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Interview with: Frances Miriam “Poppy” Northcutt
Interviewed by: Jane Ely
Date: April 3, 2008
JE: Frances Miriam “Poppy” Northcutt interviewed on April 3, 2008. Poppy, let’s do some biographical stuff first. When and where were you born?
FMN: I was born in Manny, Louisiana, which is just across the state line on August 10, 1943. I don’t personally remember it.
JE: Where did you grow up?
FMN: I grew up partly in Luling, Texas outside of Austin and then we moved to Dayton, Texas, when I went into high school.
JE: So, you graduated from high school in Dayton?
FMN: I graduated from Dayton in Liberty County.
JE: Well, how did you become Miss Watermelon of Luling if you lived in Dayton?
FMN: Well, because I previously had lived in Luling and I had become, they thought, a famous person at that time. By Luling’s standards, I guess I was a famous person.
JE: All right, so we got through high school and you went to the University of Texas?
FMN: I did.
JE: What did you major in?
FMN: At Austin. When I went, it was only University of Texas.
JE: What did you major in?
FMN: I am not sure. Oh, partly because all of my tests, aptitude tests and all that showed that I had a real high aptitude for mathematics, and also because I thought it would be a better area to get a job in – just because it was more of a man’s job than a woman’s job so even then, I was aware that there were advantages to doing things where you could get paid more and avoiding women’s work. I had also had a National Science Foundation something or other when I was in high school in mathematics so I had some background in that.
JE: Did you graduate in 4 years?
FMN: I think so. I actually went less than that. I was out because I was in an automobile accident, so I missed at least a full semester and maybe two. I think in terms of the amount of time I spent, I was probably there like 3-1/2 years, 3 years and a couple of summers.
JE: When you got out of school, what did you do?
FMN: I worked at TRW Systems which is an aerospace contractor. It was an aerospace contractor at NASA on the Apollo program.
JE: When you came to Houston, had you been in Houston much before you moved here to work?
FMN: Just a shot. I had been in Foley's a lot.
JE: You were a Foley's shopper in those days?
FMN: And Sakowitz.
JE: And Sakowitz. That’s good. What year did you go to work for TRW?
JE: That was pretty early in the space program.
FMN: Yes, it was before Apollo was flying.
JE: Still Gemini then?
FMN: Still Gemini, but I started working on Apollo stuff immediately.
JE: What did you do?
FMN: Well, I was called a computress.
JE: A computress?
FMN: A computress.
JE: I didn’t know that.
FMN: It sounds like a female computer, I guess. That was the job description. I was a technical aid, I guess is what you would say, is what I was first doing. We did a lot of grunt work with data analysis, but I did apparently more grunt work than most people did or did it better, because they decided to promote me.
JE: And what did they promote you to?
FMN: Well, it was called a member of the technical staff which was a general term for engineer.
JE: What flight were you first involved with?
FMN: Eight, because I had worked with lunar. All I worked was lunar, and Apollo 8 was the first lunar flight.
JE: Did you work during the flight?
FMN: Yes. Back then, they needed us to work during the flight because the schedule on that was accelerated.
JE: Where did you work? Where were you physically?
FMN: I was doing the Mission Control Center. I can’t remember – I think it was on the 3rd floor in the RTCC. Not in the RTCC, in the mission planning and analysis room.
JE: O.K., but the actual Control Center?
FMN: Yes, the Control Center. The room you see on TV was down the hall. We were in the back room.
JE: All right, 13, I guess, was the one you were known for?
FMN: I guess, because that is the one that everybody is known for.
JE: Were you there when “Houston, we have a problem” . . .
FMN: No. I was not in the Center. I was not supposed to come in to work until maybe the next day or so. I had been to the launch. I had gone to Florida to see the launch and had just gotten back, and I found out about it because somebody from the media called me. I had an unlisted phone number, and apparently they were trying to reach me at the Center but they could not find my phone number. So, oddly enough, Jules Berkman had my phone number and he called me.
JE: He was with ABC, right?
FMN: He was a science correspondent for ABC.
JE: So, he called you and asked you about . . .
FMN: He called me and wanted to know what it was going to take to get home, etc., and told me what the situation was. I turned on the TV at that point and I thought, I’d better go over there.
JE: O.K., what did you do when you got there?
FMN: Oh, just started trying to run some returns, free returns, and check out what it was going to take to get back.
JE: How come TRW . . . . I mean, was that TRW’s function?
FMN: Well, we worked for Mission Planning and Analysis, O.K.? That is who we were contracted for. And the particular contract I was on, we did the design and the development of the return to earth program that was used in the real-time computer center.
JE: So, you all were responsible for bringing Apollo 13 back to earth safely?
FMN: Well, I don’t ever like to say that any one of us did it alone, O.K. That was absolutely a complete teamwork kind of thing. But our program was what was used to compute those maneuvers to come home and it was initially planned that we would not be over there in the Center. We weren’t supposed to have been over there as originally planned, but we ended up over there as support because it was a pretty complex program.
JE: O.K. Now, you got a lot of publicity out of that.
FMN: Well, I think I really got more publicity probably out of 8 because that is when I was considered the first woman to work in Mission Control. I got some more out of 13 though.
JE: You were the first woman to work in Mission Control?
FMN: Well, they used that term. You need modifiers on all of these things. I was apparently the first woman that worked in what is called an operational support role – sort of an engineering role. They had had women that worked with the medical unit for some time but I think it was the first engineering type.
JE: I seem to remember a picture of you with this . . .
FMN: Capsules. That was from 8.
JE: O.K., and those were the days when you were still dressing awfully well, as I recall.
FMN: In contrast to now!
JE: Yes. You know, you wore short skirts.
FMN: Yes, I was fashionable.
JE: Fashionable. Yes, that is the word I was looking for.
FMN: I think I am still fashionable, Jane!
JE: Well, you probably are for this generation. But you have had your downs, I will say that. When did you go do the Life Magazine piece and went to London and all of that?
FMN: Well, that was out of 8. That was out of the Apollo 8 stuff.
JE: Was it? I don’t know why I thought all of that was . . .
FMN: Now, I may have done the stuff on TV in London because I did a TV thing in London. That may have been after 13.
JE: I thought it was.
FMN: I think it was because I was not working at Mission and we stopped working . . . we weren’t in the Center anymore, I think, after 13.
JE: After 13?
FMN: I don’t think we were over there after 13.
JE: O.K. Where did you live when you moved over to Houston?
FMN: Well, initially, I lived in the NASA Bay area.
JE: How long did you live down there?
FMN: Well, it varied. I mean, I lived there for a while and then . . . you have to understand, there wasn’t much out there now. In fact, I would say there was practically nothing out there then. I lived there initially when I first went to work out there for maybe 6 months, maybe 1 year – I am not sure – a short period of time. And since I seemed to be spending all of my time driving into Houston because there was nothing out there, I moved into Houston, and then I hated that commute, and I kept moving. I moved into a place in Montrose, and then I moved further out towards that direction. I ended up back there again after a while.
JE: I don’t know, in the 1960s, I only kind of remember a couple of hotels.
FMN: Well, there wasn’t much there. There was, I think it was called the Crest which is where they would have the big splash down parties. Notorious splash down parties.
JE: That is the part I remember. Of course, that is what I remember but there really wasn’t anything there.
FMN: Oh no, there was nothing.
JE: You kept coming into Houston. What did you do in Houston?
FMN: Well, I mean, if you wanted to do anything, you came into Houston. I am not even sure there was a movie theater out there at that time but after a while, I got involved in the Women’s Rights Movement and I was coming in frequently for that. Initially, I was coming in because if you wanted to go to the movies, you had to come into Houston. If you wanted to go out to eat at someplace nice, you came into Houston. If you wanted to go to the theater, you came into Houston. If you wanted to go shopping, you came into Houston. There was nothing there but rice fields.
JE: What was your impression of Houston then at that time?
FMN: I am a small town girl. To me, it was the big city and it was pretty wonderful.
JE: How did you wind up involved in the women’s program?
FMN: I kept reading these newspaper articles about Betty Friedan and various things with the Women’s Lib Movement going on at the time, and I thought their point about women not being paid as well as men was absolutely true, and that was what particularly sparked me. I had seen something about the Women’s Strike. I cannot remember what year that was, but they were going to have a Women’s Strike on August 26, and I thought I should go because at that point, I was making good money. I had been promoted, I was a member of the technical staff and it seemed to me that if there was anybody that ought to get involved, it was somebody like me because the women that were really suffering the most were the ones who were being paid fairly. I was being paid fairly good. So, I just thought that those of us who could afford to do these things . . . I knew I could take off from my job and not get fired, and probably be as outrageous as I want and not get fired, because I was doing a job that was a little hard to replace and probably a little too visible, too. So, I just thought, well, I should go down there and start making some trouble and speak my mind.
JE: Why August 26?
FMN: Well, that is the anniversary of a woman’s right to vote.
JE: And so, you came to that . . .
FMN: To the Houston Post .
JE: To the Houston Post ?
FMN: No, was it the Houston Post ? It was the Federal Building.
JE: That was where the thing was held?
FMN: It was just a picket line. It was a picket.
JE: Did you carry a sign?
FMN: I don’t know if I arrived with one but I probably did after I got there.
JE: And then what happened?
FMN: Well, I met some of the folks there and found out when the meetings were. I had been trying to find where the meetings were of NOW but they did not have a phone and, you know, that was part of the incentive to go down there, too, is I knew they were going to have some people there. So, I found out where the meetings were and went to my first meeting. I think it was at the library.
JE: At the library?
FMN: The genealogical library.
JE: Yes, Will Clayton probably.
FMN: Some little library.
JE: O.K., and how many people were there?
FMN: Not many.
JE: Who was president then?
FMN: Oh gosh, I don’t remember.
JE: It wasn’t Helen?
FMN: Oh, no, it wasn’t Helen. In fact, I think it may have been Helen’s second meeting.
JE: It was probably Susan Candill.
FMN: It could have been.
JE: When did you first get attention for being in the Women’s Movement? I mean, your employer did not care that you were in the Women’s Movement. Did you become active right then and there?
FMN: Oh, yes, immediately.
JE: What did you do? What was NOW doing then?
FMN: We were doing a lot of demonstrations, and we were having press releases all the time about various actions, and going to City Council and speaking out. We were doing something almost all of the time.
JE: Did you ever speak at City Council?
FMN: Oh, yes. I don’t remember what about but yes, I spoke to City Council many times.
JE: So, Louie Welch probably knew you.
FMN: I don’t know if he knew me personally. He probably thought of me as another one of those crazy women. But we went down to "pop off day" on various occasions and spoke out about various things.
JE: At that time, did you consider Houston particularly backwards?
JE: Reasonably progressive or what?
FMN: None of the above. I thought that Houston was just typical.
FMN: And I think it was.
JE: O.K., were you active in Hofheinz’s campaign?
FMN: No, only in harassing the poor man.
JE: Were you involved in presenting him with the list of things he had to sign for?
FMN: No, because I think . . . I can’t remember the exact time sequence on that but, you know he ran the first time and he lost? I was involved a lot in that campaign not helping him get elected but in harassing the poor man.
JE: How did you harass him?
FMN: Well, we were harassing him because we wanted him to make commitments about women in the Police Department, women in the Fire Department, equal opportunity, things of that nature, and we particularly were trying to get him to make commitments about women being able to go on patrol in the police.
JE: Is that when he signed the list of stuff or was that the next time?
FMN: No, that was his second campaign because my understanding is that what we would do . . . I mean, we just basically stalked the poor man, O.K., but it was a legal stalking, O.K.? I mean, he was running for office. We knew that he was the most progressive person, O.K., so if we were going to get anything, he was the only one we were going to get it from. So, we would figure out every campaign event we could figure out that he was going to and try to show up. I mean, I might be one of the people that might be . . . there were several people who were involved in that . . . and we were trying to always be there and always be asking him about these issues, so that we wanted him to have the sense that everywhere he went, there were women who wanted to know what he was going to do about women’s rights. And I think we got that point across to him.
JE: O.K., who drew up the list of commitments including the position of women’s advocate?
FMN: Probably Helen.
JE: This is Helen Cassidy?
FMN: Yes, because I think in the senate campaign, I had been transferred out to California and I came back . . . I was out there, I don’t know, 7 or 8 months, so I was gone for that time period that they were doing that.
JE: Then you quit, didn’t you, when you came back?
FMN: I was transferred.
JE: You transferred back?
FMN: I was with TRW, I transferred to California, and I transferred back.
JE: O.K., you transferred back and you were working for TRW?
JE: What was TRW doing then?
FMN: Well, when I came back, they weren’t doing very much. They had lost a lot of their . . . well, no, I am getting it mixed up. They were working on the Shuttle.
JE: All right, so Hofheinz signed this list of things he committed to do for women?
JE: And then, after he was elected, how did you wind up the one who became women’s advocate?
FMN: I just applied and went down there and interviewed.
JE: Did you?
FMN: Yes. I have always thought that the reason I got it – I don’t know why I got it but, I have always thought the reason I got the position really had to do with I probably was the only one who walked in with a list of what I planned to do.
JE: You did?
FMN: Yes. I had an agenda.
JE: And it was?
FMN: Well, I want women on the Police Department and eliminating the height requirements, opening the Fire Department up to women. I wanted to do equal pay analysis, child care availability for women, improve the . . . something on pregnancy benefits. I just had a list of stuff to do, and my impression was that they did not really know exactly what the women’s advocate was supposed to do. I went in and told them what I thought the Women’s Advocate was supposed to do.
JE: There were other applicants?
JE: O.K., so you became the first Women’s Advocate?
JE: Now, as I recall, at that time, women employees of the City of Houston could not even wear pants at all and you got a pants set thing done.
FMN: It varied. Different departments had different dress codes. I mean, there were some dress codes where they could not even wear open-toed shoes. Weird stuff.
JE: That was one of the first things you did, wasn’t it?
FMN: Yes, I thought that was absurd as soon as I found out about that.
JE: And you passed it? You got the Mayor to enact it?
FMN: Yes, to agree to it.
JE: And that was all that was necessary? There wasn’t a City Council . . .
FMN: That was purely an executive decision.
JE: O.K. What did you do as women’s advocate, and do
you think Houston was changing by the time you became women’s advocate?
FMN: Oh, yes, it was changing. I mean, first of all, the whole state was changing. We had already gotten a lot of things through the Texas Legislature that were improving the status of women, and women’s rights was very much a topic throughout the whole nation.
JE: Texas was the first state to ratify the ERA, wasn’t it?
FMN: No, we were one of the very first. I don’t think we were the first but we were one of the very first states. We would have probably been the first except I think the Legislature was not in session. They came into session right after. I think the day it passed, they were not in session, and they passed it as soon as they came back in session.
JE: Did that require a lot of work?
FMN: No. At that point, no. I mean, when you say did something require a lot of work, it did not require work at that point. We had done a lot of work beforehand. We had already passed the Texas Equal Legal Rights Amendment overwhelmingly. We had been lobbying those people endlessly on a bunch of different stuff, and we had a very well-organized political team in the state, so they were ready on that issue. We did not have to go do something special on that issue.
JE: Was there an umbrella organization that was doing all of this, or was it just women who came together doing it?
FMN: It was the women’s political caucus mainly and the various chapters of the National Organization for Women. There were also a bunch of other women’s rights groups that were very involved. The (Texas Federation of) Business and Professional Women’s group – their lobbyist had been very involved for a long time on that issue and she was very important. Her name was Tobolovsky, I think.
JE: Houston had its own chapter of the Women’s Political Caucus?
JE: And it was different from NOW?
JE: Was there a lot of overlap in membership?
FMN: Yes. Most NOW people were also members of the Women’s Political Caucus.
JE: But not vice-versa?
FMN: Not vice-versa.
JE: O.K. Did you go to the organizational meeting in Dallas or Arlington or where it was in the state?
FMN: Yes, I did.
JE: And that was taken over almost by Houston women exclusively, is that correct?
FMN: Yes, we were very well-organized.
JE: Perhaps better organized than any other group in the state ever was, as I recall.
FMN: We were very well-organized. I mean, we arrived . . . I owned the mimeograph machine. I was the press at that time in the sense that I had a mimeograph machine, I traveled with a mimeograph machine, I traveled with a typewriter. We arrived.
JE: Now, most people watching this probably don’t know what a mimeograph machine is. Why don’t you describe that for them?
FMN: Well, it was just this big monstrous thing that you put your . . .
JE: You typed a stencil.
FMN: You typed some sort of stencil and you put it on there and then you hand cranked or automatically cranked . . . I think I was even to the point where I had one that was electric. I don’t think I had to hand crank it. But there weren’t many people around that owned their own mimeograph machine.
JE: That is very true.
FMN: And certainly not that traveled with it. But we were serious. When we went to a convention, we were there for a purpose and we knew what we were there for. And so, we traveled . . . we believed firmly that those that owned the press, had the power of the press, so when we arrived, we already had all of our draft resolutions. Nobody else had anything like that. We had our team that arrived with us - they all had their marching orders and we were there to tell them what to do, and we did.
JE: O.K., that was in 1972?
FMN: More or less. Probably.
JE: So, that was before you became Women’s Advocate because you were still at TRW. O.K. Let’s keep going on your position as the Women’s Advocate. How long were you in that job?
FMN: 18 months, I think.
JE: What did you accomplish?
FMN: Well, some big breakthrough in the Police Department, some really big breakthrough. I negotiated an agreement with the Police Chief at the time that he would let women in basically, and I think the only reason that he agreed to that is he thought women did not really want to become cops. And I was perfectly happy for him to have that delusion.
JE: Was that Carrol Lynn?
FMN: It was Carrol Lynn. And what happened was that I think the first class where they opened it up and actually let women in, they had about 6 women in it which was the largest number they had ever had of women. I think usually before, they might have 1 or 2. And then, the next class started about 2 months later, and it had about 12 women in it. And the next class had about 18 women. I mean, every class was getting a lot bigger, so that within 6 months, it was half women in the class. I do not think that the people in the Police Department really knew what was going on for a while because the women were in the pipeline, they were in training, so they weren’t actually in the department yet. And then, suddenly, they start popping out, and they are popping out and they are popping out every 2 months. And within very short order, all of the supposed women’s jobs in the Police Department were full because I had not talked to them about women’s jobs and men’s jobs – I just talked to them about hiring them. I knew what was going to happen, but I do not think he did. They were only putting women in juvenile and in the jail.
JE: Lenny Dixon was the only woman that wasn’t . . .
FMN: So, you know, those jobs filled up very fast and suddenly, they’ve got another 12 or another 18 or whatever, and the department begins to realize that now, we’ve got 26 more coming or whatever by then. So, they shut it down, put in height requirements, all sorts of stuff to shut it down temporarily, but they still had all of those women coming out, and that really is the thing that broke the back over there because they had to put them somewhere. They didn’t have anywhere to put them, and they had to put them somewhere. So, for the very first time, they were out directing traffic which, to me, was just huge because it meant that women would be visible as police officers because before, nobody ever even saw women as police officers. They were plain clothes if they were in juvenile or if they were in the jail, so they were invisible to the public when there are in the jail. So suddenly, they are now on the street and they are directing traffic.
JE: Were you still there when they went beyond that?
FMN: Yes, I think so. When a few went on patrol.
JE: Did you get the height requirement revoked?
FMN: Well, it was initially taken away, and then they put it back in again, and they put agility tests in. And what I did was cooperate in the filing of an LEAA challenge. The LEAA is the Law Enforcement Administration that provides a lot of funding, and we filed a discrimination action.
JE: Were you still Women’s Advocate?
FMN: Oh, yes, and I was not the nominal person that filed it, but I certainly worked on it, and I think there was a Title 7 suit as well because we had a woman officer come in – she had come in from Washington, D.C., she had worked on patrol there and she was too short. So, she was like a "Polly-Plaintiff" kind of person to challenge the height requirement.
JE: O.K., what else did you do as women’s advocate?
FMN: Well, I got the Fire Department to agree to just let them try to get in, O.K., which was a big deal, and the first couple of women – we did have a couple of women get in, O.K.? And I did a big equal pay study that went through the whole payroll to compare the same jobs, to show exactly what was going on with women’s pay compared to men’s pay. And I tried to get some improvements. I tried to get birth control paid for by Council but that was a hopeless cause. I mean, they were really, really opposed to some of the stuff in terms of treating pregnancy the same way you would any other disability. I think we made a little progress on that but not much. And we increased the number of women that were on appointed boards and commissions significantly.
JE: As I recall, you got along reasonably well with the Council.
FMN: I did.
JE: And were kind of a low-key Women’s Advocate in the sense that you did a lot of this through the structure that existed rather than . . .
FMN: I tried to jawbone and put on my best good old country girl that I could and tried to get along with them, and I did not call them names. I did not think that was productive.
JE: Was there a comparable progression in Houston per se in terms of women’s rights?
FMN: What do you mean?
JE: Well, I mean, you made strides, you changed the dress codes which, as I recall, was a really big deal.
FMN: It was a big deal to the women.
FMN: It was a very big deal to the women.
JE: And you definitely made inroads in the Police and Fire department. I remember vividly you counted every bathroom in Houston.
FMN: I did.
JE: And came to the conclusion that there were far more for men than there were for women, and you advocated for women’s bathrooms. And, as I recall, you got the airport to do away with pay toilets.
FMN: I did. I’d forgotten some of this. You remember some of it better than I do, Jane!
JE: Well, probably you were rather obsessed with it at the time!
FMN: Well, I was, and you were my neighbor, so you got to hear a lot about it.
JE: But you made some strides in that area as I recall probably.
FMN: Yes, I always tried to do something in every area possible. We also got them to name . . . and this was something I felt very strongly about, too, is we got them to put someone in the Health Department that would be looking at the treatment of rape victims, because I had discovered the Women’s Political Caucus had gotten a statute through the Legislature requiring police departments to pay for the evidence gathering in rape cases, because oddly enough, unbelievably enough really, at that time, if you were a rape victim and went in to the hospital, you know, and they do this evidence gathering where they do the pubic smears and all that sort of stuff – they would then turn around and send you a bill for it afterwards. Well, no other victim of a crime was treated that way whenever they did evidence gathering. So, we got this statute passed where they could not do that anymore supposedly and then I get to the City of Houston – I find out they are still doing it. The law was not self enforcing obviously, and I had to get them to agree to do that which was not real easy. I remember sitting down – I cannot remember who was the police chief at that time because we changed police chiefs more often than people changed shoes in those days – I mean, there were a bunch of police chiefs in and out. And the police chief at this time did not want to do this. I think it was the assistant chief. He later became a chief, but it was an assistant chief that came over on this meeting about this, and he was convinced that women were going to falsely report rape so they could get a free rape kit!
JE: What did he think they were going to do with their free rape kit?
FMN: Well, I don’t know. I mean, he just seemed to think that, you know, women just were looking forward to having a pelvic examination, which I thought was really bizarre.
FMN: But he finally went along with it. The officers were informed that they had to tell the women now . . . well, this was the big thing – he did not want the women to be informed that they would not have to pay and I wanted very much for them to be informed they weren’t going to have to pay, especially after the City had had this law thing where they were billing them all the time; then they had to be informed they would not have to pay for that hospital visit that was being done at the request of the police officers.
JE: Did you prevail?
JE: How involved was Hofheinz in this? Did he just kind of let you run free?
FMN: He gave me a lot of latitude.
JE: Was he supportive when you needed him to be?
JE: So, in some ways, he is instrumental for . . .
FMN: Absolutely. I never had any complaints about Fred.
JE: Why did you quit?
FMN: Well, I was on loan from TRW. TRW was still paying a part of my salary.
JE: That’s right. They kept you up to . . .
FMN: So, I was on loan and my loan expired. But the other thing was that I did not want to do that forever, because I felt like if you were doing your job, you should do yourself out of a job. I had gone in with my list of things to do and I had basically done what I could do on my list. So, I thought it was time to move on.
JE: O.K. So, you went back to TRW?
FMN: I went back to TRW.
JE: Were you involved in any of the stuff that happened with your successor?
FMN: Not really.
JE: Would you say that that had as much to do with being
a Women’s Advocate or with the personality of your successor?
FMN: Personality, I think.
JE: I think that is right and we probably won’t go any more on that. O.K., so meanwhile, you are involved in the Women’s Movement and this is about the time obviously that you are lining up, in one year or 1-1/2 years or something, you had the national . . . this was the time when there was a national convention of NOW. There was the National Organizational Convention for the Women’s Political Caucus and the year of the woman . . .
FMN: The International Women’s Celebration.
JE: O.K., as I recall, it was NOW first, then the Caucus and then . . .
FMN: And then International Women’s Year.
JE: How was Houston selected for all 3 things?
FMN: Well, on the NOW National Convention, I think we were selected because we had a very large and active chapter and they were trying to have the convention in different parts of the country each year, so, you know, they had had it on the East Coast, they had had it on the West Coast, so they were looking for a venue in this area, and in this area, I mean, it would have been us or New Orleans probably. Dallas never did have a really good, active NOW chapter the way we did in Houston. We were one of the largest NOW chapters at that time in the country and very, very active. We got a lot of stuff done.
JE: Were you involved in the bake sale?
FMN: Of course! I mean, there was hardly anything that happened at that time I wasn’t in on.
JE: Tell us about the bake sale.
FMN: Oh, this was very early on. I think Susan Caudill, was she the president? I don’t know. She ended up being the reporter on that, didn’t she?
JE: Yes, I had to talk her into doing it.
FMN: Maybe Helen was the president of that, but we needed money and we needed it desperately for all of our crazy activities, and we decided to have a bake sale because we thought that was a surefire money maker but we did not really want . . . it did not seem a very feminist thing to do, to have a bake sale. So, we invented a name – I don’t remember what the name was.
JE: I do.
FMN: What was the name?
JE: It was like Mothers in Favor of Green Grass.
FMN: Something that sounded ecological and harmless. And staged this bake sale. I guess at some, was it a mall?
JE: I think it was Meyerland.
FMN: I don’t remember where it was, because I was not out there at the time of the bust. Anyway, the press became aware of what we were doing and busted us and wrote an article about it.
JE: As I recall, the shopping center would not let anybody with a political agenda in, and so you changed it for them.
FMN: Right. We certainly had one.
JE: O.K., let’s go back to the national conventions. You were involved in putting on all 3 of them certainly, I mean, as member of NOW.
FMN: Yes. In the NOW National Conference, Helen Cassidy and I were the co-coordinators.
JE: For the NOW National Conference?
FMN: For the NOW National Conference.
JE: O.K., and that was held at the . . .
FMN: At the Rice.
JE: At the Rice and at . . .
FMN: At the Rice.
JE: Just at the Rice?
FMN: Just at the Rice, and for the first time, women got paged at the Rice Hotel.
JE: For the very first time?
FMN: For the very first time.
JE: And who was the first person paged?
FMN: I don’t know who was the first person paged.
JE: I think it was Diana Prince, but I am not quite certain.
FMN: Well, it makes sense. That was our alter identity.
JE: O.K., how did the Hotel take that?
FMN: Oh, well, that was part of the negotiation, was that they understood that they had to . . . I mean, this old policy about they would not page women . . . and that had to do with, you know, concerns about prostitution I think is why they had that rule, that they didn’t page women at the Rice Hotel. But the Rice Hotel had a great attitude when we were there.
JE: Well, the fact that they let you come back again might speak to that.
FMN: They loved us. We did not get filthy drunk. We ate all of our meals and whatever we drank, we drank there. We were a great convention because, you know, at most of the guys’ conventions, they were all over town, you know, and the hotel makes money off the room but they don’t make money off everything else. And with the women’s rights groups, every dime that the women spent was basically spent in the convention hotel.
JE: O.K. Then, there was the organizational meeting for the Women’s Political Caucus. How did it wind up in Houston?
FMN: I really don’t know. Harris County had the largest women’s political caucus in the nation.
JE: Was Helen Cassidy still president of the state?
FMN: She was. She was president of the state. I don’t know how it ended up here because I did not work on setting that up. I was in LA working, and then I got transferred back right before it happened. I worked on it once I got here, but I did not work on any of the organizational stuff.
JE: O.K., now that was the convention that elected Sissy
Farenthold its first chair president, and that was the convention that was at
least maybe the last public time that Republican women were involved in it, too,
FMN: Probably, and there were a number of Republican women fairly highly visible. It was before the "Religious Right" really took over the Republican Party. In fact, you know, there was a time when the Republican Party was in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment and pro choice, or at least not clearly an ideologically anti-choice.
JE: O.K. And then, how did Houston get the International Women’s Convention?
FMN: I don’t know.
JE: That started under . . .
FMN: Bella Abzug was the . . .
JE: It started under Carter . . .
FMN: It started under Carter . . .
FMN: No, it started under Carter, I think. He appointed Bella.
JE: I think there was a Republican in charge of it first. I think it started under Ford.
FMN: It might have, the initial designation might have started under Ford.
JE: Yes. And then Carter went in and . . .
FMN: It was held during his administration.
JE: Yes. Now, you and Helen were in charge of that convention.
FMN: We were the local conference coordinators. She was in charge of the nuts, and I was in charge of the bolts.
JE: What was entailed in that?
FMN: She was supposed to take care of the crazy people and I was supposed to . . .
JE: Did she do an adequate job?
FMN: Unfortunately, she kept . . . they would ask where somebody was, where Helen Cassidy was on the elevator, an obviously crazy person, and she would point to me and say it was me! What was involved in that? Oh gosh, a lot was involved in that, because we were not hired until very late in the game. We were hired, as I understand it, because the Convention people just threw an absolute fit, the Houston people, that things were not being done that needed to be done, and had threatened to shut it down if they didn’t get somebody locally who could manage this thing. And, as a result, we had worked with them before on those previous conventions so they knew us and we were hired by the State Department.
JE: Were you still at TRW then?
FMN: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
JE: O.K. All right, in putting on that convention, that was a particularly large one.
FMN: About 20,000.
JE: And particularly visible to the community as a whole. How was Houston in terms of cooperating with this? I mean, were you generally well-received and given support?
FMN: Oh, the City was great. The City was great. There were some problems with the cop shop but the City was great.
JE: What were the cops concerned about?
FMN: They did not want to do anything.
JE: In terms of support, security?
FMN: They didn’t want to do anything.
JE: I guess by that time, they were used to the women taking over the men’s rooms and the . . .
FMN: Right, but . . .
JE: No, that was at the Coliseum. Yes, that was at the Coliseum.
FMN: Yes, the Coliseum.
JE: That may have been the first time it happened, I take it.
FMN: We had to have so many police officers working, O.K., because it was a requirement of the contract with the City’s facilities, but it was . . . I don’t know, it was a strange situation. They only, at one point . . . Hofheinz was still mayor because I remember at one point, he had to order the Chief of Police to agree to meet with us, O.K.? And I think it may have been because we had challenged their LEAA funds. It probably was. And they had resentments about that because he did not want to meet with us. He said he would not meet with us at one point without a court order and that all we wanted to do was sue him because of their discrimination.
JE: Was that Harry Caldwell?
FMN: I think so. There was a lot of animosity, O.K., on their part, really. I mean, we were quite flexible and reasonable, of course. It is like they were there, but they weren’t going to do anything which I don’t quite understand the point of why we are having to pay for these people if they are basically just standing there on their own strike and they are not going to do anything. Fortunately, we had a lot of people working sort of in house security to help with the problems, and we had a lot of problems because this was a very big national thing, the "Religious Right" was beginning to have some activity, the Ku Klux Klan was having some interest in us. We had bomb threats all the bloody time during that convention. It was tough.
JE: I don’t know that you actually had any dealings with, say, merchants or other groups, I mean, but did the community welcome this . . .
FMN: We never had any problems with the community. I think the community did welcome the Conference. It was a big group. There were some demonstrations that went on but, you know, it certainly was not the kind of thing where you have people burning stuff down in the streets or anything like that.
JE: Now, this one was held at the Coliseum, the old Coliseum?
FMN: It was.
JE: The old Coliseum, which is no longer there.
FMN: And the convention hall, Albert Thomas.
JE: Albert Thomas, yes. How did that convention go? Were you happy with it?
FMN: Oh, yes.
JE: I mean, it was pretty remarkable. That was the first and last one that was held, wasn’t it?
FMN: It was.
JE: And that was going on at the same time as the mayoral race?
FMN: Yes, it probably would have been.
JE: Yes, it was. I know it was because I was mad that I had to go cover that convention.
FMN: Oh, well, I thought the convention was pretty wonderful.
JE: Well, it was a good convention, I thought, but I adjusted. I adjusted. Have you ever heard of a publication called Houston Woman? Was that the one that Barbara Fulling wrote? No, I don’t think so.
FMN: I don’t know about that.
JE: All right. You left TRW and you went with a
stockbroker firm, didn’t you?
FMN: I worked for about 1 year for Merrill Lynch.
JE: How did you wind up with Merrill Lynch?
FMN: I don’t know. I knew somebody who was over there. I wanted to do something different.
JE: And then, you quit Merrill Lynch and just hung out?
FMN: Yes, for a while. Then, I went to work again for TRW at a different area, a different part of TRW doing systems design.
JE: Oh, did you?
FMN: Control systems for big power systems.
JE: O.K. And then, when did you wind up in law school and why?
FMN: I was in law school when I was working for TRW Controls. I worked at TRW Controls probably about 30 hours a week and went to law school at night.
JE: When did you get out of law school?
FMN: 1981. I looked at the degree!
JE: At this point, you became less involved in the Women’s Movement, is that correct, or did the Women’s Movement . . .
FMN: Less visibly involved, yes.
JE: My question being is it true that you just finally get tired of it or had enough progress been made?
FMN: Well, to some extent, I mean, you know, we had made a lot of progress and, you know, success is really sort of lethal in some ways, and other people that had been in, I mean, you know, they wanted to run off the old hands because they felt we had too much power.
JE: O.K. Were you still on the national board of NOW?
FMN: Not by that point. I served one term on the national board.
JE: O.K. All right, so you got immersed in law?
JE: What kind of law?
FMN: Well, I went to work for the district attorney’s office and prosecutor, but, you know, I might have been less visible in the Women’s Movement but I was always involved in women’s rights one way or the other. I ended up as the first felony prosecutor in the domestic violence unit at the DA’s office. I did that for a while.
JE: You kind of created the division?
FMN: Well, it was created by somebody else but you could say I was involved in shaping it because I was the first felony prosecutor over there. So, I did that for a term. I also did some appellate work. And then, I became a criminal defense attorney.
JE: Who was district attorney when you worked there?
FMN: Johnny Holmes.
JE: Why did you leave the DA’s office?
FMN: I was tired of it.
JE: So, you became a defense lawyer, a criminal defense lawyer?
FMN: I became a defense lawyer, criminal defense lawyer.
JE: How much of your work now is trial and how much appeals?
FMN: Well, it varies a lot. These days, it is probably more, in terms of the criminal stuff, it is probably more like 60% trial work and 40% appellate work, but that number can shift back and forth. But now, I am also doing a lot of work with pregnant teenagers that is not criminal work.
JE: What is this?
FMN: Well, I do some work for an organization called Jane's Due Process where I give legal representation to teenage girls that are trying to have an abortion without notifying their parents and to do that, you have to file a little action in court where they have these confidential hearings to make a determination whether the girl is mature enough to make the decision on her own, or if it is not in her best interest to tell her parents for one reason or another, or if she is in danger of some sort of physical or emotional violence if she tells them.
JE: You do a lot of work for the teenage pregnancy program?
JE: Is that all pro bono?
FMN: We get paid sometimes by the court on a case which some pay us and some won't.
JE: Have you ever been called upon to defend an alleged rapist or abuser?
JE: And do you do it?
JE: How do you compromise that?
FMN: It is not a compromise. It is just not. When you are a criminal defense attorney, your duty is to try to get the best result for your client and to assert his legal rights, and to remember always that it is the state’s burden to prove the case. It is not your burden. So, a criminal defense attorney does not sit in judgment of the client. That is just not their job. That is the job of the judge, the job of the jury, and then there is a prosecutor who is there to prosecute. Our job is to make sure the state follows the Constitutional law.
JE: Have you prevailed?
JE: Are you glad you had done that?
JE: Because by that definition, your client is innocent, correct?
FMN: Absolutely. I have never been somebody who thought that the Constitution should be short circuited for some of this stuff, because I can remember there were various times when NOW state meetings or Women’s Political Caucus meetings would deal with resolutions on the floor to try to do things that I thought compromised basic Constitutional rights about the right to confront your accuser, the right to be presumed innocent – things of that nature – and the purported theory is well, you know, it is to protect these rape victims. This is before I went to law school. I was opposed to that kind of thing because I think that Constitutional rights really are very important and they are very important for everybody.
JE: What was the big deal at the International Year of the Woman? Was that abortion? I don’t think it was. There was a resolution of something that passed there that had a big split.
FMN: Well, Jane, you are asking the absolute wrong person to ask about the content of what happened at that convention because the nature of what I was doing and what Helen was doing, I mean, we knew nothing about what was actually happening at the convention in terms of the content of the convention because we were running the show behind the scenes in terms of making sure that the lights were on, the seats were there, the microphones were working. We were so involved in the . . .
JE: Well, at least you had progressed to Xeroxes. You were beyond mimeographs.
FMN: Well, absolutely but, I mean, all I am saying is that we were never on the floor really. We were not delegates. We were not participating in the content of the thing, so I have no idea what they passed and what they did not pass.
JE: So, your evaluation of it as a success was because
you had put on the convention?
FMN: Well, I mean, I know that the women that went there were extremely pleased because I heard later . . . I mean, many women said that it changed their lives attending that.
JE: That is true.
FMN: Many women thought that it changed their lives and, I mean, it was a big click moment for them, you could say. To me, it wasn’t that kind of moment at all because, first of all, if there had been a click, I had already had it 5 or 6 years before, but also I don’t know how the votes went on anything just because that is not what I was doing.
JE: What were the years of your really big involvement in the Women’s Movement?
FMN: Oh, gosh! I am not sure. Probably you would know a lot better than I would probably if you had somebody run some data on it. I don’t even remember what year it was that I was on the NOW National Committee.
JE: That was kind of the mid 1970s. I think you probably went in, in the late 1960s.
FMN: Well, I mean, that seems right to me. Maybe 1969, 1968, something like that, and then, all the way through the 1970s.
JE: And in that period, in that one decade, what change did you see in Houston, just the city of Houston? And I think in that term, you could apply the state and the nation, but how did Houston change in its treatment of women and women’s roles?
FMN: There were huge changes made over that period. Huge changes. I mean, for the first time, we had women being on camera as news people, at the TV stations. That was a very big change because before, there had never been anything except white males. And I think Carole Kneeland was the first . . . no, was it Jessica Savitch?
JE: Kay Bailey Hutchison.
FMN: Kay Bailey Hutchison. O.K., Kay Bailey Hutchison. But we had Kay Bailey, we had . . . that was a very big breakthrough, to start having women visible doing the news and to be out actually on camera reporting and so forth.
JE: Jessica Savitch was the first anchor.
FMN: She was the first anchor. I know that Carole was very important. I mean, she was important to us because she did a lot of stories about women and women’s issues, so we had a lot of dealings with Carole Kneeland. We got a lot of legal rights during that period. We got credit rights. We got employment rights. We saw women moving into police departments, fire departments. I mean, even the little things like you would have women working as road repair crew that was signaling, you know, but women moved into a lot of jobs they had never previously occupied; at least, during my lifetime. They had occupied some of those jobs during the Rosie the Riveter days during war time, but, of course, that was the temporary thing during World War II. But they actually moved into a whole array of jobs that they had never moved before. We also saw huge numbers of advances in terms of women in public office – being elected to the Texas Legislature, being elected to the House of Representatives, the U.S. House. It ended up with we ended up with a woman governor in Ann Richards. We have a woman senator from the state of Texas. I mean, all of that came about out of that era. We have had a woman mayor in the city of Houston. We have had a woman police chief in the city of Houston. We have a bunch of women now on City Council, not just a token but a bunch of women. There are a bunch of women in the Texas Legislature. All of that came about out of that era.
JE: Were you involved in Kathy Whitmire’s race?
FMN: A little bit, not a lot.
JE: When she ran and was elected, did her gender play a role in this? I mean, her sex play a role in this? Either for or against her? Do you think people were for her because she was a woman or against her because she was a woman?
FMN: Well, I think some people were for her because she was a woman and some people were against her because she was a woman.
JE: But marked?
FMN: I think she probably definitely got a lot of women’s votes. I think there was probably a marked women’s vote because you started seeing a marked women’s vote in politics. You start seeing where women candidates would get . . . I mean, even down ballot where nobody knew the names, O.K., say you had some sort of a contested race for judgeships at that time and like at that time, the Democrats were still in office. But you might have a contested race, let’s say, for a judgeship which is down ballot – nobody knows anything about who the candidates are, and you would see the woman polling better than the man.
JE: Now, how many races have you made?
FMN: I think I made 3 for judge. I ran locally and I ran twice for the Court of Criminal Appeals.
JE: Locally and twice for the Court of Criminal Appeals? At that time, that would have been in the 1990s?
JE: At that time, did you sense that your sex played any role at all in your campaign? I mean, when you were campaigning, was there any, oh God, here comes a woman running?
FMN: No, not really. At that point, I think it had pretty much . . . we had crossed that barrier.
JE: And you pretty much lost to Republicans, is that correct?
FMN: Pretty much, yes, because, I mean, it is Republican state. Now, I did win the primary. I carried Houston in the primary and the two statewides, I carried Houston, but I did not carry the state. I did not make the primary.
JE: O.K. Well, let’s go back to your law practice. How many women were practicing law by the time you came along?
FMN: Quite a lot. I would say by the time I went into law school, nearly half the law schools were women.
JE: That much?
FMN: It really had increased dramatically and that, too, was a product of the Women’s Movement.
JE: Well, I guess so.
FMN: Because that went from almost nothing to huge numbers in a generation. Less than a generation. In a decade, I would say.
JE: And there are a good many women on benches now.
FMN: Absolutely. Probably half of them. Maybe more.
JE: Northcutt, you talk too fast. Let’s go back to just Houston as you remember it during this phase. When you came here, you came very much in the era of you were the great exception as the woman who was involved in the Space Program and that women weren’t much involved in . . . so that would have been in the 1960s. Compare the Houston of the 1960s to the Houston of now.
FMN: Well, in the 1960s, we may have had one woman on City Council.
JE: I don’t remember when Eleanor was elected.
FMN: I am not sure either but, I mean, that would have been the most that we had. Now, another big difference that was going on with that – there was also a period in there that went from having everything elected at large to having districts.
JE: That was 1972.
FMN: And that was a very big thing, too.
JE: That was state. Council did not come until after that.
FMN: But that change was also very big and had a lot to do . . . that helped a lot in terms of helping women as well as helping minorities because it meant that you could run a manageable campaign without having to first have the big money interest on your side. If you were running at large in the whole of Harris County, the only way you could get in was if you had the big money on your side because you just could not campaign. So, it was a very big deal for women and minorities to have that change. It made it possible for them to be able to run small campaigns and get their foot in the door. So, I mean, now, I don’t know how many women we have on City Council, but it is quite a lot and nobody thinks a thing about it.
JE: That’s right.
FMN: So, that is a very big difference. Just the presence of the huge number of women that are in law, the huge number of women in the media, you’ve got women as commentators on the media all over the place. Women are just a lot more visible in our society. I mean, we even have a women’s professional sports team which was an unheard of thought, just unbelievable that we would have the Houston Comets, for example, back in the 1960s. So, there has been just tremendous progress made. There is also still a lot of progress that needs to be made. There still is a glass ceiling. There are still not women . . . I think the corporations claim there is a shortage of qualified women to sit on their corporate boards but . . .
JE: Well, at this particular time, the Republican Party, which may or may not still be the predominant party in the County of Harris but has been, for recent years up until now, has 2 women running for district attorney, I mean, in a runoff. So, it means the Republicans are going to nominate a woman for district attorney. Could you have conceived of that?
FMN: Well, I could conceive of all sorts of things but would I think that was at all likely in the 1960s? Oh, absolutely not. No way -- although they did have a very strong woman party chair at one time.
JE: Yes, they did.
FMN: A very strong woman party chair.
JE: Yes, they did. Well, actually, the Republican Party was known more for its women than the Democratic Party was.
FMN: Exactly. That was a whole different kind of era and a different philosophy. I am sure they would be horrified at the thought of me saying that they were more liberal then but I think they were more liberal then.
JE: Or more moderate perhaps. But you have lived in Houston, just in Houston itself – the domed stadium, Harris County domed stadium was opened while you were living here and now they are trying to save it.
FMN: Right. And the first time, and maybe the only time I ever went to the domed stadium was to see Billie Jean King play.
JE: That’s right, the King/Riggs match was there. And probably the only time tennis was played in the domed stadium.
FMN: It may be. That was quite an event.
JE: At that particular event, were there more women than men?
FMN: I don’t know what the makeup was. It was just full. It was packed. It was a circus.
JE: That would have been in the 1970s, I guess?
FMN: It was in the 1970s. I remember I won the pool where I worked because I bet on Billie Jean.
JE: O.K. But you have seen the Dome built and it is now trying to be saved. I guess Intercontinental Airport had been built since you . . . I mean, you certainly have seen the city grow, and you say that you used to come to shop at Foley's and perhaps Sakowitz. Neither one of those are here now.
JE: Just the general physical growth of the city. What do
you think about that and how has that affected life here?
FMN: Well, I still think this is a very dynamic and exciting city to live in. We are a very diverse city. We are a very international city. I think there has been a big change in the degree of internationalism, too, and, in many ways, I think that may be the most significant change in terms of the personality of the city because we have a huge Asian population now, we just have a huge international population. I think we may be one of the most international cities there is. So, we have wonderful food here, from all parts of the world. I think it is one of the greatest places to eat out. And great theater. Of course, we have always had good theater in Houston. It is a fairly progressive city I think all in all. The outlying areas that are not part of the city – that is a whole another thing.
JE: You have learned Spanish?
FMN: I have studied Spanish. I am still not fluent, but I am working on it.
JE: Because you consider that a necessary part of your law practice?
FMN: Sort of. I consider it a big asset. I consider it a big asset.
JE: That is a sign of a growing international city, isn’t it?
FMN: It is. And if I could learn Chinese, I would learn that as well.
JE: Chinese or Vietnamese.
FMN: Chinese or Vietnamese. I mean, anything I could, I would because I think that that is a big asset. I think every kid ought to try to be trilingual or quadrilingual.
JE: I have no idea what the school requirements are now, do you?
FMN: I do not know, but I think that any kid that doesn’t learn how to speak Spanish is really missing the boat and they ought to try to learn something else as well.
JE: As a matter of fact, I guess you have lived here since the school district desegregated.
FMN: I think they probably desegregated before I moved here.
JE: I don’t think so.
FMN: I am not sure.
JE: What about the general size of the city and crime? Is there more crime now than there used to be, or are there just more people that make it seem that way?
FMN: Well, there is a huge amount of drug use that goes on, so in that sense, there is probably more crime. There is a huge amount of drug use. Small drug cases. And there are a lot of people that have serious addiction problems and as a result of that, you end up with burglaries and theft and robberies and other kinds of things that happen. So, I think there probably is more crime.
JE: How is Houston doing in controlling narcotics?
FMN: I think we are doing poorly and primarily because we are not really addressing underlying problems. The police seem to be doing great at going out and arresting these penny ante dope users, I mean, you know, but are they really doing big things in terms of getting the major suppliers? No. And more importantly still, they are not doing very much to really address the really serious economic problems that some of the community has that leads to that. And there are also a lot of mental health issues that are connected with drug use as well. A lot of mentally ill people are out there. We have very, very, very poor support for people who are mentally ill in this state and in this community. And many of them use drugs to self-medicate. And then, they end up doing unfortunate things. In the court system, we are just now beginning to really start addressing some of the needs of people with mental illness. They are starting a court that deals with mental health issues. There is just a little more attention to it. They have some mental health coordinators in the court system now. These are very recent developments.
JE: There is a court now that does this?
FMN: Well, they are not doing it entirely now but they are probably going to be. There is probably going to be one. They are working on that. In Austin, they already have one, is my understanding. I mean, it is a new issue. I mean, the attemtion of the courts to that issue has probably not been going on more than 2 years, serious attention. But it is a huge problem. At least 10% of the inmate population has significant mental health issues and probably far greater than that if you are talking about just do they have mental health issues altogether. I would guess that at least 10% of them are really there because of the mental health problems they’ve got. They are just not being addressed in this society. They are schizophrenic, they are bipolar, they are not on their meds.
JE: Are they particularly criminals though?
FMN: Not necessarily is what I am saying. I mean, they may end up . . . you will see, with the people with serious mental illness, a lot of times, you will see a certain sort of grouping of offenses that they may be involved in that really have to do with the mental problem. You might see criminal trespasses, for example. Well, that is because they don’t know where they are. Or you might see strange assault cases, because they are schizophrenic and they are seeing things or hearing things or whatever. There are just some bizarre incidents going on. And a lot of times, they are using some sort of narcotics. That is the only way they can shut the voices down.
JE: Where do they get them?
FMN: On the street.
JE: They have to buy them?
JE: How can a homeless schizophrenic afford drugs?
FMN: I don’t know. They may get some check from somebody.
JE: But you would not consider this a problem exclusive to Houston?
FMN: No. I think the mental health problem is probably all across the country. I think we probably have more symptomatology of it in Texas and in Houston because our state provides very little economic help. Very little. We are probably way down . . . you know, of all the 50 states, we are probably 49th or maybe 45th, something like that.
JE: O.K., that is terms of good spending for mental health issues....?
FMN: Yes. Resources. Spending to help them get services.
JE: But are we ahead in terms of developing a whole court to handle it?
FMN: No, we are probably behind. I think probably other states have done that before we have.
JE: Why is that a good deal to do that?
FMN: A good deal to have a mental health court, do you mean?
FMN: Oh, well, first of all, it is not a good idea to have these people just being shoveled into the general population without treating the reason that they are there, because if you do, if they are not getting medication, they are going to be a problem in the jail or in the prison or wherever they are just because they are hallucinating. There is no ideal . . . there is no way of knowing what it is that they think is going on. The other thing is the basic fairness situation. They really may not be criminally responsible for some of the things they are doing, but one of the ways to keep them from being in and returning over and over and over again into that criminal system is to get them on their meds and get them proper treatment. And that is one of the primary goals that mental health courts have, is to make sure that they are getting assessed and that their psychiatric problem is being addressed; that they are getting meds. And some of the judges are really working hard at trying to recognize that they have some people that need that kind of attention, to make sure that they are getting the kind of supervision that will work. Some people need to be forced to take meds.
JE: That is true. Going back just to the fact that your successor did not last in office long, when the new mayor came in, and there was a huge flap about whether to keep her or not to keep her . . . as I recall, City Council was not able to do away with the position, but they made it a dollar a year one or something like that.
FMN: Well, they tried to abolish it or something. I do not remember what they did.
JE: And they could not really. You suggested that personality was involved a lot in that, but is it also possible that Houston was kind of beyond needing a Women’s Advocate?
FMN: Well, I think there was still stuff to be done at that point, and I think there still is stuff to be done, although I do not really think they need a Women’s Advocate anymore, because you’ve got enough women on Council that ought to be advocating for women and you’ve got enough women in other positions of power, but I really think all of that flap had to do with my successor’s individual problems with Council and with division chiefs and things like that over in the place. She had a much more confrontational approach to dealing with them which, in some ways, is sort of strange, because I am a pretty confrontational person, and I have been confrontational many times in many situations – I just did not think that that was the place to be confrontational, where you have to go back the next day and work with the people.
JE: Speaking of confrontational, as I recall in the early times of the Women’s Movement, you all used to do a lot of debates and dual appearances with women opposed to the Women’s Movement; you know, women who want to be women and that sort of thing. Was there benefit from that?
FMN: Well, what do you mean? Benefit?
JE: From your standpoint, do you think that . . .
FMN: Do I think anybody was illuminated? I don’t know. I don’t know if anybody was illuminated or not. I think a lot of those issues, people have pretty fixed opinions and you are not going to change their mind.
JE: Do you think then that those women . . . actually, even women that you would call the "Religious Right", they are not necessarily throwbacks in the Women’s Movement, are they? I mean, are there a lot of women in that particular group who were active? I mean, look at just Ann Coulter and Laura, what’s her name?
FMN: Well, they are sort of Queen Bees, aren’t they?
JE: Yes. But, I mean, you know, at least they are . . .
FMN: Yes, well, Phyllis Schlafly was the same way.
JE: Oh, yes, she still is, I guess.
FMN: You know, very much the Queen Bee, I mean, you know. All the other women have their place, and then I have mine.
JE: Do you really think that?
FMN: I do, although I think even they have changed. The Women’s Movement has even changed them, to some extent.
JE: That is my question.
FMN: I mean, in truth, I mean, Ann Coulter wouldn’t be able to be Ann Coulter if it hadn’t been for the Women’s Rights Movement. How would she get to write books and be a commentator and all of that? It is because of the Women’s Rights Movement.
JE: So, in a way, you had people turn on you because of that, although I don’t know that I have ever thought . . . I mean, I have never heard them speak the old thing that there used to be so much of a woman’s role and that sort of thing.
FMN: Well, no, but, I mean, basically, they are taking advantage of what we have done and that is fine – I want them to be able to take advantage of what we have done, O.K.? I have always wanted these rights to be available for all women including the ones I did not agree with. We took a challenge to the Democratic National Convention. Do you remember that?
JE: Yes, I do.
FMN: The Women’s Political Caucus out of Texas took a challenge to the Democratic National Convention when McGovern was nominee.
FMN: And we were challenging under-representation of women in the delegation. And we challenged all the way up. In the course of that challenge, the people had a lot of trouble understanding. They just could not deal with the idea that we were really just trying to get all of the women, their ability to be represented. We weren’t there . . . I mean, I happened to be supporting McGovern – most of us were – but we weren’t there trying to increase McGovern’s vote. We were helping, what was his name?
JE: George Wallace?
FMN: George Wallace’s women. Trying to get them a place. We wanted to help women that were supporting George Wallace get to be on the delegation. All of them.
JE: And George Wallace women did not have this sense that
that was what you were trying to do?
FMN: No, actually, they did.
JE: They did? O.K.
FMN: They did, because I remember whenever . . . or at least some of them did. When we were in Washington, D.C. in front of the National Credentials Committee . . . well, I guess we were in front of the hearings officer – I remember the guy who was representing the Party, the State Party during this hearing had made these really absurd claims about . . . he was saying, well, there weren’t enough Wallace women that wanted to be delegates to be able to do this, and so forth. And suddenly, we had Wallace women in the audience standing up and saying, “I am a Wallace woman. I was there and I wanted to be a delegate and still do.” So, yes, they understood some of it. They are not always appreciative, but they are happy to take advantage of it.
JE: Texas has always been known I think as a fairly progressive state for women.
FMN: I think we are actually.
JE: We did not have large city female mayors, but lots of small communities had women mayors.
FMN: And I think part of that is the frontier situation, that in the frontier situation, women always tend to have a little more independence because they did have to take care of a lot of stuff. So, part of that is inculcated in our culture. We have always had strong women in Texas.
JE: Who in Houston, females in Houston that you can think of, that you admired particularly, that you think have done things, besides yourself?
FMN: That I have admired in the past or that I admire now?
FMN: Are we talking living or dead?
FMN: Well, I think Helen Cassidy was incredible.
JE: Who was Helen Cassidy?
FMN: Oh, well, she was my best friend for a long time, but she was one of the very big women’s rights activists in Houston. She was the first chair of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus. She was the president of the local National Organization for Women at one time. Also on the National Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women. She was a lawyer, worked at the Court of Appeals, the 14th Court of Appeals, for a long time and was just an incredibly articulate voice for women, and also really savvy politically. So, I always had a lot of admiration for Helen. She also had a great sense of humor which was also important to me. I probably admire her the most.
JE: What about women holding, not political positions of power per se, but are you aware of roles that women have? I mean, the Houston Astros, I think, has a woman in charge there. What does this mean in terms of . . . I mean, is that Houston, is it because of the Women’s Movement, is it because that Houston is receptive to that sort of thing? I mean, I don’t know this, but I will bet you that the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have never had women.
FMN: I think Houston probably is more receptive to it.
JE: Do you have any idea why?
FMN: I mean, we have had strong women in visible roles for a good while. I think it probably helped that the Comets were such a big thing here in terms of women in sports, that that demonstrated the big women’s market for sports and that probably played a little bit in it but I am not sure I can pinpoint exactly why. I am sure it has a lot to do with her particular qualifications, too.
JE: The Comets had a male coach for a long time.
FMN: Yes, we did.
JE: Was that discordant or was that just an indication that you no longer have to . . . that we have made such progress that men and women just interact the way they should?
FMN: Well, I think he was a good coach. I don’t think it was a big deal one way or the other.
JE: That is my point. Just because we are to that point in Houston.
FMN: Well, but we are not really there, O.K.? It is O.K. for a man to coach women but we have not had any women coaching men on the Rockets. O.K.? So, that is a whole different thing, although I think that you might start seeing some of that because of the WNBA.
JE: Yes. And colleges.
FMN: And colleges. But you will begin to see some of that. I think you will begin to see some of that, some women actually working in some men’s programs. But it is a slow crossover.
JE: In your political races, did you think that your sex had anything to do with your success or failure?
JE: Why not?
FMN: I just do not think that it did. I do not think it had anything at all to do with it.
JE: That is progress, isn’t it?
FMN: Oh, yes. It is definitely progress.
JE: What would you like to see Houston become?
FMN: Well, I would like to see the Space Program get a big boost, and I am concerned about what is going to happen with the Space Program – seeing the headlines the other day about 2,300 jobs going down the tubes. It is pretty disappointing. I would really like for us to become even . . . I am a technology person. I really would like for us to be an even bigger player in the technology world, and continue to be a very big international city.
JE: How did this technology person wind up in the law?
FMN: Well, because having worked in the Women’s Rights Movement, I was interested in Civil Rights, became interested in that, and knowing that, you begin to be aware of how important it is that you use legal avenues to get advancements, but also, you know, I am not a person that just has one interest. I have never been a person that has just one interest.
JE: Do you think you will see your career out as a lawyer?
FMN: As a lawyer, probably, primarily because the law, you can do a lot of different things in law. But, you know, if I were to have guarantees of an even longer life, I might want to go become a brain surgeon! I have never been somebody who just wanted to do the same thing all my life. I like doing different things a lot.
JE: What was the first space launch you saw?
FMN: I think I saw 8.
JE: Did you go to all of them?
FMN: No, I didn’t go to all of them. I am pretty sure I saw 8 because I can remember . . . yes, I think I went to 8.
JE: When you saw a ship go up, or when the case of 13, you saw a ship come back down, was that kind of a heady feeling?
FMN: Well, it is an awesome feeling to see liftoff. It is just an awesome feeling because the earth moves when you have liftoff.
JE: I think the volume is what is . . .
FMN: Well, it is the sound I thought was just amazing. I never experienced that. I have been through some small earthquakes and the earth moved in those but that is not the same thing as when you have liftoff of an S IV B n S4B. The sound actually travels through your body and you are vibrating with the sound. I have never had that experience where you are actually vibrating with the sound. You can feel the sound, literally feel the sound in your bones.
JE: But knowing your role in it?
FMN: Well, I never felt that on liftoff. I mean, when I saw liftoff, I was always just so enraptured by the sight of it and that incredible sensation from that sound. There is just no sound that is like that. I mean, it is below base. It is just something else. A lot more likely to feel excitement whenever you have a safe landing. But I never felt good while they were in the air. You worry all the time.
JE: In your role in NASA, you said that you were aware that that was a good area for you to go to because there were not women in it and that you thought that it would be monetarily beneficial for you to go there.
FMN: In mathematics, yes. I had not thought specifically about the Space Program. I just ended up there.
JE: O.K. Did you ever have the sense that you were the only woman?
FMN: Oh, yes. I was the only woman!
JE: Well, I mean, was it a sense of a pressure or satisfaction or what?
FMN: I did not feel oppression. I did not feel satisfaction. Neither one. I mean, I felt like I was a curiosity a lot of the times, I was stared at a lot of times. I was a curiosity.
JE: Well, initially. I mean, didn’t they get used to you at all?
FMN: Well, eventually, yes, but I mean, I was always aware I was the only woman.
JE: You were always aware that you were the only woman?
JE: Do you feel that now in any sense?
JE: So, in that regard, you have made . . .
FMN: Oh, huge steps. And I am sure that the women that work there now, I mean, there are a lot more women there than when I was there. I truly was . . . in the room I was in, I was the only woman. When I walked into the Mission Control Center and sat down the first time, I do not believe there had ever been a woman walk in the Mission Operations Control Center. Maybe except to clean the floors. But to sit down and put a headset on . . .
JE: Is there still a role for progress in Houston for women?
FMN: Yes! Definitely.
JE: Who is going to bring it about?
FMN: The young women who are going to agitate and insist on having their rights, I hope.
JE: O.K. Let’s cut it.