|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 8, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (5/7/1984)|
(I) I’d like to begin by finding out when you came to Teaneck and what brought you here.
(N) Okay. I moved to Teaneck eighteen years ago, seventeen years ago. I can always time it because my youngest was a year old when we moved in. So I just have to remember his age and then I can remember his age and then I can remember when we moved. And we moved for several reasons. One was that my husband and I at the time were both commuting into Manhattan. We needed a place that was within easy commuting distance to work and also that had good schools and Teaneck fills both of those needs and also we liked the big old houses that were available here.
(I) Had you heard anything about the character of the town?
(N) Well Teaneck was in the news a little bit then because I think it was we moved in about a year after the schools were integrated and there had been quite a bruhaha (?) about it and it had made the New York papers too and we liked what we heard about it. We liked the kind of participation that the town like Teaneck offers in terms of everyone getting involved in every process. This is one of the things we’ve, I’ve enjoyed about the town.
(I) You haven’t been disappointed?
(I) So in other words, it was about ’65 then.
(N) I guess so, this is ’84.
(I) No. It would have been ’67.
(N) Yeah. It was around then. Maybe a little later. 67, 68.
(I) Your children went through?
(N) They all went through Teaneck schools. My daughter, my oldest daughter was in about second grade when we moved here and she was the first to graduate from Teaneck High and all three of them graduated now. My youngest just last year.
(I) Did you, just briefly, in terms of the type of changes that have taken place reflected in the schools over that period of time?
(N) Well to tell you the truth, when I first came to Teaneck, I was not that involved with school affairs. I went to the first PTA meeting. There was a man who was the head of the PTA, there were people that were active in it, it was a huge meeting and I breather a big sigh of relief and thought I don’t have to be involved in the PTA here because it is going along just fine. And so, as long as nothing was happening with my children in terms of negative feedback I just left the whole thing up to the schools and the only time I got very involved was when the issue of Affirmative Action came up and the law was passed in New Jersey mandating equality in schools and equal access to education and at that time I was working as a Consultant with the State Department of Education and working on the regulations that would implement the law that was introduced by Ann Klein and so I got involved with that and then FACT was getting active then (Feminist Action Coalition in Teaneck). We had previously run two candidates for the Town Council to really raise issues and you may remember that – Palmera Peralta and Linda Suskind who is now Linda Irene-Greene and I decided that, well FACT decided with me, that I would run for the Board of Education so from no involvement in schools outside of being a parent and visiting for teacher interviews and parent interviews, I got very involved for three years. I could because I was elected and got very involved with the School Board and all the aspects of running the school system in Teaneck. And I must say that after my term ended, so did my involvement with the school system except as an interested reader of the Teaneck News.
(I) But apparently that was very demanding?
(N) It was because we had two to three meetings a week. They would often last until one in the morning or later and I was kind of a lone voice many times on that Board in terms of equal access to education and programming and opening up textbooks for review committees and so forth. I was very opposed and what came up later was, the next board really, it took a few years, were doing a lot of the things that I had been advocating so that was satisfying.
(I) Let me just ask you a little bit and then – because we are kind of in the middle of – we will backtrack in a minute but to stick with the board, for a few minutes, what was it like being the first I think you were the first avowed feminist on the board who really came on to it clearly with those concerns.
(N) Yeah. I ran as a feminist. That was my platform and my literature and speeches. It was very clear.
(I) That was when, 76?
(N) You know that I can’t truthfully remember. I’ll have to look it up. We can check that.
(I) Anyway you were saying your campaign literature…
(N) Clearly stated my goals and beliefs. I didn’t see any point in hiding it because I really was very well known as a feminist and I felt that a lot of people were ready to join me in that and believed in equality and it would not be a handicap and as it turned out, it was not because I came out way ahead in the vote.
(I) Do you remember in terms of voting statistics?
(N) It was an interesting thing because about seven people were running for three seats. Six or seven people. And it was a very, very long and involved campaign too. And I got more votes than one of the incumbents that was running on a platform with me. Which was interesting. And I also got more votes than another candidate who had spent a lot of money and who been very active in the community and the PTA particularly in recent years. Than was Ann Merereau and Lucille Steiner.
(I) So apparently your campaign was…
(N) It was an effective campaign. In fact if you want to go into that, if you want to go back and forward in sequence,
(I) It is almost inevitable. Do you want to come back to it? That is no problem.
(N) Okay. We could do it that way. I can come back to it. That is no problem.
(I) Because you are starting to fill in things where it would be helpful to have gone back. Well I guess my question was you were involved in the beginnings of feminism in town.
(N) In Bergen County and in Teaneck. I had been active in a group in New York, a consciousness-raising group run by the Red Stockings, and I never really identified with living in New Jersey for several years after I moved here. Politically I was still following New York politics and so forth. Then I got involved with a consciousness-raising group here. A woman on my block, Mary Hauptman, invited me to her house to a NOW sponsored consciousness raising group and
(I) That was early on?
(N) This was early. This was around 1970. And through that I got active in NOW and at that time, the New Jersey, well actually the National Women’s Political Caucus was just getting off the ground and I got involved with that and became the New Jersey State Coordinator for that group and at that same time, I was doing programs for NOW and working very actively with the Northern New Jersey Chapter of NOW. At that time a lot of things that don’t seem that radical now, we were advocating, such as having women’s names in telephone directory and we were running a campaign to do that and we were in conference with the President of New Jersey Bell Telephone Company and I remember one time coming home at night and saying to my husband, in talking to him, he said well you should have your name in the phone book and I said, they say they don’t discriminate because they will put either the man’s or the woman’s name in so I think I am going to list my name in the next year’s record and he looked at me in amazement and he said, but how will people get in touch with me? How about that. But you know now we have the option of spouses name but there was a time when that was quite controversial and all kinds of effort went into pushing that. That was a good example. I remember speaking at Forums in Bergen County. I was speaking once where people just got up and walked out, they were so incensed with the message. And the message was childcare and reproductive rights and a number of things that we take for granted just a very few years later. We don’t even consider controversial anymore. And I remember one high school kid yelling at me, if you wanted to have someone else look after your kids, why did you have them, if you didn’t want to stay home and look after them? And things that right now we would just not even consider questionable. At the time, they were considered radical. So our chapter was flourishing, it was, the NOW Chapter, attracting larger numbers of people to meetings.
(I) The meetings were frequently in Teaneck or…
(N) At the time they were held in the Unitarian Church in Paramus and we used to get 100 / 200 people at meetings. They were really large meetings but the speakers we had were controversial for the time and I was the one that did the press for the chapter so I was usually the one that was quoted in the paper and that called reporters and got them to the meeting and filled them in on what was going on and then we had a meeting at my house. It was, our chapter had been going for a few years, and we were going through the membership list and we were noticing that of our 300 members, there were 26 or 27 from Teaneck and none of them were active in the chapter with the exception of myself and Betty Schectman and Betty, in fact we right over the fireplace we put a Bergen County map and we put pins with the red head on them for where our member, the towns members were, and Teaneck was quite densely populated NOW town. But we didn’t know many of these people. This is now probably around 1975 I guess.
(I) And who was at this meeting with the map, you, Betty Schectman…
(N) And a number of other NOW members. I think that Florence Falt Dickler might have been there. Marge Wingarden. A lot of the people that were active in our chapter over the years and we had been talking about how few people were active and if we split the chapter in two, the Bergen County Chapter; made a Ridgewood area NOW and say a Teaneck area NOW if we couldn’t get more people activated to run. Betty got the idea that we should start a Teaneck Group of feminist to work on feminist issues in Teaneck and that perhaps the reason that people didn’t seem to want to travel distances to meetings but they cared enough to pay for membership in NOW and maybe would be active if we focused on some actions in Teaneck. We held a meeting, we called those 26 members or 27 members, held a meeting in one of the person’s houses and she lived on Queen Anne Road and I forget her name because I have never saw her before or since but we held the meeting at her house and people said, yes, they would like to be active in Teaneck and there were some things we talked about getting involved with and we called a town meeting at the Town House and put an ad in the paper and announced that we were meeting to discuss issues of interest to feminist in Teaneck.
(I) Is that just about the way it was phrased, do you remember?
(N) Yes. I think that is how it was phrased and we might have used women’s issues but I think we decided to use feminist issues and when we held the first meeting at the town house and it was well attended. I think there were well over a hundred people and we decided on three areas to concentrate on – one was education, one was athletics and I’ll be darned if I can remember what that third one was. Do you remember? Community relations – politics. And one of the first things we got involved with was the Town Council was running at that time for election.
(I) Let me just ask you one question – to jump back for a second – those are the three issues that emerged but at that first meeting when you mentioned that Betty Schectman was talking about maybe we can get people involved – what were those, were there any specific local issues. Do you remember?
(N) No. There wasn’t anything specific and we also felt that we should put out a call and see who was attracted and what their issues were so we really specifically decided not to go for the issues until we got a larger group involved. And to see if the interest was there too. And there were a lot of people that were interested too. So we started working on those three areas. Mary Lou Weller took on athletics and sports because that was an interest of hers; we split off into three committees and started holding meetings to focus and at that time, politics was active because there was a town council race going on and we decided to jump into it with both feet and we thought what a better way to get our message across than having all of these public forums arranged and we can go as speakers. And we did not consider that this was going to be a winning ticket but we felt it would raise issues and get some kind of awareness that we existed in Teaneck. By that time, we had several meetings. We attracted other people, and there was a large controversy going on within the organization as to whether this should be a NOW chapter or a separate group and many people objected because they said the call to meeting did not say it was a NOW chapter. If it had said that, they would have come because they didn’t want to join those crazy radicals. Interestingly enough, the people who felt most strongly about that disappeared and never returned so they weren’t interested in getting active in feminist issues at all. We called it a Feminist Action Coalition of Teaneck (FACT) which really was a more radical sounding name that the National Organization for Women.
(I) Yet this was a completely independent group that
(N) Although NOW people were active in putting out the call but a lot of people were attracted that were NOW members.
(I) Very specific to Teaneck?
(N) Yeah. It was specific to Teaneck and it did not go beyond the borders. We really had talked about being Teaneck residents. I don’t think anyone really joined it who was from outside Teaneck in terms of taking an active role because the whole purpose of the group was to focus on Teaneck issues.
(I) So the purpose was to look at the issues where?
(N) We could bring feminism home and take some of these issues that were controversial and see what we could do right here and so we looked at the schools. We looked at the textbooks and at that time there was quite a controversy over a textbook called, I can’t remember what the textbook was, but we reviewed it and saw that it was not only sexist in its content and its omission of women in any meaningful roles but those of homemaker and wife and mother, very few roles of women as professionals or any other role or even responsibility outside the home. Very little reflection or reality of women’s lives and also racist in terms of what they left out and what they, the roles they had blacks. We joined with a group of black church people here in town who were opposing that textbook from a racist point of view and so for a very short time we were involved with a minister over on Teaneck Road.
(I) Do you remember the name of the church?
(N) No. It was a little white one on Tryon and Teaneck Road. I don’t remember the name of the minister but there were quite a few people that got involved in coming to school board meetings and protesting those books.
(I) And the two groups were working together?
(N) Together. As a coalition. We felt we would be more effective that way and that was one of the first things in terms of education that we started to look at.
(I) At that point, was there, were you doing this through a vehicle as an advisory committee or was it just
(N) No. They were doing it was a community activist. Through that activity, a textbook review committee was formed, through the Board of Education.
(I) As a result of that?
(N) As a result of that to review the new literature in the textbooks and also where there were old ones that needed revisions, we would provide or recommend teaching materials that would augment it. Other reading for instance, so that you don’t have to throw out the whole series but you supply other readings that would give a different viewpoint. For instance, expanding the woman’s role. Where there was a textbook where they only had women as homemakers, they would bring in other stories and other pictures of women in other jobs and the other roles that women do in addition to being in the home.
(I) Do you remember, were there books that this group tried to throw out entirely or was there
(N) Well there was a new textbook that was just bought in Teaneck and I wish I could remember
(I) That was the one that you mentioned that the group felt was very sexist?
(N) Yes. And they were about to invest in this in a big way and we objected strongly and in fact the publishers or that textbook did revised it as a result.
(I) Do you know if the book was then adopted?
(N) In its revised version? It was adopted on a limited version in the school. They never did do it town wide and I think the objections were one of the reasons. And of course the old saw was raised about isn’t this censorship? And we didn’t feet it was. We felt it was damaging to children given one very closed view of half of the human race.
(I) Now as far as you know, books were not, existing books in the library were not?
(N) We weren’t out to really ban books. We were out to get better books chosen in the future. And where books were bad, to point this out so the teachers could use that as a teaching tool to bring in other information so that the children would not go away with this view that women could not have an opportunity to have careers. We felt that it would stunt the growth of a child who was in the third or fourth grade and doesn’t see women in or in terms of any other career choice in their little heads at that point. We thought it was closing avenues for them.
(I) So it was more a concern for placing it in the context than just getting rid of existing books?
(N) And at the same time, two women were running the race for town council.
(I) You mentioned that was?
(N) At that time her name was Linda Suskind. Now her name is Linda Irene Greene. That was prior to her becoming an attorney. She went back to school after that. And the other woman was Palmera Peralta who is no longer alive and was very active on a number of town committees before and since then, and they ran a campaign that was more or less a consciousness-raising tool for the organization.
(I) That was, the organization itself mounted this campaign?
(N) Right. All of us were involved in it and it was interesting too because many of the ideas which we had, such as we had a picnic in Votee Park, invited the town to come and bring hot dogs and so forth and they gave speeches in Votee Park, that has become a very common thing in Teaneck politics. We also had a mobile van that went around to different neighborhoods and that became something that was adopted by the candidates.
(I) What was you role in?
(N) I was doing press and in fact I think I was, yes I was Campaign Manager for them at that time and
(I) Do you remember some of the specific issues that they discussed?
(N) Well this was the time of the controversy over the high-rise in Glenpointe and how Glenpointe was going to be handled so that took a lot of the interest in the campaign which was, of course, not strictly a feminist issue but of course the other thing we were trying to impress on people was that everything was a feminist issue and that feminists are everywhereand interested in every issue. It is not limited and that there were active people in town that were interested in every issue that effects its populace.
(I) What kind of response did?
(N) Largely, I think, indifference at that point. I don’t think they even took us as serious candidates, either person, but both of them were articulate and verbal enough that they did get some attention and people became aware that FACT existed. These were fact candidates. So from that point of view, it sparked some interest from the community. And it gave us some visibility, we were able to start a dialogue with a number of people who were at those meetings, either after the meeting or before or during so it served a real lesson.
(I) Well it sounds like, that in terms of immediate impact, that in the area of education, the organization had more of a
(N) Yes. We had more of a base and there were a lot of our members who were virtually interested in education. They were really instrumental in briefing me in what the issues were.
(I) Now that then does lead into your campaign.
(N) Yeah. And we had a meeting and they had, really a group approached me from FACT and said, we think we want to mount a campaign for the Board of Education. We think you are a candidate that would be the most electable. And I said well that is very nice but I really know very little about the educational system. I have not been involved. And interestingly enough, I wasn’t even a member of the PTA. That never surfaced fortunately during my campaign because it really would have been used. And I was attached several times during the campaign for not being an active PTA in town and I explained that away by saying that there was an active PTA in town and that if you are using that as a criteria for my involvement in the school and in education, I certainly fail on those grounds because I have not been active in this organization and I was also running against a couple of people who were very active in the PTA for many years. So they were using that and I said, of more interest should be my involvement with the State Department of Education as a Consultant on the Laws of Equal Education and also the lobbying that I’ve done in Trenton on behalf of various educational laws such as the School Lunch Program and at one point, there was a big push on to close schools for lunch. Not have children have lunch and we, as feminists, were active in passing a bill that mandated that children, that schools had to remain open during lunch hour, for working parents so that
(I) This was statewide?
(N) This was a statewide issue and schools were trying to close that opportunity in many places and we worked for the school lunch bill to pass and so the PTA argument never really, you know, I was able to sidestep it. But the people in fact were very, very good in terms of briefing me on the issues. People who attended the school board regularly, meetings regularly, and had over the years so I got a really crash course from people like Lea Rizack, Betty Schectman who were active in the open association and they all kind of were very good about briefing me as to what the issues were and we formed a campaign committee here in my house again.
(I) This is in ’76.
(N) I will have to look it up. I will do that. I will check it but we had a meeting and we had 37 people who had agreed to take positions in the campaign as precinct people. We divided the town up in those sections and we planned out campaign and then I got a call from a group in Teaneck who screened school board candidates. The Teaneck Political Assembly. And they generally interview candidates that are running and they endorse certain candidates and the endorsement means some money from the organization and it means using their considerable campaign resources. So I was interviewed and I went through the, all of the questions, and after it was over Ron Milch asked me, ‘tell me Judy, if you do not get our endorsement, do you still intend to run?’ And I really did not have any idea who the committee represented or what kind of power they had and I said, ‘Oh, of course. I have 37 people working for all their endorsed candidates. I also said and we are raising money and I’ve got my campaign literature almost done and they were floored because, you know, their candidates. So they ended up endorsing Ann Mersereau, myself and Dr. His wife works in BF. I know his name as well as I know my own but anyway, they endorsed the three of us and so we ran doubly hard, I think, but we did have campaign literature stressing the three of us and the campaign ran for about three months and for two of those months, sixty nights running, I was going out every single night of the week to cottage parties in Teaneck with other members of the slate and also on my own because FACT setting up cottage parties around town. The Teaneck Political Assembly was setting up cottage parties. Sometimes I was going to two and three a night, just running kind of from one to another, we were covered and on the weekends I was out in front of Pathmark in town passing out my literature and I went door to door in every neighborhood in Teaneck but one on the weekends. FACT, children, children of FACT Members and myself went door to door and I had designed a card that if I’d knock on a door and they weren’t there, I’d leave a card saying, hello, my name is Judy Murphy. I am running for the Board of Education. And I wanted to meet with you but since you are out, I decided to leave my card and I left my phone number. Fortunately not many people called. The only neighborhood that we didn’t do that in was the neighborhood at the south portion of Teaneck, southeast, which is solid Irish, kind of reactionary.
(I) You’re Irish.
(N) Well the name is Irish. I am actually not. I was married to someone who was Irish. And I figured if I gave them my literature and they saw all these feminist things on it, they would never vote for me, but they would probably vote for me on the
(End of Side A, Tape 1)
(Begin Side B, Tape 1)
(N) One of the people in the Teaneck Political Assembly said, Judy, would you talk to your father Joe over at St. Anastasia’s. I said, sure who is he? And they said, well, he is over at the Catholic Church, don’t you know him. And I said, no, I am not Catholic. I said I would be glad to talk to him but he doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall. And they had just assumed, they had this nice balanced thing, they had this nice black woman, they had this Jewish doctor, and they had me, the Irish Catholic, so that was kind of funny. You know, the assumptions that they made.