Interviewee: Paula Seddon
IWY TX 454
Interviewer: Mollie Camp Davis
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Paula Seddon was from Chicago, Illinois and was 32 at the time of the interview. She was a homemaker, mother of one, and worked for Amtrak. Seddon was also a member of the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks. Seddon attended the IWY conference as an official observer and to learn more about the women’s movement and women’s issues. Seddon had recently joined women’s groups. Interview includes discussion of: Seddon’s family growing up and her observations of her own mother’s unsatisfying life; how Seddon became involved in unions after returning from maternity leave; and how her involvement with the Coalition of Labor Union Women encouraged her to become more widely involved in the women’s movement.
Mollie Camp Davis: The next interview, with Paula Seddon, is at 12:45 p.m. 11-19-77. Paula?
Paula Seddon: My name is Paula Seddon. I live at 9341 South Claremont, Chicago, Illinois, 60620. My phone number is area code (312) 238-5950. I belong to the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks, I’m employed with Amtrak, I’m thirty-two years old, I’m a homemaker, mother of one son, five-years-old.
MD: Is it on? Okay. One thing we’re asked to make certain goes in the National Archives is why you’re here at this conference, or why, perhaps, you feel the conference is important enough to come to it?
PS: I’m at the International Women’s Year Conference as an observer, to offer support and to take part in the spirit, to encourage women, to gain information to take home with me, to continue women’s awareness, and women’s forward movement. I have fairly recently become involved in women’s groups.
My background is traditional. My mother was a housewife, child and home-oriented, no outside interests. I was encouraged to be independent, and never recognized that there were any restraints on me in any way. I could be what I wanted to be, and do what I wanted to do. I see now, in my present life, that my mother’s way of living has not been fulfilling, has not been satisfying. It’s very painful. She lives with me now. She has no job skills, she feels that she can’t get them. She . . . I know that there are a lot of women now who are leaving that place, and finding out that, regardless of age, background, tradition, whatever, they can reach their full potential. I think that it’s so important for me to reach toward that goal, and to, as much as I can in my personal relationships, encourage that in other women. I feel that I am seeing the pain, and the dissatisfaction, and the emptiness that comes from not having that as a goal. I have worked. I did take off work two years while my son was an infant, and I feel that I was especially lucky to be able to do that, to have that choice.
However, in returning to work, I became involved with union activities. First, again on a personal level, and then because if I am willing to fight, if that’s the proper word, if I am willing to take a stand — and there are other people who feel the same, but maybe just don’t have that courage or that, who have the fears. If they can be shown that it’s not such a scary thing, that you do have that right, and you must exercise it, then that’s my responsibility to do that. I feel that it’s a personal responsibility.
As far as organizations are concerned, I suppose that becoming involved in CLUW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, having attended their first, actually their third, convention as a delegate from my union inspired me to . . . that was the first large convention that I had attended. And the spirit, and the fellowship that I was able to take part in there, I’m sure was one of the things that brought me to Houston. I personally feel that it’s a kind of spiritual experience to be with women who have the same goals, who come from many different areas and backgrounds. Careers. So many differences. This is . . . and yet to come together in faith, it certainly is a faith, you know, that things will be better, that things are going forward. It’s an experience that, certainly, in my experience, should but does not take place in churches, that fellowship, that unity, that community spirit. You know, whether the community is the world or the neighborhood. It’s that spirit, and it was here today.
MD: You felt this? I felt it myself. And I think it was there. Even though there may be disagreement. You feel that disagreement hurts the women if it is dealt with honestly? I didn’t mean to slip a question in like that. But I think that sisterhood, you can still disagree with your sisters and have a sense of unity. And I wondered how you felt about that.
PS: Yes. I certainly am irritated and annoyed by the, you know, opposition. They can get to me. But that’s the only way. The only alternative is not to deal with the issues, and that would be horrible. And I’m struck by so many things. There was a person with a big placard, walking down the street with this big, red letter slashed all over the sign, “International Women’s Year only represents activists.” Well, you know, carrying a placard and running up and down the street yelling about activists is, you know. So, yes, it only represents activists. And that’s what we should all be is activists. On our own behalf, or on the behalf of whatever. Everyone should be an activist.
MD: I’d like to ask you, Paula, what degree . . . let’s see. What will you do when you go home? Because you feel that all women should be activists, and this will evidently renew your faith and spirit.
PS: When I go home, I will continue, I suppose, to do what I can to pass ERA. Make copies, draw posters, potluck dinners, fundraisers, whatever the case may be. SWORN is the organization I belong to locally, in my neighborhood. I also belong to Beverly Women’s Center, which is not a political activist organization, but it’s a women’s center, it’s, I suppose, an awareness center. And I have found that that’s the jumping-off point for many women. When they have their own permission to be people, in the fullest sense of the word, then they find that they can work for others and become politically active. I think you have to be personally aware before you become politically active. I think that passing ERA is basic. That’s just basic. I just refuse to believe anything but that it will be passed, and it has to be passed. The main obstacle is in women’s heads. And that’s what we’ve got to change on a one-to-one basis. ERA has got to be passed, but everyone that you talk to, or know, or see, has got to be . . . not, you know, beat on the head or indoctrinated, but just shown how these things will make a difference. How your personal activities and personal life will make a difference to everyone.
MD: Do you think that this is, in a sense, meeting your expectations? In that, you think this really will bring a lot of women to this personal awareness? From personal awareness, perhaps, really more and more vigorous?
PS: I believe that I am picking up energy here. That I have brought some, that I have some energy, or support, or whatever you might term it, to offer. But I believe that, for every little bit I’m giving out, I’m picking up lots more. And I think that’s what this conference is about. To meet people from different areas, to talk to them, and to share, and to gain.
MD: Thank you so much.
End of Interview