One of the most empowering achievements in my life is integrating the bar for the women of Oswego Lake Country Club (OLCC), an achievement my mother abhors. Here’s the rest of the story.
I guess I’ve always been somewhat of a rabble rouser, but never more than in 1990.
There are some things to know about me before I proceed. You already know that I am a singer and was a performing artist from age 17-45. Signed by Polydor Records in 1969, I recorded the self-titled album, MARY CATHERINE LUNSFORD, along with two subsequent albums.
What you may not know is:
- I was reared in a middle class family by a Southern father and Western mother
- My mother never taught me anything domestic and my father only expected me to be a wife and mother. Neither believed in sending a girl to college to find a husband, even IF they had had the money to do so
- I am a child of the 60’s Folk Movement
- I rarely drink alcohol, do not smoke anything and implement tenets of Christian Science whenever safe to do so
- I am a feminist who believes the first important job of a mother is to be home with her children if at all possible
- I only took up playing golf because my husband promised me a full length fur coat if I broke 100 at OLCC
- One of my favorite songs is YOU’VE GOTTA HAVE HEART
- One of my favorite stories as a child THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD
This first year of membership, I sent a letter to the Men’s Board requesting that women be allowed into the bar and signed my name. I received no response. Over the next seven years I sent a letter every year, but signed my husband’s name. He received no response.
Every December, OLCC hosts the President’s Ball at which the out-going President is thanked for his service to the club and the in-coming President is welcomed to his new position. At this point, you need to know that only the husband, with the exception of five women, were considered ‘members of the club’.
I attended the 1990 President’s Ball with my husband and three couples of friends. It was during the in-coming President’s address to the attendees when he invited members to make suggestions for improving the club that I was moved to leap to my feet and ask people to stand in solidarity against the sexist policies of the Club, at which point my husband fumbled his fork. Only the three other women sitting at my table and one other stood in a room of 200 people.
In Good Company
The next morning I sat in the little den of our home feeling as if I was out on a limb with someone sawing, but then I reminded myself that I was in good company with Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt… I took heart … I could do this!
My husband asked me, “With everything that’s going on in our lives, why would you decided to take this on?” I responded, “Because I must!” Then he said, “Just don’t be the only one.” And I said, “I can’t guarantee that.” And he said, “Why won’t other women join you?” And I replied, “Because they know which side their bread is buttered on.” He asked, “Why don’t you know which side your bread is buttered on?” I looked at him for a long time, then said resolutely, “Because MY bread is buttered on BOTH SIDES!” I added, “By the way, I’m boycotting the club.” and he said, “If you are going to be married to me, you will need to play golf!” And I said, “Are you really going to put our marriage on this line?” He grunted and went outside to walk around the house 3 times.
Women from the Club began to call me to say that I was, “messing everything up for us and soon we won’t even be able to play golf because of YOU!”
Women MEMBERS of the Club called to ask if I could change the contract terms they had signed when joining that limited their access to the club based on their gender.
Men of the Club stopped my husband regularly and told him he needed to “control” his wife, to which my husband replied, “Talk to her for yourself, and good luck.”
Two weeks later after the President’s Ball, I went to a subsequent ‘women’s board’ meeting and when asked how we should protest, I said, “We’ll make penises out of old panty hose and walk into the bar.” and one woman said, “Where do we get one of those?” Needless to say, that approach was rejected.
I subsequently sent no fewer than 4 letters to the ‘Women’s Board’ asking for their support and received no response. Four months later at a party, the Women’s Board President cornered me to inform me that she gave me “permission” to pursue my complaint. I asked why she and the other women would not stand with me and she said, “Your used to getting bloody.” I thought about that a moment, realising that I was used to taking risks…every time I stepped out on a stage in front of 3,000 people…So I informed her that I didn’t need her ‘permission’ and that she was right, I was used to “getting bloody”, then turned on my heel and walked away.
What to do, What to do!
I thought about what to do next for quite some time. One day it crossed my mind that if I could get the liquor license jerked, I’d get the attention of the ‘Men’s Board’, so I called the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to explain the situation and ask how to go about getting them to jerk the liquor license at the Country Club. My call was passed along to several people and finally I spoke with someone who explained that first I would have to sue the Country Club through Civil Rights and if I won the case and the Club didn’t comply, THEN the license would be revoked and I asked for the phone number for the Oregon Office of Civil Rights.
I spoke with several people at Civil Rights and was told they would get back to me. About a month later, I received a call letting me know that my complaint had been set before a round table committee who decided whether or not they could ‘take a case’ and I was informed that, “this is a private club, so there isn’t anything we can do.” To which I replied, “Ah Ha! They rent the club out to non-members,” and that’s when I was told Civil Rights would represent me and I was assigned to ‘Josh’.
I sent the President of the club a letter letting him know that I had contacted Civil Rights, and reminded him that the “wheels of government turn very slowly,” and he had “time to do the just thing and get the policy corrected and stop the perpetuation of second-class citizenship.”
He called me and said, “Got your letter. You know I can’t control the language in the bar”, to which I said, “I’ve been known to use a 4-letter word or two, Peter.” Then he said, “The bar’s not big enough to accommodate all you ladies,” and I replied, “The bar’s not big enough to accommodate all the men should they show up at the very same hour.” At last he said, “The bar is not a particularly attractive place,” and I said, “Peter, we are not discussing esthetics…. we are discussing the perpetuation of second class citizenship. Change the policy, or I’ll see you in court.” He said, “I’ll get back to you.”
In the meanwhile, Josh called a few days after phone discussion with the Club President to inform me that he’d gone to the Club and taken a photo of the brass plate that I had reported was affixed to the ‘Men’s Bar’ that read: Women after 6PM-Bar Closes at 6PM, then he was “escorted out” of the Club.
After that, I didn’t hear from Josh for about a year. By then there was a new Club President that assured the Men’s Board Civil Rights would never take the case…..
The Men’s Board received a letter from Civil Rights apprising them of the law suit, naming me as the complainant. Months later, Josh called me to report the Club decided to change their policy instead of fight the law suit and he asked if I wanted the ‘Club’ to “sign-off” on the agreement. I told Josh that there had been an announcement in the Tee-Talk, the Club newsletter, that there were “plans to build a larger bar area and women would now be allowed in the bar.” and I asked if that was sufficient but Josh said, “No, they could change their minds if they didn’t sign off.” So, I said, “Have them sign.”
End of My Story
In the end, the Club coffers improved due to the uptick in business. Women members stopped me to say how much they appreciated what I’d done. Men members never mentioned a thing, but kept a wide swath between me and them. My husband was proud of me. My mother was disappointed in me. My son thought I was the most powerful woman in the world.
I rarely drink alcohol, it was the principle I couldn’t accept, so I had to take action.