- Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia
Interviews of, Articles about, and Books that Include Sonia
Articles about Sonia are also contained in the section on Belgium.
On April 19, 2022, Penguin Random House published The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet by Nell McShane Wulfhart, in which Sonia plays a prominent part.
In 1968, many U.S. airlines terminated or grounded stewardesses (who flew only on domestic flights) when they married or turned 32 or 35. U.S. airlines also had other requirements and restrictions on these women flight cabin attendants that they did not have on male flight cabin attendants who flew on international flights, were called pursers, and did the same jobs as the stewardesses. Many stewardesses and their union filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about these practices.
Sonia drafted the decision wherein the EEOC found that the airlines’ policies on age and marriage for stewardesses violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That decision was later confirmed by the courts. It was the beginning of the legal revolution in women’s rights in the U.S., which later spread worldwide.
The book received outstanding reviews from the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and many other publications. Nell McShane Wulfhart discussed the book on radio station WHYY, an NPR affiliate, in Philadelphia, on May 3, 2022, at 10 a.m. on Radio Times. You can hear her comments, including a reference to Sonia, here. (When you get to this website, click on “Listen 49:29” at the top.)
- On Aug. 26, 2021, Growing Bolder, an organization for and about seniors, put an article about Sonia on its website.
- On Aug. 14, 2020, SRQ magazine in Sarasota had an article about Sonia by Andrew Fabian entitled "Foot Soldier for Women's Rights Retells Stories From the Front Lines."
- On July 24, 2020, there was an article in Sarasota Magazine by Kay Kipling about Sarasota's celebration of the centennial of suffrage, which mentioned Sonia twice.
- Article in Town and Country magazine of April 19, 2020, about the history of the ERA begins with a quote from Sonia.
- On Apr. 2, 2019, author Pamela S. Nadell's book, America's Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today, was published. Ms. Nadell interviewed Sonia for the book, and Sonia is included in it. The New York Times' Mar. 29, 2019, review of the book included the following statement: "From Betty Friedan to Sonia Pressman, Bella Abzug and Gerda Lerner, Jewish women had an outsize role in the feminist struggle."
- The November 30, 2018, issue of the Washington Post contained a column by Petula Dvorak about the ERA and Sonia's comments on it.
- In its October 2018 issue, Sarasota's newspaper, West Coast Woman, announced Sonia's Oct. 24, 2018, talk to the Sarasota chapter of AAUW.
- The Washington Post has a newsletter that explores identity and culture in America called About US, which included Sonia on July 13, 2018.
- On Dec. 20, 2017, Sonia was featured on the cover of the Sarasota section of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune with regard to her talk scheduled for Jan. 11, 2018, to the Ladybugs, the Sarasota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots founded in 1929. The local chapter was founded a year ago.
- From Nov. 9 through 11, 2017, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's website contained the following article about a talk Sonia was due to deliver at the first anniversary of the Sarasota chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female aviators that was founded in 1929.
- In the Jewish Women's Archive blog of July 27, 2017, in the entry, "Combatting Sexual Harassment and Assault in Schools," by Sara Lebow, Esther Warkov, co-founder and co-executive director of SSAIS (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools), refers to Sonia as a senior mentor and a "distinguished feminist lawyer."
- On July 1, 2017, SSAIS (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools) issued its Final Report on its action under an AAUW Community Action Grant Awarded to Stop Sexual Assault in Schools 2016-2017. Sonia is one of seven women quoted at the beginning of the report, as follows:
Two of the critical areas in gender discrimination today are sexual harassment and sexual assault. Most of the attention has, however, been focused on college and university campuses. SSAIS is performing a vital service in fighting sexual harassment and assault in an otherwise forgotten area: K-12. “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School!,” using experts and student activists, sets forth the applicable law in this area and suggests ways in which families, students, school administrators, faculty, and the community can fight this scourge in grades K-12. -Sonia Pressman Fuentes, attorney, co-founder National Organization for Women
- Sonia in Jewish Women's Archive quiz.
- On Mar. 1, 2017, in its blog, the Jewish Women's Archive for Women's History Month recognized Jewish women lawyers and researchers of second wave feminism, of whom Sonia was one.
- Minnah Stein, a 16-year-old student at Sarasota's Pine View School for the gifted, mentions Sonia in her blog post about the Violins of Hope program brought to Sarasota by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. Minnah's picture is at the end of her post.
- On Jan. 26, 2017, Sonia's friend and mentee, Minnah Stein, a 16-year-old student at Sarasota's Pine View School for the gifted, blogged about Sonia's escape from Nazi Germany in 1933.
- Sixteen-year-old feminist activist and fighter against sexual assaults in schools, Minnah Stein, describes participating in the Women's March (attended by 10,000) in Sarasota, FL and dedicates her first picture to Sonia.
- In connection with the 50th anniversary of the founding of NOW, the Fall 2016 issue of Beacon, the bi-annual magazine, in hard cover and online, of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, PA, included a profile of Sonia called "Founding (Jewish) Mother." Click the arrow at the right of the magazine cover until you come to page 4. To enlarge the print, click on the icon of the open square box to the right of the sliders that are at the bottom of page 4. To leave the page, click "Esc" on your keyboard.
- Sonia was profiled in the May/June 2016 issue of Suncoast Living Magazine, a magazine for people on Florida's West Coast.
- Sonia is included among six women highlighted by the National Women's History Project on Mar. 1, 2016.
- On Feb. 29, 2016, the Veteran Feminists of America, published an ebook of biographies and pictures called Our Fabulous Feminists, which includes Sonia. It can be downloaded for free.
- This picture of Sonia appears on page 36 of the Summer 2015 magazine, Jewish Currents, a progressive, secular voice, as part of an article called “The Jewish Left: A Visual History, Part Two: 1946-2015,” written by the editorial board of that magazine.
- On July 24, 2015, Zoe Nicholson, a feminist activist who is specializing in Alice Paul, sent out an enewsletter, which contained the following about Sonia:
"When I began to study Alice Paul to the exclusion of everything else I realized that phone interviews would be pivotal and rare options. Miss Paul was 92 when she died in 1977 and those who knew her, interned for her or worked for her hold priceless memories that need to be harvested.
"I made calls. Some were emotional. Some were poetic and nostalgic. Of course some were all about politics. But then I made a call that set my sails; it was with Sonia Fuentes. I can still hear her impatience and disgust that most do not know the brilliant strategist mind, the lifelong commitment, the legislation and international impact of Miss Alice Paul. I felt challenged and dug deeper than I had previously planned."
- An article about Sonia in the Winter 2015 issue of Gravitas, an online and hard copy magazine that focuses on women in the Sarasota and Tampa, FL areas.
- In March 2015, Sonia's story went on the website of Just Do Your Dream. To access it:
- Go to justdoyourdream.com,
- click on the drop down menu under "Stories" at the top,
- select "Speaking, Coaching, Teaching," and
- scroll down to Sonia's story when you reach that screen.
- See references to Sonia on the blog of Candy Dawson, the wife of Greg Dawson, author of Hiding in the Spotlight (March 1, 2015).
- Sonia is quoted in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article of Nov. 5, 2014, about the political campaign for Congress of her 101-year-old friend, Joe Newman.
- Announcement of Sonia's interview on radio station WBAI in program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibits gender discrimination in employment by covered employers, employment agencies, and labor unions.
- The Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee, Vol. 44, No. 6 (June 2014, p. 10).
- Excerpt from the June 5, 2014, "Jewdayo" section of Jewish Currents.
- Sonia participates in a Holocaust Survivors program at the Al Katz Center for Holocaust Survivors and Jewish Learning in Sarasota, FL. Front-page article, Bradenton Herald-Tribune, April 28, 2014.
- Dec. 2013 Newsletter of the E.B. Crawford Public Library in Monticello, NY, to which Sonia’s publisher, Xlibris Corp., donated a copy of her memoir.
- Danielle (DanYang) Yu Interviews Trailblazing Feminists, November 7, 2013.
- Xlibris, the publisher of Sonia’s memoir, featured her in its Author Spotlight in November 2013, and also published this article in its November newsletter.
- By Catharine Skipp, "A Conversation with the Remarkable Sonia Pressman Fuentes, J.D. '57," Miami Law Magazine, University of Miami School of Law, Fall 2013. (If you need to enlarge the text to read it in your browser, click on it with your mouse.)
- Jewish Women’s Archive, This Week in History, Week of July 1, 2013, recognizes Sonia’s work at the EEOC on the anniversary of the opening of the EEOC.
- June 13, 2013, Report of Leita Kaldi, head of the UN Women’s Book Club, Sarasota, FL, on the discussion of Sonia’s memoir, with Sonia present, on June 10.
- Sarasota's Sonia Pressman Fuentes to Receive Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award, April 17, 2013.
- On March 14, 2013, the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA), an organization dedicated to recognizing the pioneer feminists of the second wave of the women’s movement, announced the revamping of its website at www.vfa.us. Sonia is mentioned throughout the website.
- On February 21, 2013, the Women’s Herstory Initiative, Words of Women, International Women’s Day, based in Dallas, TX, announced that the essay of seventeen-year-old Talia Weisberg about Sonia on the subject “The Most Influential Woman in My Life” won the Words of Women Essay contest.
- The book, Jews of Sarasota-Manatee, by Kim Sheintal (Arcadia Publishing, Feb. 2013), contains a 2002 photo of Sonia in front of a sign about the Jewish Genealogical Society (JGS) of Southwest Florida (p. 25). Sonia gave a talk to JGS on March 2002. The link will open to page 25.
- “Boston Commons,” by Talia Weisberg, was published on January 8, 2013, in Fresh ink for Teens, an online newspaper sponsored by the Jewish Week in New York City.
- "Groundbreakers or Ground Takers?" by Talia Weisberg, was published on December. 8, 2012, in Fresh ink for Teens, an online publication sponsored by the New York Jewish Week.
- By Tyler Whitson, "Women's Rights Pioneers Strive to Influence and Inspire a New Generation," Sarasota News Leader, November 16, 2012. (Visit the Sarasota News Leader Web site.)
- "Women's Rights Pioneer Sonia Fuentes Speaks at Law School," enewsletter of the Cornell University School of Law, Oct. 31, 2012.
- By Deborah Carney, "Sonia Pressman Fuentes Interview About Feminism and Her Memoir," October 8, 2012.
- Interview with Sonia Pressman Fuentes as a Featured Writer on authormepro.com, August 30, 2012.
- By Nick Friedman, "Neighbors: Sonia Pressman Fuentes," July 4, 2012.
- Sonia is mentioned in an article commemorating the 46th anniversary of the June 1966 founding meeting of NOW. (Jewdayo section of Jewish Currents, June 30, 2012)
- Sarasota Observer, June 28, 2012: Sonia presents copies of her memoir to prizewinning young women students at Booker Middle School, Sarasota, FL.
- RTIRonline asks Sonia to comment on the death of Nora Ephron, June 28, 2012.
- Is Laura Bush feminist enough for Alice Paul Award?, Washington Post, June 20, 2012.
- Sewall-Belmont House draws fire for honoring Laura Bush, Washington, DC's The Examiner, June 20, 2012.
- Who Will Speak Out Against an Outrageous Insult to Former First Lady Laura Bush?, The Huffington Post, June 18, 2012. It says at the end of the article "Continue reading" but we don't have access to any additional material.
- Laura Bush's fight for women, Washington Post, June 19, 2012.
- Sonia initiates campaign to protest the National Woman’s Party/Sewall-Belmont House & Museum’s plan to give the Alice Award to Laura Bush, Washington Post, June 18, 2012.
- Cary Franklin, “Inventing the `traditional concept’ of sex discrimination,” Harv. Law Review, Vol. 125, # 6, p. 1307 (2012), Univ. of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper #219.
- "Eva Alexandra Countess Kendeffy, Sonia Pressman Fuentes and Rabbi Jonathan Katz", Longboat Key Observer of March 11, 2012. This picture also appeared in the Sarasota, FL, Jewish News (April 2012, p. 14B).
- By David Beard and Bethonie Butler, "The keys to a better life? Everyone has an opinion," February 21, 2012.
- Interview of Sonia by Talia bat Pessi, a high school student, that went online on Feb. 9, 2012.
- Feb. 5, 2012, Interview with Cyrus Webb, editor of Conversations Magazine.
- "Jean Faust, First President of the First Chapter of NOW," December 8, 2011.
- By Abby Weingarten, "Feminist Revisits Her Birth Country," November 9, 2011 (Online version | Photocopy)/Sonia with Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger.
- Generations of the Shoah International Newsletter, October 2011.
- "NOW Conference: Action, Inspiration and Connection," Now National Times, Fall 2011.
- "Sonia Fuentes, writer, speaker, and feminist activist, tells us about her life," HavaMAG Life, Issue 4, September 2011. (To access the article: Click on the arrow to the right until it takes you to the Table of Contents on the left. Next, click on the first item in the Table of Contents, which is the article about Sonia, on page 10. When you come to the article, double click on each page to make the type readable.)
- "Featured Author," Published by Sonia's publisher, Xlibris Corp., in a newsletter and on its website, July 27, 2011.
- By Slavica Monczka, "Feminist Sonia Pressman Fuentes. Her Passion for Women's Rights," appeared in the e-zine, Inspirational Woman's Magazine, on July 24, 2011, and was written by Slavica Monczka.
- On July 21, 2011, Amanda Gonzalez wrote an article about Sonia for the blog of Ms. JD, an e-zine targeted to women law students and beginning women lawyers.
- By Slavica Monczka, "Something Beautiful is Happening," seductivelyfrench.com, July 5, 2011.
- "Blending motherhood and working: Moms work by choice — and also out of necessity," Deseret News, June 26, 2011.
- "Second Wave Founder" by Sonia Fuentes, girlscantwhat.com, June 9, 2011.
- The CHJ Connection (Vo. XIV, No. 9, May-June 2011).
- Sonia’s March 3, 2011, letter to the editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune is discussed in “Religious Rehab at Florida Jail Sparks Protest,” Church & State (Vol. 64, No. 4, Apr. 2011), the magazine of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The letter is included and can be read in the Letters to the Editor section of this website.
- The CHJ Connection, the newsletter of the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Sarasota, FL, December 2010.
- TILES, the newsletter of the Jewish Museum of Florida, December 2010.
- The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years (6th ed., October 2010), an anthology by Elaine Partnow, includes three quotations from Sonia.
- By WomensRadio Staff, October 12, 2010.
- By Cathy B Stucker, sellingbooks.com, September 8, 2010.
- Column called “WorkWise BlogTip: Know when to be direct” by Dr. Mildred L. Culp, which appeared in the Modesto [Calif.] Bee of Sept. 6, 2010.
- Radio-TV Interview Report, "Elena Kagan—Fifty and Fabulous," July 7, 2010.
- By Joan Collins, The Sullivan County Democrat newspaper on June 18, 2010.
- By Joan Collins, The Sullivan County Democrat newspaper on June 11, 2010.
- Author Spotlight, Xlibris, June, 2010.
- By Andrea Kay, USA Today, May 17, 2010.
- By Nancy Gibbs, "Love, Sex, Freedom and the Paradox of the Pill, A Brief History of Birth Control," April 22, 2010.
- By David Ball, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 20, 2010.
- By Tamar Burris, published on the Web site, Story of My Life, January 19, 2010.
- By Marita Meegan, akgmag.com interviews, August 2009.
- By Corie Russell, She Knows, July 2009.
- By Meigs Glidewell, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 30, 2009.
- By Heather Dunhill, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 4, 2009.
- By Veronica I. Arreola, Viva la Feminista, April, 2009.
- By Amanda Joe, The Cornell Daily Sun, April 23, 2009.
- StopGap Magazine, the members’ magazine of the Fawcett Society in the UK, Spring 2009.
- Sonia, who graduated from Monticello High School, in Monticello, NY, was profiled in the October 2008 issue of the newsletter of the Monticello Central School District and is on the district’s website.
- By Bill Hutchinson, "A life of standing up for women," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 9, 2008.
- By Kristen J. Tsetsi, Journal Inquirer, March 31, 2008.
- By Evelyn L. Moya, The Docket, February 2008.
- By Linda Jimenez Glassman, "English Corner" Radio Sefarad interview, August 2007.
- By Ruth Lando, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 1, 2007.
- By Steven A. Bibb, Passages, Summer 2007.
- By Marsha Fottler, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, May 12, 2007.
- By Erica Brody, National Council of Jewish Women Journal, Winter 2006 (pdf. file).
- Featured Author, Xlibris, November, 2006.
- By Adam Levin, Washington Jewish Week, June 29, 2006.
- By Susan Weidman Schneider, The Reporter (Spring 2006, Vol. 55, No. 2, p. 10), a publication of Women's American ORT.
- The Barrister, the University of Miami (FL) School of Law alumni magazine, Winter 2005.
- By Debra Rubin, "The f-word Online exhibit features local Jewish feminists," October 27, 2005. Sonia is one of six Washington, DC area women included in the exhibit of the Jewish Women’s Archive called Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.
- By Jacqueline Sternberg, Washington Jewish Week, April 28, 2005.
- Sonia was one of seventy-four Jewish women included in an exhibit of the Jewish Women's Archive (JWA) called The Feminist Revolution at jwa.org/feminism Her write-up is at jwa.org/feminism/fuentes-sonia-pressman. She is also pictured on JWA's website.
- By Ken Millstone, The Potomac Almanac, October 13-19, 2004.
- Sonia was featured in the August 5, 2004, issue of the University of Miami Alumni E-Newsletter (she is an alumna of the law school) as follows:
Featured Alumna Sonia Pressman Fuentes Leader of the Women's Movement Isn't Slowing Down
For most immigrants fleeing Nazi Germany in the early 1930's, America was a land of freedom and opportunity that usually came with the price of hard times and hard work that left little room for philosophical or social conviction. Not so for Sonia Pressman Fuentes, JD '57, who even today is continuing to work hard in support of her convictions. Fuentes is one of the most lively and active feminist public speakers and authors today, not allowing herself to rest on the laurels of her past accomplishments or slow down in the twilight of her life. From being the first female attorney in the Office of General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to being one of the co-founders of the National Organization of Women (NOW), Fuentes continues today to be driven and energetic in her pursuit of women's rights. Recently, Sonia has been traveling the globe and continuing her experiential education in culture, society, and the arts. She has also spoken on behalf of candidates supportive of the women's movement, and will be featured in an upcoming documentary by Jennifer Lee regarding a revival and the second wave of the women's movement. Her memoir, Eat First. You Don't Know What They'll Give You; The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and their Feminist Daughter continues to be a popular and inspirational selection for all people in all walks of life...
- By Jeanette Friedman, Lifestyles Magazine, Fall 2003 (pdf file).
- By Sheri' McConnell, National Association of Women Writers, May 2003.
- By Michael Pollick, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, November 25, 2002.
- By Magdalena Ball, The Compulsive Reader, July 2002.
- By the Editor of WomenWriters.net, June 2002.
- By Phil Fink, radio interview on Shalom America, WELW 1330 AM, Cleveland, Ohio, Feb. 3, 2002 (not available on the www).
- By Norman Simms, Chadashot, August 2001.
- By Bill Adams, The Senior News, July 2001.
- By Jenna Glatzer, WriteRead University, May 14, 2001.
- Publishing Success Magazine, May 2001.
- By Lisa Katz, "The Making of a Jewish American Feminist: Sonia Pressman Fuentes." This is a seven-part piece about Eat First and Ms. Fuentes.
- Part 1: Book Synopsis - "Let it be"
- Part 2: Book Synopsis - A Meaningful Contribution
- Part 3: Book Synopsis - The Focus of Sonia's Life
- Part 4: Book Synopsis - The Fight for Women's Rights
- Part 5: Book Synopsis - Underground Activity
- Part 6: Jewish Q&A
- Part 7: Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You
- By Barbara Ruben, Senior Beacon, October 2000.
- Cornell Chronicle (Vol. 31, No. 31, April 20, 2000).
- By Lynn Laframboise, Word Wrangler Publishing, February 2000.
- Shalom, newspaper for the Reading, PA, Jewish community, February 2000.
- By Linda Eberharter, Bridge Works Publishing, January 2000.
- By Marlena Thompson, Washington Jewish Week, December 16, 1999.
- By Linda Davis Kyle, "Writers Around the World," August 1998.
- By Eva S., "Evenings with Eva," July 21, 1998.
- By Ellen Joan Pollock, Wall Street Journal, May 1998. (This article is a follow-up to a 1975 Wall Street Journal article by Mary Bralove.)
- By Risa Molitz, "Fuentes' lecture leads to talk on uniting women," University of Virginia's The Cavalier Daily, October 22, 1997.
- By Frankee Nesta, West Coast Woman, May 1997.
- Beginning of interview of Sonia on the early history of the EEOC by Sylvia Danovitch, assistant to the EEOC's chairman, on Dec. 27, 1990.
- By Betty Friedan, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement, 1976.
- By Mary Bralove, Wall Street Journal, May 13, 1975.
- Excerpt from Betty Friedan’s article, “Up from the kitchen floor,” NY Times Magazine (March 4, 1973), crediting Sonia with giving her the idea to start an organization to fight for women like the NAACP fought for its constituents.
- Sonia Fuentes makes news : June 24, 1970 : Woman Fights For A Job As Park Guard
- Courier-Times, Bucks County, PA, June 25, 1970.
- By Dorothy Gilcrest, Anniston (AL) Star, October 21, 1969.
- Sonia is mentioned in several of the footnotes of the attached 1969 law review article dealing with marital restrictions on stewardesses, now known as flight cabin attendants.
- By Louise Hutchinson, "U.S. Hearings to Weigh Sex in the Skies," Chicago Tribune Press Service (July 23, 1967).
- "Women's Equality Is Pressed," Hartford (CT) Courant (Dec. 7, 1966, p. 1).
- By Sylvia Porter, Post-Crescent, May 28, 1963.
- B’nai B’rith Women’s World, November 1959.
- By Susie Marbey, The Miami Hurricane, May 10, 1957.
Sonia Pressman Fuentes
by Lynn Laframboise
This interview appeared in The Lariat, the newsletter from Word Wrangler Publishing, February, 2000.
LYNN: How did you feel when you arrived in America? Do you recall? Were you very excited? Did you feel different, then, arriving from Germany?
SONIA: I'm sorry to have to say I have no recollection of it at all. I was not yet six years old. First thing I really recall is going to kindergarten or first grade and feeling different from other children because my mother didn't know how to dress me in the current styles for American children. I recall something about her having me wear longer socks than the other children and feeling embarrassed about that--and her overprotecting me, which was also embarrassing. But I have no recollection about arriving in the U.S. I didn't feel different on arrival (or can't really say how I felt) as, unfortunately, I can't recall it. However, since you've read my book, you know that when I got to the Catskills, I did always feel like an outsider because of being Jewish; coming from another country; having older European parents; moving to different places so I didn't have the opportunity of growing up with a group of kids; and, in Monticello, living out-of-town so I couldn't participate in get-togethers with other kids easily.
LYNN: Seems to me you already had two strikes against you becoming an attorney, because you are a female Jew. What kept you motivated?
SPF: Several things. One was I didn't feel I was getting anywhere in other aspects of my life--was working as a secretary, no successful love life--so felt if my life was going to amount to anything, I better do something about it. Then, as I mentioned in my book, because I was saved from an abortionist, was saved from the Holocaust, and was bright, I felt I had been saved in order to do something, contribute something to the world--and before I attended law school, I did not feel my life was moving in the direction where I could do that.
LYNN: Did you feel loved and supported by your parents as you traveled around the country attending college and law schools or did you feel you were only an obligation to them?
SPF: My parents would have killed themselves if they would have thought it might be helpful to me for ten minutes. They were utterly and totally devoted to me. Never ever did I think I was any sort of obligation to them--and I am sure such an outrageous thought never occurred to them I'm not even sure I understand your question. Why would my going to college and law school in other cities make me an obligation to them? Sure, they paid for it--but that was never anything that bothered them.
LYNN: My grandmother would be about your age and I recall some of her stories. It seems to me, that because she was expected to stay at home, marry, have lots of babies, and cook all day, anything else was troublesome for her parents. I guess I was trying to ask if you ever felt like their life was poorer because of your choices.
SONIA: I wouldn't say poorer, but my parents' only desire for me was for me to marry (preferably at 18) and raise a family. They were opposed to my college and law school education (but paid for it and even facilitated my law school education by moving to North Miami Beach, Florida) because they feared it would make it more difficult for me to find a suitable husband. My father never lived to see me married; my mother did and was very fond of my husband and I'm delighted she got to spend some time with my daughter, Zia. So, yes, it was very difficult for my parents to have a daughter whose goals and life were so different from what they were used to traditionally. But I must say I never gave their goals for my life much thought (and I guess most young people are like that). I felt I had a responsibility to do the most with my life that I could and no responsibility to fulfill my parents' desires in that connection. Of course, I felt many other responsibilities to my parents, whom I loved dearly, but not to live my life according to their wishes.
LYNN: With your being involved so heavily in women's rights, surprisingly, you were also mistreated on occasion. Do you feel you could have done more for your own battles with discrimination concerning employment and other matters?
SONIA: Perhaps. There was an incident in my life where I was fired and it was for a discriminatory reason. I hired a lawyer and worked out a settlement with the company that was as good as I could have gotten. I had the option of filing a claim against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and also taking them to court. But that would have taken years, would have cost money if I'd had to go to court, and might have kept me from getting hired at other places in the future. So I did not do it. People have often come to me for advice on whether they should file charges of discrimination and I always tell them that avenue is open to them but it has its risks. Sometimes people are so upset with what has been done to them, they go ahead, either for themselves or for others and file charges of discrimination. Those people are heroes to me. On this occasion, I was not that heroic. I had to support myself and my daughter at the time. When it happened, I asked three knowledgeable friends what to do; they all advised hiring a lawyer and making the best settlement I could and that's the course I took. Of course, I did not just slink into the night and do nothing either--which was another option.
LYNN: Have you ever felt that being a Jew hindered your progression?
SONIA: I have personally never felt that way. But, of course, when you are not hired or something else does not happen to you for a discriminatory reason, often you don't know that. In the past, of course, Jews were not hired for most corporate jobs at any decent levels and in a number of industries. Whether that affected me in my early job-hunting, I really don't know.
LYNN: What are some significant things you can share about your religion?
SONIA: It's difficult to share your feelings about something as broad as the religious group to which you belong. First of all, I should make it clear that my attachment to Judaism is my attachment to the Jewish people and culture--I am not a religious person and consider myself a secular Jew. I do love belonging to a people that's been around for thousands of years. What I love about Jews as an ethnic group and the culture are the Yiddish language, the love of learning and the adoration of books, the belief that what one does in this world (rather than in the hereafter) is primary, the sense of humor and wit, Jewish music and songs, celebrating Jewish holidays, like Passover and Chanukah, and the belief that we owe our children a great deal. Much of this is, of course, also applicable to other groups and religions.
LYNN: Your triumphs have had an impact on all our lives. Do you feel important? (Mentioned in the book, you always felt as if you were born for something important, but you appear to downplay your own achievements.)
SONIA: I can't say that I feel important. I am delighted that through my book people are coming to know about the lives of my parents and me. That is a lovely thing.
LYNN: You mentioned traveling to many countries to speak. Which ones, do you feel, were worst in treatment of their women?
SONIA: I've been to England, Germany, France, Spain, Thailand, Singapore, China, Japan, Indonesia, Israel, and the Philippines. And I didn't spend enough time in any of them to become an expert on the treatment of women there. Generally, however, today, the status of women in Third World countries is still horrendous. If I had to pick the worst country for women in the world today, I'd pick a country I haven't been to but have read and heard much about: Afghanistan under the Taliban.
LYNN: What are the most important advances of women in the last 50 years?
SONIA: I'd say achieving control over their own bodies through birth control; access to higher education; access to jobs previously closed to them; more access in the political arena, to the ministry and the rabbinate, and in the military, including admission to military academies, like West Point; more equality in sports; more equality in pay; more equality in criminal law; and better laws of divorce, child support and child custody, and in all areas of life. Women (and men, when they are the subjects of sex discrimination) now can file charges of discrimination with federal, state, and local agencies, and go to court. In the past, there was no recourse for victims of sex discrimination and sexual harassment. We have had nothing less than a legal revolution in this country since the mid-60s and a concomitant revolution in the rights of women.
LYNN: And what do you predict to be the next steps for us?
SONIA: I have no skills at predicting the future, but I hope women will continue to build on the rights that have been secured and will go on to play an ever wider role in making the US and the world a better place in which to live. We have much work to do in improving conditions for women (including homeless and battered women), children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and minorities worldwide. We need to learn more about the relations between men and women in the 21st century and try to cut down on our rate of divorce. I hope these things will happen in the future.
LYNN: What do you feel your greatest accomplishment has been?
SONIA: If I can give three, I'd say giving birth to my daughter, Zia, and raising her to be a responsible member of society; my part in implementing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and writing my memoirs so people today and in the future will know what happened in my part of the past.
LYNN: Any regrets? (career, relationships you may have slighted, etc.)
SONIA: I tend to focus on the present and future and not spend too much time on the past, but I regret not having had a successful, sustained relationship with a man in my life. However, no one has everything. And when I think of my many blessings, I feel very fortunate indeed.
LYNN: You've told us of many "notable" people. Who was your favorite glamorous person you encountered? And why?
SONIA: I don't know that I've encountered any glamorous persons. One of my favorite people was Sam Kaplan, a chicken and egg merchant who gave me and my roommate a ride one day when we were hitchhiking from Monticello back to Cornell. He was a lovely man and one chapter in my memoirs is about him. People who were very dear to me were Ethel and Joe Kooperman, a husband-and-wife legal team who represented my parents and were dear friends to me. I have very warm feelings for Minnette Massey, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, who was responsible for my entire career by setting up my first interview with an agency of the federal government when I was attending law school. I am grateful to Sara Fisher, a writer and editor, who suggested I write my memoirs in the style in which I did.
LYNN: A personal question. Do you feel you were more prepared (for motherhood) than most new mothers by waiting until later in life?
SONIA: I was totally unprepared for motherhood. And I was equally totally unprepared for marriage. One of the things our society doesn't do is prepare people for those two most significant relationships. If you want to hire someone to do electrical work at your house, you don't do so before determining that person is a qualified electrician, has had training, experience, etc. But anyone is allowed to marry or become a parent with no qualifications whatsoever.
LYNN: Do you think your age or educational background influenced Zia's life in a positive or negative way? I guess, as mothers, we all pretty much like to think that what we've done for our children in pursuit of happiness for them has had a positive impact.
SONIA: I think all parents and their lives have an incredible impact on their children--both negatively and positively. I think Zia would have preferred a mother who was home with available time more than I was and who was more focused on her to the exclusion of other people and activities than I was. Although she was always very important to me, there were also other facets to my life. I know she would have preferred that I raised her exclusively without housekeepers. This I was unable and unwilling to do. I would like to think that she's also proud of what I've done with my life. I am certainly very proud of her. I have recently developed a theory that no parent meets the child's idealized view of a parent and vice versa.
LYNN: Perhaps you could answer how your upbringing influenced the way you raised Zia
SPF: I don't know how much I consciously tried to influence her. I think the biggest influence on a child is not what you say but how you live your life. I did always teach Zia that one does not have to conform to authority if it goes against one's conscience but that in those cases, one must be prepared to pay the price for such nonconformance. Zia grew up in a home where both parents had had college educations (or more), where her mother was a career woman and loved working, where her mother was a liberal Democrat and had liberal ideas, where Judaism, ethics and honesty were valued and where friends and family were important. I believe all those were positive influences for her. I know it has been helpful for her that I spent 23 years in the federal government and 12 in multinational corporations. She frequently discusses with me issues that come up in her working life and it's a plus for her that I am able to share similar experiences from my past with her. When Zia and I were preparing for her bat mitzvah with members of the Jewish Secular Community in Cleveland, Ohio, the group did an experiment where each of us was to write down which of our parents' traits and ideas we followed in our own lives and which we discarded. It was interesting to me how many of my parents' characteristics and ideas I followed and how many I totally disregarded. So we take some things from our parents and discard others--and that's as it should be.
LYNN: Given the opportunity to reach another dream, why did you choose to write your memoirs rather than fiction?
SONIA: I didn't have a choice. I have no imagination and can only write about what I have personally experienced or researched. Many years ago, realizing that people who write books with a large sex content make a lot of money, I decided to try my hand at writing such a book. I went to the typewriter, put down everything I knew about sex, and had a very short paragraph.
LYNN: Last one. What would you tell young women (or other minority groups) aspiring toward change?
SONIA: Join an organization that's working towards the same goals you are. It is very hard to accomplish change on one's own but there is a great deal one can accomplish working with like-minded people.
Word Wrangler Publishing, Feb. 2000