Interviewee: Olive Merlin
IWY TX 303
Interviewer: Constance Kite
Date: November 18, 1977
Olive Merlin, of Jackson, Michigan, was an educator and a Director of Vocational Education in Jackson. She was the first vice-president of the Michigan Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Interview includes discussion of her organization’s fundraising to support the ERA advocacy, the Michigan delegation’s experience with conference accommodations, and her positive impressions of the National Women’s Conference. Merlin hoped to use her experience at the IWY to teach young people in Michigan about equal opportunity and the importance of local organizing to opening vocational careers to women.
Constance Kite: This is Connie Kite at the National Convention in Houston, and I’m interviewing Olive Merlin of Michigan. Olive, what brings you to Houston this time?
Olive Merlin: Well, I’m here because I think this is the place to be this weekend. I’m excited about this conference, and I wouldn’t have been any other place.
CK: Was there something that started you on your way to Houston? Was there something that happened in your own life? Either recently or many years back—that has culminated in your coming to Houston—that you could think of and point to as most impacting?
OM: (Laughs) Well, first of all, I’m an educator, so that means that I’m interested in the careers of all young people. I’m especially interested in those of young women because I have had an office co-op program for many years. Most of those people in that program are young women. Now I’m the Director of Vocational Education in Jackson, so I’m interested in careers for all young people along vocational lines. Of course there haven’t been that many opportunities for young women in trades and in the vocational areas as we could have hoped for.
The other reason I’m here is because I belong to the Michigan Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, and I’m the first vice president this year. We are 1000% behind the Equal Rights Amendment and we raised $250,000 in—.
CK: That’s right, yeah.
OM: …’73 and ’74; I was instrumental in that. And now a portion of our dues every year go to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
CK: Yeah, right.
OM: And I was also at our Michigan convention in June, and although I’m not a delegate, I am a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, and I think that everybody should have an opportunity to do what they would like to do in this world—or at least have the opportunity. I guess that’s what I mean.
CK: What do you think you’ll be doing when you get back as a result of this convention? You personally? Will you be doing something that you wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t come?
OM: Well, I certainly have had my eyes open to the scope of this conference. That there are so many people here from so many different walks of life, and also that the leadership of this conference is excellent. We have had the president’s wives and the current president’s wife, and that Barbara Jordan gave a terrific speech this morning.
CK: Yeah, that was…
OM: And I also think—and have thought for quite awhile—that we who do support the equal rights amendment should not be on the defensive. We should say what we believe and then let somebody else think the defensive
But as far as this conference and what I will do when I get home: I would hope that I would take back the message that we are given here, and tell everybody what a tremendous opportunity we have here.
CK: What do you think that message will be?
OM: Well, I think it will be that we can have equal rights if we will only work for it. Of course Michigan has already ratified, but we had a conference yesterday. The National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs had allocated $100,000 of the national convention—you know, in July in Louisville—for that conference yesterday so that we would know about the issues and so that this would be like a stepping-off point for this conference today.
CK: Okay. When did you get to Houston, Olive?
OM: We got here at two o’clock on Friday morning. (Laughs) We had a charter flight. Michigan has the largest delegation. We have thirty-eight from NBPW and then there were twelve more people who came with us.
CK: Well, did you have any problems when you got to Houston? Were you one of the lucky ones?
OM: No. We did have a problem because we didn’t have a room, so we just bunked in with some other gals. I got two hours sleep.
CK: I’ve heard some people saying that that is one of the more extraordinary things in this conference: how women have shared their beds with other women out of necessity.
OM: Well, we slept six or seven to a room Thursday night.
CK: And it would never have happened at a men’s conference.
OM: (Laughs) I think you’re right.
CK: There are many things—oops.
(Break in recording at 4:17)
OM: The most important message I could take back would be the one to the young people: to let them know that there are equal opportunities because even though we do talk about career education in high school and everybody knows that there are more openings for women, you don’t really quite know that on a local level; it has to be reinforced, I think.
CK: Since you’ve been here what has impressed you the most?
OM: Well, this morning’s meeting was very impressive. And I think Barbara Jordan’s speech—I guess, could solve the whole thing.
CK: Okay. Thank you Olive. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
OM: No. Except that I’m glad I’m here. (Laughs)
CK: Thank you very…
End of Interview