MAKING A PERSONAL DIFFERENCE FOR WOMEN
Remembering the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s
By Dr. Sharon Greenleaf La Pierre
All of the below legal changes for women may seem silly in 2017, but in the late 60s and early 70s they were problems to overcome. It took concerted energy and making a fool out of one’s self to accomplish such minor changes. What is the importance of using one’s own name? It was my identity and a beautiful name. Why should I be forced to give it up because I was a woman and happen to marry?
All of these changes may seem irrelevant to some, but to me it was important that I not be forced as an adult American citizen to be treated as a child. I love being a woman and have done all I can through the years to encourage girls to be self-sufficient and educated, following their dreams. My father only had a third or fourth grade education and my mother had some nursing school. She emphasized the importance of being educated and being a strong human being, which would benefit all others. Hence, I acquired a strong sense of identity and self-worth.
1 – When I got married in 1967, I assumed that I could use my own name (maiden name) without a problem. It never occurred to me that the government would automatically make the changes for me. My name on my social security number was changed without my permission to my husband’s last name. In order to use my own name, I had to go to court in the State of Colorado and apply for a name change in front of a judge with the agreement of my husband. This I did on December 27, 1974, setting a precedent for other women to use their own names (County of Arapahoe, State of Colorado, Civil Action No. 24956). A notice was placed in the Littleton Independent stating that as “the petitioner I shall henceforth be known to all men as Sharon Dale La Pierre.” I retained my name through court order which allowed others to do the same. Nowadays, women can use their own name and nothing is changed automatically, but this minor act allowed women in general to retain their maiden names as legal.
I laugh now when I see that women use their maiden names hyphenated with their married names. It makes me proud and to know that I was right. It did have meaning!
2 – The legal action above allowed me to change my Social Security name back to my own name as legal with a copy of the court order.
3 – I went to purchase a federal U.S. Savings Bond, which was the thing in the 70s. In order to buy a bond, I had to list on the bond “Miss” or “Mrs” or I could not buy it. I enlisted the help of the ACLU and lawyer, Perter Nay. I was allowed to buy an U.S. Bond without these designations using my own legal name. This allowed other woman to do the same.
4 – The tax forms in Colorado required a signature from the woman for joint filing which read “Taxpayer’s Wife’s Signature,” placing her in second position on the forms. This was offensive to me since I worked and put my husband through graduate school. So, I was influential in changing this designation to “Taxpayer’s Spouse’s Signature.”
5 – Getting credit for women in the 70s was difficult because it was tied to their husband’s name and credit rating. Buying property or obtaining credit cards in one’s own name was not a usual practice. When I graduated from college, I was sent credit cards from various gas companies as a standard practice. When I married, my credit became that of my husband with his name on the card and a different starting date reflecting my name change. I wrote constant letters and finally won the fight to retain my own individual credit cards, which resulted in my own credit rating (probably as a result of my court case as stated above).
6 – The National Organization for Women (NOW) was just being formed in the 1970s. During graduate school, I was the “Convener” in San Diego, CA. We met in a private home in La Jolla. Most of the women at that meeting were upper middle class from various backgrounds.
7 – The first group for Luthern Medical Center in CO was formed as a volunteer rape counseling unit in the early 80s. We became the chain of evidence for the victim while being examined instead of a male police officer being present in the room. It was a new concept at the time to train women volunteers to help in this manner. We were on call at various times to help a victim.