Betty Hickey

Interviewee: Betty Hickey
IWY TX 227
Interviewer: June Hahner
Date: November 18-21, 1977

Betty Hickey was a psychologist who attended the National Women’s Conference who believed in working with women professionally and personally because women, in her view, have been “so victimized.” Hickey grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. Issues important to Hickey included women’s mental health care and therapies for rape survivors. Interview includes discussion of how Hickey became involved in the women’s movement after her son, an anti-war activist, encouraged her to read feminist literature; Hickey’s three children; nursing; and her observations about women’s mental health resources.

Sound Recording



Betty Hickey: You are the historian who knows what questions are meaningful. I’m just talking from the top of my head.

June Hahner: Well, no, I been just…

 BH: Sort of rambling, half way relevant.

JH: Well, no, I’m been asking people general questions on why they come to this meeting. Or what do they think they’re going to get out of it? How do they feel about these things? How did they get involved in these things?

BH: That’s what I’m saying. Your questions, you know more whether…I trust your judgement with questions. I do not know what a historian would ask or what’s important.

JH: Well, but, I think basically we want to know what people think are relevant.

BH: Oh, I see.

JH: Not try to impose our priorities on anyone.

BH: Well, I was just asking merely for guidelines. One of them.

JH: Well, these are the general things I’ve been saying to other people like, you know, about their opinions on these matters. Why they had come, what they expect to get out of the meeting, how they got involved in these things.

BH: I see, I see.

 JH: I guess the final thing I always asked anybody is what are the things that we have skipped that we should’ve talk about.

 BH: Probably one of the things, maybe, as a psychologist that I would mention that hasn’t been mention by other people, that one of the motivating reasons that I think I want to work both politically as well as professionally is because I think woman has been so victimized. The percentages of women who have been put in mental hospitals, for example, as compared to men. The root to the oppression of the bored housewife is just being to be looked at from the framework of an environmental boredom framework rather than from something that’s wrong with her or depression and is it endogenous depression, a disease that’s related to menopause etc, etc. So, this probably one of the (recording cuts out at 1:39 and returns at 1:41).

Getting back to your question long ago maybe that effective legislation or a level of activity raises social consciousness. That there are really serious implications for the mental health of the entire community, men and women. We see the…we’re just beginning to look at the effects of a woman who is kept at a degrading role and the ripple effects, the personality variables that become involved in the treatment of her children, her husband, etc. So that it is not just to elevate woman. It is to, the effects are felt throughout all of society when someone is kept in an inferior position.

This is one way of ego involving the men. Sometimes people they feel it’s going to affect theme. So the economic theory, “if it’s going to affect me, maybe I’ll do something.” So we’re using some of that. I talk sometimes in those terms. You have been affected adversely. Our families that we want to preserve have been adversely affected by this role women have been forced to play. And seems to be one of the best ways I’ve been successful in getting men to listen in the few minutes I call and can speak to them. You know, the “what’s in it for me?” thing.

JH: Mmhm.

BH: So there’s a lot of this yet that needs to get in the textbooks, the universities. JH: Mmhm, yes.

BH: I went all the way through school and I never heard even a discussion of the problem of a rape victim.

JH: Nor I.

BH: Yes, but you weren’t in the training program.

JH: But I wasn’t a psychologist.

BH: You weren’t in a training program that’s supposed to have the reputation of the University of Kansas, that’s it you know. My husband worked as a supervisor at Topeka State Hospital. Administrator for four years and I asked him, “Had you ever had a, did you ever have a…”

JH: Not there?

BH: Huh?

JH: Not even there?

BH: Wouldn’t, particularly not there. They’re Freudian to the worst degree.

JH: That’s right, yeah.

BH: Did you ever have anybody sit down and say, “Is there any special needs of a rape victim?” or whatever? No, the few research areas that you might find about the rape, that I found in the literature when I did a university annals keynote speaker at Center College once, the few things I found in the literature ended up blaming the woman for the hard treatment of the boys that lead them to me the kind of people that they raped girls.

So there is vast amount of work to be done in this field that sets themselves up to be the definers of what is well behavior. This is the role that psychologists choose. So, they are guilty of some gross injustices. Some of the women that are writers, we’ve got some very good ones working in the field, so hopefully there will be some in roads, I hope.

JH: We hope.

BH: Thank you.

JH: Thank you. (Recording cuts off at 4:29 and returns at 4:33) We stopped for a while.

BH: Right.

JH: Um, Betty Hickey.

BH: From Lexington, Kentucky. And one of the progressive things they did, had happened at the Lexington at the College of Law is the university is a professor, a woman professor, from Syracuse, New York. (unintelligible at 4:52) She is still with us. We had another one, but she is not. We have, ah, this year we hired another one and she is also from New York.

JH: Hm.

BH: So, we’re getting our law professors from the state of New York. You’d like to know that you’re contributing to our liberalization in Kentucky. (Laughter)

JH: Well, I guess there are strong racial differences in this country. More than one side sometimes realizes.

BH: Mmhm.

JH: I taught two years in Texas, so I’ve seen a few things.

BH: Mmhm. Like, well, Kentucky is coming along. Has a way to go yet. I had to inform my relatives, my in-laws, not to say “nigger.” That you can say black or, you know, (unintelligible at 5:39) They consented to say that in from of me. (Laughter)

JH: You grew up in Lexington?

BH: No, I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I guess I got my liberalization through traveling around the world. I have a young son who became a civil rights worker and I’m very (unintelligible at 5:54) of him. He told me to “Join the women’s movement, mother,” and not go around with these officers’ wives club. (Laughter)

JH: Oh really?

BH: To get into something interesting. I said okay and he’s the one that gave me “Women Power is Powerful,” is that it?

JH: Mmhm.

BH: He gave me that for Christmas one year and that started me off.

JH: Really?


BH: Isn’t that marvelous?

JH: I think that’s a new one. It is to me, good.

BH: Mmhm. He was at the university…no, he graduated I guess already, from the University of Virginia and he was doing his thing with “Stop the War” and other good things. So he kept me, because I was so bored in Lexington. So, he said “Get with a group of women and join the movement and you’ll find your niche.” And when I told him I was coming down here he said, “Far out!” (Laughter) That he wanted to come. But he’s a really neat kid. He works in Washington, D.C. And of course, I told you about my daughter and she has graduated from college and my sons are college graduates and the two grandchildren. And my youngest is going to be an actor, my son the actor. (Laughter) And that’s (unintelligible at 6:56).

JH: Well, there’s a lot more than that you were telling.

BH: I have a husband. He’s a full colonel in the Air Force and he’s the continuing director of legal education at University of Kentucky. And I think I’d almost saved my brother’s, might have been partly responsible for saving my brother’s life last week when he had open heart surgery. He was giving up and getting discouraged and they said, “Somebody’s got to go in there and talk to him.” And my two brothers looked at each other and his wife looks at me and I said, “Okay, I’ll go.” So I went in there and gave him heck. I remember that when he recovered, “Well, you sure gave me heck. I’m sure glad you’re here.” (Laughter)

So, I think probably I have a few more missions in life to do. Things like that type I really enjoy.

JH: Well, what kind of things do you enjoy? What do you want to do?

BH: I don’t know. I’d like to get back into nursing but nursing has changed so. That it’s kind of discouraging because when I did work for elderly people in a nursing home and I was in charge of the ward, I guess the circle, giving out medications and treatments. And I’m a pretty fast worker and I get things done quick and so I was standing around and a sitter – as they call, sitters stay with elderly people – came out and was looking for someone to help put her patient back in bed. And I said, “Well, I’ll help you. I’m not busy,” and she said, “Oh, well, I don’t want to bother you.” And I said, “You’re not. I’d be delighted to.” The patient was just in hysterics to think that an RN helped get her in bed. Doesn’t that tell you something? What’s happened to nursing?

JH: Yeah, that tells you. Absolutely right.

BH: Pretty (unintelligible at 8:32). But I would like to get back to bedside nursing, but you have to go on nights before you can get the (unintelligible at 8:38) work. And with just my husband and I alone now, he wouldn’t let me be away nights. I mean, you know, this is our time to share. So I really don’t know what I’m going to do.

I’m in the Women’s Political Caucus, the vice chair.

JH: Oh, you are?

BH: Uh-huh, at Kentucky. Lexington. And also I’m in the League of Women Voters and some with children’s theater. That’s pretty much where my son got his enthusiasm for wanting to be an actor from being in children’s theater.

JH: I was wondering how that started.

BH: Right. He was a child who needed someone to look at him, you know? He was always sort of that type of a child. Two older children, then eight years later this young one. And he was center stage, you know? So, he just grew up that way and he wasn’t a jock and he could’ve been and A-student and gotten recognition that way, but that was not his bag, I guess. So he went on stage and he’s, oh, unbelievable. That’s what he’s done. Plays, one right after another. Two or three at a time. And when you go to see him on stage you can just see how happy he is on stage and I just break into a grin every time I see him. It’s really fun.

JH: You’re proud of him.

BH: Yes! (Laughter)

JH: You’re proud of your children.

BH: Yes, very, very, very. And they’re independent.

JH: Mmhm.

BH: Very independent. Now I’ve got my life.

JH: So, can I ask you a question? How did you end up on the plane with the Lieutenant Governor coming down here?

BH: How did I do that? I guess because I was in the Women’s Political Caucus, being vice chair.

JH: Mmhm.

BH: That names were selected and my name came up and, sure enough, I guess I was approved.

JH: The vice chair of the (unintelligible at 10:22)

BH: Of central Kentucky.

JH: That’s a good position. Shows a lot of work behind it.

BH: Mmhm, it is and it’s fun. It’s a good opportunity to encourage women to run for office.

JH: I think that’s hard work for all of us.

 BH: Mmhm, yes. And I just finished working up trying to get a mayor elected, but we lost that one. (Laughter) Because I didn’t stay. I had to go to Denver to bring my brother back to life.

JH: Well…

BH: No, I’m just teasing. It wasn’t me. We need to find 5,000 more votes and I don’t think I could have delivered 5,000 more. (Laughter)

JH: Who one wins every election? No one wins every election.

BH: No. You have to have a winner and you have to have a loser, you know. Just a fact of life. Very good. Think I better get going.

JH: Okay. Thank you very much.

BH: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

JH: Thank you.

End of interview