Interview of Kathy Sheldon

Kathy Sheldon


Bio:

Kathy Sheldon grew up in Florida, Georgia. She studied Christian Theology in Virginia and moved to Newfoundland in 1964 as a licensed lay minister. In that capacity for many years ongoing, she has lead spiritual sessions with women. She was a long-time member of the Women’s Institute of Canada holding varied positions including presidency of the Newfoundland and Labrador division from 1974 to 1977. Later, through her involvement with the Women’s Institute, Kathy worked on the Women’s Health Education Project (WHEP) in partnership with the Newfoundland Status of Women Council.


Kathy has performed many community roles within her numerous areas of interests, including leadership development and health education for women. Over the years, while raising her children at home, Kathy found time to participate in and help to organize a number of conferences and workshops to address issues affecting women’s lives in rural Newfoundland. Currently she lives in Virgin Arm, Newfoundland with her long-time supportive husband, Dr. John Sheldon.

Interview:

IInterviewer:  So Kathy, what kind of work, paid or volunteer, were you doing in Newfoundland in the 70s or the 80s?

Kathy:  Well, when I first came here in ’64 I taught high school. I only taught full time for two years, one and a half of those years were in the 70s. But I substituted off and on and I was fairly active in the school. That was my only paid work.

I was also a licensed lay minister in the church, which I still am, meaning I keep services and preach probably twice a month. I had Girl Guides and I even taught ballet one year because there were no dancing schools here. But after a year, the kids got better than me.  (chuckles)

I was also on the Rural Development Association. That was the time when I was provincial president of the Women’s Institute in ’74 to ’77, or something like that. Then I was on the national board of the Federal Women’s Institutes of Canada for three years and ran a National Convention. We ran the only National Convention that has ever been held in St. John’s with 800 women.

Interviewer:  So you have definitely achieved a lot.

Kathy:  I don’t know that I achieved a lot. You don’t remember all the things you do. You just were involved in the community and, whatever happened, you were a part of it.

Interviewer:  So how did what you were doing help to improve the lives of other women, particularly in rural Newfoundland?

Kathy:  Well, one of my good friends said, “It was only after you came here we learned we didn’t have to iron facecloths.”  (chuckles) That doesn’t answer your question, but I think I was involved with a lot of leadership workshops in the Women’s Institute. I think that they encouraged women to see that they could get out and do things, or accomplish things and use some of their talents.

Interviewer:  What kind of things would you teach them - these women?

Kathy:  Well, I think we had a couple of grants at that time to do leadership development. Mostly, it was encouragement. We had workshops on public speaking and role plays on how to conduct meetings.

Interviewer:  What kind of goals did you have for these workshops?

Kathy:  Well I think, particularly, we were encouraging people in our organization to assume leadership roles. Many women, because of their involvement, went on to do other things. I mean, I was the first woman on the board of Newfoundland Light and Power.

Interviewer:  So you feel that you have built confidence in some women that may have needed a little push.

Kathy:  Oh, I think so.

Interviewer:  Were there challenges to that, do you think?

Kathy:  Oh yes, because it wasn’t something people had always done. Although one was amazed by the women in rural Newfoundland and the responsibilities that they had taken on, the women themselves didn’t always see that their experience in the home and in the community was like an education. Often they would put themselves down because they had only so many years of school.

Interviewer:  They didn’t realize that the experience of working and doing what’s traditionally women’s work is a valued role?

Kathy:  Yeah. I think so.

Interviewer:  Can you think of any other ways that you or your efforts encouraged women to improve the lives of other women? 

Kathy:  We were involved too, for three or four years, with a health project with the Status of Women.

Interviewer: The Women’s Health Education Project?

Kathy:  Yes, it was so long ago that I don’t remember a lot about it. We conducted workshops all over the province. Actually, the Women’s Institute is still conducting health education workshops. We’ve had a couple here in Twillingate.

Interviewer:  Fantastic – in recent years?

Kathy:  Two or three years ago, on osteoporosis, menopause, and issues like that.


Interviewer:  Can you give some examples of how the workshops they offered helped women do things that they may not have done otherwise?


Kathy: The Women’s Institute started businesses like the craft shop here and the ones in Twillingate and Lewisporte. The museum on the coast of Labrador, too, was started by the Women’s Institute. They were also the original impetus behind the museum in Lewisporte. These income generating projects encouraged women to use their skills to make things. There were also individuals that went on to serve leadership roles in all kinds of areas of their community and some women went back to school.

Interviewer:  What about your work within the church as a lay minister. Have you encouraged women to work together on particular issues?

Kathy:  Well, I should mention that we’ve got an extraordinary situation in this area now where we’ve practically got all women ministers, two Anglican and two United.

Interviewer:  What changed to increase women’s participation in the church?

Kathy:  Well, for one thing, we’ve changed the rules. I have a theological education, but in ’62 no women were ordained in my church. I think there were women perhaps waiting for the church to change its rules on that and finally the doors were opened.

Interviewer:  Do you know what happened to create that change?  Do you know if women were involved?  Were you involved?

Kathy: A little bit.  I was involved in our diocese.

Interviewer:  How did you get involved?

Kathy: I was actually at the Diocesan Synod when the decision was made. When they were about to vote on it, I had my say.

Interviewer:  Do you want to tell that story?  It’s really interesting!

Kathy:  The national Anglican Church had said that it was the option of the bishops to ordain or not ordain women. When it came to our central diocese meeting, I went to it. I have to say, at that time, our bishop had five daughters so that might have made a difference too. One man, who remains nameless, got up and said, “How can we ordain women; who’s going to wash the dishes and cook the meals?” That was enough to enrage me. The Synod made a motion to delay the decision and that we not empower the bishop to ordain women, and to put it off for another three years or whatever. I got up and just said we didn’t have the right to do that because the national church had said it was his choice. We could either make a motion to either support him or not support him, but we didn’t have the right to tell the bishop what to do. So the motion was changed and we decided to ordain women.

Interviewer:  Were there any letters or anything written, in terms of the methods that were used to influence that decision?

Kathy: Well, it was a long process!  I mean, it started in the States where they illegally ordained seven women before any of the votes were taken. I mean, it’s the same kind of issues we’re having now over homosexuality and, you know, some of these other issues.  People just took the bull by the horns and did it.

Interviewer:  Do you find that just challenging those long-held traditional values within the church always seems risky for some reason?

Kathy:  Oh, I’m sure it did for the first people. At the first lay ministers’ conference I went to, I was the only woman with 60 men. Now the majority of the people there are women. I was asked to preach that Sunday and one man told me he wasn’t going to go to the service; he said he was going to walk out, but he didn’t.

Interviewer:  Okay, I have an interesting question for you. Would you say that you’ve stepped outside the traditional role of a woman in the 70s or in the 80s in any way; and, if yes, can you describe one or more of those unconventional things that you did, and what motivated you to do so?

Kathy: Well, you have to understand that I’m not from here. I didn’t grow up in Virgin Arm with the traditional roles and expectations of people here.

Interviewer:  Where did you grow up?

Kathy:  I grew up in Florida, Georgia; went to school in Virginia; and worked in New York. I had a very different experience from people here. So I didn’t step out of my role, as I saw it, but I’m sure other people thought that I was stepping outside the role. 

I had gone to theological college, which was not a traditional thing for women to do. It was just becoming in my day, in the 60s you see; but that hadn’t manifested here in Newfoundland yet. Also, I had a very different educational background from most of my friends here. It had to do with opportunity that many of my friends didn’t have. Many of them had to leave school in grade eight or nine to look after big families and go to work. 

Interviewer:  What issues affecting women were you interested in or concerned with during the 70s or during the 80s?

Kathy: Well, obviously, health was one of them, because we did have all these health projects, and leadership was another. Widowhood was a big issue. The Women’s Institute produced a handbook in that day and that’s something that I still don’t think we have adequate resources for. The young United Church minister here told me she had a huge number of widows in her church, and she really didn’t have resources for them or quite know how to meet their needs in the 70s.

Interviewer:  So was there a project to develop resources?

Kathy:  There was a project. We printed a handbook and it was greatly distributed. It’s out of date now because it told about all the services for people that have since changed.

So another issue was violence and abuse. The Women’s Institute did a lot of work on it and then we did this work on widows, and then family law, which hadn’t change but we lobbied to have them changed. We did workshops and we spoke with the government, along with the Status of Women at that time. The matrimonial property laws came into existence then, I think. I’m not sure if that was in those times or not, but somewhere around that time. I don’t think people are as aware of those things as they should be.

Interviewer: How has the Status of Women changed since the 70s?  In other words, how was your life and the lives of other women different then compared to now?

Kathy: Well, my life isn’t very different. I’m lazier. (laughter) There are people who’ve thrown themselves into women’s issues and change, but I was never one of those. I think I was much more family oriented.

Interviewer:  Which is, generally, a woman’s issue?

Kathy: Yeah. I think, on the whole, life for women has changed for the better. They’re much more aware. Some of this is the Internet, which has its good and bad points.

Unfortunately, there’s always this gap between the people who need to hear the message the most and the people who do hear it. Often it’s the people who have some education and been interested in these issues who come to take an interest. Then there are people who are unable through lack of education, finances or inclination. I mean, for instance, we ran a lot of nutrition workshops and it was never the people who really needed to hear the message that came.

I think we should be doing more in the schools. At one time I advocated that we should have a TV program like Sesame Street to educate on basic things regarding health and nutrition, and education. I mean, we have a lot more issues being discussed on TV and people are much more aware now than they were.

Interviewer:  So you think TV is one of the ways to get better access to individuals?

Kathy: Oh, I’m sure it is.

Interviewer:  Were you aware of the women’s movement in St. John’s during the 70s and 80s?

Kathy: Oh yes.

Interviewer:  Where did you find out about this movement?  Where did you get your information from?

Kathy: Well, the Women’s Institute and the Status of Women had a number of projects together. Now it would be unfair if I didn’t say there was a lot of feeling about that and some very bitter letters from rural women who felt this was the wrong thing to do. They didn’t want to be involved with these “women’s libbers.”  They felt they were too abrasive or too man hating. Some of it was a misconception, but there were some people who didn’t represent themselves very well either. To be fair, there’s that in every organization. It was true of ours too.

Interviewer:  So what sorts of challenges were there?

Kathy: Well, we cooperated on things we thought we could cooperate on and we didn’t on some others. It was always a rural/urban thing.

Interviewer:  And that definitely caused some disagreement.

Kathy: Yes, and perhaps still does to some extent. 

Interviewer:  Do you think the women’s movement influenced your involvement with one or more of the issues mentioned before?

Kathy:  Perhaps on some other issues like matrimonial property laws and on finances, stuff like that which I knew a little or nil. Women’s finances are something we don’t learn anything about in school.

Interviewer:  So do you think of yourself as someone who worked for equality for women or for social justice issues, either within the church or for women in general in rural areas?

Kathy: I certainly have had my say in the church I suppose. (chuckles)  I don’t actually think of myself in that light. You know, I just think of myself as being an encourager.

I think so many things have happened that younger women are not aware, in terms of what it was like. Maybe I’m wrong about that but I think the women’s movement would say that we’ve got a little bit lackadaisical about these issues. Maybe it’s that people are just striving to make ends meet and forward their careers and what have you, that they don’t have time for issues.

Interviewer:  And that’s an issue in itself; would you agree?

Kathy: Yeah.

Interviewer:  So can you remember when you first became aware of inequalities or social justice issues around you, and how you became interested in them?

Kathy:  I was always very much involved. I worked at a church in New York and my first social consciousness was very much around racial issues, not gender issues. I was raised in a very traditional southern family where segregation is a part of life, and I went to New York and actually worked in a black and Puerto Rican church. It was really through my Christian faith that my whole ideas on those issues changed when I was at university. So I think once you feel that there should be equality in some area, this view carries over to all other areas of life where inequalities exist.

Interviewer:  Can you remember when you first decided to fight for change regarding the issues that you were identifying once you went to university and became involved with the church in New York?

Kathy: Well, I got a job at a church in New York and I was always on a committee at a theological college that promoted racial integration in churches. We had young black people coming into white churches and young white people going down to black churches.

I’ll tell you an interesting story. When I was working in the church in New York, there was a strong push for racial integration. I was there as the Director of Religious Education. I replaced a man and a man replaced me, and I never once participated in the worship. I mean, I did not read a lesson or say a prayer or do anything. I sat in the back of the congregation. Three years ago I met my boss, his wife is also ordained, and we walked up and down a beach in Martha’s Vineyard where he apologized to me. Now that I look back on it, I think how could I have sat there and not… I mean, little boys ten years old were up leading worship and here I was a paid employee of the church! But, you know, it was the times and you just didn’t think about it. I do now. I think we were nuts! How could anybody in their right mind think that this little group of people could do this and this group couldn’t, you know; but at the time, I didn’t… I didn’t…

Interviewer:  That’s the reality.

Kathy: When you’re in the situation, you don’t necessarily see it clearly.

Interviewer:  Yeah. I agree with you. I think that’s the problem in a lot of situations.

Kathy:  Yeah, until something gives you the impetus to look at that.

Interviewer:  That’s great. Well, let’s move on to the Women’s Health Education Project. What was the goal of that project? 

Kathy:  I don’t remember a lot about that except that we did plan and carry out workshops on health issues and encouraged women to take more responsibility for their own health and the health of their families.

Interviewer:  Do you feel that sometimes women put themselves last and their families first? Would you say that women needed the encouragement or maybe the push to focus on themselves for a change?

Kathy: Yes, and it wasn’t always easy and it still isn’t easy in many ways. You didn’t always have the means or the ability to go to the places where you needed to go to get the help you needed. We don’t have good counseling services in our area. 

Interviewer:  So about the Women’s Health Education Project, do you remember what issues or concerns were identified by women through the health problems survey that was used?

Kathy: I think transportation was certainly one of them and adequate senior’s homes, because there were none in those days. Even our hospital, which now is the major geriatric unit, did not have anywhere near as much as it has now. Then the issues like menopause and, you know… obstetric issues. I think those were the main issues.

Interviewer:  How did the project draw government or others’ attention to issues affecting women?

Kathy:  Well, it was a government project at first, but it was sponsored by the Health and Welfare. So there were reports made back then all the time and there were people on the project who, like Wendy Williams, were very much involved with government and lobbying on women’s issues. She was head of the Status of Women’s Council at one time, you know.

Interviewer:  Well, what was your role and how did you promote action for change that came from this project.

Kathy: Well, the project consisted of three women from each group: three from the Women’s Institute, three from the Status of Women and three individuals who lived in other parts of the province. I think we were just involved as a board initiating these interviews, initiating the consultations.

Interviewer:  Do you remember what was included in those consultations, in those workshops?

Kathy:  It’s awful, but no I don’t, even though I went on a number of them. It’s hard to know what made the difference too. We’re very lucky because we have this primary health care initiative, which looks into so many of these problems and issues and has so many good services for people. But, you know, did some of that come as a result of some of this? – Who knows? I think one of the things discussed was how to communicate with your health care providers and understand what’s going on.  

Interviewer:  So do you remember the challenges then of this project?

Kathy: The problem always related to the difficulty in trying to contact the people who perhaps needed to hear the messages the most, because they were people who don’t come to these organized things. That’s always been a problem!

Interviewer: There’s a question from the Women’s Health Education Project Consultation Report that asks: “What could be done, either by you as an individual or as a part of your community to prevent some of these problems?” How was it answered then and how would you answer that question now, do you think?

Kathy: Well, I think in the 80s we said one of the ways to do it is to become part of some of these groups who were lobbying and raising these issues with people, and to state your concerns.

Today we have a breakfast program in our school on New World Island.  I was up there last week. We serve breakfast everyday of the week and every volunteer group on this island participates in and serves breakfast. We serve juice and toast with Cheese Whiz and jam one morning, and cereal bars with yogurt and milk another. But the cafeteria is making french fries and donuts, plus there are junk machines in the schools. Some young women that have a very good breakfast committee – I’m not on it – are pushing to change this, but it hasn’t changed yet. There’s a great reluctance because the canteen owners make money out of all these things. We were on it when I was a young woman with kids in school. It changed a little bit at the Summerford Elementary towards the end of that school, which closed, but now we’ve gone right back. You’re running up against businesses that are in it for profit. We’re a profit-oriented society in that way.

Interviewer:  So how do you think that your life has changed by the efforts that you’ve made to better your community?

Kathy: How has my life changed? I have lots of wonderful friends all over Newfoundland. I’ve been very moved and impressed by the things that they do; their stamina, and the way they withstood so many changes and things happening to them. I’ve been grateful to have these opportunities to meet the people and do the things I have done. 

Interviewer:  As a result of your involvement over the years, did you move on to address other issues to benefit other women in your community in recent years?

Kathy:  Oh yes. Take the whole issue of fitness. It was brought up during the women’s health education project and now we are very active in that. Our Women’s Institute sponsors indoor walking twice a week. They have it in Twillingate now three times a week. People are much more aware of these fitness opportunities and the importance of getting outdoors and doing things. It was totally not even thought about by women when I moved here years ago, because none of my friends had any physical education. So that’s been a whole revolutionary change, I think.

Interviewer:  How do you get these groups and these programs started? Did it involve convincing people of authority in the community or anything like that? Did you have to fight for some of these things?

Kathy:  No. I think the communities always have been very receptive. I think the thing that surprises people my age is that we found great strength, support and encouragement by getting together with our friends.

Interviewer:  So can you speak of any other benefits of your involvement not already discussed?

Kathy:  Well, I’m still here!  (laughter)  I’ve got my health and my friends!  I think it’s good for your mental and physical health.

I have to say I have a very supportive husband. Sometimes that has been a problem; women’s husbands have not been supportive of their going out of the home and doing things. They want them right there and want meals on the table at 12 o’clock, you know.

Interviewer:  Have you seen that change since the 70s and 80s?

Kathy:  For some people, not for others.

Interviewer:  Are there any ways in which that has been addressed, maybe through the Women’s Institute?

Kathy:  Oh, I think it has but I think a person has to address that themselves, if they’re willing to do that.

Interviewer:  Do you know how, perhaps at least from the outside, people could encourage those changes? It is a difficult thing to go inside a private home in that sense.

Kathy:  I’ve tried to encourage people to do that. I’ve probably been seen as a big disturber. Like, you know, I think there is a time when you have to stand up for yourself. I’ve had every kind of support to do that, but everybody doesn’t. It has certainly inhibited their ability to participate fully in the community, or in their own lives for that matter.

Interviewer:  This is a bit of a touchy subject so you don’t have to answer if you don’t want, but are the women in the church involved with supporting women who encounter domestic violence?

Kathy:  Oh, absolutely. They’ve done a huge amount of work on that though. I think all… well now, I can’t speak for everybody, but the United Church women and the Anglican Church women, and perhaps a little bit the Salvation Army, they’ve all had workshops and support in this area. They are supporting and encouraging friends and they’ve been just as active in those areas as groups like the Women’s Institute.

Interviewer:  That’s great. How do these workshops generally get started?

Kathy:  By somebody like yourself who offers them and writes to the groups or calls the groups and says, “Would you like a program?” because we’re always looking for programs. They have a coordinator in Twillingate in health or wellness and a group of them decided that they were going to run workshops on health issues. So they advertised them and they ran them, four or five in New World Island and four or five in Twillingate. But nobody turned up. But when they started this bowel screening program, they wrote all the groups and asked them if they would like a program, inviting their friends. Then people came.

Interviewer:  So the first time it wasn’t successful because they didn’t go to groups with it?

Kathy:  That’s right. It was unsuccessful because they just put up a notice. People have busy lives and they got a lot of commitments, you know. The organizers of that would tell you that themselves because they learned their lesson. You have to have a partnership with a group in the community that is going to encourage people to come out.

It can still be discouraging sometimes. I mean, we brought in a man who had just finished his term as the national president of the Alzheimer’s Society and had a workshop on Alzheimer’s. Summerford is a very hard-hit community. There were a couple of families, maybe more than two, who had been hard hit with Alzheimer’s. We had two or three outside people attend; not the response you would expect from people who have been intimately involved in the issue. That’s always the challenge. Maybe some people just don’t want to know.

Interviewer:  How do you think others reacted to your involvement with social justice issues?

Kathy:  Probably poor old Dr. Sheldon, she’s never home. (laughter)  I don’t know. It’s hard to assess that.

Interviewer:  But you’ve never faced any challenges that you’ve had to struggle through in order to maintain an image or something like that? Or in order to be out there?

Kathy:  I’ve never been concerned about it. (laughs) Yeah. I have a lot of self-confidence, I suppose, and it’s based on my experience. Girl Guides was very good to me. The leaders taught me to public speak and all these things when I was young. Through, you know, all my experiences I’ve had, I’ve just gone on and done what I was concerned about doing. In a way, I’ve been fortunate that I don’t have a large family here who’s been critical of what I’ve been doing. I’ve seen that affect people too. They would probably say things like “Who does she thinks she is?” So that’s hard for people sometimes.

Interviewer:  But you found support through the community?

Kathy:  Oh yes. What makes the difference is putting yourself out there, to benefit the community, which involves meeting people and making friends. That’s what makes your life, isn’t it?

Interviewer:  What was the hardest obstacle you had to overcome?

Kathy:  Well, I applied for a job here before I came and they told me that they wouldn’t have me because I was an American and an Anglican. They said if they could find somebody else, they’d hire them. But by September they hadn’t found anybody else. They had to hire me. (laughs) So whether it’s a prejudice against Americans, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve really ever found any terrible obstacles or maybe I haven’t paid any attention to them, you know.

Some of the hardest obstacles come from trying to get other people to assume leadership. I think it’s worse now than it was in the 70s and 80s. I have to be honest, because then we had people in the communities, young people, who did this. This is what my two friends and I were talking about the other day.

I feel I’ve done it and I’ve given it what I could. I physically don’t have the strength and energy to do the things that I used to do, particularly drive all over the province anymore. 

Interviewer:  So we need some more young people to take up the impetus, I guess.

Kathy:  Yeah. 

Interviewer:  Well, what would you say is your greatest victory or… (both chuckle) if you prefer another term, what were some of the changes that you feel you helped bring about?

Kathy:  Oh dear – (silence) helping women to enjoy their life.

Interviewer:  Yeah. Do you have any specific examples in mind?

Kathy:  You know, well, I think I have just helped women to see that we live in a place that’s full of beauty and opportunity, and I have convinced women to get out of the house and involve themselves in the life of the place, you know.

Interviewer:  So what is your fondest memory of your involvement with equality issues or community activism in the 70s or 80s?

Kathy:  Well, there is one thing I didn’t talk about at all yet, and in a way this was a failure. The National Women’s Institute sponsored three of us to go down the coast of Labrador, which was a real wonderful eye-opener and a wonderful experience. We went on coastal boats and met with women in every community. We saw firsthand some of the huge problems up there and we were able to talk about those. There was one project last year where we supplied books and all kinds of other things that were requested by some of the communities up there. And we had a great time on the boat.  (laughter)  So that was a real highlight, experiencing the life on the coast of Labrador.

The other thing I haven’t talked about is that, I don’t know if you know but, the Women’s Institute is part of an international organization called the Associated Countrywomen of the world (ACWW). I had the opportunity to go to a lot of international meetings and be very active there, particularly when it opened itself up to women behind the iron curtain. That’s made a huge change – a huge change – in the life of women in Poland and Romania and all these countries where they weren’t even allowed to meet before communism fell in these countries.

The Association of Countrywomen of the World is a loose organization of about nine or ten million woman, mostly rural, from all around the world. When we were in Hamburg in Germany, the Polish - I think it was the Polish women – had asked to belong to the worldwide organization and the American women were against letting in any communists… so there was a bitter debate in the late 70s. You talk about hardships, yes, but that wasn’t in Canada or in rural Newfoundland. It was a very bitter debate at that time and some very harsh things were done and said.

I don’t even remember, but one of my friends said I made a motion that changed the thing around. The motion was accepted and then, ultimately, all the women’s groups behind the iron curtain were accepted and the iron curtain fell. They were the agricultural producers or food producers in all those countries, and the ACWW is still running workshops in leadership and nutrition and all sorts of things in those areas. I think that I made a huge impact. If I have anything to be a little bit proud of, it would be that change right there… but that wasn’t rural Newfoundland.

Interviewer:  How were you involved with that exactly?

Kathy:  Well, I was there when the motions were made and had a lot of say about it.

Interviewer:  Do you remember what things were said or that you had to say?

Kathy:  Well, it ultimately came down to parliamentary procedure. It’s a little complicated.  The motion was turned down which meant that we weren’t going to accept any of these women.  So I got up and spoke against counting abstentions as no votes and the vote had to be taken over, and then they were admitted. As a result, the worldwide president of ACWW went to Poland. She had to have her gallbladder taken out when she came back because of all the cream she was drinking. (laughs)  So I think it made a huge change in the lives of women behind the iron curtain.

Interviewer:  So that would be perhaps one of your greatest moments as an activist?

Kathy:  And that was really through the Women’s Institute. I was young and very outspoken at that time.

Interviewer: So what one message or fact about what occurred with the women’s movement or within your community involvement during the 70s or 80s would you like young people today to know about?

Kathy:  Well, I think we were a town full of hope. We thought we could change things.  We thought we could make things happen and bring them about, so we threw ourselves into everything with energy and enthusiasm.

I think that has changed in Newfoundland a bit, sadly enough. But anyway, I’ve come to see that you change individuals’ lives more than you can change communities and structures.

Interviewer:  So you think working at an individual, interpersonal level, is how you create change?

Kathy:  Yeah. I went into a lot of communities where there were troubles for one reason or another, and you realize that you don’t change somebody else’s community. The people who live there have to bring about the change; somebody who gets parroted in for two days is not going to make the difference. But you can encourage and help individuals to bring that about. Does that make sense?

Interviewer:  I think that’s an excellent point, definitely. So what work do you think still needs to be done in your community to make it a more fair one?

Sheldon:  Well, as you know, the big question mark on our communities is employment.  I don’t focus on how they are unfair but rather the issue of how we’re going to have a viable lifestyle in the place where we live.

Interviewer:  Yeah. You were saying earlier you worked as a teacher…

Kathy:  Yeah, a teacher here in the high school. You know, a big challenge, and I think that it’s true of the education system too, is how to attract young people to come and/or stay in rural areas. We’ve had three young Newfoundland doctors who’ve stayed less than two years in this area and then left, and yet we’re paying for their education.

Interviewer:  So what suggestions for action would you make to someone else who is interested in fighting to change things- say, young people coming out of high schools and university now and who are in search of an outlet?

Kathy:  Get involved in something – anything! Whatever your interests are, use your energies and your abilities as much as you can… you’ve been fortunate to have that education. You know, my training is in theology so I have to quote the Bible: “Those to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

Interviewer:  I just remembered one more thing. I read in the Consultation Report for the Women’s Health Education Project that you facilitated a group meditation session for women. Do you remember that?

Kathy:  Oh, I’ve done a lot of that. That’s a whole different subject. I also have a certificate in spirituality and spiritual formation.

Interviewer:  How has it helped women? Do you consider that activist work in a sense?

Kathy:  Oh yes! Oh yeah, I just forgot all about that. I’ve done a lot of workshops on meditation and prayer, and some women had really interesting experiences. We did a lot of journaling during the workshops. I remember a young woman telling me about how revelatory it was for her the first time she had ever sat down and wrote about her life.

I’ve had a couple of young women phone me since then wondering if I’ll do it again. I’ll have to see. It’s more intimidating to do these things with people you know well than it is to do it with people you don’t know well. (laughs) But, yes, I think that we just need personal strength and encouragement.

Interviewer:  Thank you very much for your time.

Kathy:  Oh, I’ve talked on and on more than I anticipated.  There you go.


(Interview Ends)