Dr. Zelle Andrews, a graduate of Wheaton College and the University of Hawai’i, had a long career as an organizer and activist. She served as president of the New York State and Westchester chapters of the National Organization for Women, among other things. Dr. Andrews was profiled in the book Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975. She died in 2016 at the age of 78 (her obituary is here).
Dr. Andrews made the following remarks at the Westchester Women’s Agenda Conference held at Sarah Lawrence College. Although the precise date is unknown, Dr. Andrews’ partner of 17 years, Deborah West Zipf, believes that the speech was made in approximately 2012. It is a first-person account of her experiences in the 1960s and 1970s.
This gathering, sponsored by the Women’s Agenda, of which I was one of the founders, is plainly not a feminist gathering. If it were, we would not be discussing community gardening, desirable as it is, nor the use of computers, which I should imagine most of you know already. Instead, we would be discussing … but maybe you don’t want to hear about the Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court, or the cost of day care, or the statistics on rape and domestic violence, or the failure of the state legislature to pass the Ten Points for Women sponsored by our Westchester legislator, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, or even how women should lean in.
That O., the middle initial of my name in the program, is somebody’s typo; it doesn’t stand for the name my parents gave me. But it might stand for Outrage, which is where we were, in 1963, when the second wave of feminism began.
How many of you have had an abortion or know someone who has? Well, I knew one in my student days; she was filthy rich and she had to go all the way to Mexico to accomplish it.
How many of you use contraceptives? Well, when I married, contraceptives had just become legal for married women (only). My doctor – actually the third doctor I went to for contraception since the previous two refused – gave me a diaphragm to practice inserting but punched a hole in it so it would not be effective. I could get an intact diaphragm after I got the marriage license.
How many of you buy tampons and napkins at CVS or Stop & Shop? Well, when I was in college, such products were sold from behind the counter of the pharmacy. You had to ask for them (and believe me, you died of embarrassment).
How many of you wear jeans, leggings, whatever? Well, I adhered to a dress code, in college and beyond. Women wore skirts (yes, even for sports) and never above the knee.
How many of you have looked for a job? Well, in the 60’s, want ads were divided, male and female. And “nurse, teacher or secretary,” believe me, was no joke.
How many of you have a credit card? When I graduated, got a job (secretarial) and applied for a store credit card, I could get it … if my father signed for it.
How many of you have thought of becoming doctors, lawyers or merchant chiefs? Law schools didn’t even have women’s rooms in those days. And doctors? Not acceptable because women would faint at the sight of blood (think about it).
How many of you have asked for a raise lately? My roommate did, and very daring it was of her too. Her boss refused. Why? Because she worked at Harvard Business School where she would meet plenty of eligible men and she ought to be grateful for such a perk.
Feminists believe that women are real people. That they can and should make their own decisions and that they can and should be free to develop themselves and their talents, free to build a good community and a good world, without the censure and restrictions of those who would make their decisions for them. If I could give you anything, I would give you the passion that drove the feminist movement so that you understand the purpose, respect the dignity and intelligence of women and work to free women all over the world for the sake of your daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters.
Thank you, Dr. Anderson. Rest in power.
(text of remarks courtesy of Deborah West Zipf)