A Small Town Women’s Movement

A Memoir

MORRO BAY — Carol Alma McPhee was a wife and mother in San Luis Obispo during the 1960s. She heard about feminism and the women’s rights movement through national media but nothing of that sort was occurring in San Luis Obispo County. Despite what she calls a bit of shyness, she allied up with activist and organizer Mary Gail Black to attempt to organize and establish a Committee on the Status of Women in the county.
“I give credit to Mary Gail Black,” McPhee commented recently, “she had vast experience organizing, had worked on campaigns for someone running for Congress, and was on the Central Committee. She would be 119 years old now.”
Black is probably looking down on her friend Carol McPhee as she brings to the public her memoir “A Small Town Women’s Movement.” At the time, McPhee insisted that organization should not just concentrate on women who were already organized or who were in positions in the county but felt it was important that everyone know about feminism.
“It’s very hard for people to learn that people who disagree with you are not your enemy,” McPhee stated. She is thinking about the current women’s and resistance movements when she says, “You can build walls between people which is what you do when you demonstrate.” McPhee also thinks it is important that if you demonstrate it needs to be about thoughts, and ideas and projects and not against people.
Organizing and working towards the goal for a County Commission on the Status of Women was not easy but perseverance paid off. “For those of us who worked on the campaign to establish the Commission [on the Status of Women], April 14, 1975 was a day of triumphant feminism. It was the first concerted political action by women and for women in this county since suffrage days,” writes McPhee in her book.
During those years, McPhee kept journals and all the papers. “I planned to leave them to Cal Poly’s archives in honor of my father who taught there,” she said., “but old friend Linna Thomas of Coalesce was after me for a book of poetry to publish. I told her that as far as poetry was concerned I didn’t think enough people would be interested in it. I told her I had this other thing and asked her if she wanted to look at it.” The other thing was the memoir. With a bit of rewriting for publication, Coalesce Press published it.
In terms of legal changes for women, the Commission on the Status of Women has made an enormous change. “When we formed it right away we were helping the County, Cuesta College, the State Hospital and schools with Affirmative Action plans and Title 9 that was new then,” she said. McPhee went on to say that economic freedom from their husbands helped women because of changes in property laws, and that abortion may not actually free women but is a back up to birth control that doesn’t always work. “These are legal changes that have freed women,” she said, “most people don’t realize what is what like back then and how dependent women were on men.”
You can meet McPhee at her book signing event at Coalesce Bookstore, 845 Main Street on June 11 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. She has invited the organizations that supported the Commission in 1975 and the current member of the Commission to attend to tell everyone what is taking place these days.


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