Women leading Texas

Ginger Purdy and Melissa Stoeltje

There was a time when Ginger Purdy (left), one of the most powerful advocates for women in San Antonio today, wasn’t even involved in the women’s movement. She was too busy raising her daughters on her own and working as a freelance fashion artist. She told her daughter Melissa Stoeltje (right) in their visit to MobileBooth West: “Back when the women’s movement started in the 70s, I knew it was going on, but you know I was so busy working all day and then I would come home and draw shoes at night just to make sure you kids got orthodonture, swimming lessons, writing lessons and all that. I knew that the women’s movement was going on, but it was not at the forefront of my mind. My three kids, you know, being the single mother, that was the thing”

Ginger’s story is of a woman who grew into the political force that she is today after being what she called a “traditional woman.” Though she had been involved in women’s groups before, the women’s movement hadn’t, as she put it, “come into her t.v. screen yet.” After attending the National Women’s Political Caucus at the St. Anthony Hotel–where she saw Sonia Johnson speak about how she had been excommunicated from her Mormon Church for supporting the Equal Rights Amendment–Ginger was a changed woman. She described that day:

“As I walked in the San Anthony Hotel, there was a big banner across the stage and it showed two little women; you could tell they were down in a hole but they were on a pedestal, and they had their arms around each other. And they were looking up, and at the edge of the top of that hole, you could see what looked to be the pointed tips of two boots. And the words said, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about all this pedestal stuff I can take.’”

“Well, that kind of thought–I’d never thought about that. You know, when you’re on a pedestal, you’re isolated. You’re not a part of anything. And that was the first kind of bling in my mind and then hearing Sonia Johnson talkÖ.And something happened to me thenÖThat’s where it started. And then I joined the Women’s Political Caucus here in San Antonio because I wanted to see more women in political office. So I think I was in my 40s then, you know, so I always say that I’m a late bloomer to this thing called feminism, even though I have now spent over thirty years trying to wake women upÖ.”

Ginger has worked as a women’s advocate and has helped found four organizations since 1979, including The San Antonio Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Network Power Texas. She talked about the beginnings of Network Power Texas. When she was heading the San Antonio Professional Chapter of Women in Communications, Ginger called the presidents of seven other women’s groups together to try to organize an event to teach women in San Antonio about networking. Writer and feminist Liz Carpenter and Texas politician Ann Richards came to speak, among others. Ginger said: “We were sold out 10 days before the event. We had 5 or 600 women jammed into a Chinese Restaurant that seated 350. I said if the fire marshall had been there that day, I’d of still been in jail, but incredible things happened.”

Ginger has become a professional motivational speaker herself, getting over the “frog of terror” in her throat long ago in order to give lectures and workshops on issues that benefit women. Ginger has also formulated her ideas of the “middle woman” in a book entitled, Come On In, There’s Room For Us All. Finally! The middle woman speaks up and out! Ginger continues to be an inspiration and a blessing to the many women she brings together through her work.

Two other great women leaders who graced our MobileBooth with their words and presence in San Antonio also told the story of how they unexpectedly became community activists. Viola Casares (pictured below, left) and Petra Mata (right), are co-coordinators of the organization Fuerza Unida.

Viola Casares and Petra Mata

Viola and Petra were two of the 1,150 employess who lost their jobs when the Levi Strauss & Company (LS&C) located on South Zarzamora Street in San Antonio, Texas announced that the plant was closing and relocating to Costa Rica in January of 1990. The displaced workers, the majority of whom were Mexican and Mexican American women, and some of whom had worked for the company for as many as 20 or 30 years, were left with little severance pay, no pension, no medical support, and ineffective retraining programs. Fuerza Unida began when twenty-three of the laid off workers, all women, attended a meeting within a month of the closing and initiated “The Women Garment Workers Justice Campaign” (WGWJC), a campaign that included hunger strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations, a class action lawsuit against Levi’s, and a national boycott of Levi’s products. The path Viola and Petra have taken to becoming community activists was a necessary one. They had no prior organizing experience and were forced to fight and organize to survive. They both have suffered in their efforts, but view Fuerza Unida as a tremendous opportunity. Currently, Fuerza Unida maintains a community space called the Women Workers Center and offers public education on issues such as NAFTA & the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), immigrants’ rights, women’s rights, labor issues, environmental health, education, and public policy. They also offer a Member Leadership Development Institute to encourage leadership among working class women of color as well as youth and family wellness programming, serving as an integral moral support for their community.

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Illustration courtesy of lafuerzaunida.org

Ginger, Viola, and Petra are examples of women who became something they didn’t necessarily strive to be–tremendous leaders, teachers, organizers and role models. Their stories are a testament to the possibility of an individual to change both themselves and their community.



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