Interview of Jill Schooley
Interview with Jill Schooley
Interview Date: July 2005
Bio: Jill Schooley was born in Vancouver in 1939 and moved to St. John’s in 1969, where she quickly became involved in the Women’s Movement in this province She was one of the founding mothers of the Newfoundland Status of Women Council (later St. John’s Status of Women Council and worked on a number of issues including women in education, women’s health, and women and the law. Jill was a Newfoundland representative for the National Action Committee (NAC) on the Status of Women for several years, and worked with the Women’s Institute and CFUW on some joint projects with the Newfoundland (later St. John’s) Status of Women Council.
Interviewer: You were very active in the Women’s Movement in Newfoundland in the 70s and 80s. Can you think of a particular issue that stands out as being especially important to you?
Jill: I was active with regards to getting non-sexist language into textbooks for students in Newfoundland. Although I didn’t study the issue, a number of us talked about it, talked to teachers about the issues and wrote letters. I made sure that there were some people hired to go through the Newfoundland school textbooks looking for sexist language and attitudes.
I think there were four or five students working for the summer in one of the little rooms at the YWCA. They were the ones who went through the books, line by line, and wrote a report on gender bias words they found.
Issues regarding children were high on my list as well. So of course I fell right in when they first offered the Early Childhood Development Program at MUN. I can’t remember dates but I know that Dorothy Lono and I attended the program. Dorothy also ran a childcare program with the YWCA and I was a volunteer there.
I think everyone remembers Kay Matthews as doing the most for that program and I think she may have pushed the University to start the first Early Childhood Development program. It’s a three-year course now but Dorothy and I attended through Extension. It was an excellent course for us.
Social Action Issues were another area that I really got involved with heavily – like the one with keeping the advertising off the CBC’s children’s programs. We worked very hard and badgered a number of politicians for their support and action. Jim McGraw was our Conservative Member for St. Johns at the time and we sent him many letters. He eventually put in a Private Member’s Bill that passed in the House of Commons to prevent advertising during children’s shows on the CBC. That ban still exists today. We were very pleased that we were able to follow through and see the Bill in effect. It was probably around 1970 when the Bill was finally enacted.
Jill: Much of it began with the Social Action Committee at the YWCA. There was also an issue about what was happening in South Africa with children and women. We were great letter writers in those days. I believe it was Shirley Goundrey who used to bring in the paper and say, “Here’s the envelopes.” It was much easier to write it while we all sat around the table and we did this for many issues.
The Social Action Committee was a great learning place for all of us. I was the official chair from the YWCA board and invited 12 other women to join as well. We had what we called a revolving chair for our meetings, one person would act as chair for maybe a month or two and, perhaps, focus on a particular issue. It helped all of us beef up our skills in Chairing a meeting and keeping issues on track. Most of the women had young or school-aged children and were not working outside their homes at the time.
I believe the way we worked on issues at the Social Action Committee became the model for the way we worked in the Women’s Movement. It was always a collaborative effort and the word “collective” really applied to us. When we approached an issue we never thought about it in terms of who would be the leader or the person who would take credit for it. It was always “ who is interested in this?” or “who can write this up or go and sit in on this meeting and report back?” – we really did work together and support one another.
That’s why, when you look back at all the things we did during that time it is so difficult to determine who was responsible and who did what. We all did it and most times we didn’t put our names on things or expect to get any kind of personal benefit for the work. It seems to me that today we’re always looking for the one person who was the leader, the one who can be identified and rewarded for her efforts. That approach simply doesn’t work when you look at what we did. We were in it together and what we accomplished was a collective accomplishment.
Jill: At the YW we would have speakers like Dell Texmo, who was teaching English at MUN, speak on early women writers. The Social Action Committee had women speak on politics and how to get women elected. We did all of this before we actually moved into the Women’s Movement totally.
We did a lot of educational things – such as having Jill Snowden teaching communication to women. After that Dorothy Lono said, “We’re doing a daycare program at the YW, do we have everything we need to know?’ So we brought in somebody to talk about daycare.
I think we even had enough money at times that we could afford an airfare to bring people in if they went on the cheapest flight. They never got hotels, they were boarded at a member’s home.
Again, I believe the reason we did get women to all sorts of meetings all over the world and in other parts of Canada was because we worked together and were very creative about finding small pots of money we could tap into to pay for tickets and such. And we all cooperated by getting friends and family in other places involved too so they offered places to stay when our women traveled to their home.
While at the YW, I remember the energy around the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. I can’t really remember being at that meeting when it came to St. John’s, but many people have told me I was there. I do remember that Dorothy Wyatt was the only local person who gave a presentation.
After the Royal Commission Report was published, I was on a mailing list so that whenever someone from the Status of Women Canada was coming to St. John’s I was phoned or received a letter. As a result I was fortunate to meet a number of outstanding women who were working hard in the Women’s Movement both in Ottawa for the Federal government and in Toronto for the Ontario Provincial government. Setting up meetings at the Women’s Centre with visiting Federal Status of Women members and our local St. John’s members was helpful in getting our concerns heard.
Interviewer: Are there any other events that stand out in your memory?
Jill: Yes, when we invited Bonnie Kreps come from Toronto to speak. We held the meeting at the old National Film Board place in Pleasantville. For me, that is where everything started in that we got many women’s groups together and the Newfoundland Status of Women Council eventually came into being.
It was in the summer after the Strategy for Change meeting in Toronto. As I remember it, Shirley Goundrey, Iris Kirby, Helen Porter and Donna Todd attended from St. John’s. Shirley and Iris met Bonnie there and were really impressed with her. With all their talk about what an excellent speaker she was, I figured that instead of just having her talk to the Social Action Committee, we should have her speak to the community.
We were able to get $500 from the National YWCA Social Action fund to pay for her expenses and Bonnie agreed to come here to St. John’s. Shirley Newhook and I organized for her to also speak to the radio stations and on television. Bonnie was an exciting feminist. She had a presence and the things she was doing in mainland Canada were what we were doing in a small, quiet way in St. John’s.
After Bonnie’s talk, Shirley Newhook and I took her to different radio and television interviews. For one interview, Bonnie Kreps wore a leather suit with a zipper on it and I remember one male host saying something to her about undoing her zipper. She said, “I’ll do mine if you do yours.” Women were upset with this. I don’t know whether that made it on air or not.
Bonnie’s appearance on the radio call-ins sparked a lot of interest. It was one of the first phone-in interviews on the Women’s Movement. It was around this time that another radio person identified us as “hairy-chested amazons”.
Interviewer: So this was organized through the Social Action Committee at the YWCA then?
Jill: It was. Yes. I think we were the initiators and we advertised and sent out letters to all the women’s groups. It was held at the National Film Board at the time.
Bonnie was so authoritative when she spoke that when she said something we all looked at each other and said, “Gee, we’re doing that too, so it must be important.” We were always writing letters to politicians and she was talking about the same issues. I don’t know if she said something spectacular, but it was in her presentation. It was right after that, that we organized the meeting for City Hall to start a Newfoundland Status of Women Group.
That was the beginning of ginger groups too and the meetings at Shirley Goundrey’s house to start putting together a committee. I can’t remember what that first committee, of about 10 or 12 people, was called but I know I wasn’t on it because I was organizing other things. Anne Betz Cathy Clarke, Mary Walsh, Roberta Buchanan, Dell Texmo and Diane Siegel were, I believe, on it. They worked on it all through the summer. When they came up with a plan, we had another meeting and that’s when the St. John’s Status of Women came to be.
Interviewer: How did the Social Action Committee get interested in bringing Bonnie Kreps here? Obviously you were working on social action issues, but what made the Committee move towards Women’s Issues?
Jill: It was because we were doing a lot of things for women and children anyway around the world. The YW was always involved with issues for women and children so we were doing international projects, and then we would look at them locally. We decided that anything we could do to help the youth and women in St. John’s, we would do.
At the time, the Teacher’s Federation in Newfoundland, CFUW, the Local Council of Women, and the Church Women were all working on women’s issues. Then there were the University students who were involved in women’s issues. This brought everybody together. The first meeting I organized down at City Hall with Cathy Murphy and Helen Porter and other women. became the founding meeting of the Status of Women in St. John’s.
I remember (my husband) Hugh donated an old Gestetner machine for producing newsletters. Before that we were using teacher’s gel (for letters and newsletters). Shirley Goundrey had a small typewriter with letters didn’t actually look great. It was a challenge sometimes to see whether it was an ‘o’ or an ‘e’ when you were using it.
The Newfoundland Status of Women Council (NSWC) was a very active group. If you didn’t know something, there was somebody to tell you how to do it. We didn’t let anything stop us, we didn’t know any better so we just did it. That’s how the newsletters began. Sally Davis, being an excellent librarian, methodically went through the newsletters and started making them better. She knew we had to send off one copy of each newsletter to the archives in Ottawa and in St. John’s. That was the start of the St. John’s Status of Women Newsletters.
The Social Action Committee actually created quite a flurry in St. John’s. We were supported by the National (YWCA) to a certain point on the issues we were taking up but the local board was not totally behind us. In fact, a number of the board members were very outspoken about their opposition to what we were doing.
Interviewer: It must have been difficult to operate in that kind of environment.
Interviewer: Do you think that led to you wanting to become more involved in other groups outside of the Social Action Committee where you could follow your interests?
Jill: Yes, definitely. Especially when a number of members of the YW board decided that, since they needed a new gym for the YMCA, they wanted to amalgamate the YWCA and YMCA, and the assets of the YWCA went to pay off the YM’s debts. There was a vote on amalgamation and the Social Action Committee all voted “no”, but it still passed. I think that was the last time I can recall doing very much for the ‘Y’ in St. Johns. That’s when we all moved on and got involved in the Women’s movement.
I think that’s exactly when all of us went to the Women’s Centre. There must have been 15 of us because after we all left the YW, we used to go for lunch once a month at the Newfoundland Hotel and we called it Club 15. At that time, 15 women eating lunch together at the Hotel Newfoundland was unusual.
I remember Winifred McCarthy and her mother; as well as Bonnie Leyton, Muffet Knowling, Anne Betz, Diane Siegel, Dorothy Lono, myself, Iris Kirby, Millicent Penny, Lorraine Huska, Martha Butler and Shirley Goundrey -- all powerful people in the end who did a lot.
Jill: Children and women’s issues like health were always big with me. One of the things that I did, and got a lot of personal satisfaction from, was organize a workshop on Women and Health up at the College of Trades and Technology. I worked closely with the CFUW and Barbara Lewis on that.
Barbara and I tried to involve 3 or 4 Women’s Groups in the organization of the workshop. The CFUW seemed to have more money than most of the groups and they, along with the Women’s Institute were always prime. We could work together because at that time CFUW was working on a lot of women’s issues and they had researchers in their membership.
Judy McGonigal, who was Registrar at the College, helped get the students and teachers involved. Along with some of the doctors from town we were able to put on a really good one-day Saturday series of workshops and lectures on Women’s Health. The feedback was very positive because nobody at that time really wanted to talk about birth control or abortion publicly. At this health day we also learned that a lot of local women were taking medications like Valium.
We created a very large poster for the conference where we used different colored pills (all ones that women were commonly prescribed) and glued them on to form the word “woman”. The poster made a huge impact but also women recognized the pills and, by the end of the day, many of them had been pulled off.
What we didn’t realize was just how many women were taking these pills. We had a doctor, an internist named Dr. Sue Roberts, who gave talks at the Women’s Centre. She talked about women’s bodies, how to take care of yourself, understanding your own body, yeast infection and what you can do to take care of it – that sort of thing. She helped us to understand our own bodies.
At that time it was common when a woman had any kind of health problem to have valium, or something stronger, prescribed. Most women thought doctors were gods so they took the drugs but it came out at that conference that they understood they were taking things that were quite harmful to their bodies.
Interviewer: It sounds like all the time, without knowing it, you were really preparing yourselves to be better activists.
Jill: Exactly. That was the beginning of our activism. Most of us, although there were some Newfoundlanders in the group, came from away. We had time, we had young children, and we didn’t have employment. It wasn’t until later, probably 7 or 8 years, before I went back to work. We all worked, as you can see, getting paid with part of a salary that was shared with another person at the Women’s Centre over the years.
A lot of people were involved in a number of issues and came to support us. I felt compassion for a number of the issues. You know that report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women has not gone out of date but in the 70s and 80s we all looked upon it as our bible. The ten chapters were the ten ginger groups that were started when we first started as we formed a group for each one of the chapters. Some of them didn’t get much work and I forget what some of them were – but that’s how Health, and Education, and Pay Equity started.
It was a very exciting period in my life. It really was. If something needed to be done and if you happened to say something about it, they said, “Well that sounds good Jill, you do it.” And if you thought you couldn’t cope with it all, you said to someone else, “I need you and you.” I believe it was from all of that camaraderie that Diane Duggan was able to get up one day and say, “OK, I found this house (for a Women’s Centre in St. John’s) and I need $100 from all of you so we can buy it.”
You know $100 back then was a lot of money, but we somehow just thought we could do it.
Interviewer: Were you one of the original people to give a $100 donation then?
Jill: Yes. I later learnt that some people gave $50 and some gave it in installments or whatever. But we put the money together and bought the house.
Interviewer: With all this, you were devoting a lot of time to women’s issues, did you ever have an “aha!”’ moment when you thought, “Okay, yes, I’m a feminist and this is where I want to invest my energy”?
Jill: I think I was like a lot of other people. I never really called myself a feminist for the first few years. I guess it happened for me when I saw Ms., a magazine coming out from the States, with this picture of a woman who had about 10 arms. I thought, “Gee, that’s me!’ And she was called a feminist. She was holding an iron in one hand and a kid in another hand and writing something, and editing something, you know, and cooking and all of that. That’s when it came to me.
I was always a promoter for Planned Parenthood and I supported the right to choose. At first I probably wasn’t as vocal, but then I really saw some cases that were pretty sad with young women that I decided I would have to do more with pro-choice.
Interviewer: That’s a pretty controversial cause. How did others react to your involvement in the Women’s Movement and particularly pro-choice?
Jill: Well, it was interesting. I didn’t have family in St. Johns. So when I would go to Ontario on a visit to see my family they’d say, “You’re not the same Jill.” I’d say, “Yes, I am.” I don’t know who my relatives and friends thought that these (women libber) people were.
All this talk about burning the bra, I was never there. I missed all that. Also, I was never in a picket protest or whatever until 1980 around the Constitution.
I do remember one time when, along with the United Church Women, a group from the Social Action Committee went to City Hall and there were no seats for us to sit in. We were protesting against one of the television companies, I think it might have been Jeff Stirling’s station, putting up a building on Signal Hill. We wanted it to be a playground for children. Ironically enough, it that beautiful geo center, at Dead Man’s Pond, is near the spot.
We had a big picnic at the museum to protest. Then we went down to City Hall when the Council was voting. They didn’t know how to peg us because we had women from all backgrounds at that. That was one occasion I really remember and that was the picture I was looking for. It was in the newspaper and in it we are all sitting around the mayor’s podium because there wasn’t any place for us to sit. The security guard let us in but he couldn’t figure out where to put us so he told us to stand but we soon sat on the floor. They never did build on the site to my knowledge.
Sometime after that Barb Doran organized something for International Women’s Day. It’s the only other time I can remember being down at City Hall. We all dressed up as as suffragettes. I have a picture of myself somewhere wearing a banner saying ‘votes for women’. We were just asking the mayor to proclaim the day like they did for everything else.
I also was involved in a lot of organizing of meetings. I got involved with NAC early and went to a number of meetings. At one of the meetings we talked Lynn Verge into running as a politician. We thought she would be wonderful.
Interviewer: You actually had to talk her into it?
Jill: Oh, I don’t think at that point she was even thinking about it. She didn’t do it right away though. She’s an excellent politician and she wouldn’t do anything before making sure everything was in order. She was a wonderful asset for the Women’s Movement. She went on to make sure that books were changed in education when she was Minister of Education.
I’m not sure where she was when the Matrimonial Property Legislation came in. That was another thing a lot of women in the St. John’s Status of Women Council worked on. I remember Wendy Williams, Lillian, Pauline Bradbrook and, perhaps, one other who really wrote the brief. The rest of us, once it was down to the way they wanted it, supported them.
We wrote lots of briefs and mostly we didn’t put any one person’s name on them. They were done collectively with a number of women putting them together and sending them up to the Newfoundland government.
Interviewer: How do you think that idea evolved to do it that way instead of just going and say picketing?
Jill: I think it was excellent. I think the things that got through did well. But they didn’t just get by because we had meetings with the government and wrote briefs, we also had to continue our letter writing. Nothing passed easily.
I remember a few years back when I went to sell my cabin, my lawyer reminded me that even though my cabin was my own, I had to have Hugh’s signature because of the Matrimonial Property Legislation that we had had put through. If you were married one spouse could not sell the property without the other’s knowledge. That was ironic.
All of the things that were done I think they were never done easily or quickly. Some never got passed to what we wanted. A good example is that we still don’t have enough day care places.
Also health for women is still second. There are still a lot of women being prescribed drugs, possibly unnecessarily. It’s not much different from the way we all took birth control pills, without a clue about exactly what they did to our bodies. I guess the studies will be coming out now as we die.
We were in that age when there were lots of jobs and lots of research money and so new things were developing and we just happened to be the guinea pigs to try it out on.
Interviewer: Yes. That’s what happened with some of the early IUDs too.
Jill: Exactly. And if we hadn’t had organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Movement to really keep after them, those things might still be on the market.
Interviewer: In your fight to achieve these things in the women’s movement, what do you think were some of the hardest obstacles to overcome?
Jill: I guess being able to communicate a message really well and getting it understood. That took a lot of time and energy. You might win a battle, but you had really lost a war and later you’d have to fight for it again.
The one that I see that I’m watching most carefully, and I’m still involved in, is the Charter of Rights. I got the most reward from my involvement with the Charter. I was working for the government at the time for LIP (Local Initiatives Project), so I had access to telephone numbers all across Newfoundland.
I had a phone call from a woman named Pat Preston from Toronto, although she was in Ottawa at the time, talking about what was happening with the lawyers and how the Charter was going to go through and how badly it was written for women. She kept contacting me and I would pass the information onto the Women’s Movement and the Women’s Centre. Then one day she said, “That’s it. We all have to get to Ottawa. Call all these people and anybody that you know.” I had a number of contacts of teachers and ministers and people like that who I contacted. I was surprised when I went to Ottawa at how many people went at their own expense or got their small organization to help cover the cost.
This Pat Preston had gone around Ottawa and found rooms for women to stay in. You know, she’d call up friends and what not. Now we didn’t do the actual writing up of the Charter, but we sat for two days while we watched women lawyers and the audience. The women had actually gotten room in the Center block on Parliament Hill. So to me it was like we were part of the early founding fathers, only we were being heard now only years later.
Interviewer: Who sent you to Ottawa? Was that through the Status of Women?
Jill: No, I think I just went on my own. A few came from St. John’s, but I think I funded my own way. Anne Betz was living in Ottawa at the time and I stayed with her. I actually got her to attend. I think the power of the women who had jobs could make a difference in Ottawa. It really helped the other women who didn’t feel they had any power. The Mayor of Ottawa at that time was Marion Dewar. We couldn’t be in the Parliament Buildings on Sunday, so she had the meeting on the Sunday to wrap things up in Ottawa City Hall. And she allowed her office to be the day care centre.
It was excellent. The women that you hear now being referred to as taking action in some legal matters concerning the Charter are the women that were working on it 10 years ago at the beginning.
Interviewer: What kind of lobbying around the Charter happened within our province?
Jill: Quite a bit went on. It was quite complicated. You had to keep on working on it part by part and giving examples of how it affected the women of Newfoundland. I’ll give you an example. Iris Kirby was Executive Director of the St. John’s YW and then went to work for Secretary of State in St. John’s. When she died, early of cancer, Anne Betz and I decided that instead of sending flowers we would put together a scholarship for women returning to University after being out of school for a couple of years.
We the money, and all the pieces together when suddenly Memorial University said, “You just can’t put it for women because the Charter doesn’t allow it.” It was a shock since we had involved them throughout our planning and collecting the money. We had to get a lawyer from Ottawa University to help us change their minds, and we had to use the Charter to do it.
We were probably a bit instrumental in changing some of the ways scholarships are written up at Memorial because some of them would say “to the sons of long standing member of the Legion” and to the ‘male’ such and such as you went through it. Some communities thought it was for all their towns – but it really wasn’t. Eventually some of those were changed.
It was very rewarding. Iris was well known and greatly loved so when she died, many women wanted to be part of remembering her. If they could only give $5 or $15, that’s what they gave.
A few years ago, we did a Masters Scholarship for Sally Davis. The difference was amazing. We got $100, $200, $500 and $10,000. Times change and women now have a little bit more money. Instead of giving a $500 scholarship, we’re able to give a $1,000 one. We wanted to make a statement that there were women willing to give so that women could receive a thousand dollar scholarship.
Interviewer: Do you have any memories that you’d like to share about International Year of the Woman in 1975?
Jill: It was a very exciting time. There were so many events and I think I partook of as many as I possibly could. There were a lot of celebration events and I’m trying to recall whether that was the year when I invited the National Action Committee to come to St. John’s. They had never been outside Toronto before and couldn’t understand why you needed a meeting somewhere else.
If it hadn’t been for Lynn Verge, Ann Bell, and myself, fighting -- I think Yvonne Earle might have been involved too – we wouldn’t have had a representative from Newfoundland/Labrador on the National Action Board. They only wanted to go as far as Halifax, academics at the University in Halifax said, “No, no” they could take care of Newfoundland. But we had to keep speaking out to have a regional representive. Wendy (Williams) was the first representative from Newfoundland.
Later Ann Bell and I were also representatives for Newfoundland. I think Wendy went on the NAC Board with absolutely no funding so she had to get to meetings in Toronto on her own. By the time I got there, NAC had some of what they called “regional Funding” so when I attended NAC meetings in Toronto, my airfare was paid but I stayed with friends or other Toronto NAC Board members. Many are still my friends.
I took the liberty of inviting the NAC Board to come to St. John’s and have a meeting and it was very well attended. The week-end of meetings were arranged to have the Saturday focused “pensions for homemakers” and the Sunday was spent on speakers from the NAC board speaking on reproductive health. The week-end made quite a splash and I feel that was one of my successes , thanks to Barb Doran getting a whole lot of salt fish and screeching everybody in, they enjoyed it. They saw the women center and what we had to work with and realized that it wasn’t the same as they encountered in Toronto or Hamilton and other places.
They also had the opportunity of seeing the Military Road house, which we thought was a palace but was not quite the same standard as places they were working out of.
I remember a woman named Lee Grill making the statement that she came from North Vancouver and they had a Women’s Centre that started at the same time as the St. John’s Women’s Centre. It was called NSWC for North Shore Women’s Centre and we had St. John’s Newfoundland Status Women’s Centre, NSWC. They were both exactly the same initials. I’m not sure, but up to a couple of years ago it was still going. It was interesting to learn that the Women’s Centres on the two coasts of Canada have survived while the ones in between fell apart.
I think the meeting here allowed women who were working in a particular area to communicate with the different Centres to see how they were working. I think we were the first really to get going on the women’s shelters. I did a lot of work on that in the early days.
Interviewer: Was that through the Status of Women Council or was that with another group of women who just went off and did it?
Jill: It was originally from the Status of Women. So many things started with St. John’s Status of Women and then when everything was looking good, another body of women sort of took it and made it possible.
Interviewer: What was it like in the times without transition houses for women who were abused?
Jill: Well, the only thing that I know of in St. John’s at the time was Emmanuel House that was next to the Y on Military Road. If they needed a shelter, they were taken in there but it was also a residence for women who were traveling or came into St. John’s and needed a safe place to stay. It was all right for a woman to stay alone. There was also a place for unwed mothers. A lot of those young women might have been abused before they arrived there.
Now the women of today have the opportunity, if a boyfriend or a father or an uncle is abusing them, to go somewhere where they can talk. Some of the first women I remember coming came from remote areas of Labrador, it was surprising to me that they would have to come so far but at that time there wasn’t any other place for them to go.
Interviewer: Do you know what year the work on the Transition House started?
Jill: The Transition House came later. When I left in 1983 and they were in a shelter on Pilot’s Hill and the John Howard Society had a house nearby. I had moved before they moved into the brand new building in the West end.
The Anglican school was an excellent place because MUN Extension had offices there and other groups had small offices as well. That allowed us to meet informally and work with groups that we probably would not have otherwise. I think an organization for those with disabilities had a little office in there as well, and things like that.
Interviewer: What are your memories around the opening of the Women’s Centre on Military Road and/or getting it ready or in the early days?
Jill: Oh, that was a lot of work. We had to clean it and do everything ourselves. I remember Reverend Bradbrook, Pauline’s father, helping us lay carpet, the night before we opened. I was on a committee with Diane Duggan with regards to turning the upper floors into apartments.
Diane Duggan got NSWC a LIP grant I guess. It was a grant that involved having women learning to do carpentry and gyp rocking -- that was new. We had to hire somebody to teach them. He was very good and did very well.
We interacted with other groups in all our programs. Susan Shirk was at the Extension Department and we had history of the Newfoundland Status of Women Council that we wanted printed. I took Shirley Goundrey’s history, it was a paper she had written for Ruth Pierson Women’s Studies class, to MUN Extension and they published it. We realized later that it had a few errors, but I still believe it’s better to have it written than not.
I asked Susan Shirk to publish Women and the Law through MUN Extension and they ran off a lot of those as well. These were all done without charge.
Women in the Law was updated and reprinted. It was a big success as was, I think, Barb Doran’s divorce kit. I believe NSWC even made money on its sale.
Interviewer: Do you know the history of that coming together?
Jill: Well, I think Barb was going through a divorce herself. She didn’t have any money and she was a single mom and she was trying to do a University degree. She kept notes on what was required to get a divorce and from her own experience she developed the kit.
We used to give the kit away, then realized it was costing us to have it photocopied – something like $4, so we sold it for $5. I think more were given away than sold.
I remember going over the divorce kit with a woman who came to the Women’s Centre. It had pretty much everything and she felt confident enough to use it. The divorce kit cut down the cost on divorces.
Another thing was that the Provincial Government used to print and publish all the divorces in Newfoundland. They read them in the Legislative Assembly and published them in the Gazette. NSWC wrote letters against the practice because we thought it was about time to change that. I’m sure the government doesn’t admit that it had anything to do with us, but they passed a law to stop it.
I worked on some other project, like finding out how St. John’s was in comparison to another city of the same size. It was Kitchener we used at the time. One fact that was very noticeable (when looking over St. John’s statistics) was that we only found something like 5 professional women making over $10,000 and they were all employed by the Federal Government. Only one person wasn’t and she was a nutritionist on contract. That’s when the pay equity push really counted.
There were some women in high positions in nursing, but they weren’t getting paid the same as their male counterparts.
Interviewer: Do you have a fondest moment of your involvement in the Women’s Movement that stands out in your mind?
Jill: I think one of the things is when we accomplished something it was very uplifting. Whether it was something small like not building up on Signal Hill or whether it was major like the Charter, we tended to celebrate. Even after some of our meetings, which lots of times went on quite late, we tended to celebrate.
The Women’s Movement gave us an opportunity to really get to know each other and to feel close to the people that were there. When they had a problem, we had a problem. That’s what it was. There was a lot of support and there wasn’t necessarily a person who had to do everything or a person who had to be rewarded all the time. It was many different women.
I went to one of the first provincial conferences where women from all the different Women’s Centres attended. I didn’t organize it, but I attended it. It was the first time I had gone where we had all actually stayed in one place because there wasn’t a hotel. We were in a residence in a hospital in Happy Valley. It was quite interesting. Very remote and the snow came up to about the second storey. It was some time in March. It was for International Women’s Day. One of the Centres had red roses brought in.
The speaker was a woman from Montreal. She said she’s never really been in a protest march so they organized all the women there and we all marched throughout the building.
It was the fellowship of all the women that was important, they were my extended family. I recall the support when somebody does something or gets an award. Everyone is very happy for them.
Even at that time when Fran Innis and Helen Porter and some of the other women ran first for the City. There was a group called “Five for Change” that came out of one of the political action groups of the Women’s Movement. Women were really anxious to help them get elected and went out of their way to support them and get them started.
I hope all the other women’s groups and institutes are still on the go doing things because I think the essence of success is having women’s groups work together.
I remember one person from the Women’s Institute, Frances Laracy. She lives out around Conception Bay area and she probably is in her eighties. She got the Person’s Award. I think she may even have an Order of Canada award. She was with the Women’s Institute along with Kathy Sheldon. I enjoyed working with both of them on projects.
I think Kathy Sheldon was President after Frances for International Women’s Year. Whenever NSWC needed different groups to interact, I would contact one of them and say “We need your group’s visual presence.” Frances was a great theatre actor, so whenever she wanted to get a message across, she’d put on skits. She did for the NAC group. I contacted her and she put on a wonderful skit to show the outport life around Newfoundland.
Interviewer: Are their any other memories of those times that you’d like to share?
Jill: Bonnie James was great. She was a Chair of the St. John’s Status of Women Council. I remember one time, she called me up and said, “There are two women down here from Ottawa. Did you invite them?’” I said, “No, I’d been talking to them (on the phone) and said you must come” and didn’t realize they really were going to come. I remember having to tell one of the women that I organized a human rights conference with something like, “When you bring all your people from the human rights board, it’d be better that they don’t wear their suede and gold.” That went around and it went right through Ottawa. So they came looking more casual.
Interviewer: What do you think still needs to be done in the Women’s Movement.
Jill: Oh, I don’t think things are equal at all do you? Living close to Ottawa, the Government City, I see there’s still that same ghetto. You look at the members of Parliament, and you look at their assistants, and you look at the communications director and a lot are women. But are they up there in the Treasury Board? Those are the positions that are getting the high bucks. The CEOs of companies and things like that.
In one of my readings, I used to check a book at the library that had the different CEOs of Canadian Companies all listed so see how many were women. It wasn’t hard to go through the list because there were very few. It would be family businesses that women would be listed as CEOs. But now there are lots of small businesses and women are probably the largest owners of small business…and successful small businesses. They’re not afraid to go out and ask for help or do more education. Whereas, probably in the early years that I was involved in the Women’s Movement, I don’t think education was as high. I mean we all read and furthered ourselves in different courses and everything, but I don’t think somebody said to you “now when you finish University you’ll do this”. I think it was “when you finish high school” type of thing.
Interviewer: If you were going to pass on one message or fact about what occurred in the Women’s Movement, especially in the 70s and 80s, what would you want young people to know about?
Jill: I would like to let them know that they can do anything they want to do. They may not get as high as their goals, but if they really push they can certainly do a lot. Women just have to keep on persevering and 90% of it will be accomplished. I’d like to see women continue to go on to university to take engineering and medicine – the ones we fought so hard to get quotas changed. I’d like to see women not just stay in family practice law but go into business and even charter law and contract law.
I’ve always believed that women should do what they wanted to do. And that’s the same with abortion or anything: That women should have the right to choose. Whether you want to be educated or whether you want to have a baby. Whether you want to go to work or whether you want to stay home. I think all choices are valid, and are up to each person. I don’t think women should be pushed into decisions because of society.