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Title: Oral History Interview with Margaret Keesee-Forrester, April 21, 1989. Interview C-0065. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Keesee-Forrester, Margaret, interviewee
Interview conducted by Nasstrom, Kathryn
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 136 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-00-00, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Margaret Keesee-Forrester, April 21, 1989. Interview C-0065. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0065)
Author: Kathryn Nasstrom
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Margaret Keesee-Forrester, April 21, 1989. Interview C-0065. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0065)
Author: Margaret Keesee-Forrester
Description: 172 Mb
Description: 48 p.
Note: Interview conducted on April 21, 1989, by Kathryn Nasstrom; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by Jovita Flynn.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series C. Notable North Carolinians, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Margaret Keesee-Forrester, April 21, 1989.
Interview C-0065. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Keesee-Forrester, Margaret, interviewee


Interview Participants

    MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER, interviewee
    KATHRYN NASSTROM, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
This is Kathy Nasstrom with the Notable North Carolinians Project interviewing Margaret Keesee-Forrester on April 21, 1989. Tell me first, if you would, a little bit about your family background, where you grew up, and a bit about your family.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Okay Kathy, I am a Greensboro native. I was born January 6, 1945, the first of four daughters. My Dad always wanted a son. I think after the fourth daughter came along he had to be resolved to the fact that he was not going to get a son. I attended the public schools here in Greensboro, and I graduated from Guilford College in 1967 with a B.A. in elementary education. All through my high school and college days, I just assumed I would be a school teacher, and I was a school teacher for fourteen years. In the early '70s I became involved in some political activities in Greensboro. I was getting more interested in the women's movement and happened to be in a position where the people within my party, I am a Republican, were recognizing that women had a voice. There weren't as many younger women involved in politics in the Republican party in the early '70s as there were in the Democratic Party. They saw my interest and very quickly got me involved so they could keep me, I guess. And before I knew it, I was the vice-chair of the Guilford County Republican executive committee, and that would have been around '71. Political organizations are usually the groups that find candidates to run for public office. So I was approached to run for the North

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Carolina House in 1972. So that's how I really got involved. It wasn't something I aspired to, I was fairly passive as far as political things. I grew up in a home where I heard my parents talk about who they were going to vote for. My Dad, I remember he took, my sister just below me in age, out to the airport to see Eisenhower. And I'd hear Mom and Dad saying, they would talk about who they were going to vote for. And he'd say, "You're going to cancel my vote." So I could hear them talking about it, but they weren't political activities. They didn't go off to conventions at the country or state or national level. So my involvement sort of came with happenstance. I just happened to be in a certain position where I showed some interest, believed that women should be involved, and got asked to run, and said okay, and was elected.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
If when you graduated from college, you didn't think that politics was going to be your career, what sorts of things were you looking to? Was it teaching at that point?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Teaching, yes, in fact, I used to practice teach with my younger sisters. I remember having a chalk board that my father, he's in the office supply business, got me for Christmas one year. So I'd sit my three younger sisters down and teach them in the afternoon, on weekends, as we were growing up. It just seemed like the natural thing. And also I think that, prior to the younger generation, women didn't have as many options, I think, to select from career-wise. Your options were to be a teacher, a nurse, a secretary. Women didn't aspire to being doctors and lawyers and accountants and the different fields that

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women can go into. Now, that was an honorable profession, teaching, for women. I wasn't like a lot of my friends who figured they would work a couple of year until they caught them a husband. I think a lot of young women of my generation weren't really pursuing careers so much as they were pursuing a husband. They would do something until such time. Teaching was the kind of thing, even though I wasn't looking for a husband, that you could do part of the day and be home and have your summers off and play around. But I wasn't looking at it as just interim thing. It was my job. It was my profession and career. The political activities really came, I think, from my interests outside the classroom, involved in the women's movement. I was part of the North Carolina and the Guilford County, Women's Political Caucus in the early '70s. That group was encouraging women to get involved in the political process, actually becoming decision makers, not just helping the men get elected. That's what we'd been doing.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
For years and years and years.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Years and years, and we were electing men who would promise us things. "Oh yes, please vote for me, and I will do this for you." I felt like, a lot of women felt like, we were being taken for granted. They would tell us what we wanted to hear and then going to the courthouse, statehouse, the Congress, and not really coming through.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Was your interest in your political career then partly to change that fact? Because that seems to be true from what

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I've heard for women who became active in the early 1970s in North Carolina.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
I think that's a strong part of it. We just felt like we could speak for ourselves. We didn't have to have a man taking care of us. I was very much a radical feminist in my early political days and did get into trouble with my party because of that. I tried to temper it, but sometimes, you know, that feminism will surface and folks will find it offensive if they don't agree with you. And I just felt very much that women should be involved in decision making positions, then women had to offer themselves for those decision making positions. Even though when I was first asked, my response was, "Oh, I can't do that," even though I was saying, "Oh yes, I can do that." "I really can't, how am I going to do that?" It was like the T.V. ad about the guy, "Yeah, I'm going to do this. How am I going to do that?" And I thought I'll just have to jump in there. It's not the sort of thing you can really prepare yourself for. There are no educational courses about how to be an elected person at whatever level. It's on the job training. So I felt like I had just as much a shot at it, perhaps, as anyone else. Perhaps I was awfully naive. I was twenty-seven years old when I was first elected. I was a baby compared to most of the people that were serving in the North Carolina General Assembly. I was in a primary. I was the only woman to survive a primary in 1972. It was a wonderful experience. I really don't think I thought I was going to win. I thought I probably would not get elected because I had never run before, and generally candidates don't get

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elected the first time out. I just enjoyed the opportunity to meet people and get up in front of groups and talk about what my background was, what I was interested in, what I would like to do if I was elected. And I got to know all the other candidates. The one thing I used to joke with folks about, I knew who to vote for when I went to the polls because I'd heard every one of the candidates talk. And most people who go to vote have no idea how candidates feel on a multitude of issues. So I felt like even if I didn't get elected, I was a very well educated voter. And I did lose on election day. I was running at large throughout Guilford County. I was running for one of seven seats in the house. Guilford County has the second largest delegation after Mecklenburg. So we had seven house members and three Senate members. I was running on a ticket with six Republican men against seven Democrat men and one American Party candidate who was a male. So I was the only woman to run. Lost on election day but I wasn't devastated because I already didn't think I was going to win. Two days after the election, they found an error in one of the precincts and I won by twenty-seven votes. Needless to say, the number twenty-seven has special significance to me, at that time in my life. But I had prepared myself to go back into the classroom. In fact, for about three of the, let's see, I was there for six terms, at least half of those terms, I was still teaching. I was teaching part of the year, would take a sabbatical, leave of absence without pay, when the sessions convened in January, right when we'd have our Christmas break.

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And they would find a full time substitute to come in and take over my class.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Would that person take over for the whole semester?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Yes, the remainder of the year.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I wondered about that because as I read your resume, it seemed that you were concurrently carrying on two careers. Can you say why you decided to do it that way?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, I was a single woman. I was a third owner of a house. I had to pay my bills. I wasn't inclined to ask my parents to support me, and the kind of money they pay a state representative, will not let you, you know, retire from the business world. So it was not a matter of either-or, I had to do both, and I was fortunate that my local school board would indulge me and let me teach a half of a year and then hire someone as a full time substitute with the assurance that I would have a place the following fall. So I did that, and it was not easy because even when there was a year when I wasn't in Raleigh for a half a year, I'd be involved in another campaign. So I would be campaigning in the evenings and on weekends. I had to decline all campaign opportunities during the day because I was teaching school. So it was not easy but I didn't have any options. I had no other choice.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Are there any other ways that teaching and your political career intersect? You mentioned the financial aspect.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
One of the interesting things was, of course, my platform always tended to be very heavy on support of public education. Having been in the classroom, understanding what

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teachers have to endure, how little they are appreciated, the difficulty of trying to maintain order in a classroom—and I was teaching the younger children, kindergarten and first grades ages—so I understand having been there what was going on. So I would always, you know, that would be the first number one issue, as far as my platform, to do what I could to help education. Also, after I was elected, I would be invited to go back into the classroom environment and share my experience. A lot of people, adults have a problem talking to children. They're intimidated by five year olds or six year olds. They don't know how, they think they've got to talk to them like you would a baby. So I had many opportunities and I think it was really a strength for me having taught the younger child, I could still go in and talk to a fourth grade class that was studying North Carolina politics or North Carolina General Assembly, and tell them about how a bill works its way through because I had already had that experience of talking to younger children. I could talk to junior or senior high school students. Any age group, I could still relate to and share that experience. And so I was called on quite a bit, even when I was out of the classroom, in the political arena to do some education.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
You mentioned a few minutes back one of the parts of your platform was the strong support for public education. In those first few times you were running what other elements of your platform were there?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, it's hard to think back to every issue that one might have had to deal with from the mid-seventies all the way to

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the late eighties. I was always interested in environmental issues. And I guess those were two strong areas of mine, education and the environment. Women's issues were also of importance to me, and there weren't a lot of just specific bills introduced early in my political career, dealing with women's issues other than say the Equal Rights Amendment, which we tried to ratify in North Carolina. One issue that I did introduce that was very controversial and people have suggested that it helped to defeat me in my reelection bid after my first term, had to do with corporal punishment. Since I had taught in public schools, I was aware of and I also was teaching at a time, we were going through desegregation in this community and across the state, and I was concerned, and there was a lot of emphasis on human relations and trying to work to improve the climate in the schools. The school that I happened to be teaching at had gone through several workshops working with the Glasser, Schools Without Failure. He was a psychologist, I guess, from California who had worked very heavily in reality therapy, and how you can have discipline in a classroom if you establish the right kind of climate. You don't have to hit children to get the kind of behavior that's appropriate. So I had literally laid down my paddle and accepted and adopted the Glasser method. So I introduced this legislation, and it wasn't something that I decided to do, it was after a number of people came to me and asked me. They couldn't find any of the men in our delegation who would touch it. And I felt like it was most appropriate, since I was a classroom teacher and I had put down my paddle,

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that I could offer this as a reasonable alternative. Well, I became known as "the spanking lady." I think a lot of people were incensed because I was a freshman legislator, and freshman legislators are supposed to be seen and not heard. It was like I was an upstart. I didn't know my place in Raleigh. I was supposed to sit on the back row and keep my mouth shut, and after I had served the appropriate time, then I could start offering ideas. And I was just naive and innocent enough to not realize that or not to care about it. Well, I got a lot of ugly mail from people, and a lot of it came from educators. I was distraught about that. I was referred to as the Benedict Arnold of the teaching profession in 1974. It was just really amazing, the reaction to that one bill. Obviously, the bill did not get passed into law. In fact, North Carolina still permits the use of "reasonable force" in the public schools. But every so often somebody else will come forth and offer legislation to try and do what I tried to do in 1974. I think that one good thing that came out of my efforts was an awareness, a sensitivity on the part of a lot of classroom teachers and parents and educators and persons who now give a lot of attention, a lot of focusing on child abuse. And it was being perpetuated through our public schools in the name of discipline. I never tried to make an issue of it, but it was brought forth to my attention that most of the kids that were getting abuse, getting corporal punishment used upon them, were black, because they were the ones who were very active. The younger children were the ones that were getting it, not the high school students. Because it's very hard

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to get your hand around the arm of a six foot two high school fellow and bend him over and work him over with a paddle. But it's not that hard to take the arm of a five year old and work them over with a paddle. So there's a built in distinction. I even got a call from Tony Sargent with CBS News in 1974 from Atlanta asking me if he could come and interview me. That's the way these news broadcast people find out what's going on, is they read their newspapers. This was making the news in papers all around the countryside, I guess. But he called and wanted to do an interview for television, their CBS Morning News in '74. And he came to Raleigh and interviewed me, and I think all this was just really too much for some of the people I served with.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I bet. They didn't expect that out of you.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
No.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
You mentioned the fact that you think that was the cause of your losing the next election. How did you come back from that?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
In 1974 when I ran for reelection . . . I have to back up a minute. When you're a freshman legislator, you're not supposed to know anything. You're not supposed to say anything. You're not supposed to do anything. One thing you are supposed to do is to call back home and check with your party leadership, and if you're a Democrat, you call back and talk to the Democrats who are leaders in your party, and if you're Republican, you do the same with your Republican colleagues at home, and get their guidance and advice and ask them what they think you should do

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about these particular issues that come before you. And I didn't do that. I just went to Raleigh, and I was very independent. I wouldn't get on the telephone and call home and ask the party chairman what he thought about anything. And I think my independence was a little bit abrasive to them, but then I was trying to be a representative for Guilford County. And Guilford County has a larger Democrat registration than Republican. So I was not elected just by Republicans. I was elected by Democrats, a larger percentage of them. And so I tried to be as nonpartisan as possible in my actions. And I didn't feel that I had to call home and ask to speak to the chairman of the Republican Party to get advise on how I should act in Raleigh. I finally got it after the fact, you know. They wanted to say it was because I was too liberal, that I was for ERA, and that I was trying to take discipline out of the schools. But I think the bottom line was I didn't show enough humility to the leadership of my party. I was too headstrong and independent. So they found another woman to run in that election. And in the primaries she was elected and I went down the tube.
This was the same period as Watergate in our country. And Republicans all across this country just lost major seats all across the country. Same thing happened in Guilford County. I don't think we elected a Republican for anything in 1974. So even though I had lost the primary, I didn't have to suffer the loss that all my colleagues did, and I love to think that maybe I would have been elected if I'd been on the ticket, because I was perceived as being nonpartisan. And perhaps because of my willingness to work with

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Democrats, they might have said, "Hey, we're mad at Republicans because we don't like Richard Nixon, and look what they did with Watergate. But, you know, Maggie's different. We'll vote for her." So I lost. Well, I ran again in 1976. A lot of people were saying, "We need you down there." Even by that time the chairman of the party was sort of in a forgiving nature. They didn't like not having anybody down in Raleigh. So I ran again and lost because that was the year that Jimmy Carter carried the South very strong. And you have what's known as "coattails." And it is indeed true that a lot of Republicans were elected on Richard Nixon's coattails and on Ronald Reagan's coattails. The same thing holds true for a strong Democrat, and the South is a basically Democrat area of the country. Even though they do vote Republican in national elections, they tend to vote Democrat on local elections quite often. So I lost along with a lot of other Republicans in the Jimmy Carter period. I had decided after two losses that I didn't enjoy running and losing, because it takes a lot out of you when you decide to run for public office, and you have to go to functions. You have to try to raise money to finance your campaign. And then to be sitting in front of your T.V. on election eve and see yourself going down the tubes. We are human beings. We have egos, and it doesn't fell good. So I decided I wasn't going to do it again. Well, the chairman of the party, Jim Burnley, called me up. Jim Burnley has gone on to higher places. He was, in fact, the Secretary of Transportation in Washington after Liddy Dole stepped down to get involved in her husband's campaign. But Jim at that time was a lawyer in

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High Point. He called me, "Please, we need you on the ticket. You've got name recognition." Well, I had run for three elections, I had been elected and then run two more times. So that was six years. The voters had gotten used to seeing my name. So I said, "Well, I tell you, Jim, the only way I'll run is if this party will not try to muzzle me on women's issues. And do not ask me to work out of Jesse Helms office because I have trouble with Jesse Helms." Not so much him personally, but the type of politics that he and the Congressional Club, I don't think they like . . . They don't care a flip about the Republican Party. We were a vehicle for them to use. Because most of the Republicans that I have associated with were not that far to the right. And so I said, "If the party can accept that, then I will consider running again." So he sort of gulped on the other end of the phone and said, "I think we can live with that." And I have said to folks since that time, they didn't try to muzzle me on issues that affected women, and at no time was I asked to . . . I didn't actively go out working against Jesse Helms, but I did not want to associate myself with him in a political campaign. And I was elected then, and went back for my second term in 1978, and was there every two years subsequently.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I want to stop here for a minute and go back to when you first arrived in Raleigh. Because what seems interesting to be about the year in which you started serving, is that the first Republican governor of the century arrived in Raleigh at that point. Would you describe what it was like to be a new legislator coming in with that governor?

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MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, it was exciting because I had worked for Governor Holshouser, campaigned for him. It was an interesting feeling to be serving in the Legislature with the first Republican governor of the century. Also, out of the one hundred and seventy members there were only nine women in 1973. So we stood out like sour thumbs. As I've already indicated, I was twenty-seven and looked a lot younger. I had long hair, down on my shoulders. I had people thinking I was a page. I was the youngest woman in the North Carolina Legislature, I was the youngest member of the North Carolina General Assembly. So I did stand out. I think being a Republican has changed over the years. When I was first there, there was a sense from the majority party—because even though we had a Republican governor, the General Assembly was still controlled by the Democratic Party—and they felt a little anxiety about having a Republican. They didn't know what to do with him. They tried to take all the power away from him that they could. Well, of course, when you're the only governor in the whole country that doesn't have a veto, you're already have a lot less power than all the other forty-nine governors. And we still don't have a veto for our governor. But that was one thing. And so they started from there, and with no veto, where else can we remove any power that he might have. So the General Assembly in North Carolina is perhaps the most powerful general assembly in the whole country. There were efforts not just to take his power away, but to protect state employees, who were obviously Democrat. Because a lot of it has always been that way, that you got a job, you know,

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because of the old patronage built-in. Even though in the privacy of the booth you might vote whoever you wanted to. But you were always registered a Democrat in North Carolina. I mean if you wanted to be a highway patrolman, you better be registered Democrat. For a long time, that's the only way you could be a teacher in North Carolina, because teachers are state employees. And it wasn't until probably 1971 or maybe 1969, when they initiated what they call the tenure law in North Carolina. It was the Fair Employment and Dismissal Act which protects teachers from being dismissed willy-nilly. You have to go through a procedure. You have to document before you can dismiss. Well, prior to that time almost every teacher was a Democrat. I'd never thought about it myself until I ran for public office, and I was a Republican teacher running for public office. I never felt threatened. I never was threatened. But then I think part of it was I had protection. If anyone had insinuated that you cannot teach school or you cannot run for public office because you're a Republican, they would have been in court so fast their head would have been in a spin. So there were efforts though to try and protect those who were Democrat and who might feel some pressure to switch parties. Well, I got on the wrong side of my own party in Raleigh because I believed that you shouldn't have to live in fear as a state employee. I don't think that every time a new person occupies the governor's mansion every four years, that every person who was employed as a state employee, whether it's at the university level, if you're Department of Social Services, if you work for the Highway Patrol, or if you're

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just a classroom teacher, you shouldn't have to feel like you've got to run downtown to the Board of Elections and change your registration. So I ended up supporting bills to protect state employees. Well, that was considered a no-no. In fact, I remember I got a call from the governor's office, "What are you trying to do to the governor?" I said, "I'm not trying to do anything to the governor. I was trying to protect state employees," because most of them don't get paid diddlely anyway. They're doing it because they believe in public service. They don't mind being part of the bureaucracy. And yet, because of the political nature of their jobs, they could be shoved around and out the door.
So it was an interesting experience to be one of so few women, and, I've shared this experience, because there were so few women—there were four Republican women and four Democrat women in the House and one Republican woman in the Senate. So, say two or three of the women in the House, and if they were not of all the same political faith, say it was two Republicans and one Democrats or two Democrats and one Republican, if they were to sit down and have lunch together, it would be like this rumble going through the cafeteria. "Look at the women over there. They're talking. They're probably going to start a caucus or something." There was a sense, you know, the women's movement was just rearing its heard in the early seventies, and you had Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem and Ms magazine and marches and women were just becoming very vocal and getting in your face. And so a lot of the men were feeling most uncomfortable with having us there because they had to clean up

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their act. They couldn't say, they couldn't make off-the-wall comments about some woman if you're standing there, which they're inclined to do, men being men, quite often. They couldn't use vulgar four-letter words because you didn't do that in front of women. So our presence was felt even beyond the fact that we were elected the same way they were. But we forced them to have to change their behavior. Well, I remember the first day I was in the building, in my office, a senator came across the hall and asked me whose secretary I was, and I told him I wasn't a secretary. He then asked me whose wife I was. Then I told him I was not married, that I was a state representative from Guilford County, and he sort of did a double take because I didn't look like a state representative that he was used to. They were used to seeing women around if you were a secretary or somebody's wife. They weren't used to having you around. Times have changed a great deal. Even though we haven't increased our numbers as much as a lot of us feel we ought to, we only have 25 women now, I think, in the General Assembly. But that's a lot nicer than nine.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Yes, there's the point at which you reach a critical mass for yourselves. You mentioned some behaviors of male legislators were changing. How much do you think in those first years, let's say the first four years that you served, there was a change in attitude about women in politics?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
I think after we were elected and served, there are certain perceptions about personality groups. I mean, you know, if you're a female, you're supposed to have PMS. Your monthlies

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will obviously interfere with your ability to perform the job. You are of child bearing age. Women can't handle the stress. We'll break down and cry if our bill doesn't get out of committee. If you attack me or say something ugly about a proposal I'm offering, then I'll have a temper tantrum. Just all sorts of perceptions about how we will behave if we're in that setting. Well, lo and behold, women didn't live up to their worst fears. We didn't have temper tantrums. We didn't have to run to our office, crying into our hankies. You couldn't obviously tell when we were having our monthlies. You know, most of the women there were very secure. They did their homework. They prepared themselves. Because of the attention that was given to them and focused on them, I mean, we were always getting profiled in the newspaper. Articles appeared about us being in Raleigh. So because of that, the fewness of us, and the fact that we were getting this attention, we thought that we had to be especially careful to be prepared and not do anything that might draw more attention to us. We didn't want to draw attention. We didn't want to be separated out from the pack. I remember I'd be the only woman on a committee, and for a long time the people who would appear before the committee would say, "And gentlemen of the committee, and gentlemen of the committee." And finally the chairman of the committee, because there were no chairwomen of the committees, they were all males who were chairing these committees, he would sort of lean over and say, "We do have a woman on this committee." And then it would be, "Gentlemen of the committee and Representative Keesee." I mean, I didn't want

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this special recognition. He could say, "Members of the committee" and include us all in one breath. I think now, after those first few years, a sensitivity to the fact that we are part of the group, you don't have to give us any special treatment. We don't have to have offices located close to the women's room. You can talk to us like you would talk to a male representative. Of course now, women have, because of their electibility, I think a lot of voters have a trust in women. They fell like they can trust them when you say something. So the men have to recognize that they can be defeated by a woman, and the women are getting reelected, and they're coming back, and they're not being unreasonable. They're being dignified and forceful, and they can wheel and deal with the best of them now. The attitudes have changed. They still had to clean up their act. They haven't gone back to their old ways before we appeared on the scene. But it's been interesting.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I'd like now, if you can, to comment some more on the Republican Party and the relationship between women and the party, you as a representative for women. And again, I'm thinking particularly of the 1970s when the ERA campaign was getting going here. But to carry comments about that on into your most recent terms of service also.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, I think, as I said, when I decided that I would run again if attempts weren't made to muzzle on women's issues . . . It's interesting, in the early campaigns that I was involved in, I was never asked whether I was for ERA or whether I supported Roe v. Wade. That was never an issue. That has only

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become an issue in recent campaigns. In fact, the Republican platform never had anything to with abortion in it or the equal rights. In fact, I think the Republican Party, when I ran, probably supported the Equal Rights Amendment. I considered the Republican Party to be fairly progressive in the early '70s. It wasn't until the Congressional Club influence became more and more apparent, it could generate resources that were funneled somehow into electing Republican candidates, that the far right agenda, the new right agenda, became so much identified with the Republican Party. But I never felt like I was totally, even though I was looked at by some of my colleagues as, "Oh, that's Maggie. She's from Guilford County. What can you say." The interesting thing about North Carolina is we are a very rural state. I think a lot of times when you're from a Guilford County or a Mecklenburg County, Forsyth, Wake, where you have a large city and universities, people are a lot more cosmopolitan and sophisticated and open-minded. But you go to Raleigh and all of a sudden you realize you are a minority. That the General Assembly historically has been controlled by the rural areas, and they are much more conservative. And they have traditionally been controlled by the Democrats. I love to tell my Democrat women friends who talk about how it is, you know, how can I stand to be part of a party that has not supported women's issues in North Carolina. And I say, "Oh, excuse me, but my party doesn't control the North Carolina General Assembly. Your party had a chance to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. My party had nothing to do with . . . I mean, we couldn't get it defeated if you

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talk about majority rule." I think that I was tolerated by my colleagues, in large part even those who were from the rural parts of the state, because I didn't get up in their face. If I had an issue to vote on, I would vote on it. They might give me some funny looks across the back row. I remember one old gentlemen waddling across, and see Republicans all sit in the back of the chamber, it's connected with the back of the bus, see. So this Republican comes across to my seat in the back of the chamber and said—I had voted differently than the rest of my colleagues—and he said, "Why didn't you vote with your party on that issue?" I said, "Because my party in the back row did not elect me." And I always would make that known, you know, that I could disagree with these people because they were not my constituency. They were my colleagues but the people in Guilford County were the ones that would ultimately decide my fate, and if they didn't like my vote, then they could retire me because they hired me. That's how I would do it. I wouldn't be hostile or rude to them. I wouldn't vote always with them. But I felt strongly, I had campaigned, I had been elected. I wasn't going to tell you one thing, and go to Raleigh and vote with these people in the back row because it would make them happy. So in recent years, as I've been elected and returned to Raleigh—many of the people I served with, of course, had a different agenda from me—and yet I think they finally had decided that I had my own agenda and they had their own agenda. And we tried to support, in fact, I remember some Republican telling me one time that somebody had said to them, another Republican, "Why do you

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put up with Maggie? Why do you just talk to her? Why do you deal with her?" And this person said, "Because when we really need her, we can count on her." And there are relatively few partisan issues that come up before the North Carolina General Assembly, and they usually could count on me on an obviously partisan issue. Now, I'm not talking about new right morality or that kind of thing. That is a personal choice issue, as far as I'm concerned. There would be some obviously partisan things that I would vote with my party on, and they knew that they could count on me, but I wasn't going to be with them all the time. And they had to accept that, because at that point in time they couldn't defeat me. I had been there so often, and I had a constituency at home. I could draw a lot of support from across party lines. Of course, they couldn't get there without, now, I'm talking about Republicans from Guilford County, Democratic support as well. But then those Republicans that were from a Wilkes County or a very rural area that was strictly Republican, and there are a few Republican counties around. Randolph County is very Republican, and Wilkes County. But I guess they just figured they'd have to learn to live with me, because I wasn't going away.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
It's clear, from what you've said so far, the many ways that you diverged from what nationally North Carolina is known for in terms of Republicans, Jesse Helms, that's what people outside of North Carolina know. Would you comment more on how that split in the party evolved as you see it, and maybe even what impact you think that's going to have over the next years?

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MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
I like to tell folks I was a Republican before it became fashionable to be a Republican in North Carolina. I had grown up in a Republican home. I consider my family traditional Republicans. They're Republicans and they believe in less government involved in their lives. You know, government cannot do everything for everyone. That you want to have a strong national defense, but that the individual has to assume responsibility also for their own destiny. And you know, taking money away from everyone is not going to make everybody better. And I just had grown up feeling that I agreed. That government has to get involved in certain aspects. They have to set an example and be a role model, but they shouldn't try to dictate to people what they do as individuals. In the early '70s when I ran, I did consider my party to be very progressive. When Jesse Helms, and I love to tell my Democrat friends this too, that he was one of theirs before he joined us. And he decided it was fashionable, [he decided], "I can get elected." I mean, Nixon was running and it was obvious that he was probably going to get elected. Well, Jesse became a Republican. He was elected on Nixon's coattails. But he is not a true Republican. I can look at someone who calls himself a Republican, and you know, it's like it's convenient. It's a matter of convenience for them to be a Republican because of this perception that they're conservative. And they'll take parts of the Republican, I don't want to say platform so much as our mission statement: "We as a party believe. I'm Republican because I believe that's . . . " Well, they'll take parts of that that they can live with and then

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they bring their own agenda and say that their agenda and what the Republicans say they believe becomes one and the same. And it's not one and the same. The reason I have not become a chameleon and have not tried to change my colors to make myself more appealing to some of the Republicans who have been in leadership roles in recent years, is that I know that there are Republicans who do feel as I do, who do not believe that government should tell you what you should do in the privacy of your own home. Or should tell you that, as a woman, if you want to terminate your pregnancy, that you can't do it because I tell you that you can't do it. That that's purely a choice between a woman and her doctor and whatever, but that's not the government's role to get involved with that. I never have been able to foretell the future, but I think that in politics there's a pendulum swing. During that Watergate period with the very active participation of young people on college campuses, the women's movement sort of going to full bloom . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
The seventies were a period of a lot of activism in this country, and, I think, would be perceived as a period of the Left, if you want to identify it politically. What has happened over the last decade or so is that the pendulum swing—people, for whatever reason, started getting uncomfortable with some of the direction the country was going, and because of the fact that we haven't had a war that we've been involved in, there's been relative peace in the world. We had a "feel good" President for eight years, and it made us feel good. The emphasis on people becoming more . . . I don't want to use the expression "Yuppie," but young people were more interested in getting themselves a BMW or having a nice home or eating sushi or whatever, their whole focus changed, and they became . . . When you start thinking about people having material things, people start thinking Republican. I don't know why. I used to get tickled when I'd hear someone saying, "Well, the Republicans are the party of wealth." And I thought, "But I don't know any wealthy Republicans!" I mean, what's Teddy Kennedy? I'm sure there are Rockefellers; there are plenty of Republicans, but I don't know these people. But I think that a lot of younger people became involved in the Republican mentality of the right, the conservatives, the business interests, and less attention to human issues or social issues, and Jesse Helms had some appeal, I guess, to them, perhaps. A lot of people in North Carolina, of course, it was already a very conservative state— he runs very strong in rural areas, particularly, and those are not Republican

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areas of the state. Most of the state still is very Democratic, or at least the registration reflects that, even though they will elect a Republican Senator, and we had two Republican Senators at one point, but I just think the pendulum is going to swing away from that. It's going to go back. There's going to be more of a moderation perhaps. I'm hoping it will be. I'm not comfortable with the far right thinking, the new right, the moral majority mentality. They're very judgmental, and I'm uncomfortable. I mean, I can decide who I want to talk to and who I want to like and who I want to be friends with, but I don't want it legislated. That makes me uncomfortable.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
When I spoke to Grace Rohrer, in very different words she made essentially the similar point that she was quite uncomfortable with the Republican Party now. And in fact, at the end of her interview she was talking at length about the importance of nonpartisan kinds of issues and the work that she's doing now. And so I'm wondering if you would comment on how widespread that sort of thinking is within the Republican Party now?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
A lot of people won't be as candid with you as you would like them to be. By that I mean people that I might come in contact with. I tend to not try and find out people's politics. Naturally, the people who are known as Republicans, who might be party activists, people who are involved in the county organization, obviously, they may have some of the same feelings that I do but they might keep it to themselves. The rank and file person out there, who's a registered Republican or

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who votes Republican, I wouldn't always know who they are. I belong to several organizations, and I don't know what the political affiliations are because they're non-partisan groups that I belong to. And unless someone, I've seen them at a partisan function I would have no idea, because I always try to function as an elected Republican and be as non-partisan, except on those issues that even the Democrats would say, "Oh, I understood why we were forced to do this." I mean, I would still be friends with Anne Barnes. Anne Barnes and I used to get along really famously. But on some things we'd be on different sides of the issues, but they were partisan issues and, you know, you're supposed to fall in these particular camps. I think that there are probably a lot more Republicans out there who are uncomfortable with that far right, new right. Interestingly, there are Republicans who run for public office who are elected who don't always present themselves in such a way that you would know what their agenda is. They come across as just like you and I, you know. They're just easy to talk to and articulate, well educated, and they will never talk about the issues that you would be uncomfortable with their position on. They want to get elected. They get elected and then they work their number. And there's no way that every voter can ever know every candidate that well to understand that what you see is not always what you get. There's no way to know that. There's a comfort level they develop with you. They'll stand up in front of a group or meet you at someone's house or at a pool party or whatever, and

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they're just like the nicest person you'd ever want to meet. They don't make you uncomfortable.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I guess I've been asking a series of questions in some areas that are taking place right now and asking you to think about the future. So I just have one more along that line, which would be, in the context of what you said and what's going on now, do you have a sense of what the future holds for women in North Carolina politics? What do you see coming up ahead?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, I think that women will continue to be elected. I hope our numbers will increase. As I indicated before we started talking, one of the things that I had worked hard at, my last terms in Raleigh, was trying to get to know those women in my party that I would probably have never gotten to know otherwise if we hadn't been in the General Assembly together. I think they initially probably felt uncomfortable with me because they knew that I had a feminist streak, and that I would disagree with them on some issues such as abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment. And so they had been made to feel a little uncomfortable. You know, "You don't know if you want to talk to her." Same idea that some of the men had projected onto them, I'm sure. So I knew that they were feeling some discomfort even being in Raleigh because it's still a male bastion. We are a minority. And that we can be very supportive of each other and help, so that you don't have to repeat the same mistakes and understand the process. That we do have a lot of issues that we can work together on. So I made a point to get to know these women and have meals with them and sit with them at lunch,

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develop a trust level based on respect. I respect you even though you disagree with me. The Marital Rape Bill came up in 1987 and when several of us discovered that all of the women were supportive of this bill, it just gave us a tingly feeling because we've never had an issue come before us, during my time in Raleigh, that all the women agreed on. Never. And so when we sensed this, I went especially to my Republican women friends who had felt somewhat isolated from the other women in Raleigh, because I had gotten along with all the women in the past. And so I said, "Listen, we're going to get together. We're going to sign a letter. We're going to pass it out to all of our male colleagues telling them that we all support this bill, and we're asking for their support, because we can't pass this bill by ourselves. We need their support." Well, we all decided that we would sign this letter. We put it on the members desk in the chamber, and then an article came out in the newspaper talking about how the women . . . And they started naming and how even though we disagreed on some things, how we were all getting behind this issue, and that we were signing a letter, blah, blah, blah. Well, one of these ladies came to my office after this article appeared in the newspaper, and she named this male legislator who had come to her office and wanted to know why she had signed that letter with those liberal women and why didn't she come and talk to him before she signed that letter. Well, this lady was indignant. She was madder than hell that this man would presume that he was going to tell her how to vote. Well, we started laughing. I mean, here's a woman who is pro-life and

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myself, and we are laughing our heads off about this man who had the audacity to insinuate to her that first of all, we were a bunch of liberals, and why should she be signing a letter with us, and didn't she know that there was an underground movement out there. And that we were trying to get the men and on and on and on. And I said, "You know, this is the old divide and conquer. They're trying to separate us." It's like, "Don't let those women get together for a quilting bee. They might talk about something." I mean it's like you can't let women, don't let the women get together. They might find that they can work together. So we just had a ball. We were going around, all different factions of women, talking to men. Because each one of us could go to certain men within our own party and talk to them and say, "Look, we need your help on this. All the women are supportive. We all believe this is important, and we'd even go so far as to say that if we can't get this bill passed, if it's defeated, you're going to have to explain it to the voters before the next election. Probably, you don't think that a women should have to, you know, why should a women have to be raped by her husband?" The men didn't want to have to deal with it in an election. They don't want to stand up there, the candidates, and explain why they were opposed to it. So that was an example of how women could get together, disregard their disagreements, and focus on getting an issue passed that they believed in. And all of a sudden, it was like, if we can do it once, we can do it again. We have got to stop letting the men, because I'm sure they're loving it, every bit of it, because we'll sit there in

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the chamber—I'd watch some of these men, how one day they'd be voting against each other, the next day they were holding hands, the next day it was good buddies, patting each other all over the shoulders and signing off on each other's bill, and the next day, they'd be arguing against each other. There wasn't a set program. It wasn't like I have to dislike Joe so-in-so because he disagrees with me on this issue. He's for the sales tax, he's for raising the sales and use tax or whatever. They could work together. They walked out that chamber door and left it inside the chamber. Women have not always been able to do that. We've taken it as a personal affront if you couldn't agree, and so I think that, to me, the last two terms were rewarding in that I was able to get to know these women, and they were able to get to know me and realized that I was not the enemy, that the men were the ones who could really, if they could, work against you. One woman told me that she was at a function and had gone up to a male colleague. They were getting together a foursome; this was someplace like Pinehurst or Southern Pines, and she played golf, and she said, "Can I join in?" And this man said to her, "I have to serve with you, but I don't have to play golf with you." I mean she said she felt like she had been punched in the stomach or slapped on the side of the head. He was just so insensitive to her, and I think that that's the sort of thing that all women, whether you're a liberal, moderate or conservative, have had some man say, "I ain't got time. I don't have to deal with you, honey." And so it was really an emotional feeling for all the women in 1987, and I hope that we can continue to work together.

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KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I'm curious about these women who on women's issues are more conservative than you are, and many of the women who began in politics in the 1970's, can you describe their avenue into politics? My sense is that it would be different, but is that so?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, many of them did come through their political organizations because that's how most of us get to Raleigh or into elected office, is that you were part of a political organization. Naturally, depending on what part of the state you live in, you may or may not have a conservative or less conservative, more moderate group of people you're working with then, and when I say they got there differently, they got there through the same avenue as far as support from their Party organization. Someone asked them, "Why don't you run?" But they never went through the Women's Movement. Most of them, perhaps, were homemakers. They didn't have a career outside the home. They . . . did not feel any need to express themselves in any other way, and they got their fulfillment in that avenue. They may have, early on in their lives, before they were married, been a nurse or a teacher or something, but then they set that aside for their family and home. We actually finally, formally organized a Women's Legislative Caucus from talk about two of us sitting together in the cafeteria. It did come to fruition. We did have a Caucus, but a lot of times, the women who had not been part of the Women's Movement, when they would come to these Caucus get-togethers, there was not a feeling of "we really want you here; you're here because you're a woman, but we really don't

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want you." There was never any extending, you know, "I want to get to know you as a person. We are women, but I also want to get to know you as a person and find out what makes you think, how do you feel about issues, what are things you care about, what are things we might work together on?" Because I had this verbalized to me by my roommate who was the Republican House Minority leader, Betsy Cochrane. Now Betsy Cochrane is much more conservative than I am on most social issues. She's from Davie County, which is not a particularly metropolitan area of the state. Her constituency is very conservative, much more so than mine, and yet I lived with this woman, and I knew her frustrations of trying to lead the Party in the House, and she was the highest-ranking woman in that General Assembly, and yet was not even always given . . . she wasn't even accepted by some of the Democratic women. It was like, "We don't all recognize that you are the highest-ranking woman in this body." I think there was a little bit of "We know it, but we don't want to deal with it" because she was not for ERA. She wasn't part of the women's movement. She had been a school teacher and a homemaker and was not an "up in your face" type of person. But she did have the leadership abilities and did have the strength and would stand up and would support a lot of things that those women, who were a little bit uncomfortable with her, would have supported. So there was a bond there that they didn't recognize. And I remember her verbalizing to me that she felt very uncomfortable when she would go to a Caucus meeting, because it was like they

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really didn't want her there, and sometimes you have to do that outreach and get to know another person.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
If the North Carolina Women's Legislative Caucus was not a comfortable home for conservative women, did they have an analogous organization?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
No, they didn't. What they ended up doing, a lot of them, was hanging out with the men, when the men would tolerate them. And I think it was more, in fact, I finally put my finger on this one evening when one of the men came to one of these women and said, "Why don't we all go out to so-and-so and eat dinner?" And when they came, you see, we always check with each other to see what you were going to do, because sometimes we didn't have things to go to, and we'd get together for dinner. And this lady said, "Well, so-and-so has asked if we want to join him." I said, "Do you know why he's inviting us to eat with him and these other guys?" And they said, "No." I said, because what we do, because I'd eaten with them before, so I knew the game plan, I said, "Now all she's thinking about is that they invited us and we're eating Chinese, and they want all of us to order something different." I said, "Who sucks up most of the food, ladies? Think about it. But we still have to pay our fair share. And do we even enjoy their company?" I mean, I would just sort of confront them with these facts. They were beginning to think, "Oh, they want to have dinner!" I said, "They don't want to have dinner with you. They want to eat your food! Don't you understand? Come on!" I tried to loosen them up and to have a good time and to recognize these people. You think they're

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being nice to you, and yet they're saying, "I have to serve with you, but I don't have to play golf with you. But I want you to have dinner with me. I'll eat your food." It was just amazing. I think that, you asked me a question a minute ago, and I sort of got off it. I changed it. I think we are going to have more women elected, and I think it's interesting that the women in recent years who have been elected have tended to be very conservative women. We've had more losses among women who were Democrats. More Republican women are getting elected than Democrats, and I don't know what that means except it goes back to the perception of the voters of their emphasis, there's less emphasis on social issues and we've got to help the down-trodden or whatever. We want to have a healthy economy; we want to continue the prosperity, or whatever. And it happened that Republican women were running on that ticket, even though they do care about child care, they do care about the environment, they do care about pre-natal care. They care about things that are our socially conscious issues and services for the elderly. They care about these things, but because they're on the ticket that is being supported by a lot of the voters, they're getting elected. Plus the fact that having campaigned and, golly, I've run every two years since, this is the first year, in 1988, that I didn't run. I'd run every two years since 1972, and so I really did get to observe the candidates, and I would find quite often that Democrats . . . would get defensive. They would try to explain away, instead of just letting the other side run off at the mouth, and I'm not going to stand up in front of this

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group and try to defend what I did. If you don't like what I did, you don't have to send me back. But a lot of times, what would be happening is that Republicans would come after certain Democrats, and of course, the Democrats would come after Republicans too, but what was happening was some of the Democratic women were getting very defensive in their posture, and then they were sort of coming across as haughty or whatever and it didn't make them look good. They didn't run like they were strong and in control . . . and just let it roll off. Ignore it, don't give it credibility, and I was the only Republican woman running so I didn't have any other Republican women to compare how they were handling it. But when I would stand up, I would never run down a Democrat. I would talk about the need for a stronger two-Party state. I would never point a finger and put down anyone, and if someone said something, I would just let it roll off . . .
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
What, then, will it take for women from the two parties to come together again in North Carolina?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, there is an effort being made that was started right after 1987 to develop a women's legislative agenda, and I attended several of these meetings across the state where women were invited. What they wanted to do was to get as much input from as many different types of women's organizations or individuals as possible. So they would get lists, I guess, from the library, or some group had a directory of women's organizations, and send out a letter inviting them to become participants in this meeting that was going to be held at

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whatever date and time, and women would come. And they could come from, they could either be a Junior League or they could be a Garden Club. They could be a League of Women Voters. They could be AAUW, BPW, whatever women's organization it might be, and they would sit around in small groups and decide among themselves what issues are important, that we feel are important to women that the North Carolina General Assembly should take some action in regards to. And then after they had met in these smaller groups within this, at this regional meeting, they would collectively get back together and share and rank, prioritize these issues they felt were important, recognizing with all these little small groups, that we want to try and focus on issues that are not divisive to women. Recognizing within this group, this small group, whatever group you might be in, that we're not all going to agree on reproductive freedom. That's a given, right there, but that didn't mean we had to disregard it because it was an issue of importance to women, but recognize that we're not all going to agree on that. So what are some other areas we can agree on? As a result of those meetings across the state, a package was put together and presented to the General Assembly, saying these are issues, and they have to do with aging, I think, or the fact that many older adults are poor women. I don't have it right in front of me, so I can't remember, but there were certain things they talked about. All these women came together and discussed, which said that this is something that we think the women in Raleigh too could all get behind and support. They

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were trying to find, I mean, they may never be able to, Kathy. I hope they can, because women are as individual as men . . .
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
This was in 1987, and certainly in politics, that's not very long, as you know, but what's happened to that in the last couple of years?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, the legislative agenda was just presented to the 1989 General Assembly, so they really, nothing really of substance has taken place as far as I know. You might need to talk to Ann Mackie, who is . . . I guess, the Executive Director for the Women's Legislative Agenda in Raleigh. Former Senator Wilma Woodard was hired as a lobbyist to lobby the General Assembly, I believe, for this legislative agenda. So, if you have a chance to talk to Wilma, she could tell you, perhaps, or give you a reading on what, ultimately, is taking place concerning that agenda.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
So I think too that now we're at the point that you left when the '88 year finished. What are your reasons for leaving politics?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
It was really amazing, in the last two terms, I guess, I was beginning to feel weary. I think that people don't realize the type of commitment and the time and energy that one gives to serving in public office, particularly if you have to get in your car for six months, every Monday, and drive to Raleigh, even though it's not a bad highway to deal with. Think of those folks that live on the Outer Banks that have to drive to Raleigh on those horrible little two lane roads. But in spite of the fact that we've got good highways, I was just feeling weary from all

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this driving. Emotionally, I didn't want to deal with school merger again. I didn't want to deal with abortion. A lot woman suffered burnout after the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. You know, they sort of faded away and folded their tents and faded away for a while because they just . . . I've got shell shock or something, you know. They just had to have a break from it. So that was what I was beginning to feel because I was the only woman in the delegation for two terms. I was chairing the delegation in the '85 session when I was the only woman in the delegation, the senior member. I was tired of putting up with these men [laughter] to be perfectly honest. I was tried of being their mother. I am a wife, and I have a wonderful husband who's always been very supportive. He married me when I was a state representative, and he was my campaign manager and booster, and helped me through that process. And I was leaving him all alone even though he's a big boy and he's not going to starve and he's not even going to get into a pout. But I wanted to spend more time with him. See, most of my time I was a single woman, and when you only have to look out for yourself, it's much easier than if you've got another person in your life and a home and a doggie. I needed a breather. I needed a sabbatical, and that's what I've called it. I didn't want folks to think I was retiring from politics. I said, "I'm on a sabbatical. I need a break from it." First of all, I think that we can physically, emotionally, all the different things are tied to whatever activities we're involved with, we can either burn ourselves out and never do it again, or just say the flame is flickering. I'm

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just really needing a break from this and sort of step anyway for a spell. That gives an opportunity to other people to develop their leadership too. I'm not the only woman that can serve in the North Carolina General Assembly. And I used to say this to women who were interested in running for public office. They'd come and say, "I'm thinking about running and I won't run in the 27th house district which is my house district which has three seats, because I might take votes from you." I said, "Now, wait a minute. You think the men talk like that. Now, just think what you're saying. There are three seats, and you're going to be taking votes from me. No, there are three seats, and we could win two of them. We could even win three of them." I mean, you're giving them to the men. So this attitude that only one woman can represent us, only one black can represent us. White men don't think like that. So women have got to get beyond this, "I'm going to hurt your feelings if I run." So I just thought of this as an opportunity for other women who might be interested and who weren't going to run because they thought they were going to hurt my feelings. I mean I have run in that district and served with another woman who was a Democrat in the 27th house district, two women and one man. So I knew that it could take place. So we do have women in our district. We have one woman in our delegation now who was telling folks that she took my seat. But I said, "I didn't own that seat. I don't give seats away." She had to run for that seat. Anybody runs for those seats. But for now, I'm enjoying by break from politics. It was a strange feeling not to be campaigning. It was nice not to get

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up and go to 7:30 breakfast meetings. I have to tell you that. And of course, I taught for fourteen years, so I had to be at school usually by 7:30, but it was nice not to have to set my alarm clock and have to set my motor on, go and be pleasant and smile, you know. I could just get up and talk to my husband any way I want to. And to not have to deal with the pleasing the public. I still had a lot of requests to speak to groups. I did a lecture series at Greensboro College last spring. I was the first woman they'd ever asked to do the lecture series in their history department on political science. They'd had Governor Holshouser. They had Rufus Edminsten. They'd had our former congressman, Rich Pryer. And finally they got around, "Well, maybe we ought to have a woman." And so, my congressman, Howard Coble, said to the person he was talking with, "Why don't you call Maggie?" Since I was the first woman elected in Guilford County, I got to this and I was asked. The first time I've ever been paid for giving a speech in all my life. That I could get used to, you know. But that was fun. It was sort of going back over . . . I was doing with them what I'm telling you. I was sharing how I got involved and my experience and how times change. I've also had a chance to be invited still back in the public schools and taught some classes. I get invited to, I spoke to an Altrusa group last night, but that wasn't really about politics, because I still have visibility. I'm on boards and commissions here in Guilford County and Greensboro. And a lot of these folks are delighted to have my participation and want my participation because I understand how the process works.

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They know that I live here now and don't go to Raleigh, but I was there for so long I know which buttons you can push and is it better to do this or should we do this. I can explain that to them. I'm a member of the Greensboro branch of AAUW and, I guess it was a month or so ago, [I spoke to them] about how to go about writing your legislators and contacting them if you have an interest. So all those things that, even though I'm not there, I have that experience. Even though there are times when I would like to say, "I don't want to go talk to that group. I just want to stay home." They are worthy of me coming and sharing my experience because they gave me that opportunity for twelve years. And not everybody can come and tell them these things. So I feel like I should give back, and I am trying to give back to my community through my service on the Mental Health Association Board, and Family and Children's Services, and Summit House, and visiting different groups and sharing my experience in how you go about lobbying your legislator, as a way to be a participant still without having to go to Raleigh and vote and be myself.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Actually, the very last point that you touched on here is something that I wanted to get into before I finished, which is, again as I look at your resume, it seemed as though a lot of social service areas came up, mental health, welfare kinds of issues. Would you talk about your interest in those areas, where it comes from, why they're important to you?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
Well, it's interesting because when I first went to Raleigh, as I told you, education was one area that I had a

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particular interest because I had some experience, and I think most people who are in public office, they are going to focus on initially those areas they have some expertise, they can speak knowledgeably about. The other areas are more of interest. I do not have any member of my family who has been confined to a mental institution or who's been diagnosed as mentally ill or who's been diagnosed as mentally retarded, but somehow or another I had a feeling that I wanted to know more about this issue, this area. Because I do believe that if you have good mental health that can carry you a long way. And that it's not something that you can see but that if you can treat people preventively to have a good self esteem and find support and help in your community before you go off the deep end, you know. So I've always felt good about trying to be involved in preventive mental health, but also needing to understand that there are people who do need to be confined occasionally, and what kind of community programs or state programs are there available and the process by which people are ajudicated or put into the mental health system. So I became more interested in it over the time I was in Raleigh. Had an opportunity to go visit. A lot of folks would never want to go to Dorothea Dix Hospital or walk through and have them walk you into Umstead or Butner, but you need to know how these people are living and what it's like in there, talk with professionals, before we can do anything to help the program. And so it's just sort of one of those areas that seemed interesting to me and the more I got involved with it, the more it became interesting. And I continue to be involved in that even though I'm not in Raleigh.

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I guess there's certain issues that I guess you'd call social issues that, because I am a woman, that I understand that women have certain conditions in this world, in this life, that man don't have. I mean, women get pregnant and men don't. Women have babies and men don't. Who usually gets stuck with the kids if a marriage breaks up and who is living in poverty, and their education is disrupted and they may or may not be able to get back into the educational system to be trained for a skill. And because of the uniqueness of being a woman and knowing how women have to survive, I guess that I wanted to get involved in areas to help them go through these crises in their lives. You know, I can't expect that all men are going to understand. I don't expect a man to understand what it's like to be a woman. They couldn't Even if they get in drag, [laughter] they can't understand what it's like to be a woman. And so I think that you try to educate them, and that's what I tell when I'm a part of these boards that I'm involved with locally and how we can convey to our elected representatives. We can't assume they understand what we're doing. We have to educate them or try and enlighten them so that maybe they'll, through their understanding and enlightenment, have some compassion and want to help. But you can't expect that they're going to do something just because it's the right thing to do. So I think that's why a lot of the things that I've gotten involved with have come from just my own person, and in fact, I guess, goes back to my home. I grew up in a home environment where my parents, they never structured our lives so much. They were like, you could be what you want to be. And

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even though I didn't live in poverty, and my mother could stay at home, that was her choice. She did decide when the youngest daughter was in junior high school that she was bored at home and that she wanted to go to work. And I remember her conveying that to us and my father saying, "No, no, no, you're not going to work." And my mother saying, "Oh yes, I am going to work, and I don't care if you like it or not." And you know, when you hear that when you're growing up, it makes a . . . Who's trying to tell me what I can and cannot do with my life. I try to be understanding of where men don't always understand women because they've never been a woman, and I tried to be interested and open myself to other areas, like corrections. I was on the corrections committee and was very interested in the penal system in North Carolina, because I'd never known anybody incarcerated. I'd never known anybody to commit a felony, and yet I wanted to know more about it. We hear on the news and in the paper about overcrowding in prison and the rights of inmates and all this stuff. I actually went into Women's Prison and went into Central Prison and walked through and could see what their lives were like. And all of a sudden, I started getting letters from inmates and invitations to come and talk to the groups. So that was a whole new area for me that I would have not, in a normal life, had any contact with the corrections system in this state. A lot of times, though, we did tend to focus on areas where we have some interest and expertise. I was on education committees in Raleigh, human resources, because of the nature of the types of things they were trying to help, families, particularly

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mothers and children. Also, when I was teaching school, I taught in inner city schools, and most of my kids from the surroundings neighborhood, they came from projects or their mothers were AFDC recipients. So I had an understanding of what kind of life those kids had, they brought from home to school.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I've run through my questions here. Is there something that you'd want to add or expand on that we're discussed so far?
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
I think that the future is not bleak for woman. I think, right now, we go through a crises of our own. Right now it's what's going to happen with the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade? And whether or not the Equal Rights Amendment will again be ratified or go to the states for ratification. That's not necessarily bad. I've heard women tell me, particularly women who deal with college women or high school students, these young women, who think that everything is okay. There's no disenfranchisement in the whole society. I'm on top. I can do anything I want to. It's like, someone has to get their attention and say, "Wait a minute, honey. You think you've got it all. Let's just wait a second and talk about this." And it's unfortunate that we are put in these positions, but every now and then maybe, you know, we get blase about what we have accomplished. And a lot of young women, I think, have grown up thinking all they want to do is go out to the happy hour tonight in a BMW. I'm not putting down BMWs. One of my sisters drives a BMW. [Laughter] But that seems to be the status car for a lot of up and coming young business people, with their little neckties, you know. And these women think that life is a bowl of

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cherries in their little palm, and they haven't really had to face the reality, the fact, that we haven't finished. You know, we're not through yet. We've still got a ways to go before we're home. So these things that come up and when they get the women rallying and going to Washington and marching or going to Raleigh and marching because the women who preceded that, you know, in the late '60s and early '70s, a lot of those women got tired and they just couldn't do it one more time. And so you have to somehow have another group of women who can be inspired and hopefully activated because I think a lot of these women who vote Republican, who believe in a healthy economy, who believe in less government in their lives, also believe that it is my right to make a choice on abortion. So there's not a contradiction there. They've taken it for granted. They've been comfortable, you know, with the doors that have been opened, the opportunities that have been available, not realizing that you always have to keep glancing over your shoulder every now and then. I mean, we were always doing that in Raleigh.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
I couldn't agree more. Well, I'm not sure what the term for it would be, but in some way it's a testament to what women who went before have accomplished, that they think that there's nothing left to be accomplished.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
That's it.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
But then, at the same time it's very frightening that that's the attitude.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
So I guess that having a crises come up, makes you, it's like, now that I have your attention.

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KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Well, thanks very much for talking with me today.
MARGARET KEESEE-FORRESTER:
I enjoyed it, really did. Good luck.
END OF INTERVIEW