Marcia Greenberger is founder and Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center, established in 1972 to advocate for gender equality in education, jobs, economic security, and health. Under her leadership, the NWLC has worked to improve the lives of women, girls and families by backing laws to prohibit pregnancy discrimination in employment and to provide compensation for victims of sexual harassment. It helped pass state and federal tax laws to help millions of families pay for child and dependent care and secured new federal remedies for women seeking child support. The Center has also been a leader in enforcing Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including athletics.
Marcia was the first full-time women’s rights legal advocate in Washington, D.C. In her interview, she describes becoming aware of discrimination against women and Jews during college and as she entered law school — where she was one of ten women in her class of 240 — at the height of the Vietnam War. Caught up in the turbulent 1960s, she committed herself to seeking social change, a goal rooted in the Jewish values her parents had taught her and in President John F. Kennedy’s call to service. She remembers with great admiration and fondness her mentor, Justice Arthur Goldberg.
Full Transcript and Video
June 27, 2011
Deborah Ross [DR]: Let’s start at the beginning. Talk a little bit, if you would, about your early years: where you grew up and what kind of Jewish observance there was in your family.
Marcia Greenberger [MG]: I grew up in Philadelphia. Both my parents are, or were Jewish. My father died a number of years ago, my mother at 96 is still alive. Being Jewish was always a very important part of our identity and our culture, and just who I thought of myself as. I did grow up in a neighborhood where there were many, many other Jewish families, and so growing up through school there were always a lot of Jewish kids.
DR: Did you feel like a minority?
MG: Well, ironically enough, I didn’t feel like as much of a minority as obviously Jews are both in Philadelphia, let alone in other parts of the country, let alone in the world. I had a very distorted view. In fact, when I was younger, I thought being Jewish was what the majority of kids were.
DR: So, no Christmas pageant at school?
MG: There were, there were all of those Christmas celebrations. Also, when I went to public school, you had to read from the New Testament and the Old Testament. They were alternated, reading passages when the day began. So we read from the Bible when the day began every day. But somehow that never seeped in as something that reflected either inappropriately about why we are reading from the Bible at all in a public school, let alone why we would be reading from the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. The notion of separation of church and state never occurred to me. That’s the first thing. The second thing is there were always kids who weren’t Jewish so the fact that we read from the New Testament I probably thought—now that I’m thinking about this for the first time as you’re asking me—isn’t that ecumenical of us all that we’re incorporating everybody’s part of the Bible? It didn’t make me feel as if I was a particular minority. Now I certainly knew that the world at large celebrated Christmas and that we had a celebration of sorts, but didn’t really celebrate Christmas, and we certainly celebrated Hannukah, so I knew that, but I somehow didn’t incorporate it into my identity as being a minority until I became older.
DR: Did you have a Jewish education?
MG: I did. My parents belonged to a synagogue. I went to Hebrew school and Sunday school three days a week, and had I done what they expected I would have also gone to services on Saturday, which as a general matter I did not do, and my family did not do except for High Holiday services.
DR: Did you have a bat mitzvah?
MG: I had a bat mitzvah. I was one of three girls who did on a Friday night. I grew up going to a conservative synagogue. We were not allowed to read from the Torah, but bat mitzvah for girls was just in its beginning phases so three of us were bat mitzvahed together. We read on a Friday night from a haftarah.
DR: Do you remember thinking at that time, “Gee, this is different from what the boys are doing?”
MG: Yes, but as you’ll see, that didn’t say, “Oh, well, that’s not fair.” I didn’t have that sense of it, I just thought, “Oh, I get to do a bat mitzvah, that’s something that’s kind of neat.” I continued on until I was confirmed when I was sixteen. I must admit that I did not want to continue on. I hated Hebrew school, and I never really—despite all those years—became fluent reading, let alone understanding, Hebrew. I never, except for understanding some of the stories of the Bible, and that Jews don’t believe in Jesus, ever got much of a grounding of the philosophy or the ethics of the Jewish religion per se in Hebrew school.
DR: But you came out of this with a Jewish identity.
MG: I certainly came out of it very much feeling as if I was Jewish, feeling very comfortable in a synagogue, comfortable with other Jews, comfortable with Jewish traditions, comfortable expecting to celebrate Passover and Hannukah and the High Holiday services. That was all a very central part of my growing up, and I certainly also felt as if I could walk into a synagogue probably anywhere and feel a basic level of comfort.
DR: If you were to reflect on Jewish values that may have been transmitted to you in your home, what would you say that they would be?
MG: Now, as an adult, and as I became more sophisticated—in college I took some classes on different religions, so that I had a little bit of a context to understand what the ethical teachings were from the Jewish religion, and made conscious choices in starting my own family. My husband also is Jewish and had grown up in an even more religious conservative tradition than I had, but we opted for a variety of reasons to belong to a reform Jewish synagogue. Our two daughters were bat mitzvahed and continued on, and both married Jewish men. Both were married by our rabbi. I have two sisters and they also married Jewish men and stayed in the religion belonging to the synagogue. So our whole family really thinks of itself as Jewish.
I think that for me in terms of the ethics and the principles of the Jewish religion they’re very entwined in the principles of how you live your life as an individual with respect to your community and the world at large. To be more specific, I think that there were progressive values that were very much at the core of my parents’ view of the world, that they didn’t always link very explicitly to what it means to be Jewish--that you need to be progressive if you are Jewish--but which I view as being in sync. Things like caring about the poor, caring about the least of us, having a sense of integrity in how you conduct your everyday affairs, caring about family, caring about tradition, caring about the Jewish religion, and carrying on a sense of identity about being Jewish and the responsibility that that means toward the Jewish community, and also caring about Israel. These are all very much fundamental to, I think, my general selection of a mate, of a career, the way I’ve raised my children. Those are principles, as I’ve worked now in the women’s rights movement, that I’ve felt are very much alive with the Jewish religion and the values that I grew up with. I feel extremely comfortable in the Jewish religion, in especially the reform movement that I’m a part of, and also very proud of that religious tradition. So I cannot say for every type of Judaism I feel that same identity, but I do certainly for reform Jews and for many others who aren’t reform.
DR: Do your children have this same sense of identity?
MG: Definitely. My older daughter actually spent a junior semester abroad in Israel. Now I cannot say that any of us are, should I say ‘religious’ in going to services every week, or having Shabbat dinners every week, but they feel strongly about going to services during the High Holidays. They all light candles during Hannukah. They have very much of a sense of community in that they are Jews.
DR: Let’s move on to college. You went to the University of Pennsylvania. When you entered, did you have an expectation of a career?
MG: When I entered I thought I would certainly prepare myself for some career. My family was supportive of teaching, which was a very common thing for women of my generation to do if they went to college on the theory that it could accommodate family responsibilities and certainly it was primarily women who were teaching. They weren’t thinking teaching at a post-high school level. They were thinking about teaching at an elementary, secondary level. I was open to whether there was something else that I might do at the University of Pennsylvania. They did not offer degrees in education. I would not have wanted to get a degree in education anyway, but you could take extra courses in education that didn’t count toward your degree but that you could have so that you could be eligible to be certified as a secondary school teacher in the Philadelphia Public Schools and that is what I did. I went to summer school, took those extra courses, and actually then took an exam to be certified as a history teacher, which was my major, so that I would be able teach.
DR: Somewhere along the way…
MG: Somewhere along the way, partially I went to a girls’ high school, which was very much focused on expecting women to have careers. Now becoming a nurse or a teacher fit quite comfortably into those expectations. Many people in my high school class chose those professions, but there was never any expectation at all that you wouldn’t have some career. It was an all-academic, all-city, girls’ high school. When I went to college, that was really the first time I was confronted with the fact that even though the University of Pennsylvania had a relatively large number of Jewish students, as universities go, we were very much a minority in that university, and I focused for the first time on the fact that there were sororities and fraternities that had a lot of status where Jews weren’t allowed. There were fancy camps that kids had gone to which weren’t for Jews. There were clubs where Jews weren’t allowed, or weren’t really welcome to join. If they did it was the exception rather than the rule. That was all very new to me in college.
DR: What were you thinking?
MG: I remember thinking a couple of things. First of all, on an intellectual plane, “This is interesting”. All of a sudden, the Christmas notion, the feeling of, really I am a minority in this country, and it’s a minority that’s also not really part of the elite and the ruling class and the people with power and that there were law firms in Philadelphia at that time— though I didn’t know that until I went to law school—where Jews were not welcome. That was all a dawning realization. The more it dawned as I went through college and then continuing on in law school the more I felt aggrieved about it. Those lines were beginning to break down during my generation, so I can’t say that I felt as personally disadvantaged by being Jewish as I did being a woman, but the combination being a Jewish woman sure wasn’t great, especially in the world of law firms in Philadelphia at the time.
I did evolve with respect to a career, and at first what I thought I’d really love to do because I really loved, loved college, was become a history professor at the college level, get a PhD. So my career aspirations were enhanced going along, but I was still thinking in a teaching mode, but in a college teaching mode. I ended up really not until my senior year in college thinking about going to law school, and I did that for several reasons. Probably, I must admit, one very important reason was, I had two girlfriends who were bound and determined to go to law school and they said I should think about that too. So I had company, and some real peer support. A second thing was that the chair of the history department, who was also my advisor, and who I had an honors history seminar with my senior year, and who I was going to have to rely upon for help getting into graduate programs in history, was very discouraging of my going. He said I was the best student in the history department at the time, which was very wonderful, but getting a PhD is long, it’s rigorous, by the time you get the dissertation it could take seven years—I’d be married, I’d have kids, I’d never make it through the seven years. Then I’d end up with a masters degree, not a PhD. You can’t teach in college with a masters degree so I’d end up teaching in high school history anyway without having gone through that whole exercise without anything to show for it at the end of the day. That didn’t sound crazy to me. I did apply to history graduate programs. I wasn’t sure how much of a supportive reference he was going to be since he was so discouraging of my going—at least that’s how I heard it—but I did get accepted, and I did get financial aid, which was very central and important.
But at the same time, I applied to law school. I got more financial aid. This advice was sort of going around in my head: law school’s three years, not seven years, there’s no dissertation, you can go in and take exams. Maybe the worst thing that can happen is you don’t do well on exams but you’re going to end up with a degree, as opposed to a PhD. If you don’t write that dissertation you’re not getting the degree either. So that seemed very practical to me that maybe I could—although three years seemed like maybe a long time—I could actually make it through and get a law degree. And then, looking back, and again I don’t know how much I would ascribe this to the Jewish religion per se as opposed to Jewish values and the progressive intertwining of all of those things. I grew up in the ‘50’s with my parents, and, I’d come home from school and McCarthy hearings were on TV. We always discussed public policy, Medicare, Medicaid coming in, the Johnson administration, and during the Kennedy administration when I was in high school, I was just mesmerized by the Kennedy’s. It was glamorous. They were doing important things that had resonated with me based on my growing up. I had an older sister and I remember our talking about—it was sort of like talking about becoming Miss America. Talking about, Oh, going to Washington for an administration like the Kennedy administration! Either of those things was equally more of a fantasy than a true plan, but it was in my mind.
DR: Were you being influenced by the feminist movement?
MG: Not directly, although my consciousness was being raised slowly but surely. Certainly not at the bat mitzvah stage. When I went to college, Penn had a college for women. You were accepted as a woman to the college for women. There were a third of the students at the college for women, so it was much harder to get in to. I don’t think I focused on that particularly until I got there. At first the women were all banding together, “Isn’t it great, we’re so much smarter than the guys!” As opposed to, “This is very unfair!” The women had separate curfews that the guys didn’t have. You could be actually kicked out of school if you came in late repeatedly with these curfews. It was very angering to think that these freshman guys would have no curfew and a senior woman could end up with a curfew and in trouble. That was very unfair. We had to wear skirts to classes and skirts even on weekends to the library up until my senior year when we were allowed to wear pants to the library on Sunday afternoon. Those kinds of things were starting to rankle. When I applied to law school with these two girlfriends we went to take the LSATs and these guys came over and started screaming at us: We shouldn’t take the LSATs; we don’t belong in law school. At the time, the Vietnam War was raging and if you were in graduate school you could get a deferment from the draft, so many guys at the time saw a seat in law school as a way of avoiding the Vietnam War. If a woman was sitting in that seat, that was one more person who was going to get drafted.
DR: Did you have role models in law school? Were there women mentoring these female students?
MG: No. In law school when we started we were ten women, including one of those two young women who was a very close friend of mine. We both started together. Our class was about 240, so there were ten women out of 240. We were viewed suspiciously: Why are you in law school to begin with? Is it to get married and find somebody to marry? Is there something weird about you? What is it?
DR: How did you respond to that?
MG: In a very defensive way. Plus law school first year is intimidating anyway. Law professors in those days called on people using the Socratic method where they would ask question after question after question, ultimately to get to a question you probably couldn’t answer. I remember starting law school raising my hand to be called on and there were big lecture classes, they were not small classes. You were in a class of about a hundred, with your whole section. After about three weeks, and I hadn’t been called on at the beginning, but seeing the other male students getting demolished, I decided I was never volunteering the rest of law school. So there was a feeling of intimidation to start with, just being in law school. That was already a shock because I was very comfortable and loved college, and now all of a sudden I was feeling very out of my element. I didn’t think the way those law professors did, so that was intimidating. There was also a male dorm. A lot of the first year male students were all in the dorm for the law school. There was no dorm for women. I was sharing an apartment in Center City with this law school friend of mine from college and another female friend. I was not part of the social scene where I could easily become a pal with the other guys in the class.
And, there was this hostility starting with the LSATs. I had gone to visit a law school class when I was in my senior year at Penn to see what I thought of the law school class, and the law professor saw me sitting in the back of the class. It was a class of about a hundred, and I thought I could just easily sit there. I didn’t know the protocol was to introduce myself and ask him ahead of time if it was OK if I could be there, I just slipped in. He started calling on me, “Miss Visitor”, which I remember to this day, and the whole class was in hysterics because of course he demolished me within ten seconds. I started out with a bit of a sense of people not welcoming me to begin with, that I was an oddity--at the best I was an oddity, and then feeling especially insecure just being in law school. Also, people were feeling very competitive with each other and I just didn’t know whether I was going to be able to truly cut it. So when you fold all these things together, then I was really starting to feel discrimination on the basis of sex.
I encountered at that point a number of law firms that would not accept women at all and said so. They explicitly said they wouldn’t hire a woman. I interviewed at one Washington law firm that told me—a partner told me—that they had never had a woman associate, and he didn’t see how they ever would because Washington is not a safe city and you know, the lawyers work very late at night, and they can’t have a woman—a young woman lawyer—working very late at night. What if she’s leaving and something terrible happens? They’d never be able to come to grips with that. I remember it to this day—I walked out, and it occurred to me in the hallway, what about all the secretaries who were staying late? But I never marched myself back in to the office to say, “Wait a minute, I’ll take whatever security that you give to the secretaries.” But that was a prevailing attitude. When I was in law school the women were called on for the rape cases and the cases where they were going to be embarrassed in very stereotypical ways and that happened in my class.
DR: Did you ever think, “What have I gotten myself into, I should have gone back to history?”
MG: I already had the feeling that I wasn’t going to be so welcomed in history either. I had some very good friends. My husband was in my law school class and we met there, not until the end of our first year did we really get to know each other well. One of the jokes was I was called on relatively early on by a very elderly, very traditional law school professor in a torts class who asked me about some malfunction of an airplane. It was very mechanical. I felt out of my element altogether. He was pressing me, and I couldn’t answer, and he kept asking me question after question. I kept not answering them correctly. He’d say, “Try again, try again.” By the fourth time, I said, “I’m going to try this time, but if I don’t get it right you better call on somebody else because I don’t think I have the right answer.” So I sort of stood up for myself a little bit. After it was over, all these guys came over and said, “Don’t feel bad.” “You were funny.” “That was great.” “You told him not to call on you anymore, you obviously didn’t know.” So that kind of broke the ice a little bit, so that helped me. I always joked that they thought, too, “Ah, this woman is no threat after that one.” But I had ended up with more and more friends, both male and female. The women bonded together, as you could imagine, and there were great women in my class; a lot of very good guys in my class. I got more and more of the hang of law school. I ended up being a good enough student that I was beginning to feel as if, first of all, I could do it, and secondly, I wasn’t going to be penalized in my grades so that I could actually make it through.
DR: Did you feel like a pioneer at the time?
MG: I guess I began to think in those terms but I so much had my head down in a survival mode and having to defend myself mode that I’m not sure I stepped back enough to think, “You know this is really going to be important to women after me.”
DR: But in retrospect?
MG: Oh, certainly in retrospect our whole generation was affected that way. What happened, too, was our first year, graduate school deferments were taken away in the fall, so our class was completely discombobulated because many of the guys were going to be drafted and had to figure out how they could stay in law school, or what they were going to do about the draft. Our class went from 240 to about 110. In a certain sense, being a woman you were a pioneer, but you were also advantaged because you personally were not going to have your whole life turned upside down in quite the same way. Right after us is when the wave of women started. Class after class had many more women. Our class was in a certain sense really the last class of so few women.
DR: This was in the late 60’s.
MG: Late 60’s. I graduated in 1970.
DR: There were all these other things going on in the 60’s: the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the ERA was getting thought about…
MG: Probably thought about, not much discussed.
DR: Do you see your career as fitting into this whole time?
MG: Absolutely, totally, absolutely. I was very much of an activist in law school and in college. We had sit-ins that I participated in, and while many historians have pointed to this period of turmoil as spawning the women’s movement because women who were activists were also in second class positions in all these civil rights and peace organizations. I wasn’t aspiring to be in a leadership role for any of them, and I know I didn’t notice that there weren’t women necessarily running any of them. I wasn’t thinking like that.
But, certainly the idea that you can change things, that you can speak up, that you have the power and the responsibility to do it, that the older generation in power can make dreadful and terrible decisions and that you just shouldn’t sit back and accept the status quo. That was very central to my way of thinking. Ultimately as I evolved, and began to see in my own life what it meant to try to take on a more equal role, and to see the disparities just so starkly in front of us, then the idea that you could do something about it, that was a natural next step to make.
My husband and I were married in law school, and another thing was that clerking for a judge was a prestigious and good thing to do after law school. There were many, many, many federal judges who would not accept women law clerks at the time. The faculty said to me, even though I had a good record, most of the male federal judges wouldn’t accept women clerks. We decided to come to Washington, my husband had a clerkship and I went to a tax firm. I did work for a law firm in my third year and started in the tax department and liked it and stayed there. You asked me if were there role models. I never, by the way, growing up, knew many lawyers at all, male, let alone female. When I say many, honestly I can’t--I probably had met some lawyers my parents must have known, but I can’t remember any of them. They certainly weren’t good friends to start with. When I was in college I never had a female professor as a history major at the University of Pennsylvania. There was one woman who was a graduate student in history who taught some of the break-out sections from the big lecture class and I remember being intrigued by her because she was young and vibrant and attractive. She looked like she was on a path to get a PhD but that was as close as I came to a woman professor teaching me as a liberal arts major. Now of course there were women on the faculty at Penn, and there was a college for women so there were administrative staff that were women, but they were so much of a minority that I wouldn’t say that I really saw much of a role model except for that one young woman, or any woman who was a mentor. When I went to law school there was one woman on the faculty for a short time who I never really knew, and then she left. She wasn’t there for all three years. Otherwise, it was all male and I never had a woman law professor either. So through my seven years of school I never had a woman professor. This is in Pennsylvania, not a backwater state, and the University of Pennsylvania, not a backwater institution.
When I worked in that law firm my third year there was a woman, who actually was also a Jewish woman, who was at that law firm. She had a special status. I didn’t know at the time what it was. We probably would call it ‘of counsel’ now. She was not on a partnership track and she had never married. The law firm that I worked at was an old, what they called a ‘white-shoe’ firm that had very few Jewish lawyers to start with, and the Jewish lawyers they had were younger. So, I got to know in law school that there were Jewish firms and there were the WASP firms. The Jewish firms could be successful but they weren’t as integrated into the power structure of Philadelphia. Then I learned about the Main Line area of Philadelphia where Jews were not welcome, and the clubs that Jews couldn’t belong to. I really got the concreteness of it even more in a professional setting in law school. So this one woman was lovely. I liked her very much. I wouldn’t say she was a mentor of mine, and not particularly a role model either because I wasn’t wild about the fact that she was off in this special status, she didn’t have a family, but she was a woman lawyer, and so I remember her very much that there was such a thing.
DR: Do you see yourself now as a role model?
MG: I guess I must be. I don’t think of myself explicitly that way but I know that I am probably less of a role model—a unique role model now—than I may have been in earlier years. On the other hand, I think I’m a role model still less as a successful woman lawyer because I think certainly women can find other successful women lawyers in lots of walks of life to look to. But today even more than ever I think that the idea of: Can you have a career? Can you be married? Can you have children? That set of questions is of burning interest and concern and worry for young women today.
DR: Was it not for you?
MG: When I first started it was, but I think, first of all, institutions for men and women were very different than they are today. If you went to a law firm and you were a man and you were successful you could assume that’s where you would be your whole career. What it meant to devote yourself to a law firm in Washington—New York City may be different, but Washington—was, you worked hard, but you did not work every minute of the day billing hours. It wasn’t that you didn’t have to be very focused on your career, but it was not as all-consuming and as insecure as it is today. The notion of what it means to be successful, I think, has ramped up. The sacrifices expected of both men and women have changed dramatically since I started.
DR: Could you talk about your own work/family balance situation when your girls were young?
MG: I should say a couple things. First of all, my husband was always very supportive. We had met as colleagues in law school—same class, same experiences. I was just barely 23 when I got married. He was six months older, so he was an ‘older man’, he was 23 too. That wasn’t young to get married at that time. Now, of course, I think it was very young, but it gave us time for each of us to start a work life. We were married for five years before our first daughter was born. By then I had moved from this tax firm to a public interest organization, the Center for Law and Social Policy, one of the first in the country, chaired by Arthur Goldberg—talk about a mentor and the most extraordinary Jewish light in many respects and certainly in the law, having been a justice on the Supreme Court. He came and worked in my tax firm and had associates working for him. He chaired the board of the Center for Law and Social Policy. He was very much a reason why I came to the Center to start a women’s rights project there.
DR: Can I ask what you remember about him?
MG: Oh, I remember a lot about him. He was a feminist to his being in every way, shape and form. First of all, he took me as seriously as any of the associates who worked for him. He worked with me in improving my skills as a lawyer, and he treated me with enormous respect. Secondly, at the same time as I had this extraordinary professional mentor, he was this enormously kind, big-hearted individual who cared about people as people. And so he cared about what I was going to do, and what my husband was going to do, and was I going to have children. He was so both in love and admiring of his wife, Dorothy, whom he talked about all the time. His family life was so central to him. He was such a complete person in so many respects. He was just terrific.
Anyway, so I, partially because of him, came to start the women’s rights project at the Center. He was, as the chair of the board of the Center, extraordinarily supportive of its women’s rights work, and when we reached a point that becoming an independent organization made the most sense, and we became the National Women’s Law Center, he was right behind it, totally behind it. He was just fantastic, and he invited me to events where he gave speeches. I have some memorabilia in my office today that he gave me from his time at the Supreme Court, from a speech that he gave in Israel where the Bank of Israel gave him a gift that he couldn’t accept and he gave it to the National Women’s Law Center. He was just so supportive of the issues. The Cosmos Club, a private club in Washington that selects people based on merit--if you are really a great success in your field, whatever your field may be--refused to accept women for many, many years, and he was one of the members of that club among other private clubs in Washington who worked very hard to change the admissions to allow women to join. He failed for a time—now they do accept women—and he left the club. He was a wonderful person and mentor.
When I came to the Center to start women’s rights, there was a woman, Patricia Wald, who was there, and she was the first really true role model—a woman—that I saw as a lawyer. She was brilliant, had graduated from Yale Law School, was the first in her family to have ever graduated from college, let alone law school. She’d gone to a law firm, she married—a wonderful Jewish man, actually in her class, Bob Wald, her name was Patricia McGowan Wald—and they had five children. She took time off from her career with those children as she describes it, but she always kept her hand in doing projects of one sort or another while she had the primary responsibility for raising those five kids. One of the things she did was work at the Center for Law and Social Policy on mental health and other issues. She was there when I started and she was so extraordinary in every way: a superb lawyer, five kids! I mean that was never anything I was thinking in terms of balancing work and family. Ultimately she went on to do many things, including being Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit. So as far as my serving as a role model, I was so much thinking, who are my role models and mentors, that to kind of shift in your head from being a young person learning the ropes to a person that other people are looking up to, that took some time. But over the years I certainly have been asked to speak to many people, both in my professional capacity just on the issues, but then also to many, many forums about having a career, and how you balance it with family responsibilities.
You asked me about how we did it. My husband ended up, while I had this public interest career not earning a whole lot of money, in a private firm. We were very lucky because I both had a base of time to establish some professional credentials and connections including hitting the jackpot with Arthur Goldberg, and then we had these resources. Childcare centers did not exist in those early days, so we did have a full time nanny at home, and that I had through my children’s growing up. They started school of course, but I had that help. It’s not very common that people can do it these days but we were able to. For a time, I worked four days a week, and my colleague, Nancy Duff Campbell, became the co-head of the National Women’s Law Center, and we both had young children. Part of the reason we wanted to have this sharing arrangement was so that neither would have only administrative and fund-raising responsibilities, and we could each keep our hand in the substantive work and share those administrative types of duties, and also so that we could spell each other. If something happened, we didn’t have to feel as if the whole institution was looking to only one person. That’s a relationship that has stood us in good stead over, now, decades. We are still co-presidents of the Center, and now each grandparents. There have been many different cycles in life.
DR: Are you surprised at the success of the women’s movement?
MG: I’m not surprised at the success. I have to keep reminding myself of the successes, and they have been really extraordinary, because I think when I started I never expected that it would be as hard as it was, and has been, and continues to be, both to secure those successes, and to build on them. I honestly don’t think any success is accepted as permanent if there isn’t continued public support. There are always going to be battles that are going to have to be refought and re-won. I think I neither understood fully the women’s movement when I started nor did I get, history major or not, enough of a grasp of how really revolutionary in the most core ways the women’s movement was, and has been in its strive for equality, and how unrealistic it was to think it wouldn’t take a very long struggle to really get these changes truly ingrained and accepted, and also to build on them in ways that I think need to be.
Obviously, one of the most distressing things with the passage of years is the income divide between the very wealthy and the poor. The poor still are comprised primarily of women and their children with a bigger, bigger divide over time. Secondly, the fact that these big institutions that are so powerful, and responsible for those who are the most powerful and the most wealthy, have still been very hard for women to crack although there are now more exceptions than there used to be. They’re requiring much more devotion to career than they did, much more of a total immersion in your work life, and technology has only made that worse with Blackberries, etc., so people are on call all the time. So the difficulty women have in balancing—that’s a bad word—but in living up to the responsibilities of work and their family and their community I fear have gotten harder in many respects. That’s not to say that women aren’t looking for other routes, and opening up their own businesses or their own practices or looking for alternative relationships with big employers. There are signs of hope there, but I don’t think we’ve made life really easier for men or women. The economy, the bigger trends in the economy have made life much, much harder for both men and women.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Marcia Greenberger." (Viewed on January 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/exhibits/dc/greenberger-marcia>.