Sonia Pressman Fuentes Interview About Feminism and Her Memoir

Author Sonia Pressman Fuentes joins BookGoodies hosts Deborah Carney and Karen Garcia to discuss writing, publishing and a lot of history.

What inspired you to write your memoir?
Several things inspired me to write my memoir. First, I was born in Berlin, Germany, of Polish Jewish parents, fled the Nazi regime with my parents, and came to the US, where I became a founder of the second wave of the women’s movement.  Second, I played a historic role at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in interpreting the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibited employment discrimination based on sex. Third, I was a founder of NOW (National Organization for Women). And, finally, my parents were born in Piltz, a village in Poland, and lived a lifestyle that was gone and I wanted to preserve the record of their lives and mine.

Eat First—You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter
Tell us about your book:
It is the story, told with humor, of my parents’ lives and my own.  The book begins with my parents’ marriage in Piltz, the village in Poland where they were both born, and goes on to their lives and my own in Germany, Belgium, and the US.  The book discusses my becoming a lawyer in 1957, when 3% of the law school graduates in this country were women, my career and marriage, and my becoming a founder of NOW.  It ends with my returning to Germany in 1978 as an “American specialist” on the women’s rights movement in the US for the then-US Information Agency.

How did you decide how to publish your book and where is it published through?
I published my book with Xlibris Corp.  I wrote an article called “How I Published My Memoir: A Lawyer-Feminist’s Story,” which answers your question and it may be found on my website at:
http://www.erraticimpact.com/~feminism/html/FUENTES_articles_published_memoir.htm

Ms. Fuentes’ Bio:
Sonia Pressman Fuentes was born in Berlin, Germany, and came to the U.S. with her family on May 1, 1934, to escape the Holocaust. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Cornell University and a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Miami (Florida) School of Law.

She has been involved in women’s rights since l963, when she testified in Congress in favor of the passage of the Equal Pay bill on behalf of the ACLU. In 1965, she joined the General Counsel’s office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as its first woman attorney. She drafted one of the EEOC’s earliest Digests of Legal Interpretations, its first Guidelines on Pregnancy and Childbirth, and the EEOC’s decision finding that airlines violated the law when they terminated or grounded stewardesses on marriage or reaching the age of thirty-two or thirty-five.

She is a cofounder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), and Federally Employed Women (FEW) on the national level and Women in Management (WIM) in Fairfield County, CT. She is a charter member of the Veteran Feminists of America and was one of the longest-serving members of the Board of Trustees of the National Woman’s Party. In November 1996, at a ceremony honoring the founders of NOW, Betty Friedan presented her with the Veteran Feminists of America Medal of Honor. On October 10, 1999, she was one of four recipients of the 1999 Women at Work Award of Wider Opportunities for Women given in recognition of her commitment to women’s issues and leadership in the fields of law and business. Prior recipients include Jane Fonda, Katie Couric, Linda Ellerbee, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On March 21, 2000, Ms. Fuentes was one of five Maryland women inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame for the year 2000.  Subsequently, she was honored by the Veteran Feminists of America as being one of thirty-six feminist lawyers in the U.S. who made significant contributions to women’s rights in the 1963-75 time period; and she was selected by the Jewish Women’s Archive as one of seventy-four Jewish-American women in the U.S. who contributed significantly to women’s rights in the same time frame.

Ms. Fuentes was included in the National Gallery of Prominent Refugees established by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 2000. She is also included in Women of Achievement in Maryland History and Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975.

Ms. Fuentes has lectured extensively in this country and abroad on women’s rights and has written numerous articles on that subject in law reviews and other publications both in the U.S. and abroad. Her testimony was presented to a Select Committee of the House of Lords when England was considering the passage of legislation prohibiting gender discrimination in employment, and she was a consultant to the Women’s Department and the Department of Labour for the Province of Ontario when Ontario was considering the passage of such legislation. She has traveled as an “American specialist” on women’s rights for the then-U.S. Information Agency to France, Germany, Spain, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. She has served as a resource for the Meridian House International Center in Washington, D.C., for foreign visitors with an interest in women’s rights.

In March-April 1993, when Ms. Fuentes was on the Board of Trustees of the American Cancer Society (ACS)-DC Division, she was ACS’s representative to the first International Conference on Women’s Health in China. In November 1993, she spent ten days in Israel on a New Israel Fund tour. Thereafter, she lectured and wrote on the status of women in China and Israel.

Ms. Fuentes served as an attorney with the federal government (Department of Justice, National Labor Relations Board, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development) for over twenty years and was an attorney and executive with multinational corporations (GTE and TRW) for over ten years. She was the highest-paid woman at the headquarters of each of these corporations.

Since her retirement in May 1993, she has maintained her activism for women’s rights and devoted herself to two new careers: as a writer and public speaker. She is the author of a memoir, Eat First–You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.

Ms. Fuentes, who resides in Sarasota, Florida, serves on the program committee of the Sarasota-Manatee Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and is the first and only honorary member of the Sarasota chapter of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers.

She returned on September 14, 2011, from a ten-day trip to Germany, as the guest of the German Foreign Office, and to Antwerp, Belgium, as the guest of the City of Antwerp.  While in Europe, she met with German and Belgian feminists. She gave a talk about her trip to Germany at Temple Beth Israel on Longboat Key on February 23, 2012, and will give it again at the Unity Church to the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism on April 6, 2013.

For more information, see Ms. Fuentes’ website at http://www.erraticimpact.com/fuentes

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