In Sisterhood: The Women’s Movement in Pittsburgh
By: Patricia Ulbrich
Pittsburgh has a long history of producing entrepreneurs, philanthropists, artists and musicians. What is less well known is that Pittsburgh also produced influential leaders of the women’s movement who created pioneering feminist organizations and shaped the national women’s movement. In Sisterhood: the Women’s Movement in Pittsburgh is a five-year, multimedia project documenting the local roots of the women’s movement during the period 1967-1989. Led by Pat Ulbrich, a team of videographers, sound recordists and interviewers record oral histories on digital video to document this inspiring aspect of Pittsburgh’s history from the perspective of the activists themselves.
They’ve created a multimedia exhibit that includes videos, historical photos and memorabilia. Audiences see subjects’ expressions and gestures along with their words, and learn how and why movement activists created the strategies and used the tactics they did in their efforts to gain equality for women and girls.
Wilma Scott Heide founded one of the first chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW) here in 1967. The Pittsburgh NOW chapter successfully lobbied both Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania to amend their anti-discrimination laws to include sex as a protected category (1969), and to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution (1971). They also initiated a precedent setting lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Press over discriminatory employment ads (1973).
Over the next few years, the cause attracted hundreds of committed supporters – by 1976 there were 48 feminist organizations active in the region. Organizations included the Center for the History of American Needlework, Pennsylvania Women’s Political Caucus and dozens of agencies offering social services and providing cultural spaces. While their goals varied considerably, these organizations shared a common orientation that placed women in the center of life and society.
Every year we celebrate women’s history by focusing on women who have participated in the project. We’ve featured Eleanor Smeal, three term president of NOW and CEO of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Alma Speed Fox, a Hill District activist and former director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP; and Jeanne Clark, manager of one of the first abortion clinics in Pittsburgh and founded Church Ladies for Choice.
This year we will highlight the work of Rachel Maines, Ph.D. who founded of the Center for the History of American Needlework. Her research on needlework inspired a whole new line of research that culminated in a best-selling book – The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” the Vibrator and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction. Maines explores the controversial history of the vibrator, from the Victorian era through the sexual revolution of the 1960s, to the post feminist present. And now, there’s a documentary - Passion & POWER: The Technology of Orgasm has Rachel Maines telling the story herself with a supporting cast that examines the ramifications for sexual politics today.
The In Sisterhood project will present a one-time screening of Passion & POWER on Wednesday, March 23rd at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. There will be a cocktail reception hosted by LUPEC, Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, starting at 6:30 with the screening immediately following. Tickets are $25.00 in advance and $30 at the door (the price includes reception and film). Proceeds will benefit the In Sisterhood project.
To purchase tickets or make a tax-deductible contribution go to: www.insisterhood.info
Pat Ulbrich is a progressive social scientist with 25 years of experience in teaching, research, program development and program evaluation in the fields of higher education and human services. She has taught sociology and women studies, and worked to integrate issues of race, class and gender into the curriculum at the University of Miami (FL) and the University of Akron (OH). When she moved to Pittsburgh in 1995, Pat began to explore ways to apply her sociological perspective to regional issues. As a Senior Research Associate at Adagio Health, Pat evaluated community based adolescent pregnancy programs. She also designed and evaluated an innovative project to make family planning clinics an empowerment zone for rural battered women in southwest Pennsylvania. She then served in an advisory capacity to both the Centers for Disease Control and the Office of Population Affairs, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, regarding national research and policy agendas on domestic violence and reproductive health. Working as a community volunteer, Pat provided the strategic leadership to envision the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania and served as President of the Founding Board of Directors. She designed and conducted the Status of Women in the Counties research project as a needs assessment for the Foundation. Pat has been active in Sociologists for Women in Society, an international organization dedicated to equality for women, and received their 2002 Feminist Activist Award. She is Director of the In Sisterhood project, an oral history and multimedia project focusing on influential feminist leaders and pioneering feminist organizations in Pittsburgh during the later half of the 1900s.