Season 1

Feminist Files: Episode 5 – Pauli, Roy & Tim, and The Mysterious Tape Recording That Shouldn’t Exist
There were no official audio or video recordings of the Edith Green hearings – only a printed transcript that her office produced and distributed. However, Leigh discovers that the Schlesinger Library also contains the collected papers – and some recordings – of activist and Civil Rights attorney Pauli Murray, who testified alongside Bunny Sandler. As Leigh uncovers these tapes, we discover the real Pauli Murray, perhaps one of the most singularly important feminist and Civil Rights activists of the 20th century … who you may not have ever heard of.



Leigh: So the Edith Green hearings wrapped in the summer of 1970 after days of testimony and a mountain of supporting materials. In all, 89 people either testified in person or submitted prepared statements. For anyone who had sat through it all, surely they would’ve come away convinced that sex discrimination was a serious problem for women and not just in academic institutions.

Jodie: New legislation is vitally needed. It will give hope and dignity to women, the second-class citizens of the nation.

Leigh: The hearings had accomplished Edith Green’s initial goal by crafting a compelling narrative that the problem of sex discrimination was pervasive and that there were the legislative means at hand to address it. Here’s the hitch: hardly anyone came to hear it. There was no media coverage, no reporters or TV cameras.

It was summer, and it was a woman thing. Of the 15 men on Edith Green’s special subcommittee on education, only three of them seemed to have attended any of the sessions. And these three did not seem entirely convinced that this sex discrimination thing was a major issue.

Mercedes: Mr. Hathaway, do you believe in sexual equality?

Alex: In some, but not in all matters both ways. There are many jobs that women can’t handle that men can handle better.

Leigh: As a result, the bill never got out of committee. So how did these nerdy revolutionaries take a bill, which appears on the surface to be a failure? How did they turn that into a bill that would change the course of history? I headed back to the feminist files at the Schlesinger Library to find out.


Leigh: From Frequency Machine and Leigh Fondakowski comes the story of the 1972 landmark legislation for women’s equality in education: 37 words that would change the world.


Leigh: Join me and an ensemble of actors as we discovered the stealth politics of Title IX. This is Feminist Files episode 5, “Pauli, Roy, Tim, and the Mysterious Recording that Shouldn’t Exist.”

Another day at the library, the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The trip is more familiar now. The ritual’s less formal: a quick hello past the front desk, the elevators downstairs to put my things in a locker, and then up to the second floor Reading Room. I’ve grown quite attached to my table in the corner and hope no one is sitting there.

Diane is there to greet me off the elevator. Diane smiles and nods. I’ve earned the stamp of recognition. The librarian at the Schlesinger Library knows me. I have a spring in my step, like these are now the people in my neighborhood. Inside the Reading Room, Teddy is working today. Something is different about Teddy from last week. What is it? Ah, Teddy’s mullet has changed from orange to blue. “You changed your hair,” I say. Teddy nods and smiles. “Cool. Cool,” I say. Teddy’s polite, but there’s no talking in the Reading Room. And right. Got it. Forgot myself. And I hurry off to my corner table. Thankfully it’s free. Teddy is off to retrieve my boxes. And I’m picking up where I left off. I’m starting to feel more at home here. I look around—the same scholars as last time. Oh, there’s someone new. I wonder what they’re all working on.

My associate producer, Sarah, has been combing the Schlesinger online catalog, and there’s a text from her.


Leigh: That the feminist files of Pauli Murray are also here at the library. And to check out the existing archival audio—audio that’s already been digitized and available in the Pauli Murray collection.

Not that I’m anywhere near going through Bunny’s collection. There are 70 boxes of material, and I’ve gone through about six. It’ll take time, but it’s okay. Let’s check this out. I searched the website. And yes, it looks like there’s an audio recording available marked “ERA” and “Testimony Before House Subcommittee Chaired by the Honorable Edith Green.” Could this be Pauli’s actual testimony from 1970?

The call number for the tape is T-245_47, the 00:32:04 audio recording from Pauli Murray’s feminist file at the Schlesinger Library. And just like that here it is.

I run down to the basement to my locker to grab my earbuds, then back up in the Reading Room on the second floor to listen to the tape recording. I can’t tell you how excited I am to listen to this. Feminist file T-245_47. I press play, and I am immediately pulled into a world.


Pauli Murray: The acceptance of the concept of equal power for women, which is implicit in the concept of equal rights, would mean a fundamental transformation of our society in ways which we cannot now clearly conceive.

Leigh: Wow, this is so cool. So cool to hear this voice.

Pauli Murray: Men of inferior performance will necessarily have to yield their positions of power and privilege to women of superior performance. This fact alone, I submit, is at the very core of much male opposition to the adoption of this amendment.

Leigh: Good point, Pauli, good point. It wasn’t actually that hard to figure out that this was a recording of Pauli Murray’s congressional testimony in support of the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution proposed in 1970. The harder thing to figure out was why this recording existed in the first place. The Congressional record is a typewritten document, not an audio recording.

Pauli Murray: Since no woman is a mother in the home for more than a segment of her life and since statistically women live longer than men at the present time, the large number of women who will be free from childbearing under the most traditional conceptions of such functions will constitute a formidable minority seeking entrance to their rightful share of decision-making and public affairs.

Leigh: The ERA was passed by the House twice in 1970 and 1971 before the Senate finally acted.

Pauli Murray: A Congress of the United States, in which one third or more are women, if one uses the formula of the percentage of the labor force who are women, and the unique experiences of this untapped resource are likely to accelerate our progress toward the solution of such massive problems as pollution, poverty, racism, and war.

Leigh: The year is 1970, maybe 1971. In 1971, the Vietnam War drags on now in its seventh unwinnable year. The New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers. It’s the year of the Attica Prison Riots and of Weather Underground bombings. Jim Morrison of The Doors is found dead in his bathtub, and Helen Reddy releases “I Am Woman.” The Congressional Black Caucus is established with Shirley Chisolm as the only woman among the 13 founding members.

After the achievements of the 1960s, the civil rights movement is itself splintering. With some seeing the legislation as woefully inadequate and seeking change by more radical, even violent means, the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army are ascending while the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is fading. But there are many who saw the Civil Rights Acts as an inspiration, a starting point and a template for building the women’s and gay liberation movements.

Pauli Murray: Similarly in all of the other public and private institutions of the United States, the introduction of women in greater proportion to their representation in the total population would necessarily transform these institutions into more humane and inclusive instruments of human activity.

Leigh: Pauli sets forth a vision, a world enriched by the presence and power of women in all facets of society in American life.

Pauli Murray: The presence of women would also accelerate the presence of other groups in our heterogeneous population and bring into play a variety of human experiences and wisdoms. Wisdom.

Leigh: Pauli then corrects, but I rather prefer the mistaken “wisdoms,” the multiplicity and beauty of that word, the poetry of the vernacular.

Pauli Murray: Women may well hold the key to the reconciliation of the races, the generations, and the social and economic classes.

Leigh: Pauli Murray’s congressional testimony in support of the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution–the merits of which were being debated after Edith Green’s hearings concluded. These were two parallel and contrasting strategies. ERA was the big, bold constitutional amendment, whereas Edith Green was proposing legislative tweaks and fixes in. The advantages and disadvantages of each will play out over the next few years.

Pauli Murray: The adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment could well usher in an unprecedented golden age in our national life. 

Leigh: These are speeches heard only once by members of Congress and maybe a few staffers. And I’m listening to it now.

Pauli Murray: The first step toward this goal of equality of rights can be taken if the members of the United States Senate can make the great leap of faith and adopt the Equal Rights Amendment by the necessary two thirds majority. It is the challenge and the opportunity of this century.

Leigh: The speech ends with a message that is both aspirational and a warning to the majority male Senate.

Pauli Murray: And your place in history may well be determined by the decision you make upon the other half of the population. Thank you.

Leigh: You can hear a page turn on the tape, and then the tape cuts out. Maybe it’s not all that extraordinary that Pauli Murray gave such an extraordinary speech. Pauli Murray was, after all, a brilliant lawyer and scholar and feminist thinker—and as it turns out an exceptional orator. Pauli was a co-founder of NOW, the National Organization for Women, and worked with Bunny Sandler and the cohort on Title IX. Not to mention the countless other civil rights organizations Pauli was involved in—SCLC, CORE, the NAACP to name a few.

The speech itself is extraordinary, but I think made all the more extraordinary when set against the fact that Pauli Murray, the civil rights lawyer who influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg and who was with Dorothy Kenyon when she was sick and dying, was a gender nonconforming feminist activist.

Pauli Murray: I think the basic issue involved here is political power, equal political power.

Leigh: There was no language to talk about gender the way we talk about it today. But it is possible that Pauli might have identified as non-binary or transmasculine while there was never a time in Pauli’s life that Pauli was openly queer or trans-identified. We know that at age 25 in the mid-1930s Pauli was seeking help from doctors to prescribe testosterone.

Pauli Murray: But the deeper issue, I think, here is that many of the women supporters of this amendment, rallied behind it either consciously or unconsciously, because this was the first real national test of a bid for political power to challenge male supremacy in the national arena of the United States.

Leigh: Pauli’s struggles with gender identity were entirely private, and no doctor would treat Pauli. Pauli did dress as a boy and adopted male nicknames, but later in life, made women’s organizations and women’s rights a main focus. We have only a window into the struggle through the private papers Pauli left behind. Letters and journals with pages torn out of them, but enough remains. And devoted scholars have made their way through them, sitting right here where I am sitting right now.

Hold that thought a moment while we take a brief intermission.


Leigh: At 00:04:22 in the tape, we can hear a page turn on the recording, and then there’s a break in the tape. When the tape picks back up, Pauli is midstream addressing someone named Katherine Jones and referring to someone else named Tim Oliver. Who are they?

Pauli Murray: I want to repeat to you what I said to Tim Oliver in the course of our discussion today. And that is—that it may well be—that we will not be able to eliminate race discrimination until we have eliminated sex discrimination because of the fact, that in the subordinate position of women, we cut across all racial, class, social, economic lines.

Leigh: At 00:09:13, we hear a faint voice on the tape in the background. “Right on.” There’s a small laugh, just a quick laugh. And then the tape cuts out. And when the tape starts up again, Pauli asks:

Pauli Murray: Are you on?

Leigh: It seems as if Tim is operating the tape recorder as Pauli reads statements and presents public policy positions.

Pauli Murray: I also think that perhaps women need very seriously to think of national coordinated political effort, and to begin to get women in the Senate—the United States Senate—more women in Congress, women in all the state legislatures. And to begin doing this kind of very arduous, necessary door-to-door organization of women.

Leigh: Pauli was raised in the South in Durham, North Carolina. But hearing Pauli’s voice for the first time, that isn’t the South I’m hearing. It’s a distinctive New York inflection, mid-20th century Upper East Side Manhattan to be precise. Why?

Ah, well, Pauli had first moved to New York City at age 16 to finish high school in New York. And as a New York resident, attend Hunter College for free. Back then, the City College system in New York was free for all city residents. Tuition was free, but there were still room and board and books to pay for. So while Pauli was at Hunter, one of the jobs that Pauli had was as a campus switchboard operator. You know back when you couldn’t dial a phone number directly, but there was an operator who made the connection for you.

So it’s not hard to imagine Pauli as one of the very few Black students at a prestigious Upper East Side college adopting the accent. Yeah, Pauli was born in Baltimore, raised in North Carolina, but Pauli Murray was a real New Yorker.

Pauli Murray: This is my point of view at the present time.


Leigh: Pauli is 60 years old, and you can begin to hear a bit of the smoker’s voice. At 00:17:30, I recognized it right away. It’s Pauli’s testimony at the 1970 Edith Green hearings, the hearings which were called to pave the way for Title IX. There is no audio that exists from these hearings.

Pauli Murray: As a human rights attorney, I am concerned with individuals as whole human beings.

Leigh: Pauli was a contemporary of gay civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington and influenced Dr. King’s views on civil disobedience. Pauli was entirely committed like Bayard was to Gandhian principles of nonviolence as a means to social change. Pauli was arrested, convicted, and jailed in Virginia for refusing to move to the back of the segregated bus. 15 years before Rosa Parks, Pauli defended herself in court. And though the NAACP decided not to appeal Pauli’s case, Leon Ransom of Howard Law School recognized Pauli’s potential as a lawyer and got Pauli a scholarship to Howard. While at Howard, Pauli organized picket lines and sit-ins at several segregated lunch counters in Washington.

22 years before Greensboro, Pauli was one of only a few women at Howard and the only one in the class who didn’t drop out. Pauli ran hard into the rampant sexism of professors and classmates. Pauli would later coin the expression, Jane Crow, as the sex discrimination parallel and counterpart to Jim Crow.

With degrees from Hunter College, Howard Law School, UC Berkeley, and Yale, where Pauli was the first African American J.S.D., a Doctor of the Science of Law. After graduating, Pauli’s Howard thesis would become the legal argument put forward by Spottswood Robinson and Thurgood Marshall in Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case overturning school segregation. Pauli suggested to pivot away from separate to equal.

Pauli Murray: And as person sharing our common humanity, they are entitled to equal opportunity to fulfill their individual and unique potential. This is our starting point. For in my view, it is only as we recognize.    


Leigh: At 00:18:03, the phone rings. Pauli gets up to answer it, but the tape keeps running. Pauli returns 12 seconds later, super quick call. And then we can hear Pauli whispering. I recognize this type of whisper right away. This type of whisper is familiar to me. Pauli is talking to the dog. Someone is not cooperating, someone by the name of Roy.

Pauli Murray: Lie down, Roy. Lie down. Come on.

Leigh: A break in the tape, seemingly to settle Roy. Pauli begins again.

Pauli Murray: This is our starting point. For in my view…


Leigh: Roy barks. Pauli laughs and says, “three times it will be our starting point,” appreciating the irony of being interrupted at the starting point. Then says:

Pauli Murray: No, Roy.

Leigh: Then Tim says. Tim says it.

Tim: It’s the most famous bark in history, Roy.   

Leigh: You can barely hear. I go back and listen again.

Tim: It’s the most famous bark in history, Roy.


Leigh: “The most famous bark in history,” which of course makes Roy bark again.

Pauli Murray: No, Roy. No.


Leigh: Can you blame him? Something inaudible, and then “behave yourself.”

Pauli Murray: Behave yourself.

Leigh: It wasn’t Roy’s fault. Tim incited him. So we’re not in a conference room or a hearing room. We must be in Pauli’s home. And after the kerfuffle with the dog, Pauli starts back up again.

Pauli Murray: This is our starting point. For in my view, it is only as we recognize and hold sacred the uniqueness of each individual, that we come to see clearly the moral and social evil of locking this individual into a group stereotype.

Leigh: And I recognize the speech now. I’ve read the printed transcript of it.

Pauli Murray: I have learned this lesson in part, because I am both a Negro and a woman whose experience embodies the conjunction of race and sex discrimination.

Leigh: Congressional business was transcribed and preserved in written form–not audio–which was why something like C-SPAN was created to give transparency for the general public. Generally speaking, there are no publicly available audio recordings of anything from the era. Pauli’s recorded them and preserved them.

Pauli Murray: In more than 30 years of intensive study of human rights and deep involvement in the civil rights movement, I have observed the interrelationships between what is often referred to as racism and sexism, and have been unable to avoid the conclusion that discrimination because of one’s sex is just as degrading, dehumanizing, immoral, unjust, indefensible, infuriating, and capable of producing societal turmoil as discrimination because of one’s race.

Leigh: Before there was the term intersectionality, Pauli lived it. Pauli named it.

Pauli Murray: The costly lesson of our own history in the United States is that, when the rights of one group are affirmed and those of another group are ignored, the consequences are tragic. This lesson has been driven home to us time after time in the Civil War, the woman’s suffrage movement, the violent upheavals of labor, and in the Negro revolt of the 1960s.


Leigh: Another Pauli connection worth noting is Pauli’s many decade-long correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt, which began at the height of the Great Depression, first as a canny political activist strategy—cultivating an inside channel, a direct line into the White House—and which developed over the years into a lasting and deeply personal connection between the two.

Pauli Murray: The point I’m trying to make here is that the United States cannot afford to repeat the costly errors of the 19th century in the shrunken world of 20th century crises. One of these arrows was the failure to grant universal suffrage at the end of the Civil War—a failure—the political consequences of which are still being suffered today.

Leigh: Pauli also contributed to the successful legal argument put forth by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the ACLU in Read vs. Read, another landmark Supreme Court case which established the unconstitutionality of discrimination on the basis of sex. Pauli Murray helped draft the winning argument.

Pauli Murray: The emergent revitalized women’s liberation movement is no historical accident. It was born of the involvement of women in the civil rights movement of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I do not think the male members of this subcommittee can fully appreciate the extent to which women’s liberation has taken hold across the nation. We, as a nation, have lived through nearly three decades of racial turmoil, which at times has approached civil war. I am led to the hypothesis that we will be unable to eradicate racism in the United States, unless and until we simultaneously remove all sex barriers, which inhibit the development of individual talents.

Leigh: Then Teddy wheels up with the book truck with three gray archive boxes on it, all in a row. They do look beautiful, inviting.

Jules: Only one folder at a time. Keep your place marked with this card. Keep everything on the table. Don’t pick things up. Leave them flat on the table inside the folder.

Leigh: I love imagining Pauli and Roy and Tim. Roy!


Like Bunny, Pauli has given careful thought as to what to keep and what to discard, what to preserve and why. It’s personal for Pauli, and you can feel that. And for me, I feel like I’m in the room with Pauli and Tim and Roy, listening in. I’m not sure who Tim is, but maybe he’s one of Pauli’s students. Pauli taught at Brandeis from 1968 to 1972, so maybe they’re also discussing policy and aspirational politics that I’m learning is one of Pauli’s many superpowers.

We don’t know what the room looked like or even where they are, maybe Boston or Cambridge with Pauli getting by on a professor’s salary. Along with writing, Pauli is fastidious when it comes to detail. So the room I imagine is modest and tastefully well-appointed, maybe a mid-century design: a sofa with a coffee table and matching end tables and bookshelves with lots and lots of books on them. And Roy’s tennis ball in the corner of the room. Or maybe we’re in Pauli’s kitchen with a red kitchen clock. It’s a kind of table that today would be considered vintage diner. And a phone mounted on the wall, the way they used to be with that long cord that gets tangled and kinked.

Given there is a tape recorder, I’m gonna go with the kitchen table, so Pauli can have the papers nearby to read from. And Tim can man the tape recorder, and Roy can be napping under the table with his head resting on Pauli’s foot. The eternal question of every writer who’s a dog lover too: How do you teach your dog to be a writer’s dog?

Pauli Murray: No, Roy. No.


Leigh: In the 1970s, it was possible for anyone to buy their own tape recorder and blank cassettes—relatively cheap, portable, easy to operate, unlike a bulky reel to reel—which came before it, which was none of those things, and record whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. You just had to pop the cassette in and push the big red record button. The technology of the cassette tape meant that Pauli could leave not only Pauli’s written words in the archive, but could record them and leave Pauli’s voice in the archive as well.

Pauli Murray: This is our starting point.

Leigh: Pauli has a keen awareness of history and how important it is to preserve it. So Pauli made a bootleg recording, a DIY recording for posterity, for history, for the Schlesinger Library.

Pauli Murray: That the sole purpose of governments is to create the conditions under which the uniqueness of each individual is cherished and is encouraged to fulfill his or her highest creative potential.

Leigh: And it was on this day, this very day that I noticed that the seat of my choice at the cherry table in the back corner of the Reading Room was directly underneath a large printed photograph of Pauli Murray. Pauli had been there the whole time, looking down on me. Time in the library is precious. I look over at the three archive boxes that Teddy just brought me from the Bunny Sandler collection. And I remember there’s a folder in one of them: Bunny’s folder of Pauli Murray letters, 1970 to 1976.

So that will be where I go next. I tell Teddy I’m gonna hit pause here and request three boxes from the feminist files of Pauli Murray. Pauli’s words are prophetic. Yes, that’s right. Pauli’s a prophet lighting the way forward. The discoveries feel random, but maybe they’re not random at all. It’s as if Pauli is setting the stage for what comes next.


© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.