Interviewee: Madeline Burke
IWY TX 086
Interviewer: Johnye Matthews
Date: November 20, 1977
Madeline Burke, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, worked in business and real estate. Burke, 43, was a homemaker for much of her adult life before entering the real estate profession. Interview includes discussion of her life as a homemaker, how she helped her husband with his business, her excitement over the IWY, and her hopes that the IWY would benefit her teenage daughter. Burke also believed that the IWY could help her learn more about educational opportunities for nontraditional students. Burke recognized that the IWY provided her the ability to meet women from all over the country and she was excited to learn about others’ lives including lesbian women and women of other spiritual beliefs.
Johnye Matthews: . . . at the national conference headquarters hospitality room. The date is Sunday, November 20th, 1977. The occasion is the International Women’s Year conference. What is your name, please?
Madeline Burke: My name is Madeline Burke.
JM: Madeline, where are you from?
MB: I’m from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
JM: What is your interest in the International Women’s Year conference?
MB: Well, unfortunately, I got interested in it kind of late. Well, not really late. But it was just last year at the governor’s conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My boss had asked me to come to it, and I really had no idea what I was really going to. But I got so enthused and interested in what was going on in our state conference, I knew I had to go to the national one, one way or the other.
JM: Did you have a certain event or experience that was a consciousness-raising experience for you?
MB: Well, I think probably it was the fact that I was a homemaker most of my life. And I had gotten out in the business world rather late in life. I’m forty-three, and I started into real estate when I was about thirty-eight. And I was so interested . . . it was such a different life than being at home, and being in the protective environment that I was in with my husband. And I got out into the business world, and I did see how very much women were discriminated against. Not particularly in the profession that I chose, but in other ones. And the salaries and things. And their credit, and what have you. Because I rated to all these things selling real estate.
JM: I see. Are you a widow, or divorced, or . . .
MB: At the present time, I am separated.
JM: And you’ve had no experience in the work force?
MB: That’s right. I had to help my husband. He had a business. And I’ve helped him some. But I had done very little work, mostly home-making.
JM: I see. Well then, the governor’s conference is the point, perhaps, when you made the transition from your individual consciousness-raising to being involved in group activities?
MB: That’s right.
JM: What is your impression of the conference?
MB: Of the national conference? I think it’s just about the most fantastic thing I’ve ever been to. Not only from the standpoint of what we’re doing as women, which is very exciting, and I feel — I have a fourteen-year-old daughter — and I feel that this is going to help her so much. It’s just going to really benefit her, and the other ones even more so than myself. But I feel like it’s going to really benefit me. I went to a lot of the workshops. And I also visited a lot of the booths. And I got literature on things that I think personally will help me. Because, even at the age I’m at now, which is forty-three, I intend to go and further my education, and I found out where I can go and who I can talk to to help me do that. And I’m just very excited about it. I’m also very excited about meeting all the people from other places, because I’ve been kind of the homebody, and stayed around, mostly in the South central, a little bit in the Southwest. I find it very exciting to meet other people, and other women, and find out a lot of things that, well, I just didn’t know. You know, I just didn’t know. You just don’t find out these things staying in a little world all your own. And, since I haven’t been able to go to these places, physically, I feel like, by meeting these other women, I’m going there mentally.
JM: Have you met women who were doing a variety of kinds of things?
MB: Very much. And it has very much encouraged me that I can do what I want to do.
JM: How do you feel about the real universal issues that we’ve been reading about in newspapers and that kind of…
MB: Well, I’ve even gone out of my way to talk to people. And maybe I shouldn’t name specific people, but, like, the lesbian issue. Which I personally and still feel like is a personal issue, more so than an issue that should be put into this women’s conference. And I had coffee with two of them, and talked to them for about a half-an-hour. And we talked back-and-forth about our views, and they were very nice people. And I found out a lot about them that I’m sure that, just being in everyday life I would never have approached them and talked to them and asked them the questions that I did. And I found out that I can understand that they’re discriminated against. But I feel like if we were all coming here just as women, and tried to further ourselves as women, then these personal issues about some of the things that are very personal like abortion, and lesbianism, and what have you, I believe we could have worked that out. It would have been better to have done it in a second forum. But I guess I can understand that they were impatient to go ahead and get it done.
JM: Nevertheless, you feel that you have a better understanding of their point of view?
MB: Definitely. Definitely. And I, anything that I saw that I wasn’t sure of what it was — I saw some young girls dressed in white, with white turbans, and veils, and they were very clean-looking pretty girls — and I asked them, you know, what they were. And I found out that they were . . . I cannot remember the name of it, but they were some kind of yogi, yoga cultists. And they’re really not cultists either, because they’re not Christians, and they don’t bow to any Christ, but they just believe that . . . they believe in getting rid of all the sexism, and, you know, the exploiting women, and ads, and what have you. And I found their view really refreshing. And I got their name and address near my home. Because I would really like to find out more about them. I realize that having a fourteen-year-old daughter, that she’s going to be confronted by these people, and I want to know as much about them as I can, so I can talk to her. And I don’t want to condemn people. Because I think too long, me personally, I lived in a little world, and anything outside my little world just couldn’t be right, because my little world was so great. And now I find that all these things are just, they’re just exciting, and these people, they have reasons for their views. And I think that’s one of the most exciting things I found out. Even their views are completely contrary to mine, but they have a right to them. And they have reasons for them.
JM: What, if anything, are you planning to do, or do you think you might do, as a result of having attended this conference, when you go back home?
MB: Well, I’m definitely going to get more involved in things than I have been. I’m going to really, really get involved, and, as far as me personally, I’m going to further my own education, and I think that people that, well, like I said, that live in . . .
(Tape skips at 7:44)
JM: We were interrupted by another interview. We’re coming in, a delegate interview. We were talking about going back home. What you’re going to take back with you.
MB: I have definitely . . . I’m going to take back a broader point-of-view. And definitely more of a desire to get into a lot of things. And, also, I feel like, that I’m going to take back a lot of things to my daughter, that will benefit her. Because she has a lot longer to be in this world than I do. And the world, I think, is changing. And I believe that one thing: if we don’t learn more about people, so we can be more tolerant of one another, I think that the world is going to self-destruct itself.
(Tape skips at 8:32. Picks back up at 8:45)
JM: We’ve heard a lot of discussion, at least in the newspapers in Arkansas, where I live, about the women’s movement being responsible for the increase in the divorce rate. Do you think that it is responsible for this, in fact?
MB: No, I certainly do not, because I am myself involved. And it had nothing to do with the women’s movement, when I separated from my husband. And I think, if anything, the one that’s moved me has helped me to get out, and to get my feet on the ground, and I hope, within the next few months, to be back with my husband, who I was married to for twenty-five years. Had I not been involved in this — and I got involved with this right after I separated — I don’t think that I would have had the courage to go out and to find my own self, and to be able to go back, and to deal with him and the problems that I had. Because I just wasn’t adequate, just staying in that little world of being a homemaker, a protected homemaker. I might have gone back, and I would have been miserable. But when I go back, and I will go back, I’m going to be happy, because I’m going to know that I’m going back because I want to and because I’m a capable person, and dealing with the things I’m going to have to deal with. And I attribute a good bit of it to the state conference that I went to in Baton Rouge. And certainly to this, because I have got a beautiful education from this.
JM: And you think you will be able to work out a workable relationship with your husband, as a result of your own self-knowledge?
MB: Certainly I will, because my husband has worked himself up in business to a point where I think he’s very proud of having gotten to the stage I’m at now, and he definitely wants me back, and I believe it’s because I have asserted myself as a person, not only as a woman but as a person that’s equal to him, and not somebody that’s hanging on saying, “help me, please, I’m poor little thing, I can’t get along.” And I think he has a lot more respect for me than he did when I left him, and I really attribute a good bit of it to being involved in this.
JM: Do you think that you will be a model for your daughter, or teach her in some way that she should become independent and have self-respect before she enters a marriage?
MB: I’m very proud of my daughter, because I think, at fourteen, she’s shown that she definitely has got a lot of things that I didn’t have, and yet she still has a lot of feminine qualities. She’s still very much a lady, that she knows what she wants, and she can assert herself. Yet she’s not any way masculine, or anything. And I just think when she gets out of high school, and whatever she chooses to do, whether it’s get married, or be a career woman, I think she’s going to know where it’s at. A lot more than I did. And I’m just real . . . this is . . . I guess she’s one of the main reasons I’m here, because I feel like if I could have gotten into something like this, maybe when I was twenty-five, twenty-six years old, there’s no telling what I could have done. I still feel like I have a lot of time to do things. But I think she has a beautiful opportunity. And I think it will help her to be a good mother herself, or a good career woman, or whatever she chooses. And for me to be able to accept whatever she chooses to do, without thinking, if she doesn’t do exactly what I do, like my mother taught me that I should do — and my mother was a beautiful mother — that I was doing something wrong.
JM: I’ve asked you a number of questions. Is there anything in particular that you would like to add, that scholars of the future would be interested in knowing, that reflects a viewpoint from a southern lady that’s come to this conference?
MB: Well, just that it was a very, very exciting time, and I think this is going to be really one of the most wonderful things ever happened to women and happened to the world — not only to women, but to men. Because I think that it’s just like unleashing a power that’s been held together. And I just think beautiful things are going to come from it all over the world. But the fact that this many women were interested in getting together, and I guess this is probably the most women that’s ever been together in the whole world. And they’re all so interested. And even though there’s differences of opinions, there’s just something about it that’s almost like a big light around it. No matter whether we disagree or agree, we all know we’re here together for one purpose, and that’s just to make the world a better world. And I think women have always held a good bit of that responsibility, for the fact that we’re the ones who raise the children. And we kind of set the patterns for what’s going to be, even more so than the men do, or a lot more than the men do.
JM: Do you think we’re going to have trouble convincing the men that what we have done here is important, and that we should be respected for wanting to feel our own significance?
MB: I think it’s going to take a while to make some of them understand. But I think the men who really know where it’s at are going to be very glad of it, because . . . now, some of them are possibly, maybe, afraid of women, and they were conditioned that way, they just don’t admit they’re afraid of them. But I think the majority of men that are sit back and think about what’s going on, and watch what progress this is going to bring, I think they’re going to be very happy about it. And I think even the skeptical ones . . . it may take them a little longer, but I believe they’re going to see what this has done.
JM: Ok. Well, I thank you very much for helping us with our study, and I hope you enjoy the conference, and take all good things back home with you.
MB: Oh, thank you very much. (Laughs)
End of Interview