Interviewee: Rene Epstein
IWY TX 159
Interviewer: June Hahner
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Rene Epstein began organizing for women’s rights after her college-aged daughter’s anti-war and feminist activism. In this interview, Epstein recalled spending part of her childhood in east Texas and the fact that she was uncomfortable with the unjust treatment of African-Americans in her community. Epstein believed a number of women’s activists began as civil rights activists.
Rene Epstein: I’ve forgotten what I was saying.
June Hahner: You were saying how much you love reading books as a career. You’re reading everything.
RE: Yes, oh yes. And then I said I think I became involved in justice, I was uncomfortable as a child. One thing, I lived in east Texas and I used to see black people treated in ways that I was uncomfortable with. I could remember as a small child, the black people would step aside and letting you pass. This was in east Texas over close to the border between east Texas and Shreveport.
RE: I lived with my brother some as a child in the summers and as a child I would be uncomfortable when I’d see them step off the sidewalk. No one ever told me that. I just wanted to reach over and pull them back on the sidewalk. So, I think a lot of the feminists that I know also began working for minority groups. We weren’t even aware that you work for women. But to be active, I started when my daughter was a freshman in college at University of Kansas she was working with the protestors in the Vietnamese War. And at that time they had such restrictive rules for the women in the college and that hasn’t been very long ago.
RE: My daughter’s quite young, if in her early twenties. Twenty-five or so. And I said, “Instead of working at the table with all those protesters, why don’t you start getting a group of women, getting some men to help you protest these 11 o’clock hours that you have and they can stay out all night?” Well, she took me at my word and her dorm formed the first women’s group at the University of Kansas, at just seventeen years old and got the dorm restrictions moved that year.
RE: So, that sort of got me motivated into working for women rather than for other causes. So, I went through stages getting around to saying, “I don’t have to be embarrassed saying I want equality and justice and I’m entitled to it as much as some of the other people.” So I think now, I’m really committed. I feel I’m not interested really, except in working with women and women’s causes both in the professions and politically for the rest of my life or whatever I have to give.
JH: Well, you’re giving it, I can tell that.
RE: Well, thank you. I try. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but I try.
JH: Nobody ever wins them all.
RE: That’s right, that’s right. Yeah, I’ve had a few failure experiences along the way. Mellowed a little. (Laughter)
JH: (Laughter) We’re supposed to learn as we grow older.
RE: Yeah, so I think that’s (unintelligible at 2:25) down June.
JH: Well, anything we haven’t talked about that you think we should have? Anything at all? (Tape cuts out at 2:34)
End of interview