Interviewee: Suzanne Thomson
IWY SC 678
Interviewer: Louise Pettus
Date: June 10-11, 1977
Suzanne Thomson, from Charleston, South Carolina, was an active member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Thomson said she was motivated to attend the state IWY conference to counter some of the more “disruptive” attendees. Overall, Thomson felt the conference was an opportunity to have an exchange of ideas. Interview includes discussion of her interest in the Equal Rights Amendment; the work of NOW in the Charleston area and their “Mr. USA” event; opposition to the women’s movement in Charleston; and how Thomson became motivated to participate in the women’s movement after she turned thirty-three.
Louise Pettus: The first thing I’d like to ask you to do is ask you your name and where you’re from?
Suzanne Thomson: Yeah, okay. I’m Susan Thompson and I’m from Charleston, South Carolina.
LP: (unintelligible at 0:09)
ST: Yeah, and I heard about this, I guess, through the mailings that I received and also there’s been quite a bit of publicity in Charleston about an attempt by the people who are, I think, are not really motivated by the same things that motivate you and motivate me. And they’re here, I think, more as a disruptive influence and it really motivated me to come here because we’ve been so involved in different things down in Charleston through the National Organization for Women. I like to think I’m active in it. That we have so many outstanding women that are in that in Charleston, it’s a real active group and I do the newsletter, which takes up a lot of time and really gets me involved in it. I like doing it, you know, and I wanted to come here. I wanted to observe. I wanted to hear some of the outstanding women speak here and I felt that there would be a good chance to have an exchange of ideas.
LP: Good. So you’re looking forward particularly to any particular workshops or any particular topics that you hope to explore?
ST: I like the one that they’re going to have on the aged. The women in – I think that’s a real concern. You know, you think about it, if we’re lucky we’re going to hit it, you know? And I’d like to see what they’re planning for the next twenty years and also I’m real interested in ERA. I feel real concerned.
LP: There’s quite a large number of ERA people here today, apparently, expressed interest.
ST: Yeah. Well I hope, that it doesn’t get knocked down by these people or become too much of an issue because there’s a lot of other things that we ought to cover like, you know, like women in education, women and their job opportunities. I think that’s awful important.
LP: How is it in Charleston with your group? Do you run into any opposition?
ST: (Laughter) Well, a lot of the opposition we run into are people like Shirley Holcombe. But Shirley was just repudiated, you know. She ran for a House seat and very much she ran, I think, in a conservative area, or what I consider to be not a particularly liberal area, and also she had a lot of publicity, you know. A continuous publicity and still she lost, I think it was something like, 200 votes against her to 54. So, with all the publicity she got and with all the things door-to-door and this sort of thing and the fact that she was running as anti-ERA, you know, she was definitely identified with that and she got defeated pretty well. So, I kind of liked that.
LP: Did your organization make any particular effort to get out votes in this election?
ST: No, but several members, you know, debated the ERA with Ms. Holcombe. You know, I say Ms. Holcombe. (Laughter) And, you know, I went to one of them at the college, that they held at the college and I thought it was real interesting. Barbara Herring was the one who did it and she’s a real active woman. She ought to be here. She ought to be a delegate. She ought to be president, you know. I mean, she really could.
ST: And there are just a lot of women who have been so dedicated over the last couple of months that they’re really kind of tired. We had a special, um, not reassess, reemphasis for NOW, a sort of orientation and that was a big thing we did. Then we had the Mr. USA, (Laughter) which was a consciousness raising thing for men.
LP: I heard about that.
ST: Yeah. Oh! It was really, it was wild. Well the winner of it has already been on To Tell the Truth and, I think, he was on Good Morning America. Made the front page of the New York Daily News. (Laughter) We’re big time now, right?
ST: We had a good time with it, you know?
LP: Well I think you had your consciousness raised and…
ST: Oh yeah.
LP: I’d like to ask you if you can remember when it happened? Or how?
ST: I joined a consciousness raising group. I wanted to. I took assertiveness training after. I wanted to take it first but it wasn’t available at the time and I joined a consciousness raising group and then I joined another consciousness raising group which I felt fitted my needs better. And it absolutely made me very much aware of where I stood and what my feelings were.
LP: Oh, what motivated you to join the first time?
ST: I think it was the crisis of suddenly hitting 33 years. Right?
LP: A matter of age?
LP: Made you do it?
ST: And all of a sudden I realized I was 33 and I hadn’t accomplished a lot of the things I wanted to. I was teaching school and, oh, so it was really good to get out of it and I really sort of came out into my feelings and everything. So, it’s a just whole new…I feel like, you know, here I’ve started a whole new section of my life, you know, and this time I want to dedicate this section of my life to women’s activities and working for women’s goals. And just ask if we…letting people, you know, it’s not bad to be of any age. What’s really bad is having known that you had certain wishes to do certain things at an earlier time and always putting it off. I think that’s what (unintelligible at 5:34) you know, she has one of those pictures in the art room and she also was a teacher of mine at the College of Charleston in art. I decided to go back and do that because I always wanted to, right?
So I interviewed her for Electa, which is the media arm of the National Organization for Women in Charleston. I like doing it every season and it’s a ten-minute interview and one of the questions I asked her was, “Are you ever too old to get into art? You know, to start it?” She said, “No, no. You’re never too old. You’re never too young and you’re never too old.” She said, “It’s, I feel, always good to see people start art, whatever age they do,” she said. “But,” she said, “the saddest thing, of course, is when they have wanted to do it but they always put it off because of family or other matters or something. So all of a sudden they wake up one day and they’re so much older and they still have these things that they’ve never done.” Right? So, that’s sort of my philosophy. You’ve got to, sort of, get into things.
LP: Alright, and we hope you enjoy the conference.
ST: Oh, I think so. Thank you.
LP: Thank you.
End of Interview