Monday, October 5, 2009

Time shift - Jogging the collective Memory

More on Harvard: (Note: Harvard still has all-male final clubs)

I also want to say that I am loving the book. I especially love the fact that it is combining history and personal life, something that, as you mention, many women's memoirs fail to do. I am a few years younger than you, but you refreshed my memory about the obnoxious rule differences in college (the parietals) between men and women, and in general the vast differences in treatment which I never fully realized until the consciousness-raising groups of the early Women's Movement turned on that little lightbulb in my brain. Once it had, I wrote an article in the Harvard Crimson (I was a grad student then) that noted my new-found realization of the differences between the treatment of men and women at Harvard (in some ways a great test case for gender inequality, precisely because both men and women were so privileged, in general). Despite the fact that women at Radcliffe, which was a part of Harvard then(we were the second class to get a Harvard diploma) Women: 1. came from even higher income brackets than the men (I think football scholarships affected that) and did better academically than the men, we were not allowed to direct plays or edit the Crimson, or generally run an y clubs 2. had parietals and rules while they didn't 3. worked in our dormitory kitchens washing dishes and cleaning up, while they had maids to do that (my first memory of my Radcliffe dorm, when I came on an application visit, was seeing the beautiful daughter of Charles Lindbergh- Anne after her mother- drying dishes in the kitchen) 4. rode bikes and walked to Harvard Yard for classes (when they made the Radcliffe dorms co-ed, they provided bus service!) and of course, 5. had no female professors. Women authors were never studied in literature classes. Male science professors openly said women shouldn't be scientists. Some of these slights may have been small in themselves. I had no problem washing dishes or riding my bike, but taken as whole it made up an inferior status for women and a deep sense of inferiority for ourselves. I'm sure it played a role in my allowing myself to remain too long in a relationship where my Harvard boyfriend, in a jealous rage, beat me up in a parking lot behind the old Cahaly's, breaking both my nose and my best barrette.

Anyway, thank you so much for your excellent book. I will recommend it to my newly formed book club, which is composed of great women who are your and my ages, and lived through this time shift in one way or another.

Susan J.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

School Talk -Gilman School - Baltimore

September 22
Gilman School is an all boys private school in Baltimore. I was invited to give a school talk with the senior history classes who are studying the 1960s. They had read my book, were assigned an essay to write about it (by their history teacher), and were well-prepared with questions. In addition the faculty had been given the book as required reading over the summer. (Interesting!) The school has 400 all male students; the faculty is 85 % male. So I was quite curious to find out what the reception would be. In the classes, many of the questions from the boys were about foreign policy and power. The girls from a girls school across the road, mostly asked questions about culture.

In the assembly, when I asked if most of the students thought the 60s were about sex, drugs, and rock and roll -- many hands went up. I'm not sure that I contributed much to enlarging the worldview of the students, but I do understand that the complex politics of the 60s -- not just the women's movement -- has been dropped out of our collective memory. And it made me understand why it is important to keep posting your reactions to the book. This is a shared history whose ramifications are ongoing. Gender is just a part of it.
Young women do not understand that they are still in the middle of an unfinished social revolution; and men (Mr. Thornberry excepted) generally think the whole subject is beside the point and 'let's move on'.
Certainly one of my most challenging audiences.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brunch with WNBA

Was a guest at the annual brunch of the Women's National Book Association in Washington DC. and gave a short talk. Four of their members had come my presentation last July at the wonderful Politics and Prose bookstore on Connecticut Ave. in Washington (run by the extraordinary Carla Cohen who is married to the equally extraordinary David Cohen with whom I used to work many years ago when he was a lobbyist for the Leadership Conference on civil rights. The store recently celebrated its 25th anniversary celebration with dancing! and food! and an interview of Carla and her business partner Barbara by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post)
The members of the Washington branch of the WNBA have done some excellent word of mouth promotion for my book and their president N.C. Weil reviewed the book in their local newsletter. (Excerpt from it reprinted below)
I hope I can find the photograph of my book that one of the members brought as a testimonial of how much in the book "spoke" to her. She held it up and it had at least a hundred tabs sticking out of it. Such a good visual reminder of how one person's experience resonates with others. After all, that's the point!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Las Vegas and Black Mountain Institue

Arrived in Las Vegas to meet the other fellows at the Black Mountain Institute. The Institute was founded in 2006 to "provide an environment where thinkers and writers from around the world can fight against entrenched perspectives, whatever their political or cultural source." The fellows have backgrounds in journalism, fiction, non-fiction and playwriting. This year the fellows seem to come from each category. Cristina Garcia ("Dreaming in Cuban") is the fiction writer and teaching fellow. (In the small world department she and I each went to the same graduate school in international studies. "We are black sheep" she said.) Lavonne Mueller is a playwright of international renown and is completing the third play in a trilogy called "Women in War" and is about the experience of the comfort women in Japan. Timothy O'Grady is a fiction writer who holds both an Irish and American passport and is working on a novel about a retired IRA sniper. And I am the nonfiction writer working on coal, climate change, and the long term effects of stripmining on the Indian reservations of northern Arizona. This project goes back to work I did in Congress in the 1970s. For more information look at the Black Mountain Instiute on the University of Nevada website.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Doing It All!

Thanks and kudos for your wonderful book, which I've just finished. It's a brilliant validation that "all politics are personal", an invaluable history lesson, and, most importantly for me, an enthralling read! I'm a psychotherapist, and wonder at your skill at describing your own psychological development and personal growth; I can only imagine the effort and energy needed to access and relate this material, (never mind the research involved in the work as a whole).
Others' comments show how effectively you've evoked a response from women struggling to understand how feminist efforts and gains have led us to this weird place where women get to "do it all", including floors and botox; where women are news anchors - but apparently only if blond and coiffed - and to... Sarah Palin! - Good Lord, where to begin to deconstruct that piece of work! (Is she somehow the resurrected spirit of Louise Day Hicks with a makeover?). Your work does such a fine job of melding political and social history - I can't think of anything like it for the period of time covered.
My main thought, on finishing the book, (besides my jealousy at you having spent an afternoon with John LeCarre), was that this woman has a novel inside her! The moments when you describe inchoate knowledge of yourself and your needs, the travel anecdotes, the character descriptions, all convince me of it. Maybe someday? (I write book reviews too, will keep an eye out)
Anyway, heartfelt congratulations and thanks for a wonderful reading experience. Laurie S.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Arrive in Washington DC as Kluge Fellow

Arrived in Washington D.C. to start fellowship at the Library of Congress. Its called a Kluge/ Black Mountain Fellowship and will combine 4 months at Library of Congress and 4 months at the Universityof Nevada Las Vegas. Have a small sublet on Capitol Hill and can walk to the Library. Washington a very different city from the one I wrote about in The Girl I Left Behind.
The number of police and security arrangements quite formidable. Library fabulous.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This article first appeared in Signature, The Newsletter of the DC Chapter of the Women's National Book Association, and is reprinted with permission of WNBA/Washington."
"The Girl I Left Behind" by Judith Nies,
reviewed by NC Weil
Copyright 2008 Signature newsletter

Know where the phrase "bra-burner" originated? In September 1968, a group of women performance artists went to Atlantic City to stage public events mocking the Miss America Pageant. One day they paraded a sash-wearing sheep up and down the boardwalk. They planned a bonfire of Instruments of Beauty Torture in which they intended to incinerate girdles, hosiery, bras, curlers, etc., but the mayor denied them a fire permit. Ironically, though that bonfire never happened, "bra burner" has been a favorite pejorative of detractors of feminism ever since. However, a direct result of that protest was the transformation of news rooms: the guerilla theater women refused interviews with male reporters – they would only speak to women. So the newspapers scrambled, and sent copy editors and society page writers to talk to these radicals.
This was just one of the many stories Judith Nies told in July, at Politics & Prose to promote her new book THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND: A Narrative History of the Sixties. It was a homecoming for Nies whose awakening centered on her work in Washington DC. Her personal history parallels American society's changes in a turbulent time – without styling herself a radical or even a feminist, she was nevertheless present at pivotal moments. She came of age when women were "girls", when elegance of dress and presentation were essential and "girls" were supposed to be gracious and helpful, working til they married then dropping out of sight. As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins' SAIS, she was told to use the rear entrance when Dean Acheson invited her class to dinner at the Cosmos Club (the males used the front door). SAIS classmate Madeline Albright counseled her she'd go further if she "didn't make a fuss". Ms. Nies laughed to her audience: "I guess she was right!"
It's not that she looked for trouble – in the course of doing her job she came up against absurd rules, and wouldn't let them stop her. For example, as the lone staffer for ten antiwar Congressmen, she was required to attend a hearing in the Senate, but the doorkeeper wouldn't let her in – he sent her to the Ladies' Gallery. She complained and was informed no woman was ever going to be admitted, so she documented that this violated the Senate's own rules. Later, Tip O'Neill (a fellow member of Weight Watchers), informed her the Ladies Gallery had been closed, based on her challenge.
Adventurous, resourceful and persistent, Judith Nies tells a great story. If you're fifty or older, you'll nod remembering; if you're younger, you'll be astonished – were women that restricted that recently? YES! You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

NY times Letter to Editor

Today the NYTimes devoted much of the Sunday magazine to issues of women. The title article was "Why Women's Rights Are the Cause of OUr Time." I wrote the following letter to the editor.

Dear Editor:
Can we do abroad what we do not know how to do at home? In 2004 George W. Bush spoke to the Republican convention saying: “Young women across the Middle East will hear the message that their day of equality and justice is coming…I believe in the transformational power of liberty.” Alas, he seemed unaware that most of the men in his administration opposed American women’s civil and economic rights as destructive of family values. Two highly placed officials in his administration (Rumsfeld and Cheney), as congressmen in the 70s , voted against every one of the over 200 bills introduced in Congress related to womens rights. The complexity of the effort to get American women into medical schools, law schools, business schools and thus into the mainstream of the American economy is less than forty years old and is either poorly understood or the object of historical amnesia (perhaps both). The Kristof article, while otherwise excellent in describing the importance of women in global development, continues this pattern by describing gender discrimination in America as "unequal pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss." In other words, minor inconveniences in comparison with sexual slavery. History shows, however, that the difficulty America has in helping marginalized women in other countries is that the people in government, foundations, and private nonprofits don't know how we made progress on these goals at home. Do they know, for example, how and why Fannie Lou Hamer started a Pig Bank in Mississippi in the 1960s?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Susan C from Pittsburg

August 10
Letter from Susan C. heard about book from Penny owner of Norwich Book Store.
Dear Judith,
Your book was fantastic, not only for the history you write of so well, but the memories it provoked in me. I graduated from college in 1965 and applied and was admitted to SAIS. My father, who was looking at my two brothers who were on their way to Dartmouth, could not see any possibility, much less a reason, to pay to send me off to graduate school. So in the fall of 1965, I was off to Washington for a job with the CIA. I ended up marrying in the summer of 1966, leaving Washington in 1967 and bouncing around while my husband was a naval officer, having just barely escaped the draft the moment he graduated from law school. His draft board had been waiting.
I have two children who periodically have asked why I seemed to have been so boring during the sixties. I tell my daughter that in the summer of 1968, I was pregnant with her and she should be quite thankful I wasn't into sex, drugs and rock 'n roll! We moved to Pittsburgh in 1969 and I did my consciousness-raising through the League of Women Voters and the local NOW. Didn't work until both children were in elementary school and ultimately went to law school, graduated in 1983 when I was 40 and now am an administrative law judge.
Your book offered a wonderful opportunity to look back and remember how everything came to be. I had forgotten that it was a big deal for a woman to have a credit card in her own name and can't remember when that changed. In recent years, until the financial crash, credit card offers were in the mail on a daily basis, even for my cat it seemed. And I remember the one woman in my husband's law school class of 1964 who had a very isolated, unpleasant existence. When I graduated from law school in 1983, women made up one-third of the class and the top three graduates that year were women over thirty -- all without children. One thing I learned that I see women today struggling with is that you really can't have it all, all at the same time unless you are in the Madeline Albright class with the nanny. How to find some balance in life seems to be today's struggle for women. The women's movement, the League of Women Voters and so many community organizations are shadows of what they were in our day because women do have so many opportunities and no time for all the volunteer work we did. Right now I sit at a desk writing you in a room that my grown children still call "the League room" because this is where I was editing newsletters, writing papers, organizing voter registrations, all those activities that kept me going in the 70s.
Thank you so much for bringing this all back and providing the historical context for why things were as they were and how they changed. And you made me rather happy that I couldn't go to SAIS. It didn't sound like an environment I would have liked. Interestingly I have a nephew there now. I must have his Quaker mother read your book to learn more about her son's school.

Best wishes, Susan Cercone from Pittsburg

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Teachable Moment

The July August issue of the Women's Review of Books has an excellent review of THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ( p. 28) by historian Suzanne McCormack and particularly notes how useful it is for teaching.

A few excerpts:

"Nies's narrative is invaluable from a teaching perspective. Its strength lies in its relevance for today's young women."

"Nies's narrative is a welcome recent history of where American women have been and how they have transcended, individually and collectively, the restraints of the past. Perhaps even more than the oft-chronicled and discussed radical political movements, the daily challenges that women such as Nies met in education, work, and family life were what led to the real changes that profoundly affect my students' lives every day.

"Distinct among the memoirs that have been published in the last thirty or so years, Nies's should find a broad and grateful audience among both students of the women's movement and anyone interested in understnading how and why gender-based discrimination had to be challenged in the 1960s...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Next Reading – July 21

In July, I go back to my hometown of Swampscott Massachusetts for a reading in the town library. It is the same library where I had my first job in high school, shelving books and learning how to glue the spines back on books needing repair. The Spirit of ‘76 book store of Marblehead will be selling books.

The Spirit of '76 Bookstore
Swampscott Public Library

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hometown Reading at Swampscot Library

Last night I took a trip into my past and gave a reading at the Swampscott Public Library in Swampscott Mass. The audience included classmates from high school, Paul Sherry and Helene Roos Hazlett, as well as a number of enthusiastic people who had already read the book and asked great questions. I told the story about how when I was in high school, my first job was working in that same library -- shelving books, repairing torn spines, replacing used up due date slips. (Someone asked if I had worked for Miss Snow or Miss Pollard. The answer is yes!)
Part of my library job was re-shelving books with a little red dot on the spine that had to go deep into special shelves in the basement where no teenager might find them (books like Ulysses, From Here to Eternity, Dreiser’s An American Tragedy). These “red dot books” had sexually explicit scenes and in the 1950s such books were for adults only. I learned to scan these books quickly before I returned them to the shelf. Then I told my friends which books they should ask their parents to take out for them. Of course their parents were thrilled that their children were interested in expanding their reading. (One woman in the audience said she had asked Mr. Hensahw, her English teacher, if she could do her book review on An American Tragedy because she had just seen the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift based on the book. (renamed “A Place in the Sun,” 1951). He said sure. Great. But when she went to the library to get the book, Miss Snow or Miss Pollard said, “We don’t have it. And we will never carry a book like that.”)
When I was growing up in Swampscott -- only eighteen miles north of Boston and named for the Squamscot Indians – it was still a town with a functioning fishing fleet, a huge old summer hotel (the New Ocean House) where people came with their trunks and stayed for the summer. From my high school home room, I could see the fishing boats leaving the morning from Fisherman’s Beach. The view I saw was mostly flat sea and part of Nahant. Boston had no skyline because it still had no skyscrapers. Consequently, the town was much more remote from urban Boston than mere miles would suggest.
Since then I’ve done research and worked in a lot of libraries, and today I have cards for half dozen libraries, but for the past twenty-six years the one I use most is the O’Neill Library on Rindge Avenue in North Cambridge a few blocks from where I live. “If libraries didn’t already exist,” commented my neighbor Rosemary, “they couldn’t be created. Imagine the conservative Republican backlash to the idea of creating an institution where people could borrow books and records and films and take them home FOR FREE?” We discussed the likely reaction of a few Newt Gingrich, neo-conservative, free market, libertarian thinkers to such a proposal.
Her point was so intriguing that I went home and looked up Andrew Carnegie, the originator of public libraries as we know them. Beginning in 1890, when most libraries were private or by subscription only, Carnegie, owner of Carnegie Steel (later U.S. Steel) financed, built and equipped over 2500 free libraries in 47 states. His only conditions were that the town donate the land and provide public funds for maintenance. His reasoning, however, was as creative as the idea. “It is the mind that makes the body rich,” he wrote. He believed in self-education of the common man (and woman, one hopes). He believed that the rich had a moral obligation to give away their fortunes. His philosophy of wealth was that private fortunes should be regarded as a public trust to benefit the community. “The man who dies rich dies disgraced,” was one of his frequently quoted remarks.
In that we seem to be in a new Gilded Age, it is worth remembering by the time he died in 1919, Carnegie had given away approximately $4.3 billion, in today’s dollars, had built libraries all over the English-speaking world, had created the investment fund for public school teachers that became TIAA-CREFF. He also commissioned a journalist to interview wealthy men and publish their secrets of wealth creation for an audience of average people. The resulting book How To Think and Grow Rich has never gone out of print.
Come to think of it, maybe I should go to the library and take that book out. Right now!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Current Media

A very good interview about the book was done on “Books of Our Times,” an interview show sponsored by the Massachusetts School of Law. It is is currently airing on various Comcast channels and I will post some excerpts on You Tube, soon. The extremely well-prepared interviewer is Lawrence Vervel, Dean of the School, whose questions were so thorough, I had to reread the book ahead of time. (Lawrence has been in the news lately, and appeared on Frontline, for his role in unraveling the Bernie Madoff scandal.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paperback Launch

June 11, 2009

Thank you Norwich Bookstore and Nancy Crumbine (Dartmouth professor extraordinaire) for a GREAT launch for the paperback edition of THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND. It was wonderful to see a standing room-only crowd on June 10th. Book store owner Penny McConnell sent me a note saying that the store sold out of books. Most of all I was struck by the quality and thoughtfulness and intelligence of questions that people asked – about America’s political culture, about where we are in history, about how and why the spirit of activism died out. And most of all about grass roots politics. The bigger story is how the 60s shaped us all.

It was a wonderful crowd and an auspicious beginning for the paperback life of the book. I brought my camera but forgot to take pictures so you will have to take my word for it. If you find yourself in Norwich Vermont (a beautiful town, just across the Connecticut River from Hanover NH) be sure to visit the Norwich Bookstore (291 Main Street, Norwich) and say hello to Penny McConnell, the owner.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

From the Mailbox

MAY 11, 2009
Ms. Nies: The faculty of Gilman School would like to read your book this summer as the assigned book for summer reading. When will it be available in paperback?
It is a terrific book; my favorite of last summer. I found it in a bookstore on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, and couldn’t put it down until I had finished it.
Jerry Thornbery
History Department
Gilman School
Baltimore, MD 21210

MAY 6, 2009
Ms. Nies:

I just stumbled across your book so was absolutely delighted to discover its contents. I observed or experienced what you did. It so paralelled my life. I was a political science student at the University of Iowa, graduating in 3 years in 1959. I tried for the Woodrow Wilson scholarship. Alas! My classmate males all went on to graduate school, became city managers, went to law school or ran for office - and I taught. (In fact when I declared my major, my advisor said, "What will you do with this?" and I said, "teach". His reply was, "What are you planning to coach?" as schools in Iowa needed coaches, not social studies teachers . . . so I did a double major with the second being elementary education.)

. . . I taught school for several years in California, ran political campaigns at night, and participated in love-ins and teach-ins and protest marches - obviously, secrets from my employers! I worked for George E. Brown, Jr., in the summers in L.A. I ran his entire precinct operation in the Spring of 1968 and piggy-backed Robert Kennedy's campaign on it. I was at the Ambassador when Kennedy was shot.

I was instrumental in the late 70's, early 80's in getting Voter Registration expanded in Ohio as it had been in California since the 60's. Most recently, I was in charge of Voter Protection in my part of Ohio for the Obama campaign and the state Democratic Party.

Carol J. Holm, Esq.
Dayton OH 45402

MAY 3, 2009

I gave your book to a friend in San Fran who is quite connected to politics there (a former sorority sister from Duke and pol. sci major who is now on several land regulation boards in SFO)

She loved it as she is also a woman of the 60s. She is good friends with Diane
Feinstein so will buy two more and give to her and another political friend. How is it going?

APRIL 6, 2009
Hello. I recently saw a talk that you gave at a bookstore in Cambridge,MA last June, 2008. It was filmed on CSPAN. I was absolutely fascinated by your perspective and life story. Do you have any plans to speak on the West Coast, specifically, Portland,Oregon in the near future?I am certain my friends and I would love to hear you speak, you are wonderful!
Carey Kaas

FEBRUARY 15, 2009

Have been clutching your book to bosom and using it to fuel my currently cooking 60s-women story. You got it right. Right ON. Especially good to hear about the current generation who had no clue their freedom had to be fought for.

I remember talking with you sporadically the years you worked to bring this history home.


Shelby Allen