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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Roberta Zeman
Interviewer: Stuart Landers
September 19, 1992
L: This is an oral history interview with Mrs. Roberta Zeman. We are talking in her
house in Jacksonville, Florida, mainly about the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights
[GWER]. Today is September 19, 1992. My name is Stuart Landers.
The first three or four questions I would like to ask you are just some biographical
things. When and where were you born?
Z: In Chicago, on November 2, 1936.
L: Tell me a little bit about your parents. Who were they? Where did they come
Z: Chicago. [laughter] They were both children of immigrants. My father was [of]
German descent, and my mom was Lithuanian.
L: What did your father do?
Z: He was a truck driver.
L: Did you grow up in Chicago?
L: Does anything stand out in your memory about your childhood?
Z: Such as?
L: Was it good to grow up in Chicago in the late 1930s [and] early 1940s?
Z: Oh, yes. It was fine.
L: [Do you have] any distinctive memories of the Second World War?
Z: No, except when it was over. I remember we were riding trikes around the
neighborhood, somewhere in that period when it was announced that it was over.
People came out and waved flags. Then uncles started coming home.
L: Did you have a lot of uncles that were in the service?
Z: Yes, we had several.
L: Was your family a religious family?
Z: We were raised in the Catholic faith.
I take it then, that you went to high school in ..
Did you go to [a] Catholic high school?
Let me make a guess here: [the school] was integrated?
To a very small degree. There were only several black girls in the high school. It
was a Catholic girls' high school. It was on the north side of Chicago, and
geographically there were no blacks in that area. But several came from the inner
city, and they were on [a] scholarship type--thing.
Did that work all right?
Oh, yes. One of them was one of my best friends.
Where did you attend college?
Loyola [University, in] Chicago.
And this was from about when to ..
Oh, I do not know. That was a long time ago. When did I graduate? I think it was
1958. Yes. [I was in school from] 1954 to 1958.
And you took a degree in ..
Sociology and English.
Did you have a career goal at that point in time?
Any reason for choosing sociology and English?
[They were my] areas of interest.
Was Loyola a private Catholic college?
[Yes. It is] Jesuit.
Is it gender-segregated?
So it was coed. What about racially?
It reflected Chicago.
Were you at all active in any student organizations [or any] extracurricular things?
Yes, a variety. [I was in the] sociology honor society and a number of [other] things.
I was editor of the newspaper, and that was probably my dominant interest. I
belonged to some other literary clubs, but the main stuff was the newspaper.
[Were you] involved at all in any civil rights or social change-oriented organizations?
There were no civil rights at that time; that was prior. I was in the Catholic
interracial councils--whatever they called the student group. [The] Catholic
interracial council's offices were just a couple blocks from the downtown campus of
the university where I went. I was in that student organization, and some of the
students in the sociology program were kind of involved in that. I did some
volunteer work for that. I do not recall what it was.
It does not sound like [the interracial council was] a major part of your college life.
No, I think the newspaper really was.
Well, what did you do upon graduation in the late 1950s?
I had one year that I worked for the American Red Cross as a caseworker trainee.
They only hired people for the professional positions if they had a master's in social
work. I was looking at that as a possibility to going on. So I did this one year
trainee stuff, and decided that I did not want to pursue that.
Were you married at this point?
Then what did you do?
I worked for Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.
Which was a..
Z: Chicago had a whole network of community-based organizations--advocacy groups.
And they were aligned through a metropolitan something-or-other. Anyway, this was
one of them. It was based out of a--are you familiar with Jane Adams and her
Z: Well, this was a type [of settlement house]; this was the Howell House, a settlement
house run by the Presbyterian Church. They had a couple in this area.
L: Was it connected back to the early years of this century?
Z: Yes. The neighborhood I was working in was a really interesting neighborhood. The
center was in Chicago on the near-west side; it dated back to the early 1900s. It was
in a really ethnic neighborhood, with Catholic churches every couple blocks. There
were Lithuanian, Irish, Croatian, Slovakian, and Bohemian churches all within a very
small group. [laughter] Those were the ethnic groups.
Anyway, Howell House started a community organization called Pilsen--the
neighborhood was called Pilsen--and it was for the purposes of community advocacy,
working on housing problems, and such. It was an old neighborhood, and it was
beginning to get overcrowded and starting into integration.
L: What specifically were your duties? What did you spend your time doing?
Z: We organized block groups and had neighborhood clean-ups, we worked on slum
housing, and got the zoning inspectors out.
L: Was this privately funded?
L: Were you getting any money at all or any direct support from the city?
L: Did this appeal to you? Did you like doing this?
L: Did it at all change your way of thinking about things?
Z: That was a long time ago. It changed my way of thinking. I think I probably got to
understand cultural diversity even better, and [I learned] that all sorts of people have
the same basic needs and are good folks.
Economically, economic depression is not nice. It is a difficult situation to be in.
That was a working-class community where people lived on the edge. Stability in
your family life comes from a certain amount of income stability. When you are in
jobs that are at low level, that [stability] does not happen, and you run into all sorts
of problems. Anyway, I think I appreciated that across the board for all groups, in
that the council was really kind of a neat place because of all sorts of people were
coming together to work on all sorts of problems.
L: You said the beginnings of integration [were happening]. Were blacks moving into
Z: A little. It was mainly Latino.
L: Was this at all a problem?
Z: At that time, no. It was just very little. I mean, Chicago did erupt, but not in this
neighborhood, and not at that time.
L: We are still talking about the late 1950s?
Z: Yes, and [the] early 1960s.
L: How many years did you do this?
Z: Three or four years.
L: Which puts us to 1964. Or is it 1963?
Z: I was married in 1961. When did we leave Chicago? Probably in 1963. Somewhere
in there. So it would have been something like from 1959 to 1963.
L: What do the initials in [your husband's name] J. J. Zeman stand for?
Z: Joseph James.
L: This is the person who took the job in Gainesville as a philosophy professor?
L: So what did you do after 1963 when you left Chicago?
Z: [I] had children. Jay was called into the army at that point. He was in reserves, and
he had finished his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and had to go on active duty
at that point. So we were in the army for two years, and then he went to the
University of Florida.
L: Was the army taking you all over the country?
Z: No, we were just in for two years, so we were over in Maryland.
L: Specifically where in Maryland?
Z: Edgewood Arsenal.
L: Which is in Edgewood, Maryland?
Z: Yes, north of Baltimore.
L: So, you get to Gainesville with--I think you told me earlier--one small child.
Z: Yes, Carolyn. Then Jay Michael was born two weeks after we got there.
L: Jay Michael?
Z: Yes, my son. He was born in 1966.
L: What did you think of Gainesville when you got there, coming from Chicago and
Z: [It was] a small town lacking many amenities. [laughter]
L: Was there anything for you to do?
Z: No, [except] raise children. [laughter]
L: Did the community or the University make any effort at a formal welcome?
Z: Sure. The University has functions. The philosophy department was just growing.
[It] was being reassembled [and] was very close-knit because a lot of people were
coming in at the same time. There were a lot of parties and social functions, and
there were women's groups in the University that put on welcoming parties for new
L: Were you coming into contact with people who were not affiliated with the
Z: [Yes,] in my neighborhood and church. But those are the normal things. I did not
join the Gainesville Garden Club, or something like that, for example. I joined the
League of Women Voters first, which was mixed, but University dominated. And
then I joined GWER.
L: Which church [did you attend]?
Z: St. Patrick's Catholic [Church].
L: How and why did you get involved in the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights?
Z: As far as I can remember, I think I saw in the community announcements that they
were having some kind of a meeting, and it just looked interesting.
L: In the Gainesville Sun?
L: Were there any other philosophy professors' wives--that you had met through all of
these social functions--in GWER?
Z: No, not that I can remember. At that time, no. After that, I think some joined. But
I do not think there were any at the time I joined.
L: Did you continue [to be] active in the League of Women Voters?
Z: Only on the periphery.
L: Is there a reason for that?
Z: GWER became the focus of my time.
L: Who were you working with closely when you first joined GWER? Who do you
remember as being at the center of that?
Z: When I first joined GWER, I do not know that I did too much. I do not know at
what point I became active; it certainly was not right off the bat.
The leadership at that time was Joan Henry [and] Shirley Conroy, and Jean Chalmers
was in it [as well]. I do not know where they were position-wise at that time.
L: What do you remember about Joan Henry?
Z: [She was] a sparky woman, very self-assured, [with] deep concerns. [She was] very
L: Was Beverly Jones around?
Z: Yes, she was. I do not remember her so much as being connected in GWER at that
time. I had met her. You are talking about the Beverly of Marshall Jones?
Z: I do not recall her that much. I really do not.
L: Were you associating her with something other than the GWER?
Z: I just do not think she was in [GWER]. Was she a member of GWER?
L: Well, she was the founding president. But after she did her two years she stepped
way back, so that Joan Henry could take the ball and run with it, so to speak.
Z: See, I knew Beverly; I had met her at other parties. But I do not recall her being
active in GWER when I was there. That is right, she was a member. I had forgotten
L: So, Joan Henry was ..
Z: Yes, I think she was president when I joined.
L: How much of a black presence do you recall in this organization?
Z: They were there. I mean, there were always more white members than black, but
blacks were very much a part of the core membership.
L: Was there an equal sharing of power and opportunity for leadership?
Z: There was always opportunity [for leadership], and we were always urging blacks to
accept, but there was reluctance in terms of taking the leadership position in such an
interesting organization--an interracial [one] that was advocacy-based. It could be
threatening to the blacks.
L: These were mostly school teachers?
Z: Yes, the majority. There were others, and we had some maids. But it was mainly
teachers and the middle class blacks.
L: Were they being careful not to jeopardize their employment?
Z: I think that was certainly a definite concern.
L: Was there much real concern about physical violence [and] about Klan activity?
Z: I think there was concern. Times got more interesting in terms of desegregation of
schools. There was concern about physical interruption and physical violence. I
think blacks in the South and Gainesville lived under the threat of physical violence--
white supremacy-type things--concern about brutality, and discrimination practices of
people in authority.
L: Had you ever experienced a social community organized along these white-
supremacist lines (before you moved to Gainesville)? Had you ever seen Jim Crow
Z: No, but Chicago--although it was culturally diverse, and integrated--certainly was
segregated and had discrimination, [although] not to the extent of the South.
L: You said that you became a member of GWER, and then at some point later on, did
you just gradually become more and more involved?
Z: Evidently. [laughter] I mean, this is a long time ago. I cannot even tell you when
I was president.
L: Do you remember the first committee that you chaired?
L: You were president from 1970 to 1971, which would be February to February.
Can you tell me anything about Chris[tine] Antenen?
Z: No. Who is she?
L: She is way out of my reach at the present, so I am also wondering who she is.
Z: I do not even recall who she is
L: She may have moved before 1965.
Z: She may know Jean. Does Jean know her?
L: I am sure she does; I did not have this list of names when I interviewed Mrs.
Chalmers. What about Carol Fercovich?
Z: I do not know her.
Z: I did not realize that Barbara [Bryant] had been president of GWER-I did not know
that. Wow. That was a lot.
L: What do you mean that was a lot?
Z: I think that at that time she was working in the supervisor of elections office.
L: When I interviewed her in late August--I do not recall the chronology of her
employment off the top of my head--she described working three jobs for years and
years, so she was probably very employed when she was president.
Do you remember anything about Kindergarten Alert?
Z: [It was a] big drive to get kids into kindergarten. Kindergarten was not an
established grade in school, and it was not necessarily common for people to put
their kids in the kindergarten, especially blacks. They just did not know it was there.
There was low attendance, and it was before Head Start.
L: I saw a flyer that said, "Watch for the Kindergarten Alert truck."
Z: I think it was a pickup truck, and we just put signs on it. We drove around the
neighborhoods and went knocking door to door.
L: Is that how you located families? [You] just picked a neighborhood?
Z: [We] just went door to door. We took registration forms for school, and we
explained what they had to do to get their kids into school.
L: How carefully organized was this? Did you go in pairs? Three of you at a time?
Z: I do not know. [laughter]
L: Do you remember how the people responded--the people whose doors you were
Z: If you are looking for a fear factor, I do not think we had real concern about going
into black neighborhoods.
L: What about their response to your presence?
Z: I do not recall any hostility off the top of my head. I do not recall any kind of
incident that I--or anyone else I knew--was involved in.
L: Do you recall anything about medical examinations for these children?
Z: Well, since you are triggering it, I guess that they probably had to do medical
examinations. [laughter] I would not recall that.
L: I think it was Shirley Conroy who remembered vividly giving examinations to these
children; they had to have a medical exam to be able to go to kindergarten. Was it
a success as you recall? Was it hard getting children in?
Z: I do not recall numbers; I have no idea. It was certainly better than if we had not
done it. I do not recall how much of a success it was, but at least we were breaking
new ground and letting people know that this resource was available.
L: Let us shift then to the Best Day of the Week program. How did that get started?
Z: It was because the schools were into desegregation at that time.
Look at that.
L: What have you found?
Z: An old picture. That is Vivian Washington. Look at this: Mrs. Wayne Antenen.
L: There she is.
Z: There she is, a living, breathing person.
L: There is Nancy Baldwin. Ann McGhee. Mrs. Stanley K. Laughlin--is that Carol
Z: Yes. Are they in Ohio? Have you contacted her?
L: I am sure I have a trace on her.
Z: Her husband was in law school; [he] taught. As a matter of fact, we bought our
house in Gainesville from them in 1966, I think. They were moving then. They are
probably someplace else at this point.
L: So the schools were integrating. What was the purpose of the Best Day of the
Z: There were a lot of problems with the integration of the schools. A lot of people did
not want that to happen. [There was] a lot of reluctance and [there were] a lot of
concerns in terms of hostilities, aggression, [and] fights.
L: Between children? Between parents?
Z: Mainly between children, but the community at that time was really in turmoil.
Gainesville was in turmoil because of desegregation. This was a basic rattling of the
institutional framework of the community to desegregate the schools. Everyone
talked about it, [and] everyone was concerned about it. Most blacks and whites did
not want it to happen; no one wanted to be cross-town bused.
There was real fear and anxiety. The blacks started marching because the plan was
basically to close the black schools and transport the black kids, not the whites. The
blacks got really upset about that and started marching. My thought about that is:
that was a lot for Southern blacks to do because everyone knows everyone in a small
town. It is not like [when] you are from Chicago and you participate in a march.
[Then] you can be anonymous and can come and go. In a small town, that does not
happen. They know by heart [who is involved]. I mean, they would not know
everyone, but they would certainly know if there was any leadership involved, and
they would identify who they were. That was a lot for blacks to march at that time.
L: Do you recall who was leading these marches?
L: I am having some difficulty finding the black leadership in Gainesville, other than the
women who were in GWER and the head of the NAACP.
Z: Who is that now?
L: Reverend T. A. Wright.
Z: Oh, Reverend Wright? That is right. Wright was there. He was NAACP when I
was in Gainesville. He would be a good person to talk to if you need that.
L: He has been interviewed two or three times, so I am going over those. So we are
talking--I think--of 1968 or 1969?
Z: When were the schools desegregated?
L: 1969, I think.
Z: Was it 1969?
L: 1968 or 1969. Do you remember GWER's fourteen points to the city commission?
L: OK. So, the Best Day of the Week is thought of to help deal with ..
Z: Emotions [and] attitudes.
L: How did the grant idea come about?
Z: I have no idea in terms of why or who. Somehow we got information that there
could be grants available. I do not know if it came out of the College of Education,
[whether] someone there knew about it and invited us. We did have a lot of wives
of education staff in GWER. Some of the subconsultants for the program were
education professors who were into the counseling, and so they were probably the
incipients for it. I really do not remember.
L: Aside from yourself and these folks from the education department, do you recall
anybody else being central in designing the Best Day of the Week program?
Z: There was not just me at all. There were [others]. Who else was on the committee?
I have no idea. I think Shirley and Jean were involved and Charlotte Best [as well].
I do not remember who else.
L: So you wrote this grant for $50,000.
Z: There is Charlotte. She was president when I was vice president. What do you know
about that? Catherine Taylor was treasurer. Sandy Peterson, Katherine Rickell.
Look at all of that.
L: So these are your active ..
Z: Education. Oh Sue Legg, of course. She was really involved in that. Felicity
[Trueblood] is still around; have you interviewed Felicity?
L: No I have not. She is on the faculty, right?
L: What do you remember about the implementation of Best Day of the Week?
Z: We hired Rose. I think she was in the beginning. Anyway, it was called the Best
Day of the Week because it was basically on Saturday. I think we then did a summer
thing, but the first part of the program was on Saturdays, [when] the kids came
together. [We had] meetings with parents of these kids who were enrolled in the program.
I forget how we identified the students. I think we went to the schools and asked for
help in getting kids enrolled in the program. It was the idea just to bring them into
a non-classroom environment, [changing it] into a fun day, rather than [following an]
educational curriculum, competitive in that way, and [Saturday could therefore] be
a non-competitive fun day, in which they could "appreciate each other as kids, no
matter what color they were."
L: Was it a goal to bring the parents together and get the parents more involved?
Z: Yes, it was an auxiliary purpose. We wanted to be able to reach the parents, but [we
were] limited in terms of time and stuff like this. I think we really would have liked
to have the parents in the Best Day of the Week.
L: And change their attitudes?
Z: Right. [laughter] We had to work from the kids up. It would be too threatening for
parents to do that. As far as I can recall, we had some kind of parent meetings to
discuss the programs, and I do not think it was very involved.
L: [There were] mainly children participating?
L: It seems at this period of time the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights has become
very focused on children and on education. Do you agree with that?
Z: Without looking to see everything else, I probably [would say yes] because the
schools were the big issue at the time. Almost everything in Gainesville at that time
was revolving around desegregation of the schools. The community was rattled to
L: How old were your children at this point?
Z: We are talking [about] 1970, so Jay Michael would have been four years old, and
Carolyn was six.
L: So they are still in nursery school and day care?
Z: Right. [They were] young.
L: Speaking of your children and the other GWER women's children, how were you
organizing baby-sitting and day care while you were doing [GWER work]? Do you
recall anything about that?
Z: Because the need for baby-sitting was so great in Gainesville, I organized a baby-
sitting co-op in which we mothers exchanged points, so to speak, because there just
did not seem to be enough teenagers to go around. [laughter] I did this when I was
in the army, too, when there was really a lack of teenagers. (The army was so
stratified in its age grouping that everyone had young babies and children, and there
were no teenagers around.) So that was a help.
L: This was just an informal thing?
Z: Yes, it was an informal organization, but we had officers. We kept track of baby-
sitting points. We earned from each other. I would go sit [for] someone during the
day or during the night, and I would get a point per hour or something like this. I
stocked them up and when I needed it, I called for someone else to come baby-sit
L: Was this confined to the GWER women?
Z: It was not GWER; it was the community. Anyone could join it who wanted to.
L: Do you recall it having a name?
Z: No. They used the name co-op--I do not know. [laughter]
L: That is very interesting. During this period I know that you had two small children,
and GWER was taking up a lot of your time, which I would like to ask you about in
a minute. Were you involved in anything else?
Z: Other activities at that time?
L: Other activities.
Z: No. I was not working, and I had not gone back to school yet. I think I maintained
membership in the League [of Women Voters] but I was not very active. I do not
recall. I doubt it. There was much too much [of my] time being spent in GWER.
I lived with the phone hanging out of my ear. Our GWER meetings were at night.
L: For a specific reason?
Z: Because we had other working women; the blacks were working. So they were at
night. But all the other work and functions occurred during the day.
L: Describe the typical GWER meeting that you can remember. Were they very formal
Z: You had minutes and committee reports. There were different committees: there
was [the] jobs [committee], [the] housing [committee], and we had a representative
on the Community Action Agency board. People gave their reports and were
assigned duties. The board and the membership decided what programs were going
to be pursued during the year, what was going to be on the agenda, [and] where the
resources were going to be spent. [I am referring to] time resources--not money, just
L: Were these decisions arrived at fairly smoothly, or do you recall there being interest
groups within the group factions?
Z: I do not recall. Factions is not a word I would use to describe GWER. As I recall,
decisions were made in terms of interest, need, and what we could really do about
it. As a group, [we were concerned with] what we could really do to make a change.
There were a lot of things we may have wanted to do, but there was no way for us
to focus our energies to try and bring about change.
L: You mentioned a couple of minutes ago that you had not gone back to school yet.
At what point do you deactivate from the Gainesville Women [for Equal Rights]?
Z: In terms of deactivating?
Z: My own personal thrust. When did I go back to school? I went back in political
science. 1972-1974? Something like that. I got my master's in P.A. (political
science--public administration). That sounds about right.
L: So, it is accurate to say [that] you became a full-time student? Or a part-time
student and still a full-time mother?
Z: Right. [I was a] part-time student and full-time mother. I think I was still on the
Community Action Agency. I think that is what I did. I mean, I was still in GWER,
but I think I became the representative to the Community Action Agency somewhere
L: What do you remember about being on the C.A.A. board?
Z: [I was] just involved in the programs of what they were trying to do.
L: Was what they were trying to do effective? Were they making changes?
Z: I do not even remember some of the things we did. I think the focus was on the
funds being [made] available, the programs that were available through the federal
government, and the implementation of those programs.
L: This was the arm of the war on poverty?
Z: Right. I know weatherization and Head Start were starting.
L: What was that first one?
Z: Weatherization programs. That [involved] helping impoverished people fix up their
homes in terms of surviving winter or something like this. That may have come
later--I do not recall.
L: Did you get involved at all in anything having to do with the women's liberation
movement, feminism, consciousness-raising groups, or the Equal Rights Amendment?
Z: No. I did not join NOW. The women's rights movement started kind of at the time
that civil rights was still really active. And so when they first got started, I did not
have any time, and then I think I slid into school, so I was curtailing volunteer
efforts, and I just did not do that.
L: Was it something that, had you had the time, you would have been interested in?
Z: I think I was burned out in terms of activism and energies, and I was not looking for
another activist-based organization. I think [that] almost no matter what it was, I
might not have participated in anything. [laughter]
L: Burned out as in lack of energy [and] tired?
Z: Yes. There was a real demand on your time, your energies, [and] your emotions for
being so activity-based. I did not move on.
L: Did you have any sense of GWER moving in a feminist direction?
Z: A lot of the women did. Sure, they moved on. And that would have been a normal
step--to move into women's rights. It would have been a normal progression.
L: The reason I am so interested in women's rights, is [that] my best sense of it is that
the Gainesville Women [for Equal Rights] fragments; a new organization disbands
and falls apart in the early to mid 1970s. I am wondering why that happened [and]
where the energy went.
Z: In terms of GWER, I think people definitely did go into the women's rights
In terms of GWER being an advocacy group for interracial [policies], a lot of that
was happening in an institutionalized fashion because of the Civil Rights Bill that was
coming about. All of a sudden, you have equal employment opportunity for jobs, for
schools, for housing, and equal access to hospitals. It is not that it was embraced
wholeheartedly by anyone--that had to be a time in coming--but I think GWER was
organized because of the inequities, inequalities, and the real pitiful conditions which
the blacks were subjected to before the Civil Rights Bill. Then [there was] the start
up and the implementation of the civil rights, like: "You are not doing this." We
were making it publicly known that you were not living up to what you were
supposed to be doing. But as the law took effect and was being implemented, I think
the reasons for GWER were taken over in an institutionalized fashion.
And then a lot of women progressed into the women's rights thing. Would GWER
have dissipated if only the women's rights had come on to the scene? I do not know.
But I think certainly a major factor was a release of time and energies because of the
institutionalization of civil rights.
L: I know also that you were not by far the only one who went back to school at this
point in time, and some people went to work or back to work.
Is it possible that there is an original group of women [in GWER] that, once it burns
out, that is kind of it for GWER? Is it not sort of a self-perpetuating recruiting
thing? I am kind of looking at an original cohort from the second cohort of core
members of the Gainesville Women [for Equal Rights] with you and Dr. Legg in the
second cohort. There really does not seem to be a third one. Beverly Jones moves
away and Joan Henry burns out or goes to work, and Shirley Conroy goes to work,
and you go back to school. It just sort of seems like the old gang--the old core
group--fades. I do not know; maybe I am chasing ghosts.
Z: I do not know. I just do not know. Was Carol Fercovich the last president of
L: Amy Sanders [was the last]. June Littler told me that by the time Amy Sanders got
the presidency she was very old. Quite frankly, nobody was really interested. I think
Mrs. Littler said that when you do not call a meeting, nobody comes. And so I think
that was the end of it.
Z: Very interesting.
L: But the reasons that it ends are as important as the reasons that it comes together.
Z: What did some of the other women say in terms of why they saw it disappearing?
L: The core members moving elsewhere, the energy dissipating, and the agenda being
met. The schools are integrated, we have a civil rights law, [and] the power structure
is following civil rights law now.
GWER got involved in supporting boycotting lettuce, and supporting Cesar Chavez's
movement, and some things to do with the ERA. So it gets to look like it is a group
looking for issues.
Z: Well, GWER had a multi-faceted program in terms of housing, education, jobs, and
things like this. I think the support of Cesar Chavez was probably a peripheral
[thing], but in line with [other issues]. I think you are right. The agenda was met,
L: I know you are an urban planner now, and you got that degree in the mid to late
L: Were you involved in any of the housing things in the late 1960s or in your years in
the Gainesville Women [for Equal Rights]?
Z: I do not think so. I do not recall being involved in the housing program.
L: How did you become an urban planner? How did you move in that direction?
Z: From a big school. [laughter]
L: Well, why not a Ph.D. in public administration?
Z: Because [the University of] Florida did not have a program in that. [laughter] I
wanted planning when I went back to school for the P.A., but there was not any such
beast at the University at that time. P.A. had a couple of courses in planning; that
was as close as I could get. So I thought, OK, I would do this. When [the University
of] Florida instituted its planning program, then I went back for that, and I was able
to transfer in a lot of hours. Basically, I used the P.A. as my minor, and then I had
to go back for the planning--which I preferred. I wanted planning. For me, it was
just an organized way of addressing problems in the community, and I thought that
was a way to do it.
L: Was doing this academic work at FSU an option?
Z: No, because I lived in Gainesville.
L: So, it had to be at the University of Florida?
L: So you graduate in 1978.
Z: Well, I left. I finished my program [but] I did not graduate, because I did not do the
written document for my master's. [laughter] It took me awhile to do that.
L: They are time-consuming. [laughter]
L: So, what did you do after you left? When did you leave Gainesville?
L: And you moved where?
Z: To Jacksonville.
L: To here.
L: And are you looking for a job?
Z: I was just applying for planning jobs wherever they were; there were not too many
at that time. It was a depressed economy. Anyway, I interviewed here and
elsewhere, and I got the job here at the regional planning council.
L: What is the regional planning council?
Z: Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council. Florida is divided into eleven regions,
and all of the counties belong to one of eleven regional planning councils, and it is
a mid-level governmental planning agency.
L: And who are you working for now?
Z: St. Johns County.
L: When did you shift?
L: What are you doing for St. Johns county?
Z: I am growth management coordinator, administering growth management and
comprehensive planning programs.
L: To deal with the growth ..
Z: Of St. Johns County, right.
L: I understand that this is a double full-time job.
Z: Yes. It is a lot of work.
L: So, since you became an urban planner and started this intensive career, have you
been involved in any organizations or community groups?
L: I think you told me earlier that you got involved in neighborhood associations in
Z: Yes, we started our own in my neighborhood. A couple of us started a neighborhood
association: the Sugarfoot Prairie Community Association. We were in the flood
plain [and] we were at the bottom of the hill. We could see the water rising and
rising on the edges of the community as more development occurred on top of us.
And there were some other community neighborhood-based organizations in
Gainesville. So we came together to lobby for a flood plain ordinance, and other
good, civic interests.
L: What do you remember about the Millhopper Nursery School?
Z: It was a wonderful school. Jay Michael and Carolyn both went there.
L: Was GWER--as an organization--connected to the Millhopper Nursery School?
Z: No, but Gainesville did not have a lot of resources. When we first moved there, it
was not the little bustling metropolis that it is now.
L: So to speak.
Z: In the 1960s, it did not even have a McDonald's. [laughter]
It was lacking amenities. So there was need for day care everywhere; there were very
few day care centers. So Jean--intrepid Jean--[laughter] started the Millhopper
L: I guess I need to make another appointment to talk to her.
Z: But it was not a GWER thing. It was just some of us who were involved in GWER.
My kids were in it after it had started.
L: Who else do you recall?
Z: Pat Fabrick--who just died--I think was one of its first teachers. Other than Jean, I
do not know who started it. I think [they were] members of that church.
L: How was the Gainesville Sun positioning itself about racial issues? Do you recall
GWER having an opinion of the Sun? Was the Sun an ally? Was it a problem?
Z: I recall at one point the Sun changed ownership and became part of Morris and
Knight communications. It became a little bit more sensitive to all community needs.
I think it was when there was a change in ownership. I think it was probably pretty
conservative in the beginning. I think it became a bit more broader-minded as it
moved further on. I cannot remember who became the editor, but it became a little
bit more open.
L: Were you around when the Gainesville Women [for Equal Rights] went after the Sun
and protested the colored section--as it was called then?
L: Do you remember being nominated [for] and awarded the Sun's Club Woman of the
L: I have heard a story about that award ceremony and about whatever the trophy was.
Z: It was a small silver bowl mounted on a little pedestal.
L: What happened when they awarded that to you?
Z: I was not happy at being nominated Club Woman of the Year for several reasons:
personally and because it was coming from the Sun at that point. The University was
in an uproar at that time, too, [regarding] both civil rights and Vietnam. All
institutions were being hit during this period of national strife. The Gainesville Sun
supported the school administration in locking out the students and stuff like this.
I particularly fussed about that; I did not think the University was handling the
situation very well. It was causing more problems than it needed to have. The other
part of being Club Woman of the Year--I found it kind of an onerous title. Club
Woman to me was Lady Bountiful with a basket, passing out goodies in low-income
communities or something like this. [laughter] I just did not like the term. [When
I was nominated,] I thought, "Fine. I will never get it." There were good intentions
in nominating me; it was a nice gesture of friends in GWER who wanted to have it.
I remember one thing: we started a nursery school, and that was a big agenda with
me. That was one of the reasons for the nomination.
L: Was this at St. Augustine [Catholic Church]?
Z: No. We did some barbecues, and one of the barbecues to support it was at St.
L: Palmer King Daycare Center.
Z: Palmer King. How could I forget that?
L: Who started Palmer King?
Z: I do not know. [It was] whoever was in GWER at the time. [laughter]
L: So that was a GWER thing?
Z: Yes, it was people who were involved in GWER. I do not remember if we did it as
a GWER activity.
L: So you win [the] Club Woman of the Year award.
Z: I did not know what to do with it; I could not believe that I had won it. I said,
"Good, now we have to do something about it." I was so fussed--I did not want it--
but I did not want to hurt the women who nominated me. The reasons they
nominated me were good things that we did. I did not mind the recognition going
to GWER for these activities that we did. [But] I thought it was kind of hilarious
that the Sun--of all things--was recognizing someone from GWER as Club Woman
of the Year. [laughter]
I had such mixed emotions about it, so I was not going to go to accept the award.
But that blew away the people who had nominated me, and they were really upset
with me. So I decided I would take the opportunity to talk about what it means to
really try to be an agent for change, and it was not looking to band-aid approaches,
but you had to go for institutionalized change such as laws. I accepted the bowl in
the name of GWER, and I had someone else come up to the stage and get it; I
would not take it.
L: Someone told me that it was later used as a collection cup at GWER meetings.
Z: I do not recall that, but maybe.
L: The reason I am asking all of these questions is that I heard those stories, and I
immediately thought that the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights had a problem
with, or contempt for, The Gainesville Sun.
Z: By and large, it was not helpful in our problems. It did become .. I forgot who the
L: There was a man named Buddy Davis.
Z: No, it was not Buddy.
L: He was the one who won the Pulitzer Prize for integration editorials in the Sun,
which makes the Sun look a little bit better.
Z: But the guy who was editor at the time that I won this [award] was making some
changes, but I was not happy with their particular position at that time in the
University. But they were certainly part of the establishment.
L: What made Gainesville distinctive as far as the ways in which integration came
about? Could the things that happened in Gainesville happen here in Jacksonville?
Z: Everyone had to wrestle with desegregation of the schools. It roused pros and cons
everywhere. Here in Jacksonville, the NAACP was in the forefront of the school
desegregation, and they brought suit against the school. There were a lot of suits
against the school systems for the plans that they came up with because people did
not like them. So we were not alone in that, and basically the trend was [to] close
the black schools and bus the [black] kids out of their neighborhoods and put them
in the white schools. But I think in smaller communities where they are more
homogeneous, that is a pro and a con if the atmosphere is there and the conditions
are right for organizing and achieving some consensus.
[There is a ripple effect in] a small community. [There is] this whole thing about
being small and being no one, but I know someone who knows you who employs you.
[There is] that kind of a ripple effect. Therefore, do not do this because it may
jeopardize your job. Do not bother to come into work tomorrow. That kind of a
thing does happen, and it did happen, I think.
[Gainesville] was a university town, and we had the town-gown type of thing. We
had women who were the wives of University people who had incomes that were
pretty stable, and they were not going to be bothered, by and large, by the activities
that their wives were doing. We had more freedom to be active.
L: Did you ever get the sense that there were faculty members who would not be active
themselves to avoid jeopardizing their jobs? [They would] let the activism be done
by the wife?
Z: Well, first of all it was Gainesville Women--not men--for Equal Rights. [laughter]
It was the women.
L: But I am not finding all that many radical faculty members other than Marshall
Jones and a couple of others.
Z: We did not have a lot of women faculty involved in GWER. My sense of that was
mainly because if you are a faculty person and a woman who is a wife and a mother,
that is about it. You know the ones who were involved in GWER? The unmarried
faculty women, come to think of it.
L: Was Ruth McQuown there?
L: What about Felicity Trueblood?
Z: Felicity was not married.
L: Gladys Kammerer was not married?
Z: No. I think what also started happening at that same period of time was the
Vietnam war. There were a lot of anti-war activities on campus, and some of the
faculty were involved in that. But there was concern about what they were doing.
There was no doubt; faculty sometimes would not demonstrate in anti-war [activities].
They did not think that was the smart thing to do.
L: Was the administration purging radical anti-war faculty?
Z: I think there were some activities in that direction.
L: What do you think? Since that phase of the civil rights movement, [have] we made
progress, [and] are we continuing to make progress?
Z: I think we are going backwards.
Z: I think there is a divisiveness coming within the nation again. I wish I knew why.
I do not know if [it is] because of the economic hard times, and more people are in
low-paying jobs, and are getting out of work. You see that the minority hiring
program here in Jacksonville is in real big trouble and other contractors are griping.
It is just trying to give a helping hand to minorities, whoever they are, in these
economically hard times when there is little to go around. But the other guys do not
think that they should be given an edge. Divisiveness started probably before that,
and I am not too sure why that has been going on.
You would think we would be able to make progress with school being desegregated
and starting at an early age. I do not know; I do not have an answer for that. I have
been doing some reading, and I do not see any answers. Everyone is poking at it.
L: Did you attend the reunion at Mrs. Chalmers's house? What are your reflections on
that, or your memories of that?
Z: That this was an extraordinary group of women who had reassembled. And that it
was an extraordinary time, and it was an extraordinarily courageous group.
L: Was GWER a magnet for a certain type of woman?
Z: I would assume. [laughter]
L: What are the characteristics?
Z: Brilliance. [laughter] No, I think you had to be more activity-based [than most]. I
will contrast it with the League of Women Voters. It was kind of a matter of degree
of difference. The league did the same kinds of things that GWER did in terms of
setting the agenda and the program, prioritizing, and [deciding] where you were going
to put your energies, but of course they always had a national agenda. Plus they
selected one or two local kinds of things, but the studies always went on. That was
really good, in terms of a national "everyone studying whatever," and then you do
your local issues. But they would not deviate. Pretty much they were set in their
We were more willing--if there was a need--to divert our attention from the main
goal which we had slated for that year to go off on something else. [laughter] And
we were a more active base. We did not limit [ourselves] to just issuing and
following up on reports. It was always helpful to have the league on the same
agenda item that we were on, and for them to have someone else saying some of the
same things that we were saying as an ally.
L: Was there much overlap in membership?
Z: There was some crossover in the two, but if you were active in one, you almost could
not be active in the other. They both are demanding organizations.
L: So the league is attracting intelligent, highly-motivated, educated women.
Well, is there anything else you would like to add?
Z: It is funny; you are triggering memories of all this stuff. When we had that reunion,
I really thought about what an extraordinary time frame that was in the nation's
history. This was an extraordinary group of women who came together really to try
to be agents of social change based on a fundamental concept of equality. There was
just nasty stuff going on, and we wanted to try to do something about it. The current
generation that is in school is very inactive. It is absolutely extraordinary how the
pendulum has swung into a very conservative mode, and [people are] self-seeking for
financial gain. There is so little activism on the campuses that it is extraordinary.
I say, what did we do to raise children like this?
L: Well, I would like to thank you for sharing all of this with me. We will send you a
transcript. Thank you.