Interviewee: Nan Sharkey
IWY SC 669
Interviewer: Kathie J. Carter
Date: June 11, 1977
Nan Sharkey, a pre-school teacher and a member of the National Organization for Women from Sullivan’s Island, was also the coordinator of a Charleston-area media collective. She was nominated to attend the National Women’s Conference in Houston. Important issues to Sharkey included women and the media, women’s organizing, and childcare. Interview includes discussion of her with NOW and how more conservative women in Charleston objected to her nomination to Houston, Sharkey’s impression of the socioeconomic and racial diversity at the South Carolina conference, and her frustration that some conference attendees were disruptive and did not support women’s advancement.
Kathie Carter: Would you please give me your name and your mailing address?
Nan Sharkey: Um, Nan Sharkey, and I live on Sullivan’s Island.
KC: What brought you to the meeting, Nan?
NS: Well, um, I’ve been involved in women’s issues since I moved to South Carolina five years ago. And I’ve been active in the national organization for women since then. And I wanted to come here to make sure that issues that I think are vital to people of South Carolina were brought up and discussed.
KC: What issues were a particular concern to you?
NS: Well, just about all of them, actually. Um, one of my major things . . . I’m a teacher, and I’m very active in the media – um, the coordinator of a media collective in Charleston. And I believe that a lot of women’s problems has to do with, um, the way they’re treated, because of sex role stereotyping. So, um . . . and I am a pre-school teacher. So, I came here. And I have participated in the media workshop, and I plan on going to the childcare one.
KC: The childcare workshop, right?
NS: Well . . .
KC: Why do you see childcare as being important? Is there any reason childcare may be important to you other than the fact that there is, from your point of view, a good deal of sexual stereotyping going on with young children?
NS: Well, um, the masses of women now work, because they have to. And they also are heads of households, and have children, and need daycare centers, childcare centers, for them. And I’m really concerned about the quality of these daycare centers, and that they are, um, cheap enough, inexpensive, so that the women can afford to send their children there and still work.
KC: What is it you hope will be accomplished in these meetings?
NS: Well, actually, I’m not real sure. I’m not sure anything really will be accomplished. The only thing that these meetings can do is to educate people who, um, are not knowledgeable about certain areas. But, after meeting a lot of the women here, I think most women are. Most women know the problems of women of South Carolina. And probably the only thing that will come about is maybe some media coverage of it. Um, hopefully the media will pick up on some of the resolutions that are passed. Obviously, this body can’t do anything; we just can pass resolutions. And, hopefully, people in power, people at large, will listen to the resolutions.
(Break in audio at 2:30)
KC: You were saying the body, this body itself, cannot do . . .
NS: . . . doesn’t look right . . .
KC: . . . and you were hoping that the resolutions . . .
NS: I hope that the resolutions . . .
KC: . . . that pass will bring attention . . .
NS: Right. Will be strong resolutions and supportive of working women and all women. Homemakers . . . . And I hope that these resolutions are strong, and that media will pick up on them. And that, uh, because of that, the people who are in power, and the people who, uh, are out there listening to their TVs will listen and maybe think about things.
(Break in audio at 3:05)
KC: Um, I’ve observed by looking at you that you have a tag on that says “Vote for Me 9-E.” How did you get nominated to go to Houston?
NS: Well, I . . . first of all, I was nominated, apparently, by the nominating committee. Because I am on the pink slate of candidates that the nominating committee has proposed. Um, I believe that I was chosen as a token NOW member, that I know for a fact that people fought my nomination, um, that they would rather have had other NOW members than myself. But I think by-and-large that people don’t know me, uh, as being a “radical” (laughs) quote-on-quote. NOW member. And that I was just picked, you know, at large. I think it could have been anybody else. I mean, I know they had to have one NOW member. Otherwise I think they knew that there would be, you know, some hassles here.
KC: Do you think that people may not have wanted to have had a NOW member on the nominating committee slate?
NS: Well, um, I think that, uh, people have an image of NOW members, and that is the women’s lib image – the women’s lib image of burning bras, screaming at people, picketing. And, um, I think that’s a negative thing in people’s minds, and that they didn’t want any trouble here, they didn’t want a woman, you know, who was going to cause trouble on their delegate list.
KC: In your experience with NOW, has this been your experience with the women in this particular organization?
NS: We are radical, compared to these women. And, um, you know, the women’s . . . at large here. We speak out more vocally for our rights. I was just in a media workshop and urged women to go to their TV stations and, um, with masses of people, and say, “We demand such-and-such.” And the women in the workshop said, “Well, why don’t you just write letters?” And that doesn’t work, ‘cause we tried that. We have gone a step further than a lot of other women’s rights groups have gone. And, um . . . but I think it’s been needed, and I think NOW is a very positive group in South Carolina. I just don’t think the community at large has accepted that yet.
KC: What is your feeling about the International Women’s Year?
NS: The conference itself? The whole . . . ?
KC: The whole picture.
NS: Ok. Well, um, actually, I’m not quite sure what’s going to come out of it. I hope a more positive image of women. But I’m not an optimist. (Laughs) I don’t believe that, um, a decade for women, a century for women, um, is actually gonna help unless we have people – like, for example, President Carter: he can talk all he wants about women’s legislation, about the ERA. But unless he puts his body on the line, unless he comes down here, unless he makes some, you know, some key decisions from his office, that, you know, he’s not doing anything.
The National Organization for Women’s, um, regional conference last week in Jacksonville, Florida, uh, passed a resolution about President Carter saying, you know, it was nice while you were with us. But you let us go right after the election. He talked about his fifty-one-percent majority. And we don’t see that. He talked about, um, helping us with the ERA. And we don’t see that. And he promised us a lot of other things that we don’t see. And, um, until he produces something that we can hold in our hand, that we can say, “Ok, you’ve done it,” well, I think that a lot of women have kind of let go of the Carter administration, and said “better luck next time.” We will work for somebody else in the next election.
KC: What have been your impressions of this particular body?
NS: (Laughs) It’s a very interesting group of women. (Laughs) I think it’s real sad that there are women and men here who don’t care about women’s rights. I think that, um the Congress, when they pass the legislation, um, allotting the funds for this, specifically said that the women had to work for women’s rights, the advancement of women, the status of women. And there are a lot of women here who are from my community who have done everything to stop the advancement of the status of women. And I think that they’re proud of it. And I think there are men here who are disrupting the conference. And I think that there’s obviously nothing that I personally can do. I just would hope that if they do, uh, when it comes to the plenary session later that if they try any disruptive tactics that they be asked to leave.
‘Cause this is . . . this conference is for women. It’s to talk about women’s problems in South Carolina, to talk about what we can do as men and women in South Carolina to advance the women’s . . . the status of women. And, (laughs) I’m really a little concerned about some of the people I see here. But I really like seeing a lot of women who I’ve never met before, too. Um, going to NOW conferences is one thing; you see only one group of women. But I see poor women here that I haven’t seen before. I’ve seen a lot of black women here. Um, other minority women. Um, I’ve met, um, older women, and there’s some high school students around. I just think it’s really neat that this many women can get together to discuss, jointly, women’s problems in general. I just hope that, um, the forces here that are opposed to women’s rights, um, don’t somehow take over the conference and destruct it.
KC: Is there anything else you’d like to add for the record?
NS: No. (Laughs)
KC: Thank you very much.
End of Interview