. Even though you have the law and we had the equal opportunity – it is very weak.
Even the Union Was Sexist.
When I was a chapter leader, when I went to the first meeting of the Legion of the high schools – they were all men. They said to me, “How come you are a woman and you are the delegate? Didn’t any of the men want that?” That was their attitude. And I said, “No, it’s not that – they insisted that I be the delegate.” And then that changed, but at the beginning the men weren’t happy about the women taking over. And when you had complaints, there wasn’t that much enthusiasm because they claimed – well men and women are our members – we can’t be taking sides. They saw it as taking sides if the women complained of sex bias. And so that was an easy out.
I had a lot of obstacles wherever I was. And I ended up – I didn’t like some of the arbitrary attitudes of the people in the union. And I just didn’t want to give my energy to it. I was looking for something else to do and I thought so many women coming to NOW, often Queens – and I saw that a lot of the women need to be educated. There was nothing in Queens. There was a chapter in Queens’s years earlier that had been fraught with controversy. I just didn’t see it happening and I decided to form the Center for the Women of New York. I called it at that time The Queens Women’s Center.
MJC: What year was that?
AJ: That was 1987. And shortly after I’d lost the election I had these women around me who had been strong and helped me with my campaign. And we were like-minded so this was the core. At first we were just meeting in my living room and then I saw that in Queensboro Hall – I had joined a committee that met there on domestic violence – and I saw that they had some rooms that they’d let the community use free of charge – a desk. I went to the borough president Claire Shulman and she knew me from political. She’s a Democrat – a very traditional Democrat – not a real feminist. I never saw her stand up for reproductive rights or anything like that. She went along – that’s what they wanted.
They Wanted Someone Who Wouldn’t Challenge Them.
She gave me space and from that point on. From that little desk, I grew. Our first big meeting was an attorney who talked to us about how women were not being given equal rights in the law, that the orders of protection were a farce. We had this big case – my memory’s vague on some details but it’s all documented. I had started a little monthly newspaper and she told us about this case of this woman who had been on welfare with two children and a husband she had left because he was a drug addict. He came back and because of domestic violence she had an order of protection. He came back one night. I guess he was drunk, he forced his way in and raped her in front of her children. Locked her up in her room and said she’s not getting out alive.
And he ended up, he was in a stupor and he fell asleep and she stabbed him and he died. And she was arrested for murder. The district attorney was Santucci at the time. She was arrested and everybody said, “Well, she stabbed him.” And there were women’s groups all around protesting. And this attorney told me about it. And there was this group coming from Manhattan who was going to testify and I said to the women, “Why are we in Queens sitting here?” I had been on a committee of domestic violence with the borough president but I’d been very dissatisfied because nothing ever was happening. They just talked. Talk isn’t going to do anything – we have to do more than talk. And so I ended up – I knew Santucci from my political life – I had a lot of respect.
I May Not Have Won – But I Won Respect.
And they understood why I didn’t win. I got along very well with them. I asked him (Santucci) for an appointment to discuss this woman’s case. And I invited a lot of people around me to come with me from NOW. This woman, whose name escapes me, from the Bronx, she came and helped. We went to see Santucci. And he said – “Oh it’s not me, it’s the police. They don’t do the job.” I said – “Well get us an appointment with the police.” What was interesting here is that my borough president did not participate or the people on that committee. She kind of resented that I was doing this without her permission. And it started a kind of a rift. She liked to decide who’s going to do what. She might appoint you, but you had to do what she said. And she wasn’t interested in being as active, as vocal as I was about these issues that were controversial. So I mean that’s all like behind the scenes. It was never a problem expressed, it’s just I sensed this – because why didn’t she send people to this meeting?
At any rate we had a meeting with the police. The police said, “It’s the judges.” We had a meeting with the judges. They said, “It’s the lawmakers,” and this and that. Anyway the whole thing blew up and Santucci was dying to take the charge back and they wouldn’t let him, because they wanted this issue brought out – that this woman was being abused instead of being helped. The laws were week and the whole issue… We had a very prominent Lawyer who took the issue up. His name escapes me, but he worked out of Pace University and he developed the whole concept of the women who were victims and why they didn’t come out. Why they were reluctant and why it took so long for all the complications of their feelings -that this was the provider – many women didn’t want to go out in the street – and you had the syndrome.
He was very prominent and the case became very big. And we were very happy to see this development. I became known for this issue and the whole issue of sexual violence. We had the community newspapers that had ads disguised as massage parlors and having prostitutes. The committee would have these newspapers, especially the English language ones, to not take these ads. And that became an issue. I became known for doing these things as an activist, which some people appreciated and some didn’t. If you don’t play their game – you know. So that was that development. And the other thing that came out of that is that when I interviewed these women, I got a volunteer lawyer to come and talk to them at night. And I said, “Why did they stay?” We found out – a lot of them had no choices. It was either that or out in the street being homeless. They had no skills.
I Thought We Could Help These Women.
We developed an employment job club to try to help them with their resumes and try to do some classes and basic skill building. And then by that time computer you know. And so we developed some services for which we still give. A Support Group for domestic violence is very vital and they need financial help. They don’t know how to handle money to develop credit. They get themselves in terrible trouble and other accessory services. And I managed to get another little room – down the hall I have a block away and in the whole space we have another big room. Where we have desks, I’ll show you that later. But we have these people come and then we found out that at Fort Totten the government had an opportunity for civic groups and nonprofits to do something which was helpful.
MJC: Ann, have you’ve been in this space, in this building all of these years from the founding of the organization?
AJ: I’ve always held an office space here and I don’t pay rent. I do have to pay for any employees, any equipment, my telephone, and things like that. But not having to pay rent electricity, heat, security.
MJC: So the borough of Queens…
AJ: The Queensboro President – all the presidents from Shulman to Helen Marshall to Melinda Katz have always let me stay here. And that has been a great source of support because I don’t get money.
I Rely on the Kindness of Some of the Council People.
From time to time, you get one that’s friendly. If you get one that’s indifferent, you get nothing. It all depends. And then I do have memberships and I have folders here with membership applications and we have that. We have an annual luncheon and we have a walk-a-thon fund to try to raise funds. I never had much money. I just don’t seem to attract a lot of money, but I manage. We manage because I have a lot of volunteers. A lot of the women – I’ve never taken a salary. Thanks to my union that I helped develop and strengthen, I have a very good pension so that I don’t need the money. And so it’s my donation – it’s my cause. I continue at this opportunity. It seems that the government no longer needed – there are training centers like Governor’s Island and Fort Totten. They don’t do that kind of training anymore. And Fort Totten, which is by the base of the Throgs Neck Bridge [was] used during the Vietnam War. They don’t use that kind of training and so they don’t need the base. They neglected it and they stopped giving money. And a lot of the buildings were beautiful landmark buildings. General Lee built Fort Totten around the time of the civil war. He designed a lot of the space and every government facility is the same all over the United States – Federal. The federal government gave up the base to the state.
The state, in light of the recession at the time, didn’t want it, didn’t need it and gave it to the Mayor at the time. The Mayor gave it to the borough president. And nobody knew exactly what to do with the space; with these beautiful landmark buildings which had been in disrepair. They had not kept up the heat; they hadn’t turned off the water. Some of the buildings’ walls fell down and it was a mess and some of them were still in very good shape. It was a beautiful area because [it’s a] peninsula surrounded by water. The developers were swarming all over it – they wanted to make high rise apartment houses or small individual little areas where the guys could have their docks and things like that. But the community organization I had helped build is right next-door and they were very strong and they developed since. It’s a huge area but they’re very strong and they didn’t want any part of it – it’s public land. And this is what we need and we should do it for the people. And so there was a proposal made to the congressman at the time, Gary Ackerman, who is head of it – he’s the federal person. He said well let’s get a community group together and decide what to do. And so I made a proposal to have the Center have one of those buildings and the group knew my work and me and they approved it.
I Got the Ability to Have One of Those Buildings to Use for the Center.
And I got one, which had been used by a family only five years earlier, which was not in bad shape. And with our own sweat equity we actually literally painted and cleaned it up – it was beautiful. I had it for five years. I finally by the end of the fifth year got it finished. And it turned out that hostile person that I had run against – that Senator – was not happy with my having a Center there. He didn’t want a Center in his district for women and he vowed he was going to get me out. And it turned out – at the time we had Rudy Giuliani as mayor, a Republican and later Bloomberg is a Republican. And they appointed the park department commissioner and they decided to call the park and the fire department – together they ran Fort Totten. They decided they needed my building and so they wanted to evict me. I protested and I decided that I would not give it up willingly. They kept over. They said well find yourself a space in the church or something. I said no way – we belong here. We were voted on by the community. We have a legal right.
And then there’s a big argument and if we are all going to court or they were going to evict me – and they were ready to evict me. And it turned out that morning, the day before this photographer had come. And it was very exciting. All of this even though it was difficult it was exciting. She came and she took pictures of what was going on at my Center there and I had groups meeting and everything and that training program from Queens College. Nobody could believe that they might throw me out, but they did. And the Borough president did not protect me. She ended up supporting Giuliani and Bloomberg – there is lot of history there. But this woman came from the Daily News – and she snuck in there – I say snuck, because people with cameras were not allowed. And she was able to bring in a real camera. She had it in her car, her trunk. Nobody suspected that this young lady was any kind of threat in any way. And so she came in she filmed the people. That night I remember feeling the next day were going to come and evict me. Everybody went home. I said, “You know what? I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can talk to you – I think you understand how I feel.”
I Said, “What Would Susan B. Anthony Do?”
Look at how brave those women were. They’re not going to put me in jail; they’re not going force-feed me. The worst is – they are going to take my furniture and put it out. But I’m in this position; I’ve got to go through with this. The next morning I come – they are ready and the guard at the gate says, “Ann! Ann! You were on television this morning.” I said, “What?” “Yes, you were on television, on the news. It said that they were going to come and they’re going to evict you. And you were on the news!” “Really?” So I go there and then I get word they’re not going to evict me. They decided they’d go to court. And that was the most exciting thing in the world. And so in a way it made the issue take a long time because then we had court. We went to court and they hammered out a decision that I didn’t have a legal right, which I disagreed with. I had a moral right.
The judge was a black guy and he was really very conflicted, because he was getting pressure from all sides. He came down to view the property and he told me when he saw the property that they [had given] me another building, but I’d have to fix that up and it hadn’t been used for 35 years. It happens I knew the building. I knew that these buildings were strong, they’re beautiful and that some of the damage is superficial; and I had architects look at it. But at any rate, we still didn’t have any decision. When the decision was made, it would cost five hundred thousand dollars and if I couldn’t come up with the money, then I couldn’t have the building. So I just felt – I’m done.
But my assemblywoman and councilperson at that time was David Weprin and Ann Carrozza and they were with me all the time. I had my strengths too. I said, “Oh my God I’m done.” And she and the lawyer said to me, “Be quiet Ann, just be quiet.” She goes in with them into the hearing room and there’s yelling and screaming. She had come with three hundred thousand dollars from Silva the Democratic State Leader. And they let me have it. But he came down to see it and he saw the condition, the roof tiles had come off, the windows were boarded up, raccoons had come in, birds had come in – there with dead birds.
It Was Disgusting, but I Saw Through It.
And I had contractors come. They said, “Ann this is the most beautiful building on the premises. This is all superficial stuff – the bones are there.” The judge said, “Ann do you realize what you are doing? Are you out of your mind?” And I said, “Judge, would you come around the corner with me and I’ll show you the building that I had and how I fixed it up?” He wouldn’t come. But anyway, we went through [it], but it took ten years. But the first week of April about a year ago, the contract was given, because the money kept going up and up because of inflation and because of some of the bureaucracy that’s always there, but some of it was deliberate. They didn’t want me to have it. At my age, they thought I’d drop dead in between. I had gotten six hundred and sixty thousand from Albany and because he had given me the $300k, they went higher. And they felt that if it was more money, I wouldn’t be able to get it and putting more pressure and more pressure. And I’d meet with these people every month or two and the hostility was unbelievable – throwing this obstacle – that obstacle – the other obstacle. [The] just kept pushing and pushing.
Finally the order was made with the contractor, but the contract went way up. I had a new council member and a new borough president and they helped get the additional money. They really saved the project and we had a new contract. And they started the record’s innovation and they gave me a schedule, all week by week. They’re on board with it – week by week I go down there. I’d like you to see it. And they promise me – the contractors – that the first week of April of this year they’ll be done with it. And that maybe by the fall, I can move in with the certificate of occupancy. So that’s a real victory. I’m very thrilled about it and I’m very very encouraged. So whatever else seems to be small by comparison with what I’ve been through here. But I feel that in the end this is so important because this is the future. When I get done I will repeat what I had started to do, you know, in the 90s with that building – the potential. I had a contract with the colleges. I want to get women’s studies – so one third will be for Women’s History – Women’s Culture. The second third is Career Education.
If Women Don’t Have Economic Security, they Have Nothing.
And if they have a paycheck they have power. And when a woman has power she doesn’t have to depend on the husband – the lover – the father – the brother. She has her own destiny and it’s up to her. And the third I see it as a Conference Center. We will have a think tank and all organizations who have the same mission can come together and worry about big issues like sex trafficking, like pay equity and work together. So that’s my vision and that’s what I hope will happen. And that’s what I feel we should all work towards.
Don’t Let These Other Things Pull Us Back and Divide Us.
And like we have the women’s march when we had the loss of Hillary Clinton – [it] was devastating; and we got together. We happened to be at a conference – the state conference – and we were there to celebrate victory at Hofstra in Queens in Nassau County and we all had chins down to our knees, we were so upset. And we began to talk. “Oh what do we do now? What do we do? What do we do?” And then we begin to think – we had lots obstacles before. Let’s see – I remember we used to have chants. We still remember the march and we began to think well what else – what chants? Each of us began to remember the past – what we used to chant. And all of a sudden there was such a difference between feeling miserable and upset – a spirit. And we began to laugh and just recite. And that was such a joy. “Let’s have another March – so I come back here. Let’s have another march. Doesn’t matter – maybe we’ll be a hundred, maybe fifty, whatever, let’s have another march.”
I came back and I looked at my picture over there of the day of the women’s suffrage. And I saw them marching with the sashes. And I said, “Why don’t we design a sash?” And so we designed this one with the little safety pin and the little jewels. I had the pin made to commemorate it and we made signs. And we made a whole bunch of posters and on one side it says Human Rights and the other says My Body My Choice. Let’s at least do a march, we’ll feel better.
And then I heard other people begin to say the same thing. Another group came up and they figured out a place to meet and I have problems at this stage walking, so I said, “I can’t really walk much, but I can be there.” I decided to take the hotel room the night before near the U.N. where we’re supposed to meet. And I said at least I’d be there. And then you can meet there and be more comfortable. And I’m waiting for the women and they’re not coming. I mean some of them were with me but where are they? I called on the cell-phone – We can’t move – we can’t move. There are so many people.
I Couldn’t Believe All These People Came from All Over.
All little grass roots people, no big deal, no organization and some of the women in this building on my floor and in the neighborhood and all these little groups from all over coming out. You could move – I couldn’t move for two hours. I was only two blocks away from the meeting point. I was going to go there. I had a cane. I was going to go there. We couldn’t move for an hour. We didn’t move anywhere. We went back to the hotel and waited till 12:00 and then we’re listening to TV to find out when we could even move. I can only tell you the joyous feeling of exhilaration that whenever I feel down and I get discouraged which of course I do and with the presidency. With this president, I never believed it could be as bad as it is. And every day when I think he can’t do anything worse – he does. It’s just been a trial to keep your spirits up. But I do. And with this and I still am active with my political groups. And other citizen groups and we’re all working at it. And the fact this last election – I think we saved the country. That’s just the way I feel. I am very heartened by it.
I Think We Saved the Country.
I think with turning the tide. And I see maybe we’ll get this building going. It’s not so long between now and the fall. That’s nothing and that’s what I’m hoping. That people will help me to get that building and keep it going. Because I can’t be here forever. But it’s a legacy. Now if this building gets moving this will be the only building that I know of that’s completely dedicated to women’s rights between here and Seneca Falls. I mean we have women in the arts we are women. We have women on the stage but this is for women’s rights. And it’s a living thing, not anything dead. It’s going to have the services, it’s going to have people coming and not just thinking this is a museum. It’s not a museum. Or if it is it’s a living museum. So that is my goal.