Interviewee: Mollie Tremain
Interviewer: Lyn Goldfarb
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Mollie Tremain, 45, attended the National Women’s Conference as an official observer. Tremain was drawn to the women’s movement because of her concern for minority groups and saw women as a minority. Born in West Virginia, she have also lived in Texas, San Francisco, St. Louis, and in 1963 moved to Kansas. A therapist and mother of six children, at the time of the conference she had completed a Master’s degree and was working towards her doctorate. Interview includes discussion of: working with women patients as a therapist; her experience going back to school after dropping out of high school in 10th grade; the types of jobs she held before becoming a therapist; and Tremain’s impressions of the IWY publicity in Kansas and how women became involved.
Mollie Tremain: Well, no I came by myself.
Lyn Goldfarb: Okay, why did you come to the Conference?
MT: Because I felt that it was very important for women to be here, whether they were delegates or whether they were, you know, observers. What do they call those observers that got in –
LG: Official observers.
MT: Okay, official observer. And I think that yesterday, you know, I was feeling a little like the people that were here in unofficial capacities really weren’t being paid very much attention to. But I got to thinking about it and, you know, this is a political movement. I mean, there is no mistaking the identity of this Conference, it is a political conference. And as far as I’m concerned any political movement needs bodies, and so I’m a body. And all the other women who are here that aren’t in an official capacity are also bodies. To let the people out in the world know that there are women who are interested and involved, and that we want to be heard.
LG: When did you first decide to come to the Conference?
MT: When I first heard about it, which was about in, I think it was last April that I heard about it. But the information in our area was not disseminated properly, so the people in our area didn’t know that you could write for tickets, they didn’t know that you could become official observers. We had very little information that was put out to our community, even though we had a committee person in our community. She was not very good about disseminating information. We had one local meeting and the publicity on that was so poor that it only came out of the newspaper the day before. And I had read about the Women’s Conference Act, I don’t know if it was in Ms. magazine or some magazine some place. And then when we did this local meeting, I’m interested in battered women so I was asked to do a workshop on battered women, which I did. I didn’t go to the state meeting because that was, I had already made plans to go to California at that time so I didn’t go. But I’m here, I’m really happy to be here.
LG: Can you tell me what, do you consider yourself a feminist?
MT: Well, I’m not sure what a feminist is. I mean, I’m not a radical feminist. I suppose I’m very interested in women’s rights but I’m not really a radical feminist in that sense. I don’t think. Except I’m not sure what a radical feminist is. (Laughter)
LG: What about part, you became a part of the women’s movement.
LG: When did you first become involved in the women’s movement?
MT: I think probably all my life because I’ve always been interested in minority groups and I think that women are a minority group. But I don’t think that I really became concerned on a more objective level until, oh approximately three years ago when, you know, I’m a therapist and I started working as a therapist at that time and I mainly dealt with women and the issues, you know, that they were involved in and what was happening to them in their lives. And I just became more and more interested in what was happening to women and why it was happening to women.
LG: Um-hum. Did you feel, why did you choose as a therapist to work mostly with women?
MT: Well I don’t know that I chose to work with women, but I think any psychologist will tell you that most of the people who are sent to mental health centers are women because when there’s something that goes wrong with the family, you know, they just say, okay it’s the woman in the family that’s crazy so let’s send her. And you know, find out, and the therapist is going to tell her she’s crazy or that there’s something wrong with her. Because usually that’s what the men in the family think, they think if anything is going wrong with the relationship that it is because of the woman. And so they are more, they aren’t willing to go themselves, they are much more willing to either one, send a woman, or two, send a child. So that’s why as a therapist working in a mental health center we see more women and children than you ever see men.
LG: Okay. So you became interested because of your work with women and beginning to hear what some of the women were telling you?
MT: Well, I think partly that but I think in a sense I’ve been interested in women’s, I mean, the way I raised my children, for instance, was different than the way other people raise their children. And when my kids were little, especially my boys, I got a lot of flak from other people because I wouldn’t do things like let them play with guns and I didn’t like them to be involved in play violence because I always felt that that led to greater acceptance of violence later on. I didn’t want my children to join the service; one of my boys did, but I didn’t really want them to, you know. (Laughter) And I raised my kids to be kind of free.
LG: Where’d you get those ideas?
MT: God, I don’t know, I really don’t. I was reared in West Virginia partly, but my parents and I, you know, we traveled around a lot. I don’t know where they came from. I lived in Houston when I was young, like 15 or 16. Well let me back up a bit, where I lived in West Virginia, for instance, there were no blacks. I mean, we didn’t know what a black person was because we just didn’t see any blacks. So we really didn’t have prejudice toward minorities was because we didn’t have any. And when I moved to Texas I think that was the first time that I really understood prejudice against minority groups. And you know, like there used to be a bus in Houston called the Pioneer Bus Line, I don’t think it’s here anymore, and I used to ride it. And I know one day we went through the black community, it went that route, and you know, somebody just leaned out the window and spit on a black person. And I said, “Why did you do that?” And they said, “Because he’s a nigger.” And you know, I said, “Well, that’s a human being.” I mean, I was just a kid but to me, you know, that was a human being and why would anybody treat anyone else that way? So I don’t know, you know, maybe it started back then. I know that when I went to school, which was Jefferson Davis High School, the high school that I went to here –
LG: That’s here in Houston.
MT: Um-hum. The Chicanos or the Mexican/Spanish people were, you know, everybody was very prejudice towards them. So my best friend was, you know, was a Spanish girl, Mexican girl. And I don’t know, I just, I’ve always felt as though I was a minority. I always felt from the time I was 13 that I was different from other people, not different in the sense, you know, that I was great or anything, I always felt real bad about being different because I didn’t feel like my, you know, like my parents or like my relatives. And I thought, you know, what’s wrong with me, I’m crazy, I don’t think like these people, you know, there must be something horribly wrong with me because I don’t have their same ideas, you know. And I think I’ve always sort of kept that.
When I lived in San Francisco I lived next door to a communist woman and, you know, I’ve met just all different kinds of people. And there’s just such a wide variety of people, I can’t really be prejudice toward any minority group, and I feel the women are, in a sense, although we have more women than we do men, I mean, the way we’re treated is like a minority group.
LG: Um-hum. Do you remember what you first felt when you heard about the women’s movement? You know, the publicity of going, I mean, you know, having ideas kind of independent and then when you first heard about the women’s movement?
MT: I have no idea. I can’t remember because it just seems like now it’s just a part of me that I can’t remember back. You know, at first I know that I thought that some of the feminists were pretty radical, you know. And, but now I’m so, I’m into a lot of the things, you know, that women are into, a lot of the things that are interested in so I can’t really think back and say, hey there was a big flashback there, you know, and that was the day that I decided that I was a feminist or I decided that I was, you know, interested in women.
LG: Do you think feminist or women’s movement is becoming less radical or do you think that you’re becoming, your ideas are beginning to be more and more –
MT: Well it’s like I said, I’m not sure about your definition of radical versus my definition of radical. I mean, when I think of radicals I think like people that are going to go out and bomb buildings and things like that, and I could never see myself doing that. But I think I’ll see people throwing leaflets out the window. (Laughter) And things of that sort.
LG: When I actually started to ask you about the, you know, whether you consider yourself a feminist, it was more feminist as a member of the women’s movement. In that way, you know, consider yourself a part of that movement. What was the first, do you belong to any women’s organization now?
LG: Have you ever?
MT: No. Well, what do you mean women’s organizations, like NOW or?
LG: Or any kind of group that’s interested in women’s equality and equal rights.
MT: Well, we have a group in our town, I mean, that was started by a friend of mine and me. We just call it the Women’s Group. But we’re not affiliated with any national –
LG: Oh, that’s fine.
MT: – association. I mean, I belong to the AUW and I belong to the (unintelligible at 10:21) club and all that. I belong to the YWCA, you know, all that jazz. But I don’t belong to any national organization, national women’s organizations.
LG: What about your Women’s Group, what does it do and why did you start it up?
MT: Well, we started mainly because this friend of mind is in, and I have been doing a lot of research on battered women.
LG: Um-hum, how long ago was this?
MT: Well, we started last May, April – no, it was a little before that, it was some time in the spring semester. I did it as a project for some work that I’m doing at the University. And so we just felt like that we were doing the whole thing and we really needed to get some other people involved, and that we felt the need in ourselves to talk to other women. And so we just formed a group and it’s not an organization in the sense of, like dues or, you know, anything of that sort, but rather we just meet once a week and we discuss whatever we feel like discussing.
LG: What kind of things do you discuss?
MT: Well, some people are into self-defense for women, some of us are, you know, concerned about credit and how women get credit. You know, just everything pertaining to women, anything that, you know, abortion, childcare, anything that happens to come up, you know, we talk about. We don’t really get into personal problems because it’s not a counseling group. We just talk about, you know, issues that interest us.
LG: More issue oriented.
LG: Okay. Now, when you decided to come to Houston did any of the other women in your group come with you?
LG: What did people think in your town, people that you knew, about you coming here?
MT: I think everyone, the women that I knew were real enthusiastic about me coming. And I think that some of them would’ve come with me except they didn’t have any money, and I didn’t really have any money either but I had enough to come. And I tried to get my daughter to come but she wouldn’t come. I tried to articulate, you know, to her that it was important to come, but I couldn’t make her understand, maybe because at that point I really didn’t understand why it was important for me to come. And so I really couldn’t articulate to her why I felt it was important for her to come.
LG: How old is your daughter?
MT: My youngest daughter is 16.
LG: So you really almost felt driven to come, that it’s important but you didn’t know exactly why?
MT: I felt like I, well I knew that I wanted to come. And I didn’t, as I say I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to come but I just felt like it was important for me personally to be here. To find out, in the first place I have a very curious nature, and I wanted to find out for myself what was going on. And you know, it’s been a fantastic experience. I think the thing at the convention hall today was just, you know, people are standing there and they’re crying and they’re cheering and, you know, they’re carrying on and it’s the first time I’ve ever been really involved in a kind of a big, like political movement, you know, where you really feel the vibes of everybody sort of pulling together. It’s really a unique experience, I think anyways.
LG: Did you anticipate that this was what it’d be like or?
MT: No. I didn’t anticipate that at all.
LG: It’s a lot better than you –
MT: You mean the Conference?
MT: Is it better? I didn’t really think that it would be better or worse. I didn’t know what it would be like. And so I didn’t make any, you know, prejudgment. I might add too, you know, that I also, when I talked about how I (unintelligible at 14:01) I talked about a son who works for a socialist newspaper. (Laughter) It’s very interesting in women’s issues. And I think that he’s been real helpful to me in, you know, pinpointing some of my feelings about how I feel about things. And you know, he was out at Berkeley and he was involved at that time in – well he wasn’t exactly involved in a radical movement but he certainly lived a lot and around a lot of people who were, and you know, he gave me a lot of information.
LG: And that helped you articulate or understand more?
MT: Well, I think that he and I together, you know, came to a lot of conclusions. For instance, you know, he had always been the kid that kind of thought I was stupid because he’d sort of been programmed to think that, I think partly by his father, you know, because his father would always say things like, “Your mother is very bright, but . . .” And so when I got divorced from his dad a few years ago, you know, he sort of sided with his father and we had a really big argument, and it wasn’t until after we went out to California that we really got back together and started talking about, you know, all the things that I had been feeling. And so he had been working with the women there and doing some things in some of the groups there and, you know, he could really understand at that point, you know, some of things I had been feeling. And so we’re very close now, which is fantastic. It’s really neat.
LG: Did you get divorced because of your feelings, you know, because of any women’s issues or because –
MT: Well, not exactly, although – well, I think that any women who goes back to school when she’s 34 years old doesn’t ordinarily wind up staying married to the same person that she was married to when she went to school. At least this is my experience. I’m known an awful lot of women, see I didn’t go back to school until I was, like 34, and so an awful lot of women that went back to school with me at that point that were around my age or maybe even older, that’s only like two of those women that have stayed married, because they’ve just sort of thrown out the relationship. But it wasn’t exactly – I think what really was the, oh what do you call the thing that sort of ejects you into doing something – you know, like a projectile or something – yeah, the catalyst.
I read a story in Redbook magazine about a woman who had gone back to school and I don’t remember the name of the story, I don’t remember the author, but in it was a scene in which, you know, she was really trying to develop her freedom, and she was really trying to develop her mind and herself and her feelings and how she felt about things. And it was so closely parallel with, you know, how I had responded to going back to school. And at that point I had gone back living with my husband and in this story this woman was ironing clothes and she was feeling very depressed because her work and school wasn’t going too well, you know, and that sort of thing. And so she was crying and her husband came in and he pulled her down in his lap and he started, like petting her and saying, “Oh that’s alright, I’ll take care of you.” You know, and she realized at that point that, you know, that’s what he had done all along, and she got up and she split. I mean, that’s a very simplified version of the story. And that’s what happened to me. I mean, after I read that story it was a real catalyst, I mean, I just upped and I split, I left, because I said, this is not working, I don’t know why two people should live in a relationship where, you know, they’re both unhappy and, you know, they wind up being miserable. So in a sense that was a real catalyst.
LG: Well, why did you decide to go back to school?
MT: I don’t know. I think I was curious. My husband at that point had gone back to school and I think I wanted to go back and find out what he was finding out about, you know, all the interesting things. And I was scared to death like a lot of women are. (Laughter) And I went back to school, got my bachelor’s degree, went back to school, got my Master’s degree, and now working on my PhD. (Laughter) So, you know, it’s been one thing after another.
LG: Uh-huh, and when you stopped school, what, you went to high school?
MT: No, I didn’t go through, no, I was at Jefferson Davis High School here until the 10th grade. And then I left school and I never went back until I was 34. And so I went and I took the GED, which I passed, I was so scared. I went in there, oh my God, I’ll never pass this test, you know, all that stuff. And so then I had to take, you know, the ACT test in order to get into college, and I didn’t know about anything about what tests were predicated on at that time, I was back in my high school days where everything was predicated on 100. And when I got my scored back for the ACT, you know, it was like, I think my composite score was something like 25 or 26, you know, and I thought, oh my God, I flunked. You know, oh this is terrible, this score is horrible, you know. So I took the book, you know, they came in little booklets then and they had little graphs that showed you what you could do. And I didn’t really understand how to interpret all that, and so I took it upstairs and I hid it in my dresser drawer under all my clothes (Laughter) because I thought I flunked, you know. I thought, my God, you know, they’re never going to let me in college. And so then I got a letter from the dean of the college saying that I’d been unconditionally accepted in school and I said, oh my God, they’ll take anybody, you know, that they’re really desperate for students. And so then I went up and I got the book out and I thought, well maybe, you know, maybe there’s something wrong with my thinking and I went up and I got it out and I read, you know, really what that meant.
LG: Had you before that point ever wanted to go back to school before? Between the time that you left school in 10th grade?
MT: Oh, I think I had, I think at one time in San Francisco I attempted to go back to high school. But that didn’t work out too well. But, you know, I was raising a family. When I started back to school I had six children and my youngest child was, like 2 ½ – well she wasn’t even 2 yet. Yeah. Well, she was 2 when I started back to school because I started in January and she was 2 in January. That’s the one that’s 16.
LG: What did your friends think about you at that point?
MT: I didn’t have any friends at that point. (Laughter) Well, I had a few but I mean, I didn’t have any, like women friends at that point. And so mostly it was just, you know, my family and what they thought of me. My father by that time had died and that was real sad because he would’ve been very happy about it. My mother is really proud. I am the first woman in my family to ever graduate from college. I mean, there are two other people, grandchildren of my grandparents, two men that have, they’re quite a bit younger than I am and they graduated from University but never a woman. I’m the first woman in my family.
LG: And now you’re going to get your PhD?
MT: I hope so. (Laughter) But, like my, you know, my daughter is a college graduate, she’s a nurse. And my son, my two sons, well my one son hasn’t finished yet, my mother son is, my other two sons aren’t but probably will, you know, eventually. But it’s, you know.
LG: That’s wonderful. What kind of jobs did you hold before your current job as a therapist?
MT: What kind of jobs? I worked for the Electrolux Company in San Francisco as a file clerk. I know nothing about filing, I was terrible at it. I worked for the telephone company before I was married. Once after I was married I sold silverware, which was a disaster (laughter) because I am not a salesman, salesperson. And also really the only jobs I’d ever had, I did a lot of volunteer work, especially after we moved to Kansas I did a lot of volunteer work.
LG: What was it like for you then when you got divorced to be – did you start working in therapy before you were divorced?
LG: So it wasn’t, you didn’t have to make that kind of adjustment and go out and –
MT: Well, I wasn’t working as a therapist in the sense that I was out. Before I was divorced I was working for a state hospital, and so in a sense that wasn’t a community therapist thing, although I did have clients from the community. But then after that I worked in the Mental Health Center and that was the community type thing so it was a little bit different. But I had been working as a psychologist before that.
LG: Okay. Let me go over a couple things and kind of form a chronology for the things that you’ve told me. Okay, and you were born in Texas, is that correct?
MT: No, I was born in West Virginia.
LG: Born in West Virginia, but you lived in Houston.
MT: When I was younger. Well, my father, you see, my father worked in a steel mill at the beginning of the War. See I’m 45 years old which you probably don’t know, but anyway my dad worked in the steel mills at the beginning of the Second World War and I was, you know, a little kid then. And they were going to freeze all those jobs, like they had to stay on them for the duration of the War and my dad said, no way, you know, are they going to freeze my job, if I want to move, I want to move. I mean, he really, before that had never thought about moving. And so then he joined a construction crew and he went all over the United States and did construction work, and my mother and I went with him. And so we moved around a lot and when I was 16 or 15, oh probably between 14 and 16 I lived in Texas. We started out living in Texarkana and then I lived in Houston and then after I left home I lived in San Francisco and, you know, various other places.
LG: And then when did you move to Kansas?
MT: About 1963. Well we were living in St. Louis at that time.
LG: You mean with your husband because your husband’s job?
MT: Yeah. No, he decided, he had been working at Kroger in St. Louis as a truck driver and he decided he wanted to go back to college. He had about 90 hours, before we were married, and he decided he wanted to go back to college so we moved down to Pittsburgh, Kansas. And that’s how, I went to school there so that’s how I got to Kansas and I’m still there. (Laughter)
LG: So you really feel that education, a chance for women to get education it really can change their life.
MT: I think for some women it can change their life. I think some girls, some women that have gone to school and it hasn’t changed their basic outlook at all. I mean, they go through school and they just went through. You know, I always thing of them as sort of cardboard images, I just look right through and nothing ever happened, nothing ever changed, they just never got bright or anything, they just stayed the same. It’s really weird.
LG: My mother went back to school when I was growing up at the time, so I know exactly what you mean.
MT: Really? Where are you from?
LG: I’m from California.
MT: (Unintelligible 25:04) at and it really is different, you know, because most of the women I know that went back to school at that point, some of them are really, they’re not officially involved in the women’s movement per se but they are feminists in that they are concerned about women’s rights. And you see, where I live in Kansas we’re sort of like in outer Mongolia to give you an analogy. (Laughter) And there is not much happening down there in the way of women’s organizations or anything of that sort. No one seems to really pay attention to us or anything like that. You know, we never hear about a lot of the (25:41 – recording malfunctions to end)
End of Interview