Interviewee: Sandra Murphy
Interviewer: Adade Wheeler
November 19, 1977
Sandra Murphy was from Fort Wayne, Indiana, identified as a feminist, and was the co-director of the Women’s Studies Program at Indiana Purdue University. Murphy attended the conference on her own accord and was not representing a particular organization. Interview includes discussion of: how Murphy first became interested in the women’s movement in 1970 after a divorce; her involvement with the organization Fort Wayne Feminists; Murphy’s positive impressions of the conference; and her excitement to see major figures in the women’s movement like Bella Abzug.
Adade Wheeler: Let me start out by asking you if you’d give us your name.
Sandra Murphy: Sandra Murphy.
AW: And where you’re from?
SM: Fort Wayne, Indiana.
AW: And why you’re here.
SM: I’m a Fort Wayne feminist, and I’m also co-director of the Women’s Studies Program at Indiana Purdue University and I’m very interested in history. I’ve been active in political things, and of course I would be here.
AW: Are you representing any particular organization or anything?
SM: No, just myself.
AW: When did you begin to get interested in this kind of activity for women? Have you been it long?
SM: Oh, about 1970.
AW: And what got you interested? Can you remember what started you off?
SM: Yes, I was recently divorced at the time. I went out looking for a job for the first time. I had two children to support by myself, and it was the beginning of the women’s movement. I had lived in Washington D.C. at the time, and I was semi active in the civil rights movement, and also living in Washington I was very aware of the student protests during the time, and it was just a natural following I think. I finally found my own cause, the women’s movement.
AW: And so how did you get started? Were you in Washington D.C. then?
SM: Yes, but I actually was not doing what I’m doing now. I was reading a lot, looking in every newspaper for any little article on what was happening across the country. And of course at that time it was hardly anything, and of course every latest book that would come out I would read it. And then I made a decision to move back to hometown, which is Fort Wayne, and became involved with an organization, the Fort Wayne Feminists. The Women’s Studies Program is a feminist interdisciplinary program at the university, and also we have a Sister Space Collective now, a book store and coffee house.
AW: Did the university sponsor that?
SM: No, no, Women’s Studies.
AW: Would the Women’s Studies get into that?
SM: Several of us who are Women’s Studies students, I’ve taken Women’s Studies courses myself, and a lot of Women’s Studies students become part of the collective or part of the Fort Wayne Feminist Organization. They’re own awareness is increased through Women’s Studies and they want to participate somewhat actively.
AW: What kind of courses do you teach in your Women’s Studies Program.
SM: Well, it’s totally interdisciplinary. We’re under Arts and Letters, that department in the university. The program actually was started in ’72 by Catherine Adamsky, Martha Rosenfeld, and Alice Scott. We have courses in history, psychology, English, literature, comparative literature, sociology; we have a new course this spring, Sexism in Men, which will be new on campus. We have Black Women in America, which is a new course this semester. I know I’m leaving some out. And they’re all so good. We have an intro course and we have a senior seminar. We have a minor on campus in Women’s Studies.
AW: What do you feel has kept you going in the women’s movement since 1970, or 1972?
SM: Just seeing the hard clear facts of the treatment of women and the condition that so many women experience in life. My own experience such as being the wife of an alcoholic, being a battered women some of these things, yes, I could say that was from my own experience. It was true, it happened to me, and then in reading being able to logically say equal pay for equal work – that was my thing.
AW: Experience counts.
AW: What are you getting from this conference? How do you feel this conference is going?
SM: Oh, I just desperately wanted to come to Houston and got the money together, got the plane down here, and this morning I was so afraid I would not get into the first plenary session. And when I was in there it was just like, oh, at last. To me, you feel like you’re really out there alone, especially being from Indiana after the delegate election in July that you realize there are women all over the country working just as hard and you don’t feel so alone.
AW: What do you hope will come out of it?
SM: I personally hope Congress will stop studying what American women want and start passing on resolutions that date actually back to 1848.
AW: And what do you hope they’ll do?
SM: As far as doing, I would like to see federal funding through revenue sharing for health clinics, shelters for battered women; I’d like to see 24-hour free daycare for mothers – I’ll include father’s too in that. I would like to see sex education in the schools. I would like to see a comprehensive program for teenage women on pregnancy information, and I see free contraceptives for teenage women.
AW: Do you have private groups doing some of that down in Fort Wayne? Do you have Planned Parenthood and groups like that there?
SM: Fort Wayne is a very conservative area. Planned Parenthood is just coming to Fort Wayne in the next few months. This is separate from Planned Parenthood, where there’s going to be a clinic opening for women. There’s an awful lot of backlash and protest in the conservative area of Fort Wayne. There is really no visible – other than the Sister Space Collective on Broadway, which is a bookstore for women’s culture, and then of course the Women’s Studies Program on campus. We do have a women’s bureau which is an advocate type program.
AW: Is that part of your campus?
SM: No, that’s totally separate.
AW: A women’s bureau. Who set that up?
SM: I’m not involved in that, but we understand that Harriet Miller is the director of it. For one year during the last administration, city administration, it was financed with $16,000 of city funds, and then of course the Democratic mayor lost and a Republican mayor came in and they were no longer part of the city administration so they went on private contributions and somehow managed to survive – slowly. But they do an awful lot of good things for women.
AW: So far, is this conference living up to your expectations, or what you hoped? Do you have any criticisms of it?
SM: No. Realizing the large numbers of women, it’s just beautiful. And even though I have to wait in line and a few times I see a little bit of unfairness, I realize that everybody has done a fantastic job. I guess that loving history so much and public figures, I just was thrilled with the notable women who were at the plenary session this morning all on one stage. And I’d also like to contribute the fact that Bella Abzug, I’ve always been an admirer of Bella and I saw her in the Capitol one day when she was a congresswoman, and it’s almost like Bella is no longer the mainstream of thought.
AW: There are so many more. They’ve gone beyond her.
End of Interview