Eleanor Haney

Interviewee: Eleanor Haney
IWY TX 213
Interviewer: Jay Kleinberg
Date: November 19, 1977

Dr. Eleanor (Elly) Humes Haney was born in Milford, Delaware, on December 30, 1931. She completed her PhD in Christian Ethics at Yale University between 1960 and 1965. She taught at a church related college in Moorhead, Minnesota in the mid-1970s. At the time of the conference, she was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts working as a research associate in a women’s studies program. Over her life, she was active in the civil rights movement, the Native American rights movement, and the women’s movement. Inteview includes discussion of Haney’s impression of the conference, her predictions for the future of the women’s movement, and her own experience with feminist conciousness. In 1985, she published A Feminist Legacy: The Ethics of Wilma Scott Heide and Company. Haney passed away in July 1999.

Sound Recording


Jay Kleinberg:           –with Eleanor Haney at the convention.  This is Jay Kleinberg doing the interviewing.  It’s the 19th of November, 1977.  Eleanor, do you want to give us your name, address, and what you’re doing?

Eleanor Haney:         I generally go by Elly rather than Eleanor, and I’m from Minnesota.  I teach in a church related college in Moorhead, Minnesota, but this year I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts on a research resource associate program in women’s studies, and so I’m spending the year in the east.

JK:      How did you come to be interested in the women’s movement?

EH:     Well, I suppose I became interested in it the way many other women did.  I was active in civil rights in the fifties and early sixties.  When I moved out to Minnesota I became active in Native American concerns, and two other women and I set up a daycare center for a local Indian association and just moved from that into awareness that I was working on everybody else’s rights and neglecting some of my own.

JK:      What may you concerned about your own rights?

EH:     I don’t know that I could say any one particular thing.  I think in part it was a personal kind of thing.  I got married late, in the mid thirties, and had a son even later, close to forty, and found myself back into some of the patterns that I thought I had completely escaped.  I can remember much to my chagrin now when I first read Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique back in 1963.  I said this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m not caught in that kind of trap.

And even though I continued my career, I still was struggling with some of those same issues.  And so I developed more a personal sense of connectedness with other women and the situation that they were going through and in general from reading and looking at it more theoretically.

JK:      Did you have a sense this was something that you want to do for other women, or was it something you perceived as doing for yourself?

EH:     Both, very much both from the very beginning.  I can remember, this was just a couple years ago, we were at Concordia College.  We were trying to work something out so that a woman would be interviewed for an assistant academic dean position, and I was getting ready to go to a meeting and I felt this great intensity about it and I stopped to think why am I fighting so hard for this, for her, is the way I put it.  And then I said to myself I’m not fighting just for her.  I’m fighting for me, too, and so I think it’s the connection of both.

JK:      Do you think you experienced either teaching or in the general community significant discrimination or negative attitudes because you were a woman?  Were you aware of it?

EH:     Oh yes, yeah, the subtle kinds of discrimination, not the overt.  So far as I know, at least since I’ve been married, since my husband and I both started teaching at the same time with the same rank and at the same salary, so far as I know I haven’t been discriminated against in overt kinds of terms like that.

JK:      Have you gotten raises at the same rate he has?

EH:     Raises, yes, promotion, no, and that was in large part because I was a woman.  I could document that if I had to.  But I think more difficult to deal with is the more subtle kinds of discrimination.  I was often the only woman in a seminar at Yale University where I did my graduate work in religion, and religion has been a predominant –

JK:      When were you at Yale and religion?

EH:     ‘60 to ‘65.

JK:      Do you know Peter Williams?  I guess he would be there afterward.  We should talk about this off the tape.

EH:     ‘60 to ‘65 and I taught a lot of the divinity school students, so I probably know some of the ones that you know.  But that kind of thing, and just being the only woman and not having learned to think fast, as people say to listen to oneself and what one is going to say next rather than really listening to what the other person is saying.  It was just a sense of intimidation that was not conscious on the part of the men in the group at all, but it just came through.

JK:      Do you think that the women’s movement has changed your life in any way?

EH:     Tremendously in some respects.  It has given me a stance, a place to stand to integrate many of the kinds of things I have been concerned about all my life, so it’s provided a unifying dimension to my general orientation toward life and has at the same time helped provide me with much more self confidence than I’ve ever had before.

JK:      Are you satisfied with the way the convention is going so far?

EH:     That’s a loaded question.  Yes and no.  I’m pleased that pro-ERA and generally pro-reform, if not revolution, groups are in the majority here, and that should say something to Congress and to the president.  I think even though it was abused at the state level, nevertheless it’s by far the fairest representation of women that this country has ever assembled.  It’s probably the fairest representation of any group of people the country has ever assembled.  So, I’m pleased at that, and I think the chair has bent over backwards to try to be fair and all that kind of thing.  What disturbs me is that the wrong, well no, that’s not correct – well, I will say it that way; that the wrong people are being honored.

JK:      Who should be honored, who is being honored, and why are they the wrong people?

EH:     People like Wilma Scott Heide, Eileen Hernandez, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of NOW people and other women groups, people who from ten years, fifteen years earlier started putting their lives on the line, and it’s a result of what they did back then that this kind of thing is possible today.  But who gets recognition, Margaret Mead gets a standing ovation, and she’s not been all that sympathetic and I just think that’s grossly unfair and I really feel deeply about that.  That’s one of the reasons I wanted to be interviewed because I wanted to get that on the record.

JK:      Well, it’s legitimate to get those kinds of things on record I should think.  Are you saying, then, that the toilers in the vineyards are not being recognized?

EH:     That’s right.  That’s right.  And the people who have suffered – I mean, I know people now who can’t get a job because they were too radical at that time.  Now it’s become more respectable.

JK:      Has it become less radical?

EH:     I don’t think this is particularly radical.  It’s an appropriate thing for where women are.  I see feminism as a revolution in values as much as anything else and what we’re doing is trying to open up space for women primarily within the existing value structures.  At a thing on war this morning people were talking about arms reduction, and I’m all for arms reduction but until we deal with the kinds of use of power, sense of masculinity and proving one’s manhood, a hierarchical structuring of things, the conditions that lead to resistance to arms reduction are still going to be there, even if we could pull off arms reduction.  So we’re tinkering within a structure that itself needs to be changed.  And that’s not to say that the tinkering is not important, it’s just to say I guess that we’ve got to do a both end kind of thing all the time.

JK:      Isn’t that true of any general movement, though?

EH:     Yeah.  I think it probably is.

JK:      What do you expect to come out of this convention?

EH:     I think a very clear mandate to Congress and the president.  I would also hope – well, okay, a really clear mandate, and then I would hope some provision written into the resolutions more than, although maybe including the cabinet position, to implement the resolutions and to hold people in Congress accountable for what’s happened here; somehow hold them accountable to the people who have been here, to the women who have been here.  If they continue to ignore the resolutions, then I think the time has time for a return to the old 1776 principle of no taxation without representation or something, because it would be very, very clear there could be no equivocation about it.

JK:      Are you proposing that we adopt a tax boycott?

EH:     I think that could be a very useful kind of thing to do, yes.

JK:      What do you intend to do once you leave the convention?

EH:     Well, I immediately go back to Massachusetts and continue my research, which is a book on a feminist ethic using Wilma Scott Heide as a major figure and some of the other people who worked with her.  So I really see the book as not a purely academic kind of thing either, but it’s also a political act and I want to get as much done on that as I can this year that I have off from teaching responsibilities.

JK:      Has the convention changed your thinking in any way, or do you feel as some people have it’s changed their lives?

EH:     No.  I can be really moved by the kinds of things that happen here, and I’m just very, very pleased to see this many women aware.  It does indicate that the feminist movement has succeeded to a much larger extent perhaps than some people had thought, and so that’s very gratifying.  But no, it certainly hasn’t changed my life.  I get too impatient at what’s going on here.

JK:      If you had to single out one thing that’s the most important for women to achieve, what would it be, or how about two things?

EH:     I have a cluster of issues, as it were.

JK:      How about three things?

EH:     Self confidence, the Indian saying, “Women hold up half the sky,” a sense of one’s place is in the world and one has something to contribute and really deep down in one’s guts believing that; a sense of sisterhood, a sense that the kinds of things that have happened to us and the kinds of contributions we have to make can transcend and ought to transcend other kinds of minds that are in force and that keep us divided from each other: race, class, age, et cetera; income.  So, those two things, and then I guess the third thing would be to move toward establishing really a transformation of human values.

JK:      What does that mean?  It’s a lovely sounding phrase, but what do you mean by it?

EH:     Well, when I think of a feminist ethic I think with the paradigm of friendship, and friendship, although there’s a lot of rhetoric about friendship, friendship is not very high on priorities of the people in this country, and perhaps throughout the world.  Friendship assumes a kind of equality, a kind of distance, a kind of respect, a kind of independence; it’s a non-hierarchical sort of relationship, and I’d like to see that beginning to happen between women and men.  Women and women, it has to happen in order for the work they have between women and men, between women and the Earth, and so on and so forth.  And I think a simple word like friendship demands at its very core radical social change, primarily a change in power relationships between people and between people and the Earth.

JK:      How do you think we accomplish that, simply by talking about it or telling people about it?

EH:     Do you know the definition of a revolutionary?  A revolutionary is one who explains and explains and explains, so I think talking is important, sure.  Consciousness raising is very, very important.  But direct action, those kinds of things are important too, just as important, and changing the laws, which is what we’re trying to do here, that’s important.  Any way is important, with one qualification to that; it seems to me that most revolutionary movements really come with a vision of a more humane life.  Where they fall apart is in a complete separation of ends and means.  The ends are there, beautiful, but the means in trying to get to those ends, they move into a kind of pragmatism that the end justifies the means and we end up doing the same kinds of things the oppressors have done all along and we never can get there.

And so I think as feminists, I think central to the feminist ethic is to realize, sure, the end justifies the means up to a point, but the means also shape the ends and so whatever specific kinds of things we do, whether it’s direct action or talking or whatever, we confront, we’re honest, we’re open, we’re bold, but we are not destructive, or we refuse to play by the old rules so that we begin to institute more honesty, more openness, more caring-ness right in and through the midst of confrontation and negotiation and all those kinds of things.  Did that make sense?

JK:      Yes.

EH:     So that we have more of an integration of ends and means and the way we go about them.

JK:      And you think that the women’s movement can achieve this?

EH:     I hope so.

JK:      Okay, well thank you very much.

EH:     You’re very welcome.

End of Interview