Interviewee: Roxanne Conlin
IWY TX 117
Interviewer: Constance Kite
Date: November 21, 1977
Roxanne Conlin, of Des Moines, attended the IWY conference as an elected delegate from Iowa. She became involved in the women’s movement in 1968. Interview includes discussion of the women’s movement in Iowa, the effectiveness of the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus, and strategies for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Conlin believed the National Women’s Conference had the potential to humanize ERA opponents and supporters to one another. At the NWC, she also served as the leader of a workshop on marriage, divorce, and separation.
Constance Kite: – at the International Women’s Year Conference in Houston, and I’m talking to Roxanne Conlin. What is it that interested you in the women’s movement; that brought you to Houston?
Roxanne Conlin: I’ve been actively involved in the women’s movement for a very long time. I became involved in the organized women’s movement in 1968 and I have been since that time actively attempting to move the cause of women forward, and ran as a delegate from the State of Iowa and was elected, and am delighted and excited and exhilarated by this experience.
CK: From Iowa, what is the state of things in Iowa? What is it like in the feminist movement in Iowa?
RC: Iowa has probably one of the most effective organized feminist movements in the country. In 1973 the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus was founded, and the Iowa caucus is the largest, has been since its conception practically the largest in the nation. And it’s been terribly successful in terms of electing women to public office, and also in terms of legislative change. Iowa is the only state in the nation that in fact makes it a crime for a man to rape his wife while the parties are living together. Iowa was the first state to prohibit the questioning of a woman with respect to her past sexual conduct in a rape case. There are a number of other firsts in the State of Iowa that are directly attributable to the organized women’s movement. The rights of homemakers in Iowa is a very big issue, as you might suspect.
(Break in recording at 1:49)
CK: She’s, ah, talking about the organization of the movement in Iowa. You were saying it was one of the most effective in the country.
CK: When you came to the convention, did you have expectations of what might transpire here, and if so have they been borne out or not?
RC: I had some fears, frankly. Some of the media coverage indicated that there was a potential here for violence, and I think those fears were shared by a number of other delegates, but of course nothing like that has happened, and in fact it has been a real show of unity and diversity, and it’s been just a totally satisfying experience.
CK: What one thing did you find most satisfying?
RC: It’s difficult to pick out just one thing out of the many. I found myself close to tears on a number of occasions in the morning session yesterday, with those women who have led us to this place and who have sacrificed a very great deal in the cause of women, and who before us en masse practically. Virtually every woman who has had an impact on our lives was here and spoke to us and said all of the things that we needed to hear. And when the young women came in with the plumes and the drums and the bugles and the torch, it was really a very emotional experience, and I’m sure all of the delegates, in fact. I found myself really into it.
CK: Yeah, I felt that very much.
RC: So, substantively I think of course the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment Resolution by an overwhelming majority. The three controversial issues, or those that we anticipated would be controversial, all passed by overwhelming majorities and I really felt that was indicative of where the majority of women in this country are.
CK: If you could point to any one thing that you thought might be done better, what would that be?
RC: Of course the arrangements have been, not the arrangements made by the commission but rather the ability of the private enterprises in the city of Houston to comply with the agreements and contracts that they made. Of course, it was very depressing, difficult for delegates to stand in the Sheraton and in the Hyatt Regency…
CK: I was meaning here at the convention hall, the ways things have been here. Is there anything that you really thought could have been done better?
RC: I felt that some of the resolutions could have been stronger. I felt that in an excess of caution, perhaps, some of them were less strong than they could have been, but I’m sure that was an effort to find the medium, to find the place where women are, and I think that’s always a good idea. And it made it possible I think for many women, even those who have opposed us on a number of issues, who have opposed the rights of women, to support for example the credit resolution. I thought that was wonderful, and there was a very strong show of support for the resolution. Those kinds of things I think were possible as a result of the fact that the resolutions are not quite as strong as they might otherwise have been.
CK: We are leaving tomorrow, and I’d like to get some feeling from you about what you think might happen as a result of this, either in Iowa or in the nation as a whole. What might your prognosis be for the conference having taken place? Will it make a difference?
RC: I’m sure it will. I’m sure that it will. In fact, one of the things that I heard that I thought was very interesting was from a woman who was an anti-ERA delegate. She was not speaking to me. I merely overheard the conversation, not even on purpose, and she was saying to her friend, in sort of we’ll say terms that she had never realized that there were so many women in favor of the Equal Rights added to the Constitution. I think that’s significant.
Those women have been isolated by both the rhetoric of their leaders and by their own choice from those of us who support the amendment, and really pictured us with tails and horns and all of the things that they’ve been told are not true. And they cannot deny the evidence of their own eyes that those of us who support the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and all of these other issues are wives and mothers and homemakers, and we care about our children, and we love our husbands, and we think we deserve equal rights.
I think it’s a marvelous eye opener for those women. If you’re sitting at home in front of the television set you can perhaps discount that, but when you are right here in the midst of it, it is not possible to remain blind.
CK: Do you think there’s something the people who support the Equal Rights Amendment might have learned from the others?
RC: I’m sure. The Iowa delegation is seated in front of the Hawaii delegation and we have been carrying on some conversations with the Hawaii delegation, though it’s not always easy to do so. And I’ve had exposure in the past to those who do not agree with us, wide exposure. I was at Utah, I gave a workshop on the Equal Rights Amendment to 10,000 Mormon women in Utah and it was indeed an experience for me.
I think that what we may have learned, what I hope we learned from those who oppose the amendment and other issues is that they do so not out of malice but out of ignorance, and that what we need to do is gently and as persuasively as possible explain the real impact of the amendment and the other issues, and do so not in a sense of superiority but rather knowing that these women come from perhaps different places, different mind sets than we do.
CK: What might they explain gently and carefully to us, knowing that we come from different mind sets and different places that we might understand better?
RC: I’m not sure. I don’t have an answer to that question. I really think that what I’ve seen is that they’re also caring people and that they care about us as we care about them, but they see a different solution to the problems that we share.
(Pause in recording at 9:10)
RC: One of the things I did as a part of this conference was to give a workshop on the subject of marriage and divorce and separation, and I was very concerned about the potential in that workshop for disruption and misunderstanding and the like, and I prepared very well for that sort of thing. Indeed, there were a number of women there wearing pins indicating a disagreement about other issues. In fact, it was a packed room, and in the course of that discussion I think that we found just a very great deal of common ground, particularly insofar as the women’s movement addresses the problems of those who are full time homemakers, of those whose labor is unpaid, and in fact ignored by the law. And I was really delighted with the response of women that I know to be on the other side of a great many issues, but who do understand at a very gut level what it is to have a job that society does not consider work, that society does not treat in a manner that is fair, that recognizes that the contribution of women who labor in the home has economic value and economic utility.
At the conclusion of the workshop, I really felt that we’d made great progress towards understanding one another, and also understanding that what I think is a very important issue, and that is the issue of how we do treat those women who are full time homemakers, and also towards some substantive resolutions of those problems, some legislative changes that might be made in an effort to make it safe for women to choose a career as a homemaker.
(Pause in recording at 11:08)
RC: My name is Roxanne Martin Conlin, and my address is 6116 SW 48th Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa.
CK: Thank you, Roxanne.
End of Interview