Interviewee: Teresa Tellez Brown
Interviewer: Adade Wheeler
Date: November 19, 1977
Teresa Tellez Brown, a Mexican-American woman born in New Mexico, spent twenty years living in Washington, D.C. before moving to Hawaii shortly before the IWY Conference. The anti-ERA stance of the Hawaii IWY delegation encouraged Brown to become more active in the women’s movement and defending women’s rights in Hawaii. Interview includes discussion of: Brown’s work with NOW and the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL); Brown’s positive impression of the conference and the hope that the momentum could be maintained afterwards; and Brown’s experience with aid groups in South American countries like Brazil, where she helped nations improve their scientific and technological programs.
Adade Wheeler: Let me get your name first. So you repeat your name on the tape.
Teresa Tellez Brown: My name is Teresa Tellez Brown.
AW: And you come from?
TB: I presently live in Honolulu, Hawaii. I only lived there one month.
AW: Before Hawaii?
TB: I lived in Washington D.C. for over twenty years, and in California for a little over two years, so I really feel like I’m still from Washington D.C.
AW: You’re still stateside.
TB: I’m still there, I’m still stateside; I’m still from the Capitol.
AW: How did you happen to come to this International Women’s Year? What motivated you to come?
TB: Well, I’ve always been interested in the whole women’s movement, but I suppose what really triggered it was then when I arrived in Hawaii I read in the papers that Hawaii had a delegation of fourteen, all anti-ERA, and that Hawaii had been the first state to ratify the amendment and I just couldn’t believe it. So I decided I had to know why, who was who, and what I could do. I therefore became acquainted with quite a few of the women’s groups. I had belonged to several and given my support in Washington to quite a few from the beginning, NOW, WEAL several.
AW: They have NOW and WEAL and all those in Hawaii?
TB: Oh yes, and they have been very active, a very good group of women, and I suspect that they felt that Hawaii was in good shape.
AW: And they got caught.
TB: What I learned is that you might think tables were turned on them in July when they elected the delegation and they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. They were so surprised. The whole thing was so unexpected, that when I got there a coalition of women’s groups was forming and I helped in the fundraising. I really felt I had to give my support, so here I am.
AW: Can you think of anything in your past as to when you first started getting interested in the women’s movement? Was there something, any event or anything that started you off in getting interested in the women’s movement itself?
TB: If you’re talking about the women’s movement –
AW: I’m thinking about today’s women’s movement, some event or some happening, or something that happened that gave you a different perspective or started you in being active more than just for yourself, active for your community.
TB: I can’t think of any one specific thing, because I’ve always been interested in women’s movements.
AW: What did you do in Washington D.C., what was your job?
TB: I worked as a professional associate in the Office of the Foreign Secretary. I was in international scientific affairs at the National Academy of Sciences, and I guess you might say I’m a world watcher. And I very early, since I went to Washington in the fifties had a file which I started of women in world affairs, and it was very, very thin. Of course Eleanor Roosevelt was a heroine of mine, and any woman who stood out in public affairs or any profession, I tried to follow their careers. When The Feminist Mystique was published, I must say that I realized quite a few of us…
AW: You read that?
TB: I read that, yes. That did not start it for me, but it certainly was a beginning.
AW: It moved you along.
TB: It moved a great many along. And when the march started, you remember the whole women’s movement was kicked off by a march down Connecticut Avenue. I lived very nearby. I went down to observe the whole thing, because I wanted to get a feeling of the reactions to the women’s movement. I thought it would be much more positive, but I was horrified at the ridicule and comments by men not only in the street – in the newspapers and back at the office when I went back. So I’ve been a very staunch supporter.
AW: I think ridicule can do it more than anything else. On this particular conference now, how do you feel that this conference is going? Is it living up to your expectations?
TB: Yes, I feel very encouraged. There are obviously some people who are not here. For example, I’ve talked to any number of women, observers particularly. I met a young woman who is in the Navy who had to take leave of absence, and she was noting that the military is not represented; neither in the formal program nor as delegates, and quite a bit has been done to promote women, I think, in the services, the Navy and the Army and the Air Force.
But by and large I’m very, very pleased. The enthusiasm is just so great, and the program this morning was a perfect introduction, I thought. You can feel the excitement in the way it’s letting everyone know where we’re at almost a decade later.
AW: You really can. What do you hope is going to come out of it?
TB: I think a much greater momentum, perhaps a more positive attitude toward moving ahead of quibbling. I’m afraid that enough groups have been frightened by the anti women’s efforts that those women who have sort of settled back thinking that they’ve done their part will perhaps think again, and the young ones will think twice. So all in all, I think it gives everybody more impetus.
I was listening to the women at the international panel, since I have worked with development, underdeveloped countries, and I think the women’s movement has made an impact there but not enough. It’s too slow. But hearing the panel, my goodness, I was very impressed at what is happening.
AW: Who was on that panel?
TB: There were women from Guyana, Jordan, Haiti, and a woman from Mexico.
AW: One of the women is from Haiti. I teach a course I call Women of the Americas, and I’m very interested in the Latin countries. I’ve been to Haiti a couple of times and I like it.
TB: She was in crafts. She has done quite a bit to promote crafts, the arts and crafts, and to get people to – self help projects, she called them.
AW: That’s the stage they’re in. When you’re in Hawaii now, are you teaching, or are you practicing your profession?
TB: At the moment I’m getting settled, you might say. I’m trying to finish my book, and I’m also trying to find a job in the international field.
AW: You want a job in Hawaii that’s international. Did you move there because your husband was transferred?
TB: That’s right, he’s also international.
AW: Do you have children?
TB: I have a stepson and also therefore a granddaughter.
AW: Oh, you have a granddaughter, too. It does make a difference, doesn’t it? How you feel about the women’s movement becomes more important.
TB: It becomes more important. I think that is a very important educational role. The whole movement I think really had to be looked at as one of changing attitudes, men and women. And I don’t think it ends when women begin to get jobs, begin to get the opportunity to make decisions, whether it’s in the legislature or any other field that will relate to their own homes, to their own lives. Somebody has to replace them, and I think that the younger women have to recognize that nobody is going to give it to them, even though the opportunities have been more available.
AW: Work for it?
TB: They still have to work more for themselves and their children.
AW: That’s true, very true. Well that’s, these are the kind of…
(Recording cuts out and returns at 09:14)
AW: Okay, Mrs. Brown is a Mexican American also. Where were you born?
TB: I was born in New Mexico. As I said before, I’ve lived in Washington D.C. longer than anywhere else.
AW: You sounded so interested in other countries, I didn’t think about your being Latin background.
TB: I worked on Latin American development for almost twenty years.
AW: With the Academy of Sciences?
TB: Yes, we worked with AID contracts, trying to help a number of countries throughout Central and South America. I’ve traveled to quite a few of them.
AW: What kind of aid programs have you worked on down there?
TB: Well, they were our programs in the academy. We were trying to help the countries develop their own scientific and technological capabilities so they could solve their own problems.
AW: So there was really no emphasis at all on the women end of it?
TB: Only insofar as those of us who were interested and I can say that I did quite a bit. I did all I could to get women participants in any number of scientific studies, governmental type – where decisions were being made by them, so there were quite a few women involved.
AW: Have you been in Nicaragua?
TB: No. I’ve been in Guatemala.
AW: What did you find in Guatemala? Were the women participating there more?
TB: No. That was not the country where –
AW: That’s one of my favorite countries.
TB: Brazil, Mexico and others, yes. It was surprising when our delegations came down and we told them that we had so many women on there, they not only equaled our delegations, they bettered them, and they had very, very qualified…
AW: In Brazil?
TB: In Brazil and in Mexico, and in Peru, and Argentina.
AW: What about Venezuela?
TB: We’d just begun there. I didn’t have –
TB: And Colombia, that’s right. You see, the women in these countries have so little opportunity to get jobs that they go on into higher education. You have more women in some of the underdeveloped countries with a better education, master’s degrees and doctorates, in the sciences, but they can’t get jobs outside of the university path as research assistants. Many people don’t realize that, but they do have qualified, educated women. It’s just that they’re under employed.
AW: Well, we have some qualified educated women who are under employed, too. They have no pension or net. It seems to me they have a higher percentage of women who are educated compared to men.
TB: That’s the point I was trying to make, because the men, for example, in Brazil we were told the men are so much in demand, for example, in the chemistry field by industry, the industry will get them out as soon as they have a bachelor’s degree, and they offer them very good jobs. But the women can’t, so they go on to master’s; PhDs.
AW: Then do they get jobs?
TB: Well, I think mostly in the universities as research assistants. Not very many get good paying jobs, though.
End of Interview