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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Interview

by Bill Adams, Senior News Staff Writer

July 2001

This interview is from the Senior News

One of the pioneers in the struggle to gain equal rights for women in the workplace has written a book of memoirs. Sonia Pressman Fuentes looks back on her life in Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter

The book tells about Sonia's early childhood in Berlin and her family's move to escape the Holocaust in the 1930s.  Sonia's family made its way to the United States and she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University in 1950.  In 1957, Sonia graduated first in her class at the University of Miami School of Law.

In her book, Sonia describes the adventure of life with her parents and the challenges of going to law school and starting out in the business world.  The title relates to her mother's insistence that Sonia eat a full meal at home before going to have dinner at the home of friends.  In one of the many humorous anecdotes of the book, Sonia describes the family mood during rare visits to a restaurant.

"My father was unhappy because he didn't like spending money for restaurant food; my mother was unhappy b because my father was unhappy; and I was unhappy because we were going to a kosher restaurant to eat the same food I'd gotten three times a day for every day of my life.  I wanted to taste shrimp, lobster, and Chinese food, but those were not kosher and, therefore, forbidden.  Verem was the word my mother used derogatorily to refer to shrimp--worms.  'If I served you something at home that looked like that, you'd never eat it,' she'd say.  'But in a restaurant, it's good.'"

Sonia spoke recently with The Senior News  about her book and her leadership in the fight to gain employment rights for women workers.  "I was in a pivotal position as the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  I was the only woman there when I started back in 1965.  I also played a role in the start of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966."

When asked what she hoped would happen over the next 35 years in the field of women's rights, Sonia replied, "I hope it spreads to the rest of the world, especially in countries like Iran and others where women still suffer.  In this country we need to address the problem of violence against women, we need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and work for affordable, quality child care."

At age 73, Sonia is now active as a public speaker, traveling around the country from her home base in Maryland.  She discussed her advice to younger women about how to have a successful retirement.  "You have to eat right and try to maintain your health.  I work out with a trainer twice a week.  Believe me, I'd pay not to have to do it, but it's important to your health.  Second, it's important to have a decent amount of money coming in so you need to have an adequate pension.  Third, you need to be involved in meaningful, significant activities.  For me it's the public speaking and writing and marketing my book."

Sonia would like to continue writing in the future.  She says she has a basement full of material about her legal work in the women's rights effort.  That work including bringing changes that allowed married stewardesses and pregnant teachers to keep their jobs and ensuring that both men and women were legally entitled to work the same number of hours and receive the same size pension.

The Senior News, July 2001, p. 14