I notice how often you cite one of the ideas that came out of that period, “the personal is political.” You were attuned to that idea almost as it was emerging, it sounds like.
Yes. Very much so. And that again links back to my interest in structures, that it was very clear [that what was presented to women] were not individual opinions, but that these were collective opinions—and that, if you would want to redress them, there’s no private solution. There’s only a principal, political solution, that goes into law and regulation and standards.
And so that was very clear to me, and the clarity was facilitated by my background that made me think in terms of structure—that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
So many of your ideas seem communally and collectively based, and that seems strongly informed by your Quakerism. When did you take up that faith?
Well, I’ll tell you, I was a pacifist before I was a Quaker. I was a pacifist and a feminist. And if you are a pacifist, and if you’ve believe that all are equal in the face of God, then you say: ‘Well, how can I believe that and then stab people, shoot people, put them down?’ That doesn’t match!
When I looked for a religious environment, after being brought up in the German Lutheran tradition, we had young children. We could no longer deal with people who prayed to God that they kill their enemies or bless their weapons or do anything like that.
But that does not dispense with one’s belief and need for things that are beyond the secular. Both my husband and I, when our children were young, and not having any family here, looked for an extended family. My husband has had Quaker experience in England, so we found, in a sense, a Quaker resoluteness and a belief structure that would not contradict our beliefs in either equality or peace.
So, as I said, I was certainly a pacifist before I was a Quaker.
You mentioned, in this period, between the early ’50s and 1967, when you were working at the Ontario Research Fund. I think in our emails, you mentioned that the American context was different from the Canadian context—how so?
The major one was the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. It was the formative experience here that had come from where we were as women were pushed out and then, after the middle ’50s, they began to say: ‘What’s going on here?’ The personal is political, and we aren’t really here privately; as a structure, it’s wrong.
Now for Canadians, the crucial time was around ’67, when, in fact, the national women’s organizations got together. Their executives then say, ‘Now here we are representing a very broad spectrum: From the very Catholic, from the Deacon’s Federation, from the business and professional women, from the Protestant women, from the farm women to the university women. Is it for you to say, as it is for us, that all of our members don’t get the same pay as their male colleagues? That our women members can’t get bank loans? That we have these horribly lopsided life insurance policies? Is there something systemic in this?”