hile researching my article I joined Media Women, a spin-off from an anti-war journalists' coalition that met in midtown at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. Media Women owed much of its energy to Lindsy Van Gelder and Bryna Taubman, two young reporters who had created a furor at the New York Post during the pennant season of the Amazing Mets. Assigned to write "Women in News" features on two baseball player's wives, they'd done the work grudgingly and refused bylines for the stories. When they were fired for insubordination, the entire Post newsroom rose up and went on a wildcat no-byline strike.
"The guys may not have understood what we were doing, or why," Bryna Taubman recalls, "but they understood reporters' rights." The women were rehired after the Newspaper Guild stepped in.
So Bryna, in her pigtails, and Lindsy, pregnant with her first child, were leaders in Media Women, along with Pam Jones from the Sunday Morning News at CBS. The Associated Press contingent consisted of two peppy reporters, Jurate Kascikas and Lynn Sherr. Women's Wear Daily was represented by Trucia Kushner, a smart, able writer who happened to be the sister of Abbie Hoffman's wife. Eleanor Perry, the screenwriter, and Nika Hazelton, the cookbook writer, occasionally showed up with Nora Ephron, then at New York magazine. Claudia Dreifus, Lucy Komisar, and Sophy Burnham were among the freelancers. A delegation of Newsweek women usually sat by themselves in a little huddle, immersed in a secret plot that would soon become public. A contingent of obstreperous radicals from Newsreel, a leftist filmmakers' collective, asserted itself as another faction. Quiet as church mice in the male-dominated Newsreel, Esther and Lynn (I won't use their last names) underwent a remarkable personality change at our all-women's meetings.
Despite or perhaps because of its tensions, Media Women was a high-spirited group that got things done. At one meeting Lucy Komisar mused on how nice it would be to have stickers emblazoned "THIS AD INSULTS WOMEN" to slap on offensive public advertising in the subways.
"Do it, Lucy," I prodded.
She arrived at the next meeting hauling cartons of stickers. We divided the costs and became a slap-happy crew. Soon we were selling the stickers around the city.
At another meeting I proposed that we target one of the big women's magazines that had remained immune to the changing times. From Seventeen to Good Housekeeping all the slick publications instructing their readers in the feminine arts were run by men, except for McCall's where Shana Alexander was new on the job, and Cosmo, the brainchild of Helen Gurley Brown. Clubby male editors warred over circulation and ad pages while they pushed a happy homemaker line from the 1950s that was white-bread formulaic. In a make-believe world of perfect casseroles and jello delights, marriages failed because wives didn't try hard enough, single-parent households did not exist, and women worked outside the home not because they wanted to, or to make ends meet, but to "earn extra income in your spare time." The deceitful ideology discouraged the full range of women's ambitions.
Okay then, which magazine and what action? From the lunch counters of Greensboro, 1960, to the occupation of Columbia, 1968, sit-ins had been an electrifying tactic in radical movements. I suggested we try one, knowing that we had a surefire story that would get major coverage if we pulled it off.
Sandie North clapped her hands. "The Ladies Home Journal, I used to work there! Let's occupy the Ladies Home Journal!"
Most of the journalists with staff jobs bowed out of the action, feeling it crossed a boundary that professionals shouldn't cross. They promised to do what they could to get us attention. The freelancers, used to living on the edge, held firm.
The Ladies Home Journal Sit-In Steering Committee was chaired by Signe Hammer, a junior editor at Harper & Row, and the planning sessions, in various people's apartments, were volatile in the extreme. Esther from Newsreel wanted men on the action. No, Esther. No men. Esther from Newsreel wanted a separate contingent "to stop the presses in Dayton" where the Journal was printed. Esther, we don't have the woman power to stop the presses in Dayton. Esther from Newsreel was opposed to chaired meetings and votes. Dealing with Esther, a self-proclaimed anarchist, led me to formulate a precept, "One movement crazy can do the work of ten paid agents provocateurs." I would repeat that line like a mantra in the years ahead, whenever suspicions arose that our movement had been infiltrated by government agents. Obstreperous Esther did not show up on the day of the action, and I never saw her again.
Finally we picked an invasion date: Wednesday, March 18, 1970. Sally Kempton put together twenty pages of article suggestions, the kind of material that the Ladies Home Journal never printed. The suggestions ranged from our idea of genuine service pieces--"How to get a divorce," "How to have an orgasm," "How to get an abortion"--to "What to tell your draft-age son" and "How detergents harm our rivers and streams."
We learned about the cast of characters we would be confronting from Sandie North and her friend Brook Mason who still worked at the Journal. John Mack Carter, 42, the urbane, Southern-born editor and publisher, had built his entire career at women's magazines and was a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the fraternity of distinguished journalists that until 1969 had excluded women. Lenore Hershey, the Journal's sole woman above middle management, belonged to a generation of tough lady editors who sat at their desks in flowered hats; it was unlikely that she would declare herself on our side. The Journal's paid circulation was 6.9 million, with a readership four times that number, yet more than half its articles were written by men. Only one piece by or about blacks, a hometown memoir by Mrs. Medgar Evers, had appeared in the last twelve months although the magazine estimated its black readership at 1.2 million.
The Journal's slogan was "Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman." We kept that in mind as we worked on our "non-negotiable demands." Everyone was making non-negotatiable demands in those days. Looking back, though, I'm impressed at how farsighted we were.
"We demand that the Ladies Home Journal hire a woman editor-in-chief who is in touch with women's real problems and needs.
The main problem, as I saw it, was getting out the troops. At that early stage in Women's Liberation there had been WITCH zaps and NOW pickets, but most of the movement's energy was being directed toward consciousness-raising, abortion rights, and theoretical papers. A large-scale assault, in the flesh, on a giant American institution had not been attempted since the Miss America Protest of 1968. The leftists' taunt that we were living-room feminists was not without truth.
A sit-in does not need a huge number of demonstrators, but it does require a high degree of commitment. We had to find people willing to take a day off from work or school for an action that exposed them to arrest for criminal trespass, but if we tried to spread the word openly, with flyers on lampposts, for instance, the Journal might get wind of our intentions. We needed to proceed in stealth for maximum security and a lightning strike.
I passed the word to Kathie Arnatniek Sarachild, who took it back to her group and returned with a solid guarantee of two dozen Redstockings. Kathie glumly predicted that the Journal would call the cops, but I did not think John Mack Carter would risk a tabloid headline along the lines of "Male Boss of Women's Mag Sends Gals to Clink." Furthermore, our sit-in was going to be perfectly nonviolent with an emphasis on constructive editorial advice and moral suasion. My friends Jan Goodman and Marion Davidson, then in their second year at NYU law school, enlisted as our legal advisers. If the paddy wagons showed up, Jan and Marion would negotiate with the police to make sure that the less-committed militants could leave quietly if they wished.
West Village-One, my consciousness-raising group, was fully behind the sit-in--ten more fearless activists to count on--but the leaders of New York Radical Feminists were dragging their feet. That situation changed one Sunday when Shulie Firestone and Anne Koedt were chairing the monthly general meeting and a visiting leftist erupted with the predictable "What do you women do? What are your actions?"
Anne turned to me. "Susan, you have an announcement about the magazine sit-in?" The visiting leftist got her answer, and I got a sign-up sheet with twenty more names.
Madelon Bedell, a public relations consultant and a member of OWL, Older Women's Liberation, promised to bring a crowd and commandeer the Journal's test kitchen. Representatives from Barnard and Columbia Women's Liberation pledged their support. Twenty-three women signed a recruitment sheet at New York NOW. Michela Griffo, an art student at Pratt, volunteered to do the cover for our mock magazine, the "Women's Liberated Journal," and produced a witty graphic of a pregnant woman holding an "Unpaid Labor" picket sign. We reproduced it as a poster. Janet Gardner and Jo Tavener from NYU film school were ready to roll if I could get them a light meter. Marlene Sanders at ABC called me to confirm that she and a network film crew would be shooting.
The count-down was scary. I had set in motion an act of protest that was rude, antic, patently illegal, and guaranteed to make news. Two weeks before, the Weathermen had accidentally blown up their bomb factory on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village, killing three of their number. My plan to confront the system was hardly akin to theirs, but it, too, was hurtling forward on its own momentum. Several hundred people going about their normal routines had no idea that they were prisoners of a ticking clock. I wondered if terrorists were ever beset by twinges of misgiving.
On Wednesday morning, March 18, I put on my best dress, a sleeveless grey wool, and bade a solemn goodbye to Kevin Cooney, the man I lived with. Reuters, the international wire service he worked for, was sending a reporter. Alerted in advance, all the major media outlets were sending reporters, and as far as I knew they hadn't tipped off the Journal, not wanting to ruin the spontaneity of a very good story. The gnawing question, the eternal one for organizers, was how many demonstrators would actually show up. Fifty would be a disappointment; thirty would be a rout. Kevin made a joke about the Women's Massacre and wished me a slow news day so we'd get lots of press.
Outside my apartment building I linked up with Jan, Sally, her friend Helen Whitney, and Grace Lichtenstein of The New York Times, my neighbor and friend. We took the E train to Saint Peter's Church, our convenient collection point at Lexington and 53rd, one block from the glass skyscraper that housed the Journal. By 9 A.M. 50 demonstrators were huddled in the church vestibule. Another 25 waited outside, hugging their arms in the chilly March air.
We had a lift off. Signe Hammer and I distributed posters and fact sheets, and went over the logistics: Mingle with the flow of office workers boarding the elevators, get off at the fifth floor. Sandie North and Brook Mason had taken me on a tour of the Journal's labyrinthine corridors a few days earlier so I'd be able to lead the troops directly to John Mack Carter's huge corner office.
Right on schedule at 9:15, the first wave of demonstrators streamed into the building and proceeded upstairs. An AP photographer was snapping away, dancing backward at the front of the line. We passed startled secretaries clutching styrofoam coffee cups. They gazed at us numbly. Everything was going according to plan. Except for my miserable sense of direction. Nothing looked familiar. I was hopelessly lost.
"Perhaps it's the other way?" said the man from AP.
"The other way!" I shouted.
The surging line reversed course. Eventually we tumbled into Carter's office.
He looked up from his desk, expensively suited, thinner and smaller than I'd imagined. Lenore Hershey was at his side. True to the lady-editor dress code she was wearing a hat, although it did not sprout any flowers.
"Good morning," I began. "We are the Women's Liberation Movement. We shall now read our demands."
Our numbers had swelled to more than 100, and Signe and I had read the demands a second time, wondering what to do next, when at precisely 9:30 Marlene Sanders and the ABC film crew strode in. It was like the cavalry coming over the hill.
"Carter!" Marlene thrust her microphone forward. "What is your response to what these women are saying?"
Swallowing hard, John Mack Carter worked his jaw. He swallowed again. In shock, the man who had built his career by speaking for women had lost his own voice.
One by one, the demonstrators found theirs. Sookie Stambler, Diana Gould, Ada Pavletich, Alice Denham, Sara Pines, Susan Frankel, Barbara Joans, Sonia Robbins, Corinne Coleman, Vivien Leone, Jacqui Ceballos, Marli Weiss, Rosetta Reitz--these are the women I particularly remember. Everyone was eloquent. They talked about their lives, they talked about their mothers' lives, and their mothers' thwarted aspirations. I stepped back and relaxed.
No vocal failure afflicted senior editor Lenore Hershey. She was a tiger at the gate, a bear guarding her cub, a magpie passing judgment on our clothes, our hair, our extremely rude manners. Sisterhood failed us badly with Lenore Hershey. I got the feeling that even Carter wished she'd just shut up and listen.
The occupation of the Ladies Home Journal lasted for eleven hours, and I can't remember Carter ever leaving his desk. At its height, two hundred demonstrators milled freely on the premises, engaging secretaries and editorial assistants in earnest discussions, hanging a banner, "The Women's Liberated Journal," outside a window, picnicking on the carpet, passing around Carter's box of cigars, explaining their philosophy and grievances to WINS All-News Radio, CBS, NBC, the Daily News, the Washington Post.
Shana Alexander from the rival McCall's sent her beleagured counterpart a condolence bouquet of flowers.
Grace Lichtenstein whispered to me that the Times loved her call-in report and wanted more.
Trucia Kushner commandeered a phone to give a running account to Women's Wear Daily.
Art Rust Jr. of NBC made the mistake of shoving Claudia Dreifus of the East Village Other.
"Out! Out! Out!" the demonstrators chanted.
Idly I watched Tony Rollo of Newsweek lavish a roll of film on Holly Forsman, winsome in her granny glasses, as she rested her chin, just so, on a homemade poster. Holly, in New York Radical Feminists, was a former teen-fashion model for Eileen Ford.
In the media free-for-all, some of our more experienced firebrands who hadn't attended the planning sessions felt ignored. Only the night before, Ti-Grace Atkinson had purred into the phone, "I have decided to attend your demonstration. My presence will assure that you get media coverage." Now I watched her stalk the perimeter of Carter's office, unrecognized and unnoticed.
Shulie Firestone was in a snit, stamping her foot like Rumpelstilskin.
"Am I your leader in New York Radical Feminists?"
"Yes, Shulie, you are."
"Then tell the reporters they must speak to me!"
"Shulie, they'll speak to whomever they want."
Minutes later I was standing near Karla Jay, a sturdy Redstocking with a sense of humor who was doubling that season as a rotating chair in the Gay Liberation Front. We were facing the sleek expanse of Carter's wood desk when Shulie, egged on by Ti-Grace, made her move.
"I've had enough of this," Firestone screamed, leaping onto the desk and tearing at a copy of the Ladies Home Journal. As the magazine's spine broke she received a smattering of nervous applause and suddenly I had the sinking feeling that something was about to go dreadfully wrong. Then she shouted, "We can do it--he's small," and took a flying dive at John Mack Carter.
Everyone froze except Karla Jay. With split-second timing she grabbed Shulie's right arm and expertly flipped her off the desk and out of danger. There was an audible "oooooh" as Shulie sailed in an arc toward three waiting demonstrators who cushioned her fall. A phalanx of hands reached out to detain her while she blinked, looking sheepish. Her passion was spent.
Karla had been studying judo for all of three months. "I have to save this woman from going to jail and destroying her life," Karla remembers thinking.
Without Karla Jay's intervention, the Journal sit-in might have turned into a disastrous melee. She was our heroine, the woman of the hour. As for Shulie, at the time I thought that the media opportunity had simply gone to her head but in retrospect I believe that her lunge was the first public sign of her growing instability. Disgraced, she walked out the door with Ti-Grace Atkinson and Rosalyn Baxandall. The three veteran activists, accustomed to claiming their place at the eye of the storm, tramped down the back stairs agreeing that Media Women was a finky bunch. Ros had seen us wave sheaves of paper at Carter and Hershey--our precious demands and article suggestions. With little effort she somehow convinced herself that we were brandishing resumes and angling for jobs.
Most people who were there believe that the unplanned drama of Shulie's dive and Karla's flip spurred John Mack Carter to begin negotiating with us in earnest. Whether that was the catalyst or not, his initial stanceŃ"I will not negotiate under siege"--changed at mid-day to "I will not negotiate with a group larger than twelve."
Choosing representatives from the various factions--three Redstockings, one OWL, four Media Women, Karla! Karla! etc--was diplomacy worthy of the United Nations. We worked it out and repaired to a conference room while a weary Carter informed the lingering demonstrators, "Stay or leave as you wish." The man had great dignity. Afterward he said the experience had been the most interesting and transformative day of his career.
By six pm we were hammering out the basic terms of our settlement. The Journal editors agreed to hand over eight pages of their August issue, for which they'd pay us ten thousand dollars. They also promised to explore the feasibility of an on-site day-care center.
A month later Robin Morgan led a mini-assault on her former employer, Grove Press, a small publishing house which thrived on its backlist of fancy European erotica. A dozen militants, including Ti-Grace Atkinson and Martha Shelley, barricaded themselves in publisher Barney Rosset's office, demanding that "the millions of dollars earned from pornographic books that degrade women" be put into a prostitutes' bail fund, a child-care center on Grove's premises, and a salary raise for Grove's staff.
"We hung a banner out the window," Martha Shelley recalls. "And I broke into Rosset's liquor cabinet and took a drink, as a sort of symbolic gesture."
The absent Rosset, in Copenhagen on a business trip, gave the order by phone to call the cops. Nine of the invaders were arrested, trundled from one precinct station to another, strip-searched and put in an overnight holding tank. Released the next day, they called a press conference. "The idea was that each of us was to speak for a couple of minutes," Martha Shelley recalls, "but Ti-Grace went on for an hour until the reporters drifted off. She wouldn't shut up."
Excerpted from In Our Time by Susan Brownmiller. Copyright © 1999 by Susan Brownmiller. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.