Interviewee: Wilma Brady
Interviewer: Adade Wheeler
Date: November 19, 1977
Wilma Brady attended the IWY conference as a representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States, and was also an educator. She connected the principles of the Bahá’i faith with her interest in the aims of the women’s movement. Interview includes discussion of: Brady’s parents and their support for gender equality and girls’ education; Brady’s family life and grandchildren; Brady’s hope that the conference would help more people learn about the Bahá’i faith; and the Bahá’i faith’s approach to birth control and abortion.
Adade Wheeler: Okay, let me start by just asking you for your name and where you come from.
Wilma Brady: My name is Wilma Brady, and I’m the representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States. I’m located at the United Nations office for the Bahá’is National Community in New York City.
AW: And could you give me some idea as to just what interested you in coming, why you’re here?
WB: The reason I’m here personally, publicly, and all other kinds of way is because I am a Bahá’i and one of the primary principles of the Bahá’i faith is the equality of men and women. This is what we believe in. We have always believed in it, and so for us, it’s one of our principles whose time has come.
AW: When you first got interested, how long had you been interested in the women’s movement or in that part of the Bahá’i movement of equality?
WB: My mother was interested before me, and I was raised with the idea that I was to be the more important person among my sisters and brothers, that the girls were the important people as far as education was even concerned. Because in the Bahá’i faith we believe that because women are the first educators of children, that our education and our conscious raising is most important. That doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t also take care of the education of men, but it is a big change from the usual notion that all of the interest is put on the boys going away to be educated because they’re going to earn money. In our family, women were educated primarily because we are the first educators of the next generation, so I’ve lived all my life with these concepts.
AW: So it’s nothing new to you.
WB: It’s not new to me, but I’m thrilled about it.
AW: To see so many people involved.
WB: Yes, very much so.
AW: What do you think when you come to a place like this? What do you see as a result of this meeting, what you hope might come out of it?
WB: Well, I hope what will come out of it is what the Bahá’i faith is all about, and what has come more and more real to me as I have gotten older, and that is the unity of all people. We really believe, and I personally subscribe to the notion of the oneness of all people. Uniformity out, unity in; by that I mean that our differences should not be necessarily negated, but our commonality should supersede them. We really believe in unity with diversity, and so I hope that out of this we can start a real dialogue, all women everywhere, for a couple of things that have to happen before we can have universal peace.
First, we have to have a dialogue, and then we have to come together with our diversities and make some agreements so that we can have universal peace. I think that’s the umbrella over all of –
AW: And you see this as starting.
WB: That’s what I see.
AW: Do you do that as a profession or do you have another occupation?
WB: I’m an educator.
AW: You teach?
WB: No, I’ve just switched over into the business world and I’m an internal consultant for Equitable Life Assurance Society, but that’s part of education also. In the business world there’s a lot of education going on. I’m in career development with Equitable.
AW: Do you find that in career development with Equitable you are able to practice more of the equality of women?
WB: Yes, it’s a very forward thinking company.
AW: It is?
WB: And you’ll see their beautiful display right here.
AW: Yes, I saw that.
WB: And they really practice the idea of affirmative action for women and for minorities. And the president of Equitable, (unintelligible at 4:28) Eckman talks about coming right with people, and he really seems to mean that. And so that’s one of the reasons I went with the company, because I was so impressed with their track record as far as affirmative action is concerned.
AW: Are you married, or do you have children?
WB: Oh yes, I have four grandchildren.
AW: How many children do you have?
WB: Three children, a son and two daughters, all grown and married and happy and all of those wonderful things. And one of the reasons that the women’s movement is so important is because of my two granddaughters. When you have granddaughters it makes you very, very aware that we have to do our part.
AW: Yes, I have one.
WB: You feel that, don’t you?
AW: Well, it seems to have more meaning for the future.
AW: Is the conference meeting your expectations so far?
WB: Well, yes, and I think that what Barbara Jordan said this morning made more sense as far as the total conference is concerned. If it is not up to our expectations, it’s our fault. If we all do our part and we open our hearts and our heads to hear the other sides of issues we’ll be fine. It’s only when we close out reason – that’s when we get into trouble. I think that the commissioners were so astute in their planning, and it’s showing in the way this is going.
AW: They aren’t over in the Coliseum now.
WB: Well, that tape from the Coliseum and it’s going well. It’s going very well. There will be differences, but I don’t think it’s going to get out of hand. I pray that it doesn’t get out of hand. It’s a very important conference.
AW: It is a very important conference. Is there anything else you’d like to say about it?
WB: I plan to save everything from this conference for my grandchildren, because I think it’s that important. I think the idea that the gavel was the same one Susan Anthony used is a very, very important idea. I think this Seneca Lake and that torch was very symbolic, and I think that this spirit is not going to die. I honestly believe that, and I am so happy inside myself. I really am.
AW: Everybody seems to be that way.
WB: Very, very warm and good, even with the challenges it’s better.
AW: Good, that’s great.
(Recording cuts out at 07:32 and returns)
WB: –and you know what I said? Instead of saying we must have women’s rights for the good of all people, I thought about that baby and I said we must have women’s rights for the good of Camille, and I didn’t mean to say that and I was so embarrassed. But it was true, because what’s really important are those babies and what’s going to happen to them.
AW: Now, Camille is the grandchild.
(Recording cuts out at 07:58 and returns)
AW: Was there some particular event or something that happened that jolted you into the realization that everybody didn’t think the way your parents did, that there was another kind of a real world out there that wasn’t that way?
WB: You know Bahá’i is nonpolitical, and because we’re nonpolitical we don’t get involved in a lot of things that would teach us that earlier. But what happened was that their housing law in California, which we perceived as a moral issue, not a political issue, and in fighting for fair housing, that’s when I found out about real bigotry in the first order. And not just bigotry against black people, but bigotry as being anybody that’s different, be it class, religion, race or whatever. That’s when I found out firsthand what it meant.
Also, when my son went into Peewee League baseball as a baby, as a little boy; that’s when I found out what bigotry was.
AW: Where were you then?
WB: I was in Pomona, California, and when he couldn’t play ball and I had to get help to get him, this little tyke, to play ball, that’s when I found out.
AW: How old was he?
WB: Seven years old. And that will make you strong. It will make you strong, it will make you fight.
AW: But you hadn’t had it yourself when you grew up? As you grew up your mother had been able to protect you?
WB: I was the seventh of eight children. I had big brothers, a loving mother, a loving father, and we weren’t allowed out very much.
AW: They kind of protected you. You moved into a mixed community, or integrated community, was that it?
WB: No, the point is that times change because, you see, if you grew in a Bahá’i household you always have had friends of every description. So I was not raised in an all black situation or all white situation, I was raised among all kinds of people from everywhere.
AW: All over the world.
WB: Yeah, so that makes a lot of difference in your exposure and your attitudes. So, I didn’t grow up fearing people so I didn’t grow up hating people. But then, that’s one kind of a set, but when you are in a non-Bahá’i situation and someone tells you that your child cannot play ball, then that makes you strong because you will fight for that. Indeed, you will die for that, for the principle of it.
AW: It is a moral principle.
WB: It is a moral principle.
AW: How do the Bahá’is feel about the issues like abortion?
WB: Well, there is no statement that the National Spiritual Assembly has put out about abortion, but we do believe in the hereafter. We do believe in the fact that – well, let me say it this way, that a soul is important. We believe that. And we believe that if there were a medical reason why you should not carry that baby, that’s one kind of decision to make and clearly the decision would be a medical one. If it is simply a matter of I don’t feel like having a baby now, then –
AW: Well then, do you believe in birth control?
WB: Oh, of course, yes. There are very few thou-shalt-nots in the Bahá’i faith. The only thou-shalt-nots are things like backbiting, thou shalt not, because you can harm people so with the tongue. Another thing that thou shalt not is taking opiates or alcohol except for medicinal purposes. But it’s a very practical faith. There’s no clergy, and it’s really a do-it-yourself all the way, but with a lot of help from other Bahá’is.
AW: What about the lesbian issue? Do they have any feeling about homosexuality?
WB: No, except that the whole idea of sexuality to a Bahá’i has to do with procreation, and so you would want to go toward procreation, not away from it. Whenever a society gets away from the divine essence of it, it tends to go toward homosexuality, which we perceive as an unhealthy thing as opposed to a healthy thing that would be about families and procreation and the beauty of the total person, which includes their sexuality. And again, that’s just pretty common sense. Why are we sexual people if it is not to have children?
End of Interview