The question of who authored this position paper on women in the movement, as well as the motivation behind it, has been an unfolding story. It is now generally accepted that the women's memo, or the Waveland memo, as it is often called, was written by white women. While some people have seen this as an indicator that white women had a deeper feminist consciousness than Black women, this was certainly not the case within SNCC. Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts of Women in SNCC offers several examples of black women openly challenging sex discrimination. For white women, guests in a black movement dominated by male leadership, it was not a feasible option to openly challenge the dominant male culture, particularly during this time of intense conflict. Drawing on our personal histories and experiences as participants in the movement, along with the intellectual ferment of early feminist writings and examples of our Black female co-workers, we expressed our opposition to sex discrimination in an anonymous, intellectual outpouring, a highly charged mix of thought and emotion.
This collection includes several documents that address the memo's context and themes. The headnote accompanying the Literacy House photo (Document 27B) is one. Another is the e-mail thread written in response to a question about Stokely Carmichael's quip that the position of women in the movement was prone (Document 90). "The Women's Memo" and "Contextualizing the Waveland Memo" (Documents 88A and 88B) are two others. The culmination of my thinking on this issue is expressed in the portion of a paper that I co-authored with Francesca Polletta for the 2009 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) (Document 98).
My comments in this headnote address the people and the process of authorship. If we accept the proposition that the memo was written by a group of white women, the next question is who were these women? While many women, Black and white, contributed to the discussions that developed the thinking behind the memo, it's my view that the primary authors were Casey Hayden, Emmie Schrader Adams, Mary King and myself.
Casey Hayden was a white Texan who attended the University of Texas. She was a long-time veteran of the movement whose intellect and insight helped us see how the feminist readings that fueled our discussions related to our experiences as women in the movement. Casey was very much the leader of these discussions. Casey's contributions to the headnotes in this collection, as well as her memorandum on structure (Document 45) convey her impressive intellect and commitment.
Emmie Schrader Adams, both brilliant and outspoken, was a Midwestern-born Radcliffe graduate who spent a year in Crossroads Africa at a critical time in the African independence struggles. Emmie's experiences with the newly freed Kikuyu revolutionaries in Kenya were a radicalizing experience for her, as was her time in Algeria. She emerged from both with a heightened awareness of Blacks' colonial and post-colonial relationships with whites, which helped her relate and respond to the movement's call for white volunteers to work within the white community. Emmie's intellect and humor were mainstays of our conversations. Her position paper on whites and the movement, (Document 46), expresses her intellectual resilience and passion for change.
Mary King was the daughter of a minister who grew up in New Jersey and attended Ohio Wesleyan University. She came to SNCC through work with the YWCA, first joining the Atlanta SNCC office before coming to the Jackson office in 1964. Mary had a more linear style of thinking than Emmie, Casey or myself and would often summarize the discussions to check her understanding of the concepts. Her role in the group was more of a chronicler than an originator. Mary was a list maker and likely compiled many of the examples given at the beginning of the memo. Her position paper on communications (Document 47) expresses her organized style of thinking and writing.
In the paper that I presented at the Organization of American Historians in 2009 (see Document 98), I addressed my motivation in writing the memo. My background in multi-disciplinary social studies, along with my curiosity about the underlying dynamics of relationships, were my tools for decoding the world. Comparing how women were treated and how Blacks were treated was congruent with my penchant for seeking overarching patterns of behavior. My position paper, "Semi-introspective," (Document 44) is an example of how I processed my environment. Document 44, although also distributed at Waveland, was actually written earlier than Document 43. The following documents, Documents 45-47, are the position papers written and presented at Waveland by the three other primary authors of the position paper on women. These additional papers are examples of our thinking and writing in the fall of 1964.
SNCC POSITION PAPER
(Name witheld by Request)
1. Staff was involved in Crucial constitutional revisions at the Atlanta staff meeting in October. A large committee was appointed to present revisions to the staff. The committee was all men.
2. Two organizers were working together to form a farmers league. Without asking any questions, the male organizer immediately assigned the clerical work to the female organiser although both had had equal experience in organizing campaigns.
3. Although there are women in Mississippi project who have been working as long as some of the men, the leadership group in COFO is all men.
4. A woman in a field office wondered why she was held responsible for day to day decisions, only to find out later that she had been appointed project director but not told.
5. A fall 1964 personnel and resources report on Mississippi projects lists the number of people in each project. The section on Laurel however, lists not the number of persons, but "three girls."
6. One of SNCC's main administrative officers apologizes for appointment of a woman as interim project director in a key Mississippi project area.
7. A veteran of two years work for SNCC in two states spends her day typing and doing clerical work for other people in her project.
8. Any woman in SNCC, no matter what her position or experience, has been asked to take minutes in a meeting when she and other women are outnumbered by men.
9. The names of several new attorneys entering a state project this past summer were posted in a central movement office. The first initial and last name of each lawyer was listed. Next to one name was written: (girl).
10. Capable, responsible and experienced women who are in leadership positions can expect to have to defer to a man on their project for final decision making.
11. A session at the recent October staff meeting in Atlanta was the first large meeting in the past couple of years where a woman was asked to chair.
Undoubtedly this list will seem strange to some, petty to others, laughable to most. The list could continue as far as there are women in the movement. Except that most women don't talk about these kinds of incidents, because the whole subject is discussable -- strange to some, petty to others, laughable to most.
The average white person finds it difficult to understand why the Negro resents being called "boy", or being thought of as "musical" and "athletic," because the average white person doesn't realize that he assumes he is superior. And naturally he doesn't understand the problem of paternalism. So too the average SNCC worker finds if difficult to discuss the woman problem because of the assumption of male superiority. Assumptions of male superiority are as widespread and deep rooted and every much as crippling to the woman as the assumptions of white supremacy are to the Negro. Consider why it is in SNCC that women who are competent, qualified and experienced, are automatically assigned to the "female" kinds of jobs such as: typing, desk work, telephone work, filing, library work, cooking and
[p. 3]the assistant kind of administrative work but rarely the "executive" kind.
The woman in SNCC is often in the same position as that token Negro hired in a corporation. The management thinks that it has done its bit. Yet, every day the Negro bears an atmosphere, attitudes and actions which are tinged with condescension and paternalism, the most telling of which are when he is not promoted as the equally or less skilled whites are. This paper is anonymous. Think about the kinds of things the author, if made known, would have to suffer because of rasing this kind of discussion. Nothing so final as being fired or outright exclusion, but the kinds of things which are killing to the insides --insinuations, ridicule, over-exaggerated compensations.
This paper is presented anyway because it needs to be made know that many women in the movement are not "happy and contented" with their status. It needs to be made known that much talent and experience are being wasted by this movement when women are not given jobs commensurate with their abilities. It needs to be known that just as Negroes were the crucial factor in the economy of the cotton South, so too in SNCC, women are the crucial factor that keeps the movement running on a day to day basis. Yet they are not given equal say-so when it comes to day to day decision making. What can be done? Probably nothing right away. Most men in this movement are probably too threatened by the possibility of serious discussion on this subject. Perhaps this is because they have recently broken away from
[p. 4]a matriarchal framework under which they may have grown up. Then too, many women are as unaware and insensitive to this subject as men, just as there are many Negroes who don't understand they are not free or who want to be part of white America. They don't understand that they have to give up their souls and stay in their place to be accepted. So too, many women, in order to be accepted by men, or men's terms, give themselves up to that caricature of what a woman is-- unthinking, pliable, an ornament to please the man.
Maybe the only thing that can come out of this paper is discussion--amidst the laughter -- but still discussion. (Those who laugh the hardest are often those who need the crutch of male supremacy the most.) And maybe some women will begin to recognize day to day discriminations. And maybe sometime in the future the whole of the women in this movement will become so alert as to force the rest of the movement to stop the discrimination and start the slow process of changing values and ideas so that all of us gradually come to understand that this is no more a man's world than it is a white world.