Interviewee: Helen Coppedge
IWY TX 118
Interviewer: Veronica Tiller
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Helen Coppedge, of Fort Valley, Georgia, decided to attend the International Women’s Year conference to learn about the controversial issues concerning women. She was 30 years old at the time of conference. Interview includes discussion of her hesitancy around the Equal Rights Amendment and her “mixed emotions” around what the ERA would change. She was concerned about increasing the federal government’s control into individual problems. She was against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Coppedge also discussed how discrimination against women in granting credit helped to increase her awareness of women’s issues.
Veronica Tiller: This is Veronica Tiller at the IWY National Conference in Houston. Today is November 19th, 1977. Could you state your name, address and phone number for me, please?
Helen Coppedge: My name is Helen Coppedge. I live at 717 Shamley Drive in Fort Valley, Georgia. My phone number is 912-825-5946.
VT: I want to thank you for this interview. Could you tell me what is it you are doing here at this convention?
HC: Well, I’ve heard a lot about it, both sides of what I consider to be the most controversial issues, and I just decided I would come and see what’s going on out here myself.
VT: Do you think that this conference is an important conference?
HC: Yes, I do. I think that the outcome of it, whatever the outcome is, is going to have profound influence on the life of our country for years to come, and for that reason I think it’s very important.
VT: How do you think it’s going to affect our future, or women’s futures?
HC: I think specifically what’s decided here about the Equal Rights Amendment and whether or not it actually becomes a constitutional amendment, that’s going to affect all of us in very drastic ways. I’ve heard so much about it on both sides of the issue that it’s hard to really separate rhetoric from fact, although I have to admit that the more I hear the less convinced I am that it’s something we need, the Equal Rights Amendment, that is.
VT: Is there any one single event in your life that made you more conscious of issues concerning women?
HC: Oh, probably so. It was a very small thing that happened to me personally, right after I was first married. After having had credit cards and this type of thing on my own as a single person for a number of years, I applied for a Penney’s charge card and was rejected because I had not put my husband’s income and had not gotten his signature on the application. That was the reason that I was rejected, and when I asked why that was necessary, since I was applying for the card and I was working full time at the time, and he was not applying for the card, he wasn’t going to use it, I was told, well, that didn’t matter. I still had to put his income down and have his signature on the application. It made me angry at the time, and I didn’t shop at Penney’s anymore for a long time after that. But it really made me aware that all of a sudden, because I was married, I was not seen on my own anymore but I was seen in relation to someone else and that didn’t seem to me to be terribly fair.
On the other hand, I think some of the claims that the Equal Rights Amendment is going to change a lot of things, I’m not really sure that’s true. And then there are some things I think it will change that I’m not sure I want it to change, so I just have a lot of really mixed emotions about it. I’m here to sort of try to sort some of that out.
VT: So your expectations are not exactly high, but not completely pessimistic either, just moderate?
HC: Well, I think that’s a good way to put it. I personally hope, well, my expectation is that what will come out of his will be pro ERA stances and pro abortion stances, for example. It’s my hope that particularly the pro ERA stance will not carry over. I just hope we don’t ratify it, I think. I think that from what I’ve heard here and from what I’ve seen, I just really feel like we’re better off dealing with the very real problems that exist. I think there’s a lot of discrimination against women, and I’ve felt that myself, and it’s real and it hurts. And yet, I’m just not really convinced that the ERA is going to solve all those problems. If it passes, I hope that the proponents are right. I hope that it will be a solution to our problems. I hope that all of those horrible things that anti ERA people say are going to happen – I hope they don’t happen if it passes. I hope they’re wrong.
Even the most enthusiastic pro ERA supporters can’t guarantee that they’re not going to happen. And if there is a possibility that some of those things may happen, then to me we’d be better off dealing with the areas of discrimination specifically and individually, in spite of the fact that will take a longer amount of time. I think we’re better off dealing with them specifically where we can really look at each individual area and say, now, what are the long term ramifications of this, rather than passing the Equal Rights Amendment as a whole.
VT: So you don’t necessarily approve of the blanket approach?
HC: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to say it. That really scares me, and the thing that scares me about it is that it gives the federal government so much control in so many areas of our lives. Like I said before, I think there are some very real problems that women face, and I think that these need to be dealt with but I’m not real sure that I want the federal government solving those problems. I’m only thirty years old. I haven’t lived a long time, but since I’ve been an adult I have been able to observe enough to let me know that the government does not always solve all of our problems, and that the more control it has gotten over our lives, the less some of our problems are solved. We just seem to have more and more. The government being able to make changes in all these areas doesn’t necessarily solve the problems, and I think we’re just better off trying to deal with them individually, specifically, rather than having a blanket thing like this that just says what it says about equality of rights not being abridged and all, and that the federal government then is responsible for enforcing it. I just trust my legislature more than I trust the federal government.
VT: So you think that action ought to be taken by the states rather than the federal government? Could you give me an example of what limited issues the women can deal with?
HC: A good example of what I was talking about was, for example, the Equal Credit Opportunity act. The whole thing of credit and women being able to get credit is a very real problem. That’s the individual example that I gave you a minute ago, that it really bothered me that all of a sudden because I was married I couldn’t get credit. That is one way of dealing with a specific area of discrimination that’s causing problems, and dealing with that on a specific basis where we can look at it and consider the ramifications of the thing all the way around. That’s the kind of example that I’m talking about, that I would rather see us deal with things specifically on a one-by-one basis, in spite of the fact that it takes longer to do that, and in spite of the fact that you’ve got kind of spotty enforcement here and there, and in spite of the fact that some states will have certain kinds of legislation and other states won’t have that kind of legislation and it makes problems then for a mobile society. There are problems with doing it that way. I know there are. I just think the problems of having a blanket type of thing like a constitutional amendment creates even more problems.
VT: How would this create problems?
HC: For example, I have yet to see, in spite of all of the assurances from pro ERA people, that the ERA will not change marriage laws. They say oh, it has nothing to do with that. The states make the laws regarding marriage. That has absolutely nothing to do with it. That is just absolutely an unfounded concern, period. They just think that dismisses it because they’ve said it was an unfounded concern. And yet, I cannot see how, even if that is a state regulated thing, even if the states make the laws on that, if for example, two persons of the same sex decided they wanted to marry, why could they not make a case and say that a state law forbidding marriage between the two persons was unconstitutional because of the Equal Rights Amendment. I just don’t see how they can say it’s an unfounded concern. I think it’s going to come up.
They can say that it’s unfounded all they want to, and I think once it’s passed then we’ll see a whole rash of suits like this because of persons of the same sex who want to marry. And they’ll be bringing suit on the basis that state laws are unconstitutional because they forbid marriage between two persons of the same sex. And they can say, and I think with some grounds, that a state law forbidding them to marry is discriminatory on the basis of sex, because it’s forbidding two persons of the same sex. Why should your sex have anything to do with who you marry? That could very well be the argument, and that’s just one example. I personally think homosexuality is wrong, and that concerns me, that something like this which sounds good and seems to be an easy way to solve… (tape skips at 12:00)
…family pro-life delegates and observers that I’ve seen here have all been very concerned about being courteous, not using foul language, and seem to be such easy people to be around in some ways. And so many folks that I’ve seen over here seem to think that foul language and slovenliness are virtues and something to be flaunted, and that if you just don’t happen to like it, that’s your problem. And it probably isn’t a problem. It just makes me wonder if these are the kinds of people that associate themselves with a certain side of an issue, then you wonder if there are some things behind the issues that maybe ought to be given some thought.
If the gay caucuses think that this is a great thing, they must have something to gain from it. It makes me wonder why they’re going to so much trouble to support it if they don’t have something to gain from it. I just think there’s more to it than meets the eye.
VT: Thank you very much for this interview.
End of Interview