Season 1

Feminist Files: Episode 6 – Under the Radar

Returning to the Bunny Sandler Collection at the Schlesinger, Leigh finds a folder of letters between Bunny and Pauli Murray, chronicling their growing camaraderie and friendship. The two share stories from the year’s struggles – the fight for the ERA, which is gaining steam and a new stealth campaign for legislation that could become Title IX.  These two landmark legislative goals are still up for grabs in this election year, when Women are proving a force to be reckoned with.  Women like activist Flo Kennedy, who is going to raise the roof, like that hurricane off the coast of Florida.

EPISODE 6 – TRANSCRIPT

[STANDBY RECAP MUSIC BEGINS.]

 Leigh: When the Edith Green hearings formally concluded, Bunny got her next big break.

Jodie: She then hired me to be a member of the staff, a temporary member to put the written record together.

Leigh: The Edith Green hearings were those seven days of Congressional testimony on sex discrimination—hearings on legislation H.R. 16098 that did not make it out of committee or get a vote in the House.

Mercedes: Section 805 of H.R. 16098: to prohibit discrimination against women in federally assisted programs and in employment and education.

Leigh: Great Aunt Bunny was tasked with compiling all this testimony into books—two books, 1,200 pages long. And she indexed it too, as only Bunny would, so you could find what you were looking for.

Jodie: I had worked for Edith Green. This meant I was legitimate. Boy, I mean that was the best validation. So I was an expert. I became an expert.

Leigh: Bunny’s first professional job in Washington as a woman’s advocate.

Jodie: And what she also did is she got special permission to print more copies than usual. And she sends out a copy to every member of the Congress with a personal letter. And you get a two-volume set of hearings. You figure who’s going to read it, but you figure: well, it’s two volumes. There must be something there, you know, sex discrimination. It was two volumes.

Leigh: They believed that if they could get those facts in print and those printed books into the hands of their colleagues, then they could build a coalition that would support legislation.

Jodie: For me, it was a very, very lucky break, because I got validated, and you could not call me a crazy person. And there were a lot of people who were called crazy people simply because they were interested in women’s issues.

Leigh: Hold onto your hats, because you don’t know from crazy. It was a wild time politically and culturally. A hurricane is about to blow through.

[STANDBY RECAP MUSIC ENDS, AND OPENING MUSIC PLAYS.]

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.

[SONG AND AUDIO CLIPS PLAY.]

Leigh: Join me and an ensemble of actors as we discovered the stealth politics of Title IX. This is Feminist Files episode 6, “Under the Radar.”

February 20th, 2020, walking through the heavy glass doors of the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts for another day’s work in the library. Up on the second floor where the Reading Room is, returning to my cherry table in the corner of the room, the consequential feminists captured in portraits all around me, including Pauli Murray. Welcome, they say, we’re glad that you are here now. Sit down and get to work. The Reading Room closes at 4:45. Okay. Okay. Teddy pulls up to my table with the book truck. I didn’t even have to ask for it. Cool.

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

Leigh: I’m a month into my journey. Are they librarians or archivists? I mean to ask Teddy. But there’s no talking in the library, remember. When you spend time in the archive, everything is pristine and beautiful, even the gray acid-free boxes that hold history. Everything looks beautiful here. But history is sometimes messy and complicated. The series identifier for Great Aunt Bunny’s papers is MC 558.

The Bernice Sandler papers: each gray archive box holds several folders. These are mostly Bunny’s professional papers, but I’m looking for anything that I can find that’s personal. You may have heard the expression, the personal is political. It’s one of the rallying cries from feminists of this era—how women’s individual experiences matter.

And it is true for the dramatist and historian as well. How personal stories often underlie great movements, and it’s the small details that turn a name on a page into a person one almost feels like one knows. We found Bunny’s oral history transcript, but that interview was conducted in 2004. What I’m hoping to find is anything that can give us a window into what Bunny was thinking and feeling in real time in 1970, 1971, moving into 1972 as her life was changing so dramatically. And the whole world around her was changing too. Bunny recounted in the oral history transcript.

Jodie: There was a group of us in Washington who were working with each other. There were so few of us; we always found each other very quickly. And the women’s movement is bubbling.

And I’m thinking I’m going to buy every book that’s printed on women, because wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice little library? And anytime a book got printed in the very early 70s, I went and I bought it.

Leigh: The bill that Edith Green proposed H.R. 16098 never made it out of committee. But after the Edith Green hearings, something else important happened.

Jodie: Almost anyone who was working in women’s rights got involved in the Equal Rights Amendment. So people like me were actively supporting it. And what it did is it enlarged our circle of understanding, our understanding of discrimination.

[AN AUDIO CLIP PLAYS.]

Leigh: Shortly after the Edith Green hearings concluded, an ERA resolution was brought to the House floor. The Equal Rights Amendment had first been introduced in 1923 shortly after the passage of the 19th amendment and had been reintroduced regularly without success.

But on August 10th, 1970, Representative Martha Griffiths brings an ERA resolution to the House floor. And this summer 1970, for the first time it passes. Riding a wave of feminist awakening and awareness and support, there was no stopping it. And Great Aunt Bunny is riding that wave too. And here’s the proof.

In the Sandler papers box 9, folder 2, I find further evidence from the nerdy side of this revolution. Bunny has written a collection of jokes about the women’s movement. Bunny calls it:

Jodie: A funny thing happened on the way to the women’s movement by Bernice Sandler.

Leigh: Was it meant to be an essay she hoped to publish? Or was it a standup routine?

Jodie: Throughout the ages, when women have raised the issues of women’s rights, they have been subject to the criticism that they lose their sense of humor. It’s true indeed that more and more women don’t see very much to laugh at. But to say women have lost their sense of humor is inaccurate. Jokes abound.

Affirmative action officer: How many faculty do you have broken down by sex? Department Head: Not too many, liquor is a bigger problem.

Leigh: Good one, Bunny.

Jodie: Burning bras is not part of the ideology of any group in the women’s movement. As a matter of fact, in this movement, we need all the support we can get.

[CRICKETS CHIRP.]

Jodie: Try that again. As a matter of fact, in this movement, we need all the support we can get.

[A DRUM STING PLAYS.]

Leigh: Thank you, Jodie, for being such a good sport on this.

Jodie: How could anyone say that the women’s movement is anti-male? Why some of my best friends are men. I even married one.

[A DRUM STING PLAYS.]

Jodie: Sometimes humor is tinged with irony and a touch of bitterness. A woman has to be twice as good in order to earn half as much as a man. And how will we know when we have equality? When a mediocre woman can go as far as a mediocre man.

One favorite cartoon shows a woman mopping the floor, with a baby in her arms, surrounded by a stack of dirty dishes, while her husband sits with the pipe and slippers and says, “I’d never let my wife work.”

[A DRUM STING PLAYS.]

Leigh: Great Aunt Bunny comes from a time when men smoked pipes and sat in their slipper chairs and read the newspaper or watched the evening news while women did the housework, cooked the meals, and took care of the kids. But they’d never let their wives work.

Bunny was educated. Bunny went to Brooklyn College, got her Masters in the CUNY system in the city of New York, and her PhD from the University of Maryland. She wanted to be a college professor, but her dreams had been thwarted by sex discrimination. Her husband Jerry was supportive. He loved that his wife was smart, but his awareness of discrimination in the outside world seemed to stop at his own front door.

This is Bunny’s great niece Rora Brodwin.

Rora: Jerry is. Throw a picture of him up. He’s a big guy, never ate vegetables. He smoked, but also Bunny did, because everyone did it at the time. He loved folk music. They both did. He’s the one that named it. He named sex discrimination for her. He believed in equality. He was a liberal guy, but he refused to do housework. So even though he intellectually was like, yes, all for equality, he wouldn’t be seen in a grocery store with the other moms picking up the cupcakes for the bake sale or whatever.

Jodie: Last but not least is a newly discovered revelation from the Bible, which reads: And they shall beat their pots and pans into printing presses and weave their cloth into protest banners. Nations of women shall lift up their voices with the nations of other women. Neither shall they accept discrimination anymore.

Leigh: And then I found this, an interview with Bunny from 1972. And so we have her thoughts in real time.

Jodie: I think there is a growing anger among women. There’s a great mass of American women who are not interested in bra burning, who shudder at the word women’s liberation, and yet nevertheless are fighting discrimination.

Leigh: 1972

[A NEWS AUDIO CLIP PLAYS.]

Leigh: 1972 is the year of the Watergate break in. Nixon goes to China and meets with Chairman Mao.

[A NEWS AUDIO CLIP PLAYS.]

Leigh: Jane Fonda goes to north Vietnam and becomes Hanoi Jane after being photographed on a tank. American soldiers have been fighting and dying in Vietnam since the early 1960s. And for many, the war is old news.

[A NEW AUDIO CLIP PLAYS.]

Leigh: For the anti-war movement, however, nothing has changed. And the rallies and marches continue across the country.

[A NEWS AUDIO CLIP PLAYS.]

Leigh: It’s a time of bell bottom jeans and platform shoes. It’s also an election year. Both Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Mink run for president in the Democratic primary–the first women of color to do so. Neither one is the nominee.

But Shirley Chisholm, with the slogan “unbought and unbossed,” does stay in the race all the way to the convention. And there, along with activists like Flo Kennedy, another consequential feminist whose name you may not know. They fight to make sure that Black female voices are heard.

As for me, it seems I’ve gotten my social media algorithm down to two things: animals in peril being rescued and any post by Sarah Schulman.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF SCHULMAN PLAYS.]

Leigh: Schulman is a writer, scholar, and longtime queer activist.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF SCHULMAN CONTINUES.]

Leigh: She reposts the film from the University of Indiana film archive, the Year of the Woman. I’ve never heard of it. It’s a documentary by Sandra Hochman. I click on the link. And life will never be the same.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF THE FILM PLAYS.]

Leigh: We can call this film a documentary, or we can call it a postmodern fantasia of a documentary. There’s poetry and weird stuff, abstract music. All of which I love by the way. But there’s incredible documentation of the 1972 Democratic Convention and activist Flo Kennedy.

Here’s the setup. Shirley Chisholm from New York is running for the Democratic nomination for president. A group of women are on the convention floor. The women are confronting the media, the all-male press pool. They’re protesting the lack of media coverage that they felt unfairly advantaged Shirley Chisholm’s opponent, George McGovern. Here’s Sandra Hochman from the film.

Sandra: If my mother saw me at this convention wearing a crocodile hat and fighting. I mean, if my mother who’s a Mike Wallace fan and likes Cronkite, Brinkley, and all those people. If she saw me at this convention attacking them, she would think I’d gone stark raving bonkers, but luckily this will never be on television.

Leigh: Political conventions were kind of like Comic-Con meets Burning Man for political junkies. Flo and her compatriots weren’t the only ones there wearing funny hats. Conventions were a chance for the party faithful to gather, to party hard, to be on television. And at the same time, make real decisions like who the nominee would be and what the party platform would include. Conventions were the room where it happened, because as late as 1972, a lot of important stuff could still be up for grabs come convention time.

Shirley Chisholm’s candidacy was audacious. A Black woman running for the presidency just three years after she had made history as the first Black woman to be elected to Congress.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF CHISHOLM PLAYS.]

Leigh: She wasn’t part of the establishment. She was an activist and a hero to many for speaking out. Her campaign struggled, but she stayed in it, hoping to win enough delegates to have some clout at the convention. Maybe win a few policy concessions or a commitment to diversity, like a Black vice president, potentially herself, or at the least the promise of more women in cabinet and federal agency positions.

And the convention provided activists an opportunity to protest as well. Case in point from the film: Flo Kennedy is leading the charge with Sandra by her side. They approach the men, the all-male press pool, and begin shouting.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF THE FILM PLAYS.]

Leigh: There’s one guy engaging with them who seems to be from CBS. He tells them to shut up. Sandra says, “We’ve been listening to you for a hundred years.” Someone calls them “ladies,” and they erupt. “We’re women. We’re not ladies. We’re women.”

[THE AUDIO CLIP OF THE FILM CONTINUES.]

Leigh: They’re fighting with the male press pool. The women are saying the advertisers are advertising to us. So we hold all the power.

[THE AUDIO CLIP OF THE FILM CONTINUES.]

Leigh: And then one of the men in the press pool moves to take his press badge off to remove his identification. Flo reacts.

[THE AUDIO CLIP OF THE FILM CONTINUES.]

Leigh: “We hope we didn’t mess up your toupees.” That could go on Bunny’s joke list. That’s Flo Kennedy, who has the last word there. Florynce Rae or Flo Kennedy was a radical Black feminist activist and lawyer. From boycotting Coca Cola for racial discrimination to protesting the misogyny of the Miss America pageant from demonstrating over the lack of women’s bathrooms at Harvard to supporting the uprising at Attica, she fought against depression and discrimination in every form and venue. She had an incredible activist career.

Flo’s trademark outfit was a cowboy hat, leather vest, and pink sunglasses. She was, according to People magazine, “the biggest, loudest, and indisputably the rudest mouth on the battleground.” Flo’s brand of activism is right up in your face.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF KENNEDY PLAYS.]

Leigh: Bunny Sandler and Flo Kennedy, they’re in the fight together.

Jodie: A funny thing happened on the way to the women’s movement by Bernice Sandler. Jokes abound.

Leigh: Flo’s like the frontline assault.

[ANOTHER AUDIO CLIP OF KENNEDY PLAYS.]

Leigh: Bunny is the covert ops working undercover and behind enemy lines. They’re on the same battleground but employing very different methods.

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

~

Leigh: Back in the archive, we found a lot; there’s Bunny’s books, Bunny’s jokes, Bunny’s I choose not to smoke. One of the most important finds in the Bunny Sandler papers is the letter collection written between Bunny and Pauli Murray from 1970 to 1976. The letters show Bunny’s evolution as an activist herself—what became her total immersion in the movement.

In Bunny and Pauli Murray, you have two nerdy revolutionaries, working to advance the cause by quieter legislative means as the louder, more radical voices ascend, demanding liberation—women’s lib, Black liberation.

Feminist file: Pauli Murray letters, 1970-1976. Maybe these letters can give us some insight into what was happening behind the scenes, deliberately away from any media scrutiny. How did they do it? What else did they leave for us to find?

We know that Edith Green is working the halls of Congress, looking for new allies in other legislative ways. Bunny is working for Edith Green, transforming her under-attended hearings into two-printed volumes for wider distribution. Bunny writes to Pauli:

Jodie: August 15th, 1970, Dearest Pauli. You can see from how long it takes me to answer my mail that I will not win any prizes as a speedy correspondent. I came back from vacation to find maybe 50, 75 letters to answer. And since I entered the women’s movement, everything has changed so much for me. I think I’ll be busy like this for the rest of my life. While some of the women lib people and ideas are too much for me, still not as much as before, I do know what they mean when they talk about liberation. There is a kind of internal freedom that comes with all this and a philosophy. One of the nicest things that has happened is the truly wonderful and remarkable people I am meeting now—women like yourself. I find myself wondering where all these good people were before and why I never met them. It’s been a very good year for me. Have a good vacation, take care of yourself. The women’s movement needs you. Write on.

Leigh: Spelled W-R-I-T-E. Write on.

Jodie: Write on. Affectionately.

Leigh: Pauli writes back.

Samira: Dear Bunny. It was wonderful working with you. You have a winning way, a sense of humor, steel about stridency, all this and motherhood too. Your husband must be a wonderful human being. Tell him so for me. Affectionately, Pauli.

Leigh: For the next year, Bunny and Pauli write back and forth to one another. We learn about Bunny’s work with Edith Green.

Jodie: Dearest Pauli. Mrs. Green has been working with the women’s groups. She asked me to join the staff of the special subcommittee on education to work on sex discrimination. I’m delighted. She needs me to be her eyes and ears for the women’s movement.

Leigh: If at first you don’t succeed, Edith Green hasn’t given up.

Jodie: She’ll be of enormous help to us.

Leigh: And as the ERA is making its way through Congress, as one of the co-founders of NOW, the National Organization for Women, Pauli is working hard behind the scenes to get it passed in the Senate. And Pauli also takes matters into Pauli’s own hands.

Samira: Dear Bunny. Have you heard that I wrote Senator Ed Brooke from Massachusetts, threatening to challenge him for his Senate seat if he votes against the ERA and telling him his present position could cost him his political career? 

Leigh: It’s pure grassroots activism. Pauli Murray’s brand of activism: writing fiery letters to the opposition and thinking big.

Samira: Do you think a massive coordinated coalition march by women on Washington would be of any value to get the message to the Senate regarding ERA?

Leigh: The Senate was set to hold hearings on the ERA, the bill Martha Griffiths had introduced and had already passed in the House. But at the last minute, the hearings were canceled. According to Molly Sinclair of The Miami Herald, Pauli was the only Black woman scheduled to testify at those Senate hearings. Pauli writes to Bunny to tell her about it.

Samira: Although it is too bad the hearings were postponed for me personally, it was a reprieve.

Leigh: And encloses a copy of the article written in The Miami Herald by Molly Sinclair.

Jules: Sunday, October 4th, 1970, Miami Herald.

Leigh: The article quotes Pauli several times and opens with the first line of what would have been Pauli’s testimony on the ERA before the Senate.

Samira: My grandmother was born in slavery, the progeny of rape by a white master of his octoroon slave.

Jules: Dr. Pauli Murray intended to open her testimony at the Senate judiciary committee hearings on the Equal Rights Amendment with those words. The hearings, however, were canceled the day she was to appear. Disappointed but undeterred, the Brandeis University professor of American Studies submitted a 19-page statement to the committee, outlining her stand. She is for the amendment.

Samira: I walked the floor and cried as I wrote it. It came out as a personal testament.

Jules: Dr. Murray says she’s…

Samira: married to the women’s movement at the moment and to civil rights before that.

At my age, the only way you can get rid of the miss is by getting a doctor’s degree, as I did.

Jodie: Dearest Pauli. The article by Molly Sinclair is a damn good one. I wish something like that had appeared in our local papers. Would you send a copy to either Cook or Kennedy or Brooke and ask them to get it into the Congressional record?

Leigh: Always thinking, always strategizing, and then she updates Pauli on her work.

Jodie: All is quite busy here. I’ve been reading the galleys from the June and July hearings. They’re monumental and truly, Pauli, the discrimination is far worse than any of us could have imagined.

Leigh: Even Bunny is impressed at how much evidence they were able to compile.

Jodie: The testimony will run about two volumes.

Leigh: And two volumes it was.

Jodie: Although women don’t have a really viable formal network for communication, the informal network is growing and growing. Undoubtedly, it will be the women’s groups that put the post office back on a sound economic footing. What, with all the mail that’s going around. Come to Washington. Stay well. With much love.

Leigh: In between the shop talk and policy calculations, we’ve learned that Pauli is writing.

Jodie: Take care of yourself, because there are so many of us who care about you. Write on and on and on. Love.

Leigh: Pauli was a prolific writer, a contemporary of James Baldwin. Pauli wrote the autobiography Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family in 1956. And Pauli is working on a second autobiography. And Pauli’s dog Roy, who we met in episode five with his most famous bark in history, is–let’s just say–hampering Pauli’s progress.

Samira: For my own sake, I sent my black Labrador retriever Roy away to dog camp, shut myself up in the apartment, and wrote four chapters of the sequel to Proud Shoes. At the rate I am traveling, the books will be finished by the year 2000, but it has been started at least.

Leigh: Sorry, Roy. Good boy, Roy, or maybe not such a good boy. He tries.

Pauli Murray: No, Roy. No.

[ROY BARKS.]

Leigh: Pauli is a professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. In addition to the many fights Pauli is fighting—civil rights, Title IX, the ERA—Pauli is also fighting for tenure. Pauli’s fight for tenure was a protracted one—and the process, both exhausting and enraging. Paul writes to Bunny.

Samira: Dear Bunny. Don’t you think they’d be out of their cotton-picking minds to disapprove when it is usually a proforma matter? And they’re getting two tokens for the price of one. So much for feminist egotism. I hope it won’t take us 2000 years to build the sisterhood of women. Write on.

Leigh: Spelled W-R-I-T-E.

Samira: Love, Pauli. Best regards to Edith Green.

Jodie: Dearest Pauli. Anything new with the tenure? Wish there was something I could do for you on this. I guess I’m kind of worried about you. I know how hard you are working and how much you care about so many things. There’s so much that needs to be done. And I’m worried about you trying to do them all. Nobody can do it all. There comes a point where you have to limit yourself to what you can do and not do what must be done. And that’s the true curse of awareness. With much love, Bunny.

You see why I had to get my degree. I was such a lousy typist. P.S. Someday I am actually going to write you a short, short letter.

Leigh: I was reading the letters back and forth in the Reading Room, typing, typing, typing. Transcribing them before I realized, wait a minute, why do we have both sides of this correspondence in the same folder? Then I took a closer look and realized that Bunny’s side of the correspondence is carbon copied.

It was a way to make copies before scanners and photocopies. Bunny saved Pauli’s letters and carbon copied her own for her files, preserving them—typos, cross outs, and all. So even then in real time, Bunny had her eye on preserving history. She knew it was no small thing to be corresponding with one of the great legal minds of her time. And she knew that someday we’d find these very letters.

When I pointed this out to Jodie, she said:

Jodie: I love learning about people through letters. And it’s the best way, because it’s in some ways what people want to show you, what they want to tell you, and how they want to be perceived. But you get to sort of read between the lines, which is nice. That’s a great way to really understand history.

Leigh: But back to 1971, Pauli does eventually get tenure. Pauli writes to Bunny to share the news.

Samira: Dear Bunny. I see by the NOW (the National Organization of Women) newsletter, you’ll be in the area in March. So I hope to see you. Meanwhile, you’ll be pleased to know that I got a telephone message over the weekend that at its February meeting, the Brandeis board of trustees had approved my tenure unanimously. Don’t know the details, but felt you’d like to know this. I’ve had to be pretty inactive this winter, but I’m feeling much better and hope to move continuously to more activity when the warm weather comes. Love, Pauli.

Leigh: And Bunny is happy about it. Bunny writes back.

Jodie: Dearest, Pauli. Tenure for you at last. I can finally stop holding my breath on that, long overdue and much deserved. Things are popping here as usual.

Leigh: And as they head into the fall of 1971, they’re gearing up for the fight for the ERA.

Jodie: Hearings will be held on the Equal Rights Amendment March 24, 25, and then April 1st. A few of us have gotten together and started a group to act as a clearing house and to be able to move very quickly in matters affecting the ERA and other matters. You may have noticed that there have been some changes in the ERA wording. The change is about seven years for ratification, relatively minor and should cause no difficulty, but the National Woman’s Party is opposing the change. They’re wedded to the original, no matter what.

Leigh: What they think is a minor change—the seven years to ratification—will later become the fatal blow to the ERA. But they don’t know this now. Then I found this.

Jodie: Mrs. Green’s bill is still in markup. I don’t know what the chances are since the bill—the higher education bill—is in flux. She’ll have to do some trading. And I don’t know what will happen.

Leigh: The first evidence about what happened to H.R. 16098, Bunny shared the details with Pauli.

Jodie: Anything can happen. We shall see.

Leigh: The tenacious Mrs. Green had changed tactics. Instead of her original standalone bill, she had opted for a more covert approach: namely focus on prohibiting sex discrimination in education and use federal money to enforce compliance. Since the House had voted overwhelmingly in favor of the broad language of ERA, she and Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii co-authored a short provision, just 37 words that they could insert into a big education bill that was being drafted.

The Education Amendments Act of 1972 was primarily an appropriations and funding bill detailing government funding criteria for various education programs, teaching fellowships, student grants, work-study programs, research and training, libraries and dormitories, and so on. The point is no one was going to read the whole thing.

Mercedes: No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Leigh: 37 words also added to the Senate version by Birch Bayh of Indiana. They just slipped it in. No one made a big deal about Title IX. It went in under the radar.

Jodie: When the bill was ready, getting close to vote, I remember there was a group of us in Washington who were working with each other. And we had a meeting with Edith Green and asked. We said, you know, essentially. We said, we’re here, Representative Green. You tell us what you want us to do for lobbying, and we’ll get the people, and we’ll do it. And she said, don’t. She did not want us to lobby. And she said, if anybody finds out what’s in this bill, they’re going to oppose it. She said, this bill is going to pass. And if you start lobbying, more people are going to ask questions about it. She says, you know, trust me, you don’t need to lobby. It’s going to pass. And she was absolutely right.

Leigh: And on June 23rd, 1972, there it was. The legislation quietly made its way to the desk of President Richard M. Nixon for signature, tucked into the larger omnibus education bill that nobody lobbied for, so that no one would know it was there.

Jodie: We were very fortunate, because had they known, known what it would do—I think they would have looked closer. Because Edith Green was right. No one was really watching. No one was watching!

Leigh: That year 1972 was the start of a new world for women. Some of the biggest advances in the 50 years since women could vote. Earlier on March 22nd, 1972, the ERA passed the Senate and the House by the required two-thirds majority and was sent to the states for ratification. The women’s movement was in full force. Everyone thought it would easily sail through to ratification, that they had the wind at their back.

These legislative victories were a feather in the cap of the political women in Washington, the trailblazers like Edith Green and Patsy Mink and Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug.

When I thought about this day in June 23rd, 1972, I always imagined that it was a beautiful sunny spring day, full of hope, the sunshine and affirmation of the good work that the women had done. It turns out that on June 23rd, 1972, the same day that Title IX was signed into law,16 states along the East Coast of the country were reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes.

[A NEWS CLIP ABOUT HURRICANE AGNES PLAYS.]

A hurricane so powerful that they retired the name. I read about a woman in Baltimore trying to save her three young children. One of them was two-and-a-half years old, and they all drowned. The Potomac, the Susquehanna, and the James rivers all swelled. The damage from the flooding was catastrophic. President Nixon flew to Camp David on June 23rd and the next day on June 24th surveyed the damage from a helicopter, an image strikingly similar to George W. Bush flying over New Orleans after Katrina. Seven days earlier, burglars were arrested at the Watergate Hotel. I read another anecdote about people at the Watergate Hotel, standing on their balconies, drinking champagne, and watching debris float by like they were watching a movie. It wasn’t a sunny day at all.

A hurricane had just blown through. A hurricane not unlike the one that blew through the Democratic National Convention of 1972. And maybe that’s a good metaphor for what happens next with Title IX. Because once the men in power realize the implications of this law, all hell is gonna break loose, as they try to weaken and defeat it.

The passage of Title IX and the ERA seemed like a vindication for both the covert, stealth approach and going big and bold, loud, and proud. The activists and the insiders, both tracks had aligned, and the result was awesome.

Jodie: When Title IX was introduced, I checked my own testimony because I did the overall testimony. A lot of people talked about their particular field or their particular school, but

there’s not a single mention of athletics. So when Title IX passes in 72, I know. And about 10 other people know it’s going to cover athletics. But no one had done a study of how bad athletic discrimination was. So we did not know how far this was going to go.

Leigh: The Democratic National Convention was held in Miami that year, and Flo Kennedy starts this ad hoc chorus, this infusion of theater.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF YEAR OF THE WOMAN PLAYS.]

Leigh: What were they so mad about? They were mad that Shirley Chisholm wasn’t treated like a serious candidate by the press. They were mad that they hadn’t succeeded in getting a pro-abortion plank included in the party platform. This was a year before Roe v. Wade would be decided. So it would have been huge if they had. But basically they were mad, really mad that the Democratic Party wasn’t all that different from the Republicans when it came to women’s rights.

The Democratic Party platform basically just supported what Nixon had already signed onto anyway with Title IX and the ERA. They wanted the Democrats to be way more. They wanted more women to participate in politics, more women as delegates, more women in elected office, and for women’s issues to be a top priority.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF KENNEDY PLAYS.]

Leigh: Flo Kennedy is singing “move on over or will move on over you” to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” So the stage is set for the next battle. Not only how this law will be implemented, but does it even stand a chance when Title IX is signed into law? It feels like the end, but the fight is just beginning.

[AN AUDIO CLIP OF THE CHORUS FROM YEAR OF THE WOMAN CONTINUES.]

[CREDITS PLAY.]

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