- 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 Aug. 29, 2029, the subject of the Yiddish Book Center’s newsletter was “Returning to Our Roots.” The newsletter featured seven interviews from its Oral History Project on that subject, the second of which involved Sonia. She was thrilled to follow Leonard Nimoy’s interview.
- Annette Bethel, a feminist on Sonia’s worldwide feminist email list, sent her on August 14, 2022, the minutes from the NOW 1967 conference that she came across in doing research.
A reference to Sonia is at the end of the write-up, as follows:
“The meeting then had a talk on job discrimination. Aileen Hernandez, a past employee of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) introduced Sonia Pressman, a present employee of the EEOC, to talk on the subject of the action a woman can take against job discrimination and what part the EEOC takes in the case. Sonia Pressman briefly outlined what Title 7 covers, explaining that federal law in most cases conflict with state protective laws. Employers can not run segregated job ads in the papers. Insurance benefits must be equal for both men and women. AN employer can not refuse to employ a married women. There are many court cases resulting from Title 7; many more cases than were expected when the word sex was added to the Civil Rights act. Sonia Pressman then reviewed the legal procedures one should take in discrimination cases.”
Copyright © 2022 by Thomas Dublin, Kathryn Kish Sklar, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Rebecca Jo Plant and Alexander Street, a ProQuest Company
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
Potomac Feminist, Author Keeps Busy
Interview by Ken Millstone, Potomac Almanac
Sonia Pressman Fuentes co-founded the National Organization for Women.
October 13, 2004
This interview is from Potomac Almanac
Sonia Pressman Fuentes does not dwell on what might have been. Not even on the fact that she almost wasn’t born.
The Potomac resident, co-founder of the National Organization for Women, and author of “Eat First—You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You: Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter,” was born in Berlin in 1928, the first year the little known National Socialist party held seats in the German parliament. But only because the doctor Fuentes’ mother went to seeking an abortion was on vacation in the Swiss Alps with a famous ballerina.
“In my life and in my family it is to me a wonderful, humorous story,” Fuentes said of her mother, the abortionist and the ballerina. “And the reason is because my parents were so devoted to me that this just becomes a humorous family story.”
Fuentes’ life is punctuated by serendipitous events and seemingly impulsive choices. But chance alone did not send Fuentes to law school in the 1950s or make her the first woman attorney in the general counsel’s office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “It’s both chance and your own determination,” said Fuentes. “Those two work together.”
FUENTES’ POLISH PARENTS had lived in Germany for over 20 years when she was born. Her father operated a clothing business and her mother and brother Hermann—fourteen years her senior—helped out in the store. During the early 1930s Hermann expressed growing concern about the growing power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but Fuentes’ father thought the idea of leaving was absurd.
“It’s just as if I came to you now. Let’s say Bush, God forbid, is reelected and I come to you and I say ‘This man is no good you need to move to Australia,’” Fuentes said, recounting her father’s reluctance. “What would you say to me?”
But Hermann persisted and Fuentes’ father eventually gave in. The family fled to Antwerp in 1933 and to America a year later.
“We solely survived because of my brother and as long as he lived I rarely spoke to him without thanking him,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes was six when she arrived in America and does not remember watching the war unfold. “I don’t know what I felt when I was six,” she says, except for feeling “different from the other kids.” The quiet immigrant girl going to school in the Bronx began to learn her fourth language—English.
Fuentes’ life in America includes a laundry list of towns and cities: New York, Miami, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and, for most of the time since 1957, Washington. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell in 1950, where briefly considered majoring in Home Economics.
“I was going to take a course in meat-cutting,” she said. Fuentes spent her last undergraduate year in the graduate school of business and public administration, and with her degree in hand, she prepared to be recruited.
“I thought ‘What job will I take?’ The whole world is going to come knocking at my door looking for me,” Fuentes said. She didn’t get a single offer. Not even a call. “At one point I sent out 200 resumes,” she said. “Nobody was hiring women college graduates in those days.”
Fuentes essentially shelved her college degree and took a course in shorthand. “I finished on a Friday,” she said, “and Monday I had a job.” She moved around, working in the lower echelons of various companies, most of which Fuentes said later went out of business. At one point she worked for a man named Sonny Sunshine. But Fuentes knew she could do better.
When people asked her about her job, Fuentes says, “I’d say I was a secretary. And that was perfectly acceptable to them. That was a perfectly acceptable thing for women to do in those days. But I felt that it wasn’t enough—that with my college education I should be doing more.”
When a company that had repeatedly transferred Fuentes for arbitrary reasons tried to move her again, she made a spur of the moment decision. She quit and declared she was going to law school. “For me to say at that time I was going to law school was like saying I’m going to become a lion tamer. … And I don’t know what caused me to say that. I think I just wanted to let them know that I didn’t depend on their lousy job.”
“If she tells you she’s going to do it – it’s done,” said Jackie Williams, a friend of more than forty years. Fuentes went to the University of Miami Law School and passed the Florida Bar in 1957.
Her career took her first to the Office of Alien Property at the Department of Justice, thanks to a professor Fuentes barely knew scheduling an interview on her behalf, and after that office shut down, to the National Labor Relations Board.
Fuentes recalled her interview at the NLRB.
“He said ‘You studied labor law in college?’ I said no. He said, ‘You studied it in law school?’ I said no. He said, ‘You have an interest in it, you probably take some courses at GW or wherever in labor law?’ I said I never had an interest in labor law. He said, ‘Why are you here?’ I said I need a job. He said ‘You’re hired.’
“That’s how I got into the field of labor law where I spent my entire career.”
IT WAS AFTER FUENTES moved to the newly-formed Equal Employment Opportunities Commission several years later that she became involved the women’s movement. Fuentes found that her colleagues at EEOC were dedicated to enforcing the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that fought racial discrimination, but paid little attention to the provisions dealing with sex discrimination. She was dubbed a “sex maniac” because she was constantly lobbying for the enforcement of the sex clauses as well.
In early 1966, Betty Freidan came to the EEOC, interviewing employees while working a follow up to “The Feminine Mystique.”
“She happened to come on a day when I’d had it up to here with their not doing anything for women,” said Fuentes. “So I took her into my office and I got tears in my eyes and I said to her “What this country needs is an organization to fight for women like the NAACP fights for African Americans.” The National Organization for Women was formally conceived in June of 1966 at a meeting of the Commissions on the Status of Women, and in October that year, 27 other women drafted a statement of purpose and skeletal bylaws for the organization in the basement of the Washington Post Building.
At the 20th reunion of the group in 1986, “We sat around for four hours and everybody said how they got into women’s rights,” Fuentes said, “and everybody there said they gave Betty the idea, who started the organization.” But Fuentes has a 1974 New York Times article written by Freidan that says it really was her.
"One day," the Mar. 4, 1974 article reads, "a cool young woman lawyer, who worked for the agency that was not enforcing the law against sex discrimination, carefully closed the door of her office and said to me with tears in her eyes, 'I never meant to be so concerned about women. I like men. But I'm getting an ulcer, the way women are being treated. We may never have a chance like this law again. Betty, you have to start an N.A.A.C.P. for women."
“It is a tremendous source of gratification to me to have lived to see this,” Fuentes says of her involvement in the women’s movement. “Lots of people are involved in movements and they don’t see what happens later on. So I feel gratified to have seen what has happened.” But, she says, “There are many, many, many things yet to be done. It goes on.”
FUENTES TOO goes on. She retired in 1993 and spent five years writing her book. Last month, she was invited to contribute to an online exhibition organized by the Jewish Women’s Archive, in connection with the 350th anniversary of Judaism in America. Other invitees include U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and authors Eve Ensler and Erica Jong.
“I am in the most exciting part of my life,” said Fuentes, who keeps busy writing articles, speaking to groups, and going out to restaurants and cultural events.
“She’s very active, she’s full of energy, full of dynamite. She’s going all the time,” said Joe Glazer, a longtime friend. “Sonia is always scheduled,” added Millie Glazer, Joe’s wife. “You call her and she says ‘Let’s see in six weeks I’m free for lunch.'”
Fuentes lives alone. Her daughter Zia, 32, works for Corinthian Colleges in California. She was married to Roberto Fuentes, a Puerto Rican attorney from 1970-1979. She's lived in Potomac since 1987, but still spends winters in Florida.
All of Fuentes' friends say that even though some of the anecdotes are familiar, they bought and read Fuentes’ book. “I bought a book and had her autograph it,” said Williams. “One of these days it’s going to be very valuable.”