Women Leaders and Activists
Experiences of Women Leaders and Activists as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Chandler Museum's Public History Program
Why did you decide to get involved in the area you did?

Narrator: Rita Bresnahan
Interviewer: Esther Baca

EB: How did you decide to get involved in this effort? What took you from journalism to being involved in the women's movement?

RB: Oh, well I was going back to college (Harper College) in the early 1970s and saw a course advertised on women writers and I thought that it looked interesting. I thought I'd get caught up on women writers; I'd always been interested in literature and I went into a group of flaming feminists. The teacher had just gotten her Master's and all the women were so interesting and bright…and so I thought this is so exciting. And all the things you'd thought about that had bothered you and couldn't really put in words…it all began to make sense. So we marched for women's causes and women's rights…the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and everything. And it all came through the literature, reinterpreting the literature. It was a new perspective.

Narrator: Nancy Marion
Interviewer: Ashley Kearn

AK: Why did you decide to get involved in the fight against homelessness and domestic abuse?

NM: The biggest thing is that when you're in this business for very long, you realize the amazing inequity in our beautiful America. There was this study back in 1998 that spoke of the fact that the top 20% of the population held 87% of the American networth. So if you do the math you realize the remaining 80% share 13%.

In my nursing career, I have seen elderly patients have to choose between food and drugs. They would take half the amount of their medication to make it last twice as long knowing they would not get the full benefit. I have seen children denied needed medical care because of lack of/or inadequate medical insurance coverage. I have seen very young mothers watch over very ill babies because they did not have medical insurance and did not know where to turn.

The Catholic Charities of the USA published a paper that calls poverty "a scar on the United States' moral soul" and I truly agree. It is outrageous. Somebody, somewhere has got to stand up and say (about this inequality) if you won't listen to them, then listen to me. I am telling you that it is not OK. If the gap between the haves and have-nots does not reverse its direction, I believe our society, as we know it, will change negatively forever.

Another thing is that I don't want to leave this kind of society to my grandchildren. I grew up in a wonderful era and I want to give back some of those thoughts and beliefs that I was raised with and you don't see a whole lot of beliefs these days.

Narrator: Cynthia Dunham
Interviewer: April Rigler

AR: Why did you decide to get involved in this effort?

CD: Because I truly feel that there is a responsibility for people who live on this planet to give back and to make it the best that they can. I really believe that through services is how we grow as individuals, as well. It is a two way road; you give, but you also learn and grow. There is just something that is very gratifying and makes you feel good that you did something to help out. Does it come back and help, most of the times it does. Sometimes there is a price to pay and there is certainly a lot of diversity. Right now my organization The Leadership Centre is being attacked by some other activists who have decided that they don't like the fact that we help people learn how to make better communities then more than just destroy it. I am of the opinion that your activism needs to be something positive. I don't like posers-- people who stir up angst, unless there is something they can do that is going to have a positive result and make it a better place to live. Just to create chaos and havoc is destructive energy and I want to help solve problems, to help people have skills and the knowledge they need to have a good community.

Narrator: Mary Black
Interviewer: Betty McAllister

BM: So why did you decide to start your own child welfare agency versus just keep working for the State?

MB: Because of the success I had been having raising awareness for the need for black families to adopt children and to serve as foster parents, people would come up to me and say you need to start an agency in our community…I was reluctant because I knew the responsibility and stress it would take to start an organization and agency. After much soul searching, I realized I was ready to take a chance. I learned that I would pick only 2-3 people to be my confidants on the project; once I settled the decision in my heart and mind, I began to make my plans. I had to quit my job in March 1984 in order to apply for money from the state to become a new agency and to serve as a state contractor...My first grant was funded in May 1984…and so that's how we began to build the agency…The moral is if you believe in something…you should trust it with all your heart and all your soul.

Narrator: Frances Pickett
Interviewer: Elias Ewert

EE: Why did you decide to get involved in this effort to preserve the school house?
FP: I hated to see it thrown away. I wanted it saved just for the memory of it. And it was just the dear love for the old school and the fun that we had there and the things that we did and learned there.

Narrator: Sandra Simmons
Interviewer: Lia Troisi

LT: How did you get involved with activists groups?

SS: After I moved out here to go to graduate school, I turned my focus to more professional arenas, being a working mom with limited time. The organization I first went to work with after graduate school was the Center Against Sexual Abuse. I was the founding director of that organization, and had an opportunity through CASA to have an impact, educating physicians, police officers, and the general community about rape and rape prevention. We also, more importantly, changed case law and statutory law to prevent the use of victims' past sexual history as evidence. [To do this,] I got to participate in a State Supreme Court case as an expert witness, giving testimony that resulted in the changing of the [those] law[s]. When they started to reform the criminal code, we participated in getting it written into the statute.

LT: What prompted being more involved sexual abuse issues?

SS: Well my involvement with the consciousness [raising] group, and now I was more aware of women's issues. I had read a lot about that, and I had an interest in rape and the victims. Although I have never been a victim of rape, I had read a lot about it, and one of my instructors put me into touch with this organization which got me started.

Photos courtesy of the family.

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Cynthia Dunham

Mary Black

Frances Pickett

Sandra Simmons