Interviewee: Ann Savage
IWY TX 450
Interviewer: Jay Kleinberg
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Ann Savage was from Oklahoma City and served as the state president of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma at the time of the National Women’s Conference. She was both a delegate and a steering committee member of the alternative caucus formed by feminist women in Oklahoma to oppose the official delegation composed of conservative women. Though a homemaker, Ann Savage was active in civic organizations and women’s rights. She served as the executive director for OK ERA. Interview includes discussion of: the Oklahoma IWY state meeting in which conservative women outnumbered the feminists; how feminists formed the IWY Representative Caucus; the events at the Oklahoma state meeting, including conservative women’s and men’s actions and her own delegation’s response and attending at the IWY convention.
Jay Kleinberg: Jay Kleinberg interviewing Ann Savage. Ann, do you want to give us your name, your address, and your affiliation please?
Ann Savage: Yes, my name is Ann Savage. I live at 2332 Northwest 119th St, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and I’m state president of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma.
JK: Ann, you said when I asked to interview you that you had quite a story to tell, but you haven’t told me what it is, so would you like to explain a bit about it?
AS: Yes, I have to go back to our state meetings in June in Stillwater, Oklahoma. We all were—went—many, many women in the state went to those meetings hoping for just what the purpose of the meeting was: an opportunity to sit down and discuss the issues of women and what we can do about them. Our meeting was somewhat taken over and we realized at the end of the Friday that no way could our voice be heard, so 200 of us at that meeting decided that we’d set up our own IWY representative caucus. We operated under the IWY rules as they were set out in the public law: we elected our own delegates with the ballots that we had received to elect the other ones, we went through our own Plan of Action, which we voted on the resolutions, and we decided at that point that we needed to come to Houston and let our voice be heard. Now we did file a protest to the National IWY, and it was based on the fact that we felt that the—the delegation that was elected was not representative of the women of Oklahoma. It rep—we have the largest population of Native Americans in Oklahoma; they had one Native American on their delegation and one black. Our delegation had—and I don’t remember the exact numbers— there were four or five Native Americans and blacks and one—maybe—two Hispanics, and then the rest we had lar—we had a range in age group and a range in economic levels. But the other thing that we really protested was a change of rules which occurred two days before the conference, and this occurred because one of the leaders of the opposition people in Oklahoma went to the National IWY and requested that the rules be changed.
The published rules for the Oklahoma conferences had stated that in order to be a voting delegate on the Saturday, you had to attend an orientation and a workshop, which was held either on Friday or Thursday. This main—meant that many of our people who work were not able to attend and they thought, rather than have to give up a day of work and not be able to vote on Saturday, they never came. And the change in the voting regulations occurred about two days before, as I said. Dianne Edmondson did go to Washington and had that ruled changed. Now from what I understand talking to the—the IWY coordinator, they never had a written confirmation of that change; it was only a statement over the telephone. Now those people happen to find that out on Tuesday. Wednesday in Oklahoma, Wednesday evening is an evening when many of the fundamentalist churches have this week—weekly supper, and I believe it was at that much of, many of the plans were made which would bus these people into the conference on Saturday just to vote, not having participated in the workshops at all. So us people did not know of this rule change but a couple of days before, and we just don’t have that kind of a network to get a lot of people involved.
So of course, we were completely outnumbered, and that’s why we did what we did, which was set a different conference. It was the air of violence and hatred at that conference was something I hope I never have to experience again. There—I am convinced had we not separated we might have had violence.
JK: Why do you think these people feel so strongly against the ERA?
AS: It wasn’t just the ERA, they were against everything. Our delegation—the delegation or the proposal that they came up with, the one positive thing which I frankly agree with is that homemaking—is—is a very worthy occupation for a woman, I am a homemaker myself. However, they then proceeded to vote down every resolution which would help homemakers, you know, from social security to pensions and all the others. I don’t—the thing also was that they were directed in their vote; they had the little red, white, and blue tags, they had the leaders and most of the leaders on the floor were men. There were a lot of men at our—conference, and I believe now in retrospect that probably many of them were KKK. They were very big burly people, they pushed some of our people up against the walls and fortunately they were people that were able to keep their calm and cool and still get out of it. We kept strict security on our own meeting because we did not want our meeting disrupted in any way, and there were quite a few hassles at the door with people trying to barge in, and when the women couldn’t get in, they sent these big burly men down to try and barge their way in. We felt—we felt that we had to come here and about five hundred dollars was collected on the spot to try and send delegates to the Houston IWY. Course, that was not nearly enough to send all the delegates.
Many of the delegates have paid their way, and I ‘m talking about IWY Representative Caucus delegates. Since several of them were also people that do not have much money, sponsors were found for these people to pay their way. And I think it’s been a fantastic experience, and everybody I’ve seen who’s been here and there—and we found also that there are a lot of people here from Oklahoma that we didn’t even know came. I’ve been trying to keep track of all the people I knew who were coming, and there must be 75 to 100 people from Oklahoma just coming down to express their view and talk to people on the street. I’ve had several people mention that they never saw—they wondered why there were so many people from Oklahoma here.
And we’ve been telling our story, that this is what we wanted to do. We realized that there was no way after they would not do anything with our—our protest, the National IWY; we felt it would be more disruptive than not to try and do anything here. There’s some difference of opinion about this with our steering committee. But—so we have not protested on the floor, and I think this is a marvelous way for us to get our story across. There were four people who were elected to a steering committee at the IWY Representative Caucus, and I was one. Another woman is a younger white woman, Kathy Flanagan. We have a Native American, Carol Butler, and a black, Denise Mitchell, and we feel that we really represent the majority view of women in Oklahoma.
JK: Why do you think the people who are—who were elected are opposed to equal rights or to the other resolutions say that are being talked about here? What motivates them do you think?
AS: I think there—there’s a small group of them that are really far-right John Birchers; there’s no doubt about it. I know Dianne has been shipped in from other—another state to help organize. I think the others, they play on the fear of many women who have not been out in the world very much and who are afraid of losing their status of homemaker. They really don’t how fragile that status is and that what we’re trying to do is make it more secure. I think that’s probably basically they—they do play on their fears, that they may have to go out and work or that they have their children taken away from them. I think that’s part of the problem. They—I think the thing that has made us very sad here is that they have voted against almost everything. They’ve not—they did vote for the credit resolution, and I’ve not been—I missed most of today’s, so I’m not sure how they voted. The one ere time that I felt really sad was, I think, that spectacular moment when Jill Ruckelshaus asked us all to repeat after her, and as everybody stood up and held hands, and was repeating—in unison, a crowd as large as that was—they sat and held their hands in their lap. And I think that is just so sad because they’re women, too, and we’re trying to help them, and they don’t understand how they need help.
JK: Well but that raises the entire issue of whether or not it is possible to obtain rights for people who don’t see them in their own best interest. Is there any way of any middle ground between the people who favor the ERA and the other issues—I don’t think that’s the relevant issues, whether it’s ERA per se or cluster—and the position that these people are taking. Is there any middle ground, any way to compromise—?
AS: —I think sometimes we find a middle ground, and this was true at Stillwater. When you talk to them on a one to one basis—I sat at dinner amongst some of them—and when you talk to them they’re almost childlike in their simplicity, in the excitement of having been there and being a part of it. And they were just as interested in some of the areas, and they responded positively to it because they didn’t feel threatened when you—when you talked to them on a one-to-one basis without any threatening discussion. And I think many times in my experience some of these people are opposed to the ERA or some of these other issues until something happens in their own lives and they’ve come up against the inequalities that we have.
JK: How did you get interested in the ERA?
AS: I think I must have had it nurturing in my background all along, and of course, I’ve been active in the League of Women Voters. My mother was a—a World War I nurse, my grandmother was a telephone operator because she had to be; she was divorced and had three small children to take care of. And I think the thing that I’ve—I’ve always been interested in history, and one of the things that I ‘ve really been learning more about is how little we are represented in history, and I wish I could go back and talk to my grandmother and my mother as to find out how it was when they were there. But I think I have never really suffered much inequality.
My—I’ve been married twenty-five years—twenty-six years, and we have a marvelous relationship; we—, it’s base is give and take. Ah, I suppose I was discriminated against when I was working, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Course I did the, you know, mechanical work, and I had a college degree in—in a biology, but I didn’t get the good work; I did the little testing work, the rest of them did the brain work. Ah, but I just, I suppose it’s an interest in other people and wanting to and realizing the inequities that we really have been suffering under.
JK: Do you think there was a sudden conversion to feminism? Was there an incident or series of incidents that made you feel that this was a movement you had to become involved in?
AS: I don’t think so. I think I’ve always been rather interested in—in women and women’s issues, and I think I first became active in working on ERA. I came back into Oklahoma State in 1972, at the time they were just having some of the hearings, and I—I know I made a point of going to those hearings because I was interested in. It was about three—four months later I became chairman of the Statewide Coalition for Equal Rights, and from then on it’s been total involvement.
JK: The question I’m really asking you, Ann, is have—do you see where you have gone from a personal interest to a political interest, and what motivated that? Because many people feel something about an issue but don’t become involved.
AS: I think probably I’ve been more of a political person all the way through because I’ve been active in the League, and when I first became active in this issue, I was a legislative chairman and so I’d—I’d done a little bit of lobbying, and then it was really a natural to—to take on the ERA to lobby, too. So it almost it’s the reverse from personal to political form; it’s just that it was the issue of the time, and I found I’d really always had a—a interest in it, I guess.
JK: Uh huh. What do you expect to come out of the convention?
AS: Here today?
AS: Or Tomorrow?
AS: Or yesterday? I think that what I see it’s—I think it’s been a marvelous expression of women’s feelings for women and wanting to make some kind of impact on the rest of the country that has really neglected women and women’s issues. It’s really a statement to the rest of the county and to the world, for that matter, that women do matter and they should share equally, even in the responsibilities and the decisions that are made, not only in America, but I think across the country. It’s going to be a long, hard pull; it’s not going to be easy; we’re not going to be able to go out of this convention and get it overnight. I think that we’re still going to have to do a lot of work. I know we are in Oklahoma; we’re an un-ratified state, and that, I think, is the number one priority for, and I think it should be for most of the people here, because without that we are going to go back. And I think it is an expression, a guarantee, a commitment, to put women in the Constitution.
JK: How do you plan to proceed on the ratification issue?
AS: Well, we have an active coalition, and we will be working to ratify. I hate to tell you all my—well of course, this is not going out to the public. But we do, we will be working to elect people to office and will—now I won’t as the president of the League of Women Voters— but there will be a group working to elect candidates who are favorable to the Equal Rights Amendment. We have a—an extensive grassroots campaign that’s underway to try and educate. We think because we’re so much in favor of it that everybody is, but if you face reality, there are many people that don’t really know anything about it, and those are the people we need to get involved and working with us. Cause it’s only when it’s a grassroots swell that I think it’ll convince some of our legislators.
JK: Thank you.
End of Interview