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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Leadership within the National and North Carolina Women's Political Caucuses

McKay describes what she saw as ineffective leadership within the National Women's Political Caucus. According to McKay, leading women within the movement, such as Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, were more concerned with forming a "power base." McKay believed such manuevering was detrimental to the goals of the organization. She goes on to discuss the nature of leadership within the Caucus at the state level and explains that she and Grace Rorher stepped down from their positions of leadership within the Caucus too soon before the organization had a firm basis upon which to continue to flourish.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martha C. McKay, June 13, 1989. Interview C-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

We were talking about the National Women's Political Caucus and there were numbers of well-known figures on that board when I went on it. As we moved along it became clear to me, and to some others too, that Bella Abzug and the group around her - I guess Gloria [Steinem], although Gloria has never been as confronting and abrasive as Bella - their major goal was to control and to have a power base. I'm not saying they weren't feminists, of course they're feminists, and Bella had done some terrific things in Congress. But, for instance, when we went to the convention in '72, Bella had lost her race and she was using the Caucus as leverage for a power base and her interests as opposed to Caucus interests. And that was too bad. And this went on for some time and I do think it stunted the growth of the Caucus. For instance, in the '72 convention one of the National Women's Political Caucus's big things was abortion. It wasn't one of ours, I mean in North Carolina. We had a workshop on 'reproduction and its control' when we met and people expressed their views, but we didn't have a series of platform stands and so on. We worked mainly to get women into public office. But down there, they had made lots of noise about abortion. Then when it came time to act (the platform they wanted was not adopted as a party platform, it was part of the minority report), when it came to be presented to the convention, they didn't want to call for a roll-call vote. That was because Bella was playing footsie with McGovern. She'd lost her congressional seat, McGovern didn't want it to come up and so they didn't want to take a vote. They told everybody to make a lot of noise, blow whistles and stuff like that. Well, because, it's my view, if you're in an organization, once they adopt an issue, you've got to work for the issue. I had been working the floor, having been assigned a number of states on that issue, and I thought it had a fair chance of having a good showing. So at that particular convention I sent word to Bella that I was going to call for a roll call vote on that minority report. Well, you know, all heck broke loose. They didn't want that. We did get it, and it was a surprise, etc. With that kind of thing going on, what was happening, it's even beginning there, some of your leaders from the various states were saying, well, this is not what I thought it was going to be. Betty Friedan saw the whole thing, in fact one reason she urged me to start the Caucus here was she said that there had to be some yeast in there from around the country or else it wasn't going to be what it should be and what it could be, a democratic reflection. But then before the '72 convention when they finally got their by-laws, they fixed it so - they changed what the group came up with - so that the control still rested with what I call the Washington-New York axis. Also, I could have stayed on there. The Caucus here said, we'd like you stay on there, you stay on if you want to. But the person who was going to be president next, she went with me to a meeting and I thought she was enjoying it and I thought it was only right for me to move out, so I did. Since that first year of the Caucus, let's see, I can't remember exactly when Grace [Rohrer] was president. But at any rate she was involved, we were both involved. Grace ran for Secretary of State in '72 and did not get the support of her party. If she had she would have won. She got 45% of the vote and only raised about three or four thousand dollars, it was small. At any rate, Grace and I have talked since those days about the fact that we probably moved out too soon, too fast.
In what sense?
I have always felt that if you serve in an office that you do your thing and then you leave. I felt that with the Democratic National Committee. The times I went to those meetings as an incumbent there were lots of people who were ex-DNC members who kept showing up at these meetings. Not that they could vote or have any impact, but I just think you do your thing, you move on. One of the functions of leadership is to provide new leadership. But this was a new organization, this whole thing was new to the women in this state, and Grace and I think we probably should have propped it up and supported it for a longer period than we did. I did what is my habit to do after I serve, I guess I stayed on the board or something for a year, but basically I moved on out. That's not to say I dropped out of the organization, but I moved out of any kind of, not just decision-making role, but process role. It was a little soon for a baby organization to lose its parents. [Laughter] Which, as I say, Grace and I have talked about, and we feel we probably did move off, in a way, too fast. You don't have to remain president, you can remain in a supporting role.