Interviewee: Shirley Conroy
Interviewer: Stuart Landers
Date: June 26, 1992
L: This is an oral history interview with Mrs. Shirley Conroy, [who was] president of
Gainesville Women for Equal Rights [GWER] in 1968. We are talking in Mrs.
Conroy's apartment in St. Augustine Beach, Florida. Today is June 26, 1992,
and my name is Stuart Landers.
The first set of questions I would like to ask are just basic biographical things.
Can you give me your full name?
C: Shirley Jenkins Conroy.
L: And Jenkins is your maiden name?
L: When and where were you born?
C: I was born in Bucyrus, Kansas, in 1930.
L: Who were your parents?
C: My father was a carpenter and was employed fairly regularly, but during the
Depression [he] was not employed for fairly long periods of time. My mother was
a housewife [who] raised five children.
L: How many brothers and how many sisters [do you have]?
C: One sister and three brothers.
L: Where do you fall in the age spectrum?
C: I am next-to-the-youngest.
L: What were your parents' full names?
C: Edith Glynn Hedrick was my mother's name, and James Marvin Jenkins was my
L: What are your memories of growing up in Kansas? I take it this was a small
C: Well, we moved to Kansas City when I was probably four years old. My parents
sold the farm and bought an apartment house and some other property in
Kansas City. With the Depression, they lost that property, so I can remember
being very poor during the Depression. I think the realization that we had
become poor came to me when an ice cream man came through the
neighborhood, and my mother could not buy me an ice cream cone.
L: I bet that was terrible.
C: That was terrible!
L: Can you tell me a little about your early education?
C: Well, I went to schools in Kansas City, Kansas. I went to Prescott Elementary
School, and then I went to Central Junior High School, then to a very large high
school, Wyandotte High School. I do not think there was anything particularly
memorable. None of these were integrated schools.
L: All segregated?
C: [They were] all segregated schools. I think when I was in high school there were
some efforts begun in Kansas City. I think [these efforts to integrate the schools
began] at a Catholic high school, and there was terrible opposition to it.
L: Where were you during the Second World War? Were you still in Kansas City in
C: I was in Kansas City. [I was] in junior high and high school.
L: Do you remember any of the ways in which things changed once the war
C: I remember rationing. My mother took some sort of cooking course and learned
to cook very weird things that no one liked. It was a time when my father had
work with great regularity, and certainly our income went up. Both of my older
brothers were in the service.
L: Did your mother go to work at all?
L: Was your father still doing carpentry at that time?
C: He did cabinet work and carpentry.
L: When did you graduate from high school?
L: What happened after that?
C: I went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and [I] loved being in
Lawrence, really. I was somewhat active politically. At some point, I think
probably when I was a junior or senior, I became involved in some civil rights
activities, and they were very early civil rights activities where we sat in at a lunch
counter in Lawrence, Kansas. I do not remember exactly what year that was.
L: It sounds like the early 1950s.
C: Yes, it would have to have been the early 1950s. There was a faculty member
who was very active in this group and who wanted us to try some things other
than sitting-in, which we did. I remember we tried Operation Appreciation. We
then supported restaurants that served blacks. That faculty member was
[Calvin] Cal Vanderwerf, who later came to the University of Florida [in 1971 as
dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of chemistry].
L: I will have to track him down. The school you attended was segregated. Is that
correct? Or was it integrated?
C: My memory is that the University of Kansas was pretty much segregated. No,
not entirely, because by the time I was a junior I moved to a co-op, and the co-op
was heavily black. It was largely where people who did not have a lot of money
lived. It was very, very reasonable to live in the co-op. At one time in the co-op I
was the only white person.
L: And the rest were students of some sort? The blacks were all students?
C: They were all university students, yes. My memory is that the first year I was at
Kansas I lived in a dorm, and that dorm, I think, was pretty much segregated.
But maybe four or five years later in the co-op there were a lot of black students.
L: Was it a coed co-op?
L: So it was all women.
C: All women.
L: Other than sitting-in and being involved in the activities that were led by this
faculty member, were you a member of any other groups?
C: I would not say the activities were led by this faculty member. He was a member
of this group, but an influential member of this group.
L: Its name?
C: I do not remember the name of this organization. His name was Cal Vanderwerf.
I was somewhat active in local politics on campus. I think I ran for secretary of
the sophomore class or something like that, in large part because I had been a
high school debater. My debate colleague was Joan Gregory, and her sister was
very involved with Bob Bennett, who later became a governor of Kansas. He
was looking for candidates to run on an independent ticket for the University of
Kansas student council or whatever it was. Anyway, that is how I got involved in
I was involved in the Co-op Association, and at that time there were I think six
co-ops. Most of them were men's co-ops, but [they were] large, with 50 to 100
men. The Co-op Association was a relatively strong voice among the
independents on campus.
L: OK. Upon your graduation, what did you end up doing?
C: Well, I was married by the time I graduated.
L: When did you get married?
C: I got married in 1953. We went back to the University of Chicago where Stephen
was going to finish work on his Ph.D. It was just very expensive to live there,
and tuition at the University of Chicago was very expensive, so we went to
Alabama [Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University]. We were in Auburn for a
year. When we were in Auburn I taught.
That was my first experience going into the Deep South. I do not regard Kansas
City as the Deep South. One of the things I remember about Auburn is I had
great difficulty understanding people because they had such heavy accents. The
other thing [I remember is] I think I had always believed that very intelligent,
educated people were not prejudiced, and we encountered a lot of prejudice in
Auburn. One of the things I remember was we had a next-door neighbor we
lived in university housing who was working on his Ph.D., and he made
statements like he would rather see his daughter dead than going to school with
Then [in 1954] we had an opportunity to go to Istanbul, Turkey, to teach, so we
did that. We spent a little more than a year in Istanbul. Then we had enough
money to spend three months bumming around Europe, so we had a wonderful
time traveling around Europe.
L: Let me back up just a minute. What sort of degree did you take at the University
C: A bachelor's degree in English.
L: And you said that you were teaching. Were you teaching high school or college
C: I was a graduate assistant. I was working on a master's degree and was a
graduate assistant at Auburn.
L: OK. Did you finish that degree?
C: Yes, although I did not finish it at Auburn. When we came back from Turkey we
went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and I finished my master's degree in
English at the University of Iowa.
L: How was the University of Iowa different from Auburn in terms of race relations?
Completely different? Somewhat the same?
C: I do not have any memories of any blacks at Iowa. At that time, though, we were
graduate students, and we had been away from school. As I remember it, our
focus was on being graduate students in English. It was really very difficult.
Again, I was a graduate assistant, [so I was] teaching and going to school full
time. That was the focus of my life at that point.
L: It took everything.
C: Yes. I do not remember being active in anything else.
L: When did you finish your degree?
C: I did not finish my master's degree before we left Iowa. Stephen finished his
Ph.D. and took a job at the University of Florida in 1960, so we came here. At
some point, and I am not sure exactly what year, we went back to Iowa, and I
believe I finished my degree the year we were back at Iowa. At least I know that
that is the year that I took my Ph.D. qualifying exam.
L: OK. Did you ever complete a Ph.D.?
C: I did not complete my Ph.D. I may have had my master's degree before we left
Iowa the first time. I took the Ph.D. qualifying exam, [and] I did a good bit of
work on a dissertation. Then I got involved in Gainesville politics and Gainesville
activities, and I essentially stopped working on my dissertation.
L: Just out of curiosity, what were you writing your dissertation on?
C: On James Joyce[- specifically, a critical introduction to Stephen Hero].
L: What was your initial reaction to the community when you came to Gainesville?
What did you think of this place?
C: Having lived in Auburn, Alabama, for a year, it seemed to me a much more
enlightened, liberal community than Auburn, Alabama. We had some very close
friends. My college roommate from the University of Kansas was here in
Gainesville at that time her husband was on the medical school faculty so we
had some very close friends. So I had a very positive reaction, I think, to the
University of Florida.
L: What were their names, your roommate and her husband?
C: Barbara and Moselio Schaechter [assistant professor of microbiology].
L: What sort of activities did you get involved in once you got in Gainesville? Social
C: Well, again, the time frame is not at all very clear to me, but I became very active
in local politics, and I did so because I went to a meeting where a county
commissioner was extremely rude to an old woman. There was a group of
primarily University people who became increasingly concerned about rebates
that were being to developers. We had a situation where the chairman of the
city commission was actually signing contracts as the chair of the city
commission and then as the developer who was getting rebates.
John DeGrove [associate professor of political science, and] a University law
faculty member named [Sheldon Jay] Plager, I think, [were among] a number of
people [who] formed what was then called the Civic Action Association. Clarisse
Harrison, who is now back in Gainesville, was very active in that group. That
organization slowly gathered funds. People contributed on a monthly basis to
raise sufficient funds to run an election. Gladys Kammerer wrote a book about
the activities of this group; it is called The Changing of the Guard. The Old
Guard in Gainesville had dominated local politics forever, and this group slowly
began to elect people to office. This had a tremendous effect. Byron Winn was
the first person that we elected to office. Byron was an old-time Gainesville
By this time it had taken us a long time to get anybody elected we had the
Civil Rights Act, so he must have been elected after 1964. He ran the Primrose
Restaurant and Hotel downtown. Some black group was willing to perform in
Gainesville, and they could not find anyplace to stay. Byron allowed them to stay
at the Primrose with terrible repercussions, even though it was then the law of
Anyway, we elected Byron Winn, and we elected two other people, so we had a
majority on the commission.
L: This is the city commission?
C: This was the city commission. One of our goals was to put sewers in northeast
Gainesville, and we were able to do that. I think that was one of the major
accomplishments of the Civic Action Association. Many of the people who were
involved in GWER were also involved in the Civic Action Association, but not all
L: To back up a minute, what was your religious background, your religious
C: I do not have a religious affiliation. As a child I went to the Presbyterian church
and the Methodist church, but I have no religious affiliation.
L: Some of the people that I have talked to and am finding out about were Quakers.
That is why I was wondering if you were involved with that.
C: I do not think most of the people who were in GWER early on were Quakers.
L: Who was in GWER early on, and how did you meet these women? How did you
C: Initially most of them were faculty wives from the University of Florida, and I think
a good many of these people met one another through the Newcomers group.
Bev Jones [wife of Marshall Jones] was one of the earliest driving forces. Terry
Alt (and I do not know where Terry is now) was one of the early, early people.
Joan Henry [was another]. I think I probably met Bev through Newcomers or
something like that.
L: What exactly is Newcomers?
C: It was an association where if you were a faculty wife and came to Gainesville,
there was a meeting monthly or something for you to meet other faculty wives.
L: Do you know if that was sponsored officially by the University?
C: Yes, I think it was.
L: Were you at all involved in the Gainesville Human Relations Council?
C: Not early. As my memory is, that preceded GWER, and no, I was not. We
came to Gainesville in 1960, and I think by 1962 maybe we were beginning to
form GWER, so I was not really involved in that.
I want to say that there were some black women who were very early involved in
GWER, [like] Rosa Williams, Barbara Higgins, Geneva Stafford (who is now
dead), and Donna Coward, so there were a number of black women who were
involved at a pretty early point.
L: I have been reading some of the early issues of Focus [GWER's newsletter], and
the best I can figure out there was a formation meeting in October of 1963 for the
purpose of forming a support group for the Student Group for Equal Rights,
which was then heavily picketing.
C: That would have been Bev.
L: Do you recall being involved in that?
C: Where was the meeting held?
L: I am not sure, but invitations were sent or phone calls were made to about eighty
women who had signed some sort of petition in support of what the Student
Group for Equal Rights was up to.
C: I do not have specific memories of that meeting, but I think I was involved from
the beginning with the GWER formation.
L: OK. Do you recall an early meeting in which a panel of [local] black women
came and spoke about conditions in Gainesville?
L: Can you tell me about that?
C: Well, one of the things that I do remember about that is a woman talking about
going to Wilson's Department Store and not being allowed to try on clothes. If
she wanted to purchase something, essentially she had to buy those clothes and
hope for the best, because she could not return them, either. I do not remember
many specifics about it, but I do remember [that] a panel of women [got together
to discuss race relations and equal rights in Gainesville]. That was an early
meeting, but I do not think that was among the earliest.
L: What sort of agenda did you all have at the beginning as far as what you wanted
C: I think in part that activities were beginning. We had student groups that were
much more militant. I think initially it [GWER] was to support the activities of
some other groups. I think our agenda formed a little bit later on and to some
extent during the period when Joan Henry was president. One of the things that
Joan emphasized very greatly was that we were stressing the rights and
responsibilities for all citizens. We eventually became interested I am not sure
how early it was in five major areas, and we had standing committees in five
major areas. If you have read Focus, [you know what they were]. I think I was
the editor of Focus for a good long time.
L: Before or after you were president?
C: If I saw the type of Focus I could tell you, because I would recognize my
typewriter. I think perhaps before. I think when I was president I got Azza
Guertin to be the Focus editor; I got somebody to be the Focus editor.
Anyway, if you have looked at Focus, [you would see reports from these
C: Right. Employment, housing, community affairs (which was the catch-all), and
what was the fifth?
L: I think you had a membership committee.
C: Maybe. I would have to go back and look at Focus. But we had five very active
committees, and at certain points all of them were very, very active. So our
agenda developed on the basis of the interests of membership. We then at
some point had a pretty different agenda from the student groups.
L: There was a picketing committee early on.
C: We picketed the waffle shop.
L: Did you participate in any of that?
C: I participated in the picketing. I do not remember that picketing as well as some
other marches and things. I do not remember whether GWER officially
[endorsed that picket]. Maybe we did. Did we endorse that picketing? I think we
did. Yes, we supported that picketing.
L: How did you recruit members, and, other than faculty wives and women from the
black community, were there any white women who were non-University
affiliated that you can remember?
C: I do not remember any white women who were not University affiliated who were
really active. Our early black members were almost all [public school] teachers,
and it was relatively dangerous for them to be members of a racially mixed
organization. Certainly in 1963, and even in 1964. We did have membership
drives [and] we did have a membership committee, but it seems to me that was
later. Initially people who were concerned with some of these issues were
relatively eager to join this organization. I think [people learned of GWER]
through some churches, through word of mouth, through the human rights
groups. But I do not remember early on a lot of active recruitment. The group
grew and grew.
L: Sort of on its own steam?
C: As I remember it, yes. The civil rights movement was growing tremendously,
and there was activity all over the country by this point, of course.
L: What sort of opposition were you up against? Was it organized in any way? Do
you remember any leading staunch segregationists?
C: Well, I think one of the most frightening segregationists, at least for many of the
teachers who were involved in GWER early on, was a man named [William S.]
"Tiny" Talbot, who was superintendent of schools at that time. Tiny Talbot
indicated to us that he had a list of the women who were teachers who were
participating in some of GWER's activities and that they could well lose their jobs
as a result of that.
L: How did he indicate that to you?
C: During some meeting in his office I am not sure I was at this meeting, but I
remember hearing this he had in his desk drawer a list, and he opened his
desk drawer and let people believe there was a list there, at least. Then he
closed his desk drawer.
At least initially when we started meeting the groups were very small, and we
met in homes. Because it was more difficult for blacks to come into white
neighborhoods than for whites to go into black neighborhoods, we met in some
of the black homes. One of the things that we heard I do not know whether
this was true or not was that the police were very aware that we were meeting
and that they took license numbers of cars that were around that particular
house. Indeed, at least on occasion we certainly saw police cars, and I think on
at least one occasion a policeman came to the home. I think it was the home of
Geneva Stafford, whose husband had been a dentist or a doctor. (He was
dead.) We were meeting at Geneva Stafford's house, and a policeman came up
to the door. Geneva simply did not let him in.
In terms of individuals who were really tremendously hostile, I do not remember
any specific names. There were certainly people in positions of authority who
were very hostile to any possibility of integration.
L: What sorts of allies did you have other than faculty wives at the University?
C: We had allies in the student group, we had allies among faculty members, and
we certainly had some allies within the local community. Black ministers were
one of the major sources of allies. The NAACP was also one of the tools that we
had access to. One of the early things that happened was that Bev Jones and
Joan Henry went to Jacksonville and got the NAACP lawyer to help instigate the
lawsuit that integrated the schools. They used Reverend Wright's children, I
think, and some others. [Rev. Wright was pastor of the Mount Carmel Baptist
Church, and the "children" were members of the NAACP Youth Council]. But
Joan and Bev as representatives of GWER were some of the people who started
L: Tell me some more about school integration and the lawsuit that you can
remember. That was 1964 and into 1965, I believe.
C: Yes. I think this was happening along with a lot of other things. By that time the
organization had grown. We were becoming more active in a number of other
areas. I think one of the earliest things that GWER did, even preceding that, was
a survey of doctors' offices and recreational facilities. I think Joan did much of
that. We published that and got tremendous hostility from doctors who had white
entrances and black entrances [and] from elected officials who complained
bitterly that we had pointed out that a lot of recreational facilities were closed to
L: Do you recall where you published that?
C: GWER published it.
L: And distributed it?
C: Yes. Anyway, I do not know that I have any very specific memories. I have a
memory of a meeting in Joan's living room where Earl Johnson [NAACP lawyer
from Jacksonville] came and spoke to the group about what he was planning to
do. There was a lot of opposition to what he was doing.
L: What sort of opposition?
C: He was willing to make concessions that many, particularly many of the black
women, were not willing to make. This may have been later; I am not sure.
L: Do you recall any specifics about concessions?
C: No, I do not.
L: What about the Boys' Club?
C: The Boys' Club was one of the most traumatic of the areas in which we worked.
I think I had never been frightened until we really worked to integrate the Boys'
Club. At that time another women who was involved particularly with the Boys'
Club was Stephanie Spanier.
L: Was she white or black?
C: She was white. Her former husband she is divorced from him now was John
Spanier, who is on the [political science] faculty still at the University of Florida.
At any rate, the Boys' Club on Waldo Road was totally segregated and had a
fence around it that said "whites only." As you know, it is still adjacent to a black
community, and you literally had little black boys standing at that fence looking
in. I think at some point in this I was president. At any rate, the Boys' Club was
next to God and motherhood, and nobody could touch the Boys' Club. They did
not directly receive government monies, as I recall, but they did receive a lot of
their utility work without cost. The utility department did all sorts of things.
Construction people from the city did things for them.
The other thing was that by this time we had a civil rights law. The United Way
directive said that every organization that received United Way money was
supposed to sign that they were not discriminating, and the Boys' Club director or
whomever signed that.
At any rate, we wanted to integrate the Boys' Club. We again, as I recall, used
Earl Johnson. They would not even give us the names of the directors of the
Boys' Club. We were going to subpoena them with John Does. One of the
things I remember about that is Donna Coward was very active in GWER. Her
husband, Tom Coward, who is still a county commissioner, was on the board of
the Boys' Club; he was their token black on that board. We said, "Donna, that
means Tom is going to get a subpoena." She said, "That is all right."
I can remember that I think [County Commissioners] Edgar Leo Johnson and
Jack Durrance came to my home on a Sunday afternoon to try to persuade me
that we would simply destroy the Boys' Club if we persisted and went ahead with
this lawsuit. They asked us not to go ahead with it, to give them some time to
work on things. I think there was a meeting of GWER, and there was
tremendous controversy about whether to allow some time or to go ahead and
pursue this. I think I was president, and Joan was chair of what must have been
the recreation committee. The vote, as I remember this, was a tie vote. I think I
broke the tie vote, but I supported Joan Henry, who was the chair of the
L: She wanted to go ahead with the [lawsuit]?
C: No. She wanted a certain period of time to resolve it.
L: What was the eventual outcome, and how long did it take?
C: They decided to integrate the Boys' Club. Again, my timing is confused. They
did integrate the Boys' Club. Then they proposed to move the Boys' Club, and
essentially it would have segregated it again. I can remember being at the Boys'
Club with the director of the Boys' Club with Joan and Joan getting furious as I
have rarely seen her get furious. She essentially told them they were going to
move this whole facility over her dead body.
The other thing that happened as result of that was I think headlines in the
Gainesville Sun that these women had upset the director of the Boys' Club, and
he was considering resigning because of the terrible things we did to them.
L: Am I to understand that when you started trying to desegregate the Boys' Club
there was only one facility in Gainesville?
C: Yes, that is correct.
L: And then they started to build a second one.
C: My memory is they integrated the first one, but nobody liked it; they were forced
to, essentially. A few years later, to enable them again to have a white Boys'
Club, they were going to build a Boys' Club that was going to be separate but
equal, essentially, and move the other one. To some degree they have done
that, you realize. There is now a Boys' Club in the northwest, and they did a little
Boys' Club in the southeast. The Waldo Road site is gone.
L: Oh, so it has gone back to being -
C: Well, it is not segregated as it was then. You literally had fences and signs. We
had taken pictures, and somewhere maybe in the archives [you will find them].
Stephanie [Spanier] was a good photographer, and she took lots of pictures of
the Boys' Club saying "whites only" and things like that. Some of those pictures
should be around somewhere.
L: I hope to find them. I guess we should talk a little bit about your tenure as
president. What sort of problems did you have?
C: I was so very involved, and there were a number of women who were very
involved. Whether I was president or not, I was really involved, so I do not
remember [specific cases when I was president and when I was not]. I think the
big to-do about the Boys' Club came up when I was president, but some of these
things were ongoing.
One of the early things and I was not president was integrating the hospital.
It was segregated. Blacks were allowed in the hospital, but they were on a
different floor. One of the things that bothered us again, remember [that] lots
of us were young women was that the nursery and the maternity wings were
separated so that they had to drag the little black babies up several floors
through the hospital to take them to their mothers, so one of the things that we
worked on--and there was a lot of opposition to that, but nothing like the Boys'
Club--was integrating the hospital. That was Alachua General Hospital. I do not
think that occurred when I was president.
L: I think that was about 1965.
C: That was later. When do your records indicate I was president?
L: February 1968 to February 1969.
C: OK. The employment activities were another big thing that I remember. What
we did was we sent a black woman with certain skills to the employment office,
and she would seek job openings. Then we would send a white woman with
similar skills, and she would seek job openings. The black woman would be sent
out to do housework, and the white woman would be sent to an office job or
whatever. We did this enough times and documented it. Then we talked to the
director of the employment office about their practices, which he absolutely
We then went to Willard Wirtz, who was national secretary of labor [1962-1968],
and sent him reams of material. It was to be confidential. They shared that
information with the local employment office, and it had names of some of the
people involved, which we were absolutely furious and incensed about. So a lot
of correspondence then occurred between the local people and Willard Wirtz's
office. I remember at some point some representative from that office came to
Gainesville and said, "Willard Wirtz sends greetings to the Gainesville Women
for Equal Rights," because we had hassled him so much. Eventually we effected
some change in the way the employment office operated. I just do not
remember what the time frames were.
L: What about the Community Action Board as part of the war on poverty?
C: I think I had served as chair of every one of those committees at various points.
That [the Community Affairs Committee] was perhaps our most active
committee. I do not remember any very specific things about what we did. I do
not think directly through GWER perhaps through other things we urged and
sought people to run for local office, particularly blacks.
L: You had a court watcher program in the summer of 1968 in conjunction with the
American Civil Liberties Union.
C: Yes. I had forgotten about that. I do not think I was very directly involved with
that at all.
L: OK. I found all of the forms that were filled out [by the court watchers]. I looked,
and your name was not on any of them.
C: No, I do not recall that I participated in that. We did Kindergarten Alert. Black
children were not going to kindergarten, and we very much wanted to get black
kids going to kindergarten. We went out into various areas. I do not remember
when this was, again, but it was a tremendous eye-opener for me, because I saw
poverty in Gainesville such as I had never seen before. We always went in
teams, almost always a black and white woman, into areas that I had never
been, and we were trying to register children for kindergarten.
One of the requirements to go to kindergarten was that the child had to have a
physical examination, and many of these families could not afford a physical
examination for their child. By that time we had some real contacts with the
elected officials, and I think with the help of Jack Durrance and Sidney Martin
and Ed Turlington we got them to open the health department and provide a
doctor to give physical exams in the evening. GWER women would be the staff
and fill out the forms and help. I can tell you where it was: it was the old nurses'
quarters right there by Alachua General Hospital. I think it has been torn down
now, but that is where these were held. We did that several nights to get these
children a physical. It was the Women's Hospital Auxiliary (which was "old"
Gainesville), or something, [that] really objected to our using this facility and
raised a big fuss about it. But we were able to do that.
The other thing that we discovered is that a lot of these kids were not going to
school because they did not have shoes. So we raised money and bought
tennis shoes, as I remember, in various sizes. I can remember having all these
tennis shoes in my car and going out to various areas and trying to match up
kids and tennis shoes so they would have shoes to go to school. Most of these
families would not send their children to school without shoes.
So that was our effort to get some of these kids into kindergarten, and I think that
that was very much something that the black teachers wanted and pushed and
that a great many of the women who were involved in education supported. This
was a big effort on the part of the Gainesville Women for at least much of a
L: Did you continue with it in subsequent years?
C: I do not really remember. My involvement was over one summer, as I remember
L: I have come across something called a Best Day of the Week program.
C: Oh, yes, I remember [the] Best Day of the Week program. The schools had
been integrated, I think, and there was a lot of friction. There were problems in
the schools. The idea of Best Day of the Week was to make the interaction of
black and white kids in the schools a great experience so that it would really be a
lot of fun. So activities were planned to demonstrate particularly that these black
kids had some real special, unique abilities and skills, and to let interaction to
occur so that everybody felt good about themselves. That is what I remember
about that program.
L: And these were Saturday events.
C: Yes, Saturday events.
L: So Saturday was the "best day of the week," I guess.
C: Yes. Something like that.
L: OK. I have also come across a HANDS [Home and School] program, which was
also concerned with the education of young children.
C: I do not remember HANDS.
L: What about the social function of this group? Other than trying to bring about
changes, was it a social club in any sense of the word?
C: In terms of having social activities, that certainly was not a primary focus. I think
many of us, by working together and sharing some concerns and fears and
anxiety about things and really wanting so much to see some things happen,
became very close to one another, and I think we may have had some picnics
and some things like that. But I really do not remember a lot of social activities.
Certainly that was not our focus. I mean, within the membership.
L: OK. I have come across announcements for things like membership coffees,
end-of-the-year parties, I think a picnic in Magnolia State Park one year.
C: Oh, yes, that we would have had. I have some vague memory of a picnic.
L: In the late 1960s a rising wave of student protest against the Vietnam war started
across the country and in Gainesville. Was GWER at all involved in anything
having to do with the Vietnam issue, or was it not an issue [for the group]?
C: It was an issue for me. I remember marching at the federal building. This was
much later, because I remember having my daughter with me. I do not really
remember whether GWER was involved formally. If it was not involved formally,
at least many of the people in GWER were active in some of the opposition to
the war and the protests. I have forgotten [when], but at some point after
integration took place [GWER members became active in voicing their
opposition to the Vietnam war]. You realize [that] even after the passage of the
Civil Rights law things did not happen for a while. It was only by challenging and
testing the law that things began to happen. But probably by the 1970s or so
GWER was not nearly as active; there just was not that much that we were
L: Why do you think you became less active?
C: Because many of the things that we had really pushed for, which was integration
of the schools, integration of some recreational facilities, integration of doctors'
offices [and] the Boys' Club those things had happened. So our role was not
as clear and direct. Discrimination was no longer as acceptable, at least overtly.
So much of it had gone underground.
L: So GWER just sort of ran out of a focus in the 1970s?
C: I think that is accurate. I think there is another factor. The people who were
really, really busy and involved during that period were worn out. We had been
doing this by that time a long time six or seven years, at least that and I think
we were exhausted. I think the death of Martin Luther King was devastating to a
lot of people who had been very involved in the civil rights movement. Even
though we had made tremendous progress, it had a very negative impact for a
lot of people. It made them feel really hopeless about a lot of things. So I think
there was a variety of factors. But many of the things that we had been initially
most concerned about had happened, and we were tired.
L: More successes than failures, of course.
C: I think more successes than failures.
L: You mentioned a daughter, and I absolutely forgot to ask you earlier about [your]
children. How many children do you have?
C: I have two children, a daughter who is in Philadelphia now and a son who is still
L: When were they born?
C: Erin Rebecca was born in 1963, and Timothy was born in 1967. So Erin
Rebecca was an infant when a lot of things were going on. I remember lots of
people taking care of her while a lot of things were happening.
L: Are there any other memories of your GWER activities? (I would like to talk to
you at some point about your career, your job.) [Were there] other marches and
protests that you took part in?
C: Nothing immediately comes to mind.
L: You mentioned the Waffle Shop earlier. Carol Thomas was arrested in some
sort of protest/altercation at the Waffle Shop in early 1966.
C: Well, my memory is that she was arrested because she got involved in a grand
jury investigation, and she talked and made comments to grand jury members.
Maybe that was later, but that also happened. I knew Carol and did not always
agree with her, but she had tremendous concern and compassion, and I admired
her in many ways. She did not always get her facts straight. I do not remember
her being arrested at the Waffle Shop. I remember her being arrested and
jailed; she spent time in jail in Gainesville. [I remember that] because I took her
newspapers and some materials while she was in jail, so she spent time in jail.
My memory is that there was some grand jury investigation, and Carol
approached some grand jury members and spoke to them. Now, obviously the
powers that be wanted her off the scene. I am not sure if they would have
thrown everybody in jail for what she did, but they did Carol, and it was for
several months, at least, it seems to me.
Carol would listen to an individual and believe that individual, whether they were
telling the truth or not, or whether they had exaggerated or not, and [she]
generalized from that individual. She would be very upset with GWER if we were
not willing to accept at face value exactly what she said. I think one of the things
that GWER tried to do was before they took a position a lot of us were League
of Women Voters people, anyway we would try to investigate; what we often
said was we would do our homework and do everything to find out about it. We
would try to work through local channels. We initiated lawsuits only when
everything else failed. But Carol did not like that approach, so she was not
always very happy with us. I did not always agree with Carol, but I admired her.
L: Was she about your age? Younger? Older?
C: She might have been younger or about my age, maybe.
L: And she was white, right?
C: Yes. She had two children, as I remember, and she sent her children to black
schools one of the early, early integration efforts. It was very hard on the
children; it really was. But Carol had very strong convictions.
L: Can you remember any other members of the group that were a little bit radical
C: I want to say Joann Hahn, but I am not sure of that name. At that time she
happened to live next door to me, and she and her husband [Paul] may have
been active in SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] or SDS
[Students for a Democratic Society] or something. She wanted a GWER mailing
list and our membership list for something that she was doing, and we did not
distribute our membership list at all, or [we did so] very carefully. We were not
supposed to distribute our membership list.
L: Why not?
C: Because particularly for some of the black members it could have put their jobs
in jeopardy; in some cases it could have jeopardized their situation in a lot of
ways. Anyway, she felt she was absolutely entitled to that list. Maybe I was
Focus editor and had the list, but I would not give it to her. I remember she was
just absolutely adamant. I think Bev [Jones] also wanted the list for SDS or
something at one time. We essentially had a rule: we did not give out the list. I
believe the people who lived next door to me were the Hahns, and they were
much more radical than most of us.
L: About what percentage of the membership was black?
C: Oh, it probably depends on what point in time. I am not at all sure, but I would
guess 30 or 40 percent.
L: OK. You mentioned a couple, but were there a lot of black women who were
very, very active?
C: There were a number of black women, yes, who were active and remained
active over a period of time. I think I have mentioned Geneva Stafford, Donna
Coward, Rosa Williams, Barbara Bryant (she is now Barbara Higgins), Ann
McGhee for at least some period of time, Altamese Cook, Cora Roberson -
L: Felicity Trueblood?
C: Felicity is white. She was never very active in GWER, that I remember. Felicity
was a University faculty member at one time. [She was in the Department of
English and headed the English as a Foreign Language program. Ed.]
L: I did not know that.
C: I do not think she was ever very active. I am sure there were others whose
names I am not remembering.
L: [Were there] any sort of tensions in the group, other than [those involving] Carol
Thomas and Mrs. Hahn?
C: Oh, I think Beverly [Jones] sometimes wanted to take much more immediate,
direct action than Joan [Henry] wanted to take, or sometimes than I wanted to
take. I think Bev would have pushed for more immediate support of some things
the students were doing and much closer involvement of GWER with the
students than [what] actually developed. I think GWER began to move and do
things on its own, as did the students.
L: Her husband, Marshall Jones, was heavily involved with the students.
C: Very much. I think he was the prime mover of SDS, I think it was. I think there
was SNCC and SDS.
L: And there was one called the Southern Student Organizing Committee [SSOC],
which he was also involved in. The more I learn about Dr. Jones the more pots [I
discover that] he had on the stove.
C: He was into a lot of things.
L: When did you pretty much stop being active in GWER?
L: I do not really recall a year. I think that one of the things that happened is that as
our involvement in GWER became less, many of us became more involved
L: Is that true of you?
C: I am so bad on years. I was involved in local politics, it seems to me, for years
and years and years. Yes. Do you know when Byron Winn was elected? Have
you come across that?
L: He created the biracial committee sometime in the early 1960s.
C: And so was [Chester] Yates. That was another one that we worked with.
L: He was probably elected before 1963.
C: Oh, that seems awfully early, but it could have been. [Winn was elected to the
city commission in 1961. Ed.] It seems to me that our political involvement went
on for much longer than that.
L: Did you ever run for any offices?
C: No, but I ran campaigns for other people, or helped run campaigns for other
L: Who all did you run campaigns for?
C: Well, Ed Turlington; I was very involved in some of Ed Turlington's [campaigns
for city commission and] some of Sid Martin's campaigns [for county
commissioner and later for state representative]. The county commissioner who
got beat whose name I cannot remember. Edgar Leo Johnson, I believe, was
his name. The teachers went on strike [in the spring of 1968], and he
participated in that strike. He was defeated, but I helped with his campaign. Al
Sutherland [was another]. I am remembering people who were elected; I am
sure I have been involved in many more campaigns of people who were not
elected than those who were.
L: And these were all very liberal, progressive candidates?
C: Oh, progressive, at least.
L: I know that [fellow GWER member] Mrs. [David] Chalmers ran for the city
commission a couple times in the early 1970s. Were you [involved in those
C: I was somewhat involved in Jean's campaigns, yes. I was certainly supportive.
L: What about women's rights, women's liberation? Did that ever become a priority
or an issue in GWER?
C: It was not an issue in GWER. I personally got involved in consciousness-raising
groups very, very early. There were five or six consciousness-raising groups
around Gainesville, and I was a member of one of those groups and was
involved for at least a year in some of those activities.
That was fraught with problems for a lot of reasons. We had some women who
were much more radical who felt women should not attend universities [and that]
women should not read books that were written by men, so there was a lot of
dissension within groups. Eventually, I think, most of those early groups
dissolved. Somewhere I have some material from a lot of those groups in that
L: Would you be willing to let me look at that at some point?
C: Sure. If I can find it I will be glad to.
L: Do you remember the names of these groups, anyone that was in them with you,
where you all met, the sorts of things you talked about?
C: We met in homes. I do not remember that we had a specific name at all. These
were small groups, because women were sharing very intimate information with
one another. I do not think most of these groups would ever be more than
fifteen. It seems to me that once a month or once every other month all the
groups would get together, and that is when these terrible, terrible fights would
occur. This was going on at other places around the country, and we were
aware of other groups. The Red Stockings, I think from Boston, came to
Gainesville, and we had a group meeting at my house. I remember that. We
had women just all over everywhere. So we did have contact with some national
groups that were meeting at that time, and the Red Stockings were aligned with
one segment of the groups in Gainesville, but not with a lot of other women's
L: Were you involved in any sort of women's consciousness-raising before you got
L: What inspired you to get involved in that, to move in that direction, do you think?
C: Probably some dissatisfaction with what I was doing or my life, and probably
because of people I knew who were involved. I am trying to think of who I knew
who was involved, because some of them are still around Gainesville.
L: Judith Brown? Did you know her?
C: I did, indeed. I think Judy was in a consciousness-raising group. She was not in
the group that I was in. I do not remember Judy being very involved in GWER,
but she may have been peripherally involved, at least.
L: I think she was heavily involved in CORE [Congress for Racial Equality].
L: Would you make any connection between your early experiences in GWER (and
fighting against racial discrimination) and your movement towards women's
C: I do not know if there was any sort of direct connection, but [a common thread
was] some concerns with basic social issues. In that sense, sure. The women
whom I knew who were involved in the women's movement were not people from
GWER, by and large; they were not. I really cannot think of anyone.
L: Do you remember what other things they were involved in, where they were
C: Some of them were artists; now some of them are fairly successful artists. There
were a good many lesbians in some of these groups, [and] there were women
who were very unhappy in marriages. I have no idea how these groups got
L: Were any of the women in these consciousness-raising groups black that you
C: Not that I remember.
L: OK. Did you continue with the women's liberation [issues] on into the 1970s?
How long were you [involved with this movement]?
C: I think this was in the 1970s. [It was] perhaps a year to two years that I
participated directly in any of these groups. There was tremendous hostility
among some of the groups. If you were going to take a course at the University,
you were absolutely rejected by at least one faction. I think eventually a lot of
women simply withdrew from it because you were under so much pressure not to
accept some things. I was not going to give up reading. I am an English major,
and there are some good books written by men.
L: Perhaps things got too radical for you?
C: Things got too radical for me.
L: OK. Please talk to me for a while about your career with the Department of
C: Oh, I have been there for only a brief period.
L: I guess we should jump all the way back. You mentioned that you taught while
you were getting your education.
C: I taught at the University of Iowa while I was a student, [and] I taught at Auburn
while I was a student. One summer I taught at Youngstown [State] University [in
Ohio]; we went there because we both had teaching jobs for the summer. I
enjoyed teaching and love teaching. I really like doing that a lot. When we came
to Gainesville they had a nepotism law, and I could not teach at the University. I
guess I had a master's, but I did not have a Ph.D., anyway. But I might have
been able to [teach] had they not had that nepotism law.
I worked at Gaddum Interiors when we first came to Gainesville, which was an
interior decorating shop. Essentially I was called business manager, but I was a
clerk and kept books and did things of that sort.
L: Full time? Part time?
C: Full time. Maxine Gaddum and Jerry Gaddum were very active in local politics
and in a variety of areas, so that was another thing that got me into some
activities, knowing Maxine Gaddum. She is now in California, I think. So this
was simply not a challenging job, particularly; it was just a job.
At some point  I got a job through the medical center on a research
project, the Florida Health Study. I was an interviewer. Then I went on to
evaluate some of the instruments that they were using and write critiques of
them. As a spinoff from the Florida Health Study there was a mortality study,
and Jean Chalmers and Pat Farris and I were the codirectors of the mortality
study, so we worked on that. So I had gotten into research sorts of things and
writing. I did all the background research and reading for the mortality study.
Then I left the mortality study and took a job as coordinator for the Governor's
Invitational Conference on the Problems of the Disadvantaged in Postsecondary
Education [1970-1971]. This was a conference that it took us approximately a
year or more to plan. We had the University, the Board of Regents, the voc. ed.
people, the prison people, and a variety of people from throughout the state. We
met sometimes in Tallahassee and sometimes in Gainesville. We flew around
on the little airplane that the University had. I worked on that for about a year.
Then the conference happened, and then we did a follow-up report. I worked
with Hal [Harold] Stahmer on that project, who is still at the University of Florida.
He was then the [associate] dean [of the College of Arts and Sciences], and he
was the University of Florida person involved in that conference. I had very, very
high expectations that some really positive things were going to result from that.
I think pretty much a study resulted and it got put on a shelf, and very little
L: That sounds disappointing.
C: Yes. Then I think we went to Poland for a year [1974-1975]: Stephen had a
Fulbright. While we were in Poland I taught at the University of Wroclaw and
enjoyed that very much. I taught Polish faculty members pretty much who had
Ph.D.s or who had advanced degrees and wanted to improve their English and
develop English so that they could write papers and participate in international
conferences and things of that sort.
When we came back it seems to me I was unemployed for a while. Then I took
a job with the county as director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program [RSVP,
L: Alachua County?
C: Alachua County. I do not know if you know RSVP, but it is for people sixty and
older, and they do volunteer activities throughout the community. I worked at
RSVP for a number of years as director.
Then I got a promotion [in 1978] and became assistant director of human
services for Alachua County. At that time human services was the largest
component in county government bigger than the road department. We had
CETP [Comprehensive Employment Training Program], which was an
employment training program, and Community Action Agency, RSVP, Foster
Grandparents, Social Services, Veterans Affairs, [and] I think Refugee
Assistance. I think there were seven programs that were under county human
services. I stayed in that position until that position was eliminated [in 1982].
Twice during that period I went to CETP as acting director, once after the director
of CETP had been fired, which was a traumatic time, and then once when CETP
was essentially being phased out. So I went to CETP as a county employee and
laid off all of the staff but about fifteen, and there were 100-some staff, which
was a dreadful, dreadful time. It was a major federal training effort.
At any rate, after funding for CETP was gone and some other federal programs
were cut way, way back, the position of assistant director of county human
services was eliminated, so I was unemployed. I was unemployed for six months
and drew unemployment benefits.
L: Do you remember about when that was? Late 1970s?
C: Oh, no, we are later. No, maybe that is about right. I have a r6sum6 over there,
and we could check the time from that.
L: So they eliminated your job, and you were unemployed.
C: I was unemployed for six months. I had served as a member of the board for the
Health Planning Council, and they needed somebody on a temporary basis to do
a special project, so the Health Planning Council hired me. I was employed
there for two or three months.
Then [in 1983] I got a job as director of a Coordinated Transportation System of
Gainesville. In the state of Florida they passed a law saying every county had to
have a single agency that coordinated transportation for the elderly,
handicapped, and transportation-disadvantaged. No agency in Alachua County
wanted to serve in that capacity, so the county commission had helped in the
formation of the Coordinated Transportation System, and I was hired. Actually, I
was the second director, but the program had not actually become operational; it
was still in the study phase. I studied the situation and gathered information, and
we became operational during my tenure. I served as director of the
Coordinated Transportation System until about five years ago.
We did really well. We did not operate vehicles directly. We were what is called
a transportation brokerage, which is fairly unique, and we got a lot of statewide
attention. We did real, real well. Secretary [William] Miller was then secretary in
this area of the state for the Department of Transportation, and he wanted me to
move to the Department of Transportation. I had accumulated some time in the
state retirement system when I had worked for the county, but I did not have ten
years. If I was ever going to get ten years, I needed to go back and do it.
L: Was that to get full retirement?
C: You have to have ten years to vest in the state retirement system. So I took this
job with the Department of Transportation with the understanding that I could
stay in Gainesville one year, and then after that I would work out of the
Jacksonville urban office, because the Department of Transportation was trying
to build up the Jacksonville urban office. So I have done that for the past roughly
five years. It is an incredible male bureaucracy. It is the strangest bureaucracy
for which I have ever, ever worked. But a lot of times I enjoy my job. I enjoy the
agencies that I serve, because most of them are human service agencies.
L: You just said it was an incredible male bureaucracy. How much do you think
that sort of thing has changed since, say, 1960? Have things gotten better?
C: I do not know about the Department of Transportation because I do not know
what they were like then.
L: Just in your career in general.
C: I am sure they have gotten better. Overt discrimination is simply not tolerated.
Sexual harassment is not as acceptable as it once was, at least. I think it has
changed very slowly, but I think there are still incredible problems, certainly with
a lot of state agencies, probably.
L: What sorts of problems, specifically? Pay inequality?
C: I think inequality in pay, inequality in promotion. I think sexual harassment is
probably not terribly uncommon. Attitudes, at least among some groups, toward
women in nontraditional positions have not changed very much at all. But they
have changed some.
L: What about race relations? What is your opinion about the way race relations
have gone since the mid to late 1970s until now? Are we still making progress?
Are we moving backwards?
C: Certainly we have made a lot of progress. I think there is still a good long way to
go. I think one of the things that has happened, at least from my personal
perspective or observation, is that blacks and whites have moved farther apart in
terms of interaction socially or in any very personal way. We do not share; we
are not working together to solve common problems. And I think the black
position has become much more rigid about "we have to solve our own
problems, and we do not want the involvement of whites." I think that is at least
unfortunate and sad in some ways. I do not think whites would be as welcome in
a good many situations as they would have been in the 1960s and early 1970s,
like participating in voter registration all over the country, which lots of whites did.
Blacks and whites worked very closely together, as they did in GWER. They
worked together, sharing mutual concerns and goals and objectives. We may
still theoretically have the same concerns and objectives, but we are not coming
together to share those.
L: What other sorts of activities have you been involved in, [such as] hobbies or
other organizations? It does not sound like you had all that much time for
C: Well, I used to play bridge and enjoy playing bridge very much. I played
duplicate bridge a little bit, but not for years now. I recently went white-water
rafting down the Chattooga [River in South Carolina/Georgia] with a group of
L: Oh, really? How did you get involved in that? [Were they] just friends of yours?
C: Just friends of mine. A woman was celebrating her fiftieth birthday, and we
wanted to do something really special and different, so fourteen women went to
South Carolina and spent a weekend, and we went white-water rafting.
L: What did you think of that?
C: I thought it was one of the most exciting things I have ever done. It was really
terrifying, and I am not sure I would do it again, but I am glad I did it.
L: That is one of the fiercest rivers in the country, I understand.
C: We did Bull Sluce, which is a fourteen-foot drop. It was very, very exciting.
I think one of the things that is true for me is I have maintained a lot of contact
with women and close associations with women. I enjoy doing things with
groups of women.
L: Is that a direct result of your GWER experience, do you think?
L: You had that before?
C: Well, I do not think I had worked as closely with groups of women as I did in
GWER, and it was indeed a very satisfying, rewarding experience, so perhaps
there is some connection.
L: OK. Is there anything else you would like to add that you can think of that is
C: I was trying to think of standing committees. Employment we have talked about.
Recreation, Community Affairs. We did a lot of things in Community Affairs, and
I am just not remembering what we did. But they should have been covered in
Focus. I think the Boys' Club was regarded as a Community Affairs Committee
activity; I am pretty sure it was.
L: I have come across [this item]: In 1966/67 you were listed as chairman--not
chairwoman, but chairman of the Boys' Club and Welfare Committee.
C: Oh, yes. The state law pertaining to welfare recipients was being revised, and
GWER studied that law very carefully. With groups of women and welfare
recipients we went to Tallahassee. We had studied the law. We had social
workers who were involved in implementing the law on that committee, and they
went with us. We had welfare recipients [go with us]. Savanah Williams was
one of the women who went with us; she was a welfare recipient. She is very
dynamic and outspoken. I am trying to think of who else went. It was one of the
first times, I think, that perhaps that some of the legislators had heard or seen
actual welfare recipients.
Some of these regulations were very strange. It seems to me there was some
regulation that you could not get welfare if you had a man in the house and
things of that sort. The people who lived with some of these regulations were
able to talk about the impact that some of these things really had on their lives.
We went a number of times to Tallahassee to lobby for changes in the state
laws. We got some changes. We did not get everything we wanted, but we did
have a real impact on the welfare legislation.
L: Jean Chalmers told me that the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights had a hand
in writing some of these laws.
C: We did; we worked with staff, as I remember it. We worked with staff, and we
used primarily the social workers who were on this committee to help make
some changes and do actual drafts of some of this legislation. Jean was
involved with that, too. Jean went.
L: You mentioned earlier that you had always been a member of the League of
C: No, I had not always been a member. What I meant to say was that the
approach and the attitudes of a good many women in GWER who had been in
the league was you study an issue and discuss it before you take a position.
You do not just leap in.
L: And you felt that was the best way to operate.
C: Sometimes. Most of the time.
C: I am sure that there were injustices that were so outrageous that it was very
difficult to adhere to that attitude.
L: OK. At any time were you a member of the League of Women Voters?
L: I do not know anything about the League of Women Voters, so I am curious what
they were up to. What did you do with them?
C: I do not remember ever being very involved in the League of Women Voters, but
I was a member and [was] supportive of a lot of the positions that they eventually
ended up taking after they had studied an issue. The League of Women Voters
certainly had a lot of interest in local politics, and many of the people who were
active in local politics were also members of the league, though the league does
not endorse candidates.
L: Speaking of that, GWER formed and existed for a number of years and then
about 1966 decided to incorporate. Do you have any memories as to why that
decision was made?
C: I do not remember specifically why. I think we probably always intended to do
that and just never got around to it.
L: Well, I think that thoroughly covers it. We have been talking for nearly two
hours. [If you would be willing to give me] a copy of your r6sum6, that would be
wonderful, very helpful.
C: I had a detailed r6sum6 and a shortened version of the r6sum6. Let me see
what I have. I am now on the board of Ocean Villas and have 10 million [pieces
of] Ocean Villa stuff.
L: Here at the condominium?
L: How long have you lived here?
C: About a year and a half. I have an old r6sum6 where I list the various
committees [that I have served on] and go into some detail about what every one
of those committees did. I can send you that. I do not think I am going to have
that here. I will give it to Stephen to give to you.
L: OK. Before I turn the machine off I would like to thank you for talking to me
today. It looks like I got a lot of valuable information.
C: I have enjoyed doing it.