California State University, Long Beach

Show simple item record Downer, Carol (10/9/1933) Robinson, Dara, interviewer 2020-03-07T00:41:55Z 2020-03-07T00:41:55Z 2020-03-06
dc.description SUBJECT BIO - Carol Downer, one of the founders of the Feminist Women's Health Center in Los Angeles, has been a leading force in the feminist health movement and its most visible advocate of self-examination. She was also on the Board of Directors of the National Abortion Federation. The oldest of four children, Downer was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, but came to Los Angeles with her family when she was two. She attended Glendale High School, where she actively participated in student activities, and then went on to UCLA, dropping out when she became pregnant. She moved with her husband to northern California, where he was stationed in the Navy and where her daughter was born. After she moved back to Los Angeles, when she was pregnant with her third child, she reentered Los Angeles City College. By the time she was divorced from her first husband, Downer had four children, and after marrying her present husband, Frank Downer, in 1964, she had two more children. During this period, she attended CSU Los Angeles, where she studied sociology. Downer's feminist consciousness was awakened when she worked on the recall campaign of Councilman Art Snyder and saw how liberal men discriminated against women in leadership positions. Later, in 1969, she joined Los Angeles NOW, although she was acutely aware of her class difference from the other women in NOW. She worked in the Abortion Task Force of NOW with Lana Phelan, author of The Abortion Handbook, who became her mentor, and became a speaker on abortion rights for the LA NOW chapter. With an eye to learning how to perform abortions in order to challenge the restrictive laws, Downer and other women observed abortion procedures at an illegal abortion clinic. They then called a meeting on April 7, 1971 to educate women about abortion and their bodies. This was the first Self-Help Clinic. Committed to spreading the idea of self-help to women across the country, the women demonstrated a gynecological self-examination at a national NOW conference. Over the years, they traveled throughout the US and to Europe, Mexico, Central American and Iran. The outgrowth of the initial meeting of the Self-Help Clinic was the development of the concept of menstrual extraction and the invention of the Del-Em kit by Lorraine Rothman. Subsequently, in 1972, they formed the Feminist Women's Health Center (FWHC), which initially functioned in the back room of the Crenshaw Women's Center. Later that year, Downer and Colleen Willson were arrested and charged with "practicing medicine without a license" - Downer for inserting yogurt to treat a woman's vaginal yeast infection. She was acquitted after a trial that was dubbed "The Great Yogurt Conspiracy Trial" by anarcha-feminists at the Westside Women's Center. In 1973, eight of the women in the FWHC group started the first women-controlled clinic, which continued to operate successfully until 1984, when it experienced financial problems and was taken over by the Oakland FWHC.* After the Oakland clinic was burned down, the operation was resumed in Los Angeles. Downer ran the Federation of Women's Health Centers (originally founded in 1975 at a Mexico City conference on Women and Health) out of the clinic location on Wilshire Boulevard for the next two years, until 1986 when the clinic was forced to close completely. From 1987 to 1991, while she attended law school, Downer continued to work for the Federation of FWHCs. Since then, she has practiced law, mostly in the area of disabilities rights. Although a case of severe shingles (Herpes Zoster) required her to stop working in 2003 for a year, she has returned to law and continues to make appearances on immigration matters. She is currently working on a memoir of her early experiences in the women's movement. * Margo Miller, Francie Hornstein, Jennifer Burgess, Shelly Farber, and Debi Law were particularly instrumental in establishing the clinic. TOPICS - women's movement; feminism; Girl Scouts; abortions; menstrual extraction; Roe v; Wade; and mental health; Feminist Women's Health Centers; media treatment of abortion; feminist health organizing; raid of Self-Help Clinic,1972; arrest and trial for yogurt procedure; WATCH trial; and abortion in the future; en_US
dc.description.abstract INTERVIEW DESCRIPTION - This first, short interview with Carol Downer was conducted for the Women Rising history project by a member of the Women Rising Collective. Downer and the interviewer, as well as other members of the collective, were long time associates in the Los Angeles women's liberation movement. Some of the material covered in this interview is also covered in the two subsequent interviews conducted by Michelle Moravec. en_US
dc.description.tableofcontents *** File: fhcdowner1.mp3 Audio Segments and Topics: (0:00-4:13)... Carol Downer became involved in the women's movement as she was trying to figure out how to "dig herself out of the hole" she had gotten herself into after having several children and trying to go to college. She had heard of Betty Friedan and others chaining themselves to the White House, and in about 1970, she called to find out if there was a chapter of NOW in Los Angeles. Downer went to a meeting not knowing what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised to find that the women there were very happy and ordinary. The first evening she attended she filled out a form about her interests were in the movement. Because of her own experiences, abortion was close to her heart and she signed up for the abortion task force. She believes reproduction is a fundamental issue to women's equality. (4:13-9:48)... Downer comments that her most significant personal accomplishment has been her association with other women through involvement with the women's movement. She has traveled and has grown personally through the experience of the women's movement, achieving goals like leadership and personal growth. She comments that she is prone to being a "dreamer. " Before becoming involved in the women's movement , she was involved with the Girl Scouts. She had fun working with the women in the Scouts and found it personally rewarding. (9:48-13:05)... Although Downer had good experiences with the Girl Scouts, she realized that it was not changing society. She saw her male counterparts advancing, but she was not. This is what fired her up to contribute to women's health and that the concept of self-help would affect social change. (13:05-14:43)... Downer was involved in NOW and helped organize one of the largest demonstrations in Los Angeles. She also worked with the women at the (Crenshaw) Women's Center. She went in a different direction, focusing on women's health and self-help. (14:43-18:08)... One of the more radical things Downer did was learning to perform abortions by observing in an illegal clinic in Santa Monica. She became aware of how to use a speculum and what her own cervix looked like. The people performing abortions at the time were "unsavory" and she and others had questions and concerns. She and another woman drove to Washington State around 1970 and they learned to do another method of abortion from a doctor who had a clinic there. The idea was to open their own illegal clinic. (18:08-23:43)... Abortions at the time were legal in the hospitals but were not legal in clinics because doctors were not performing them. Downer decided to have educational consciousness raising meetings for women to learn about their bodies. They learned how to do menstrual extractions so that women could learn more about the procedure instead of relying on the medical profession. She notes that the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade came at a good time and saved thousands of women's lives. However, she believes that menstrual extraction would have been widely practiced without the decision as it is a safe, simple procedure. (23:43-24:58)... Downer recounts going to hear the decision of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. . (24:58-28:34)... Downer was glad the women's movement was there at the time she joined and notes that being in L.A. was a plus because she could fit into many activities. She had been impacted by an unwanted pregnancy, suburban life, and poverty. She was lower-middle class and had been struggling even before her husband was hospitalized for a year with tuberculosis. (28:34-30:59)... Downer had a nervous breakdown before she became a feminist and was very depressed. The only thing that kept her motivated was taking care of her children. After that experience, nothing that was done to her would equal that horrible time. After her experience with depression, she realized that mental health is essential in fighting oppressors. End of tape *** File: fhcdowner2.mp3 (0:00-2:14)... Downer believes that the Feminists Women's Health Center (FWHC), along with other women's health projects, have had a tremendous impact on women's reproductive control. One important impact was a result of developing the technology of menstrual extraction. Abortion care is directly derived from the demands of the women's movement. She believes that abortion is the most humane and enlightened procedure of health care. (2:14-4:21)... Downer believes the media coverage of abortion makes it appear very traumatic and the media makes it very dramatic. Although it can be very traumatic, she believes it is portrayed in a distorted way by the press. (4:21-7:29)... When menstrual extraction procedure was developed, Downer and another woman were delegated to speak about it across the country. They also performed it and used themselves as models. This had an electrifying effect on the women's groups to whom they spoke. Downer never got into legal trouble for menstrual extraction. (7:29-9:24)... Downer toured the country in 1971, going to 20-25 cities over a six-week period. She went to big cities such as Chicago and New York. (9:24-12:30)... Other significant issues with which Downer was involved included population control, abortion and forced sterilization. When she went to Europe in 1973, it was very helpful to talk to the women there. She went to Denmark, Italy, Germany, England, Holland, and Belgium, demonstrating menstrual extraction while there. (12:30-15:07)... When Downer was in Europe, she connected with other women's groups from an International Health Conference mailing list. The self-help movement has grown in Europe and is very active. (15:07-23:41)... In 1972 the Self Help Clinic was raided by seven policeman and three medical examiners. They confiscated four trunk loads of material and had arrest warrants for Downer and another woman. She was not present at the time but heard about it so she raised bail money and turned herself in. About thirty women were outside picketing and they got media coverage. There were eleven counts against one of the women and one count against Downer. [Editor's note: the other woman was Colleen Willson.] Downer had done a yogurt procedure for a woman with a yeast infection (i.e. inserting yogurt into the vagina) and one of the women who attended the procedure had filed a complaint. Downer was given a $250 fine and two years of probation for one misdemeanor count. She went to trial with national support and a packed courtroom everyday. The trial lasted about one week and attracted a lot media coverage. The State went about the case very seriously, but the jury found in Downer's favor. She felt that the charge was ridiculous, and when she talked to the jury afterwards, they said that the charge was absurd and she was not doing anything wrong. (23:41-29:34)... Downer's case was very interesting in that the attorneys for her took the first twelve jurors they saw. In 1977 the WATCH (Women Acting Together to Combat Harassment) trial took place. There was a meeting of women's clinics in Tallahassee after which Downer decided to inspect maternity care in the hospitals with thirty other women. They were there for about fifteen minutes and were told to leave when they walked into the nursery. They left and two days later they were arrested. They went into the t.v. station and were arrested there and went to trial on trespassing charges. Downer was convicted and fined $1000 and 60 days in jail. They appealed it, and although it took several years, they were acquitted. End of tape en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
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dc.subject Feminist Health Movement en_US
dc.subject Women's History en_US
dc.title Downer, Carol (audio interview #1 of 3) en_US
dc.type Recording, oral en_US

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