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Connections: A Women’s Weekend

Helen S. Rattray
The East Hampton Star

Two quote-unquote wo­men’s events took place here last weekend. The first was sponsored by the East End Women’s Alliance, which was active between 1971 and 1992 and staged annual Women’s Equality Day programs in August. The second was a fund-raiser for Eleanor’s Legacy, which encourages and helps, in its own words, “progressive, pro-choice women” to run for political office in New York State.

I was the first of five speakers at the first event, on Saturday, and when I went to the podium in the East Hampton High School auditorium, I saw just what I had expected. The audience was comprised of former members of the group and friends, family, or admirers. Those attending, like those taking part, were white, middle class, and gray-haired, at least metaphorically. You could count those under, say, 50 on one hand.

Many of us who considered ourselves feminists in the 20th century understood that our daughters had either found fault with it or found it unnecessary. Speaking, I hinted at why even younger women seem bored with do-good umbrella groups and more likely to be involved in more specific fights for justice. I cited statistics to show that many fewer women than might be expected are in the media.

The others on the dais Saturday were Marilyn Fitterman, the past president of the New York State Na tional Organization for Women, Judith Lerner, a Bella Abzug and United Nations peace activist, Phyllis Chesler, a psychology professor and author of 16 books, and Bill Baird, whose battles for more than 50 years were responsible for the legalization of contraception regardless of a woman’s marital status. Ms. Chesler, as is her modus operandi, expressed controversial opinions about Israel and Islam and argued against “multicultural relativists.” Mr. Baird hopes that a biography written about him will find a publisher.

The dedicated Eleanor’s Legacy crowd at the North Haven fund-raiser the next day showed a sprinkling of young women and offered a look at some of today’s adult women who are running for political office. But the focus was on Julie Ratner, the dynamic East Hampton woman responsible for elevating women’s breast health services at Southampton Hospital from mediocre (or worse) to what is now considered excellent.

The Ellen Hermanson Foundation, of which she is president, raises money for Southampton Hospital through events like Ellen’s Run, which was 20 years old this summer. Today, the hospital has a distinct Breast Health Center, which takes advantage of top diagnostic techniques, computer-assisted mammography, ultrasound, and a sophisticated biopsy system.

In receiving the Eleanor Roosevelt Woman of Accomplishment Award, Ms. Ratner answered her own rhetorical question about why breast cancer was political by enumerating policy decisions at all levels of government, one after another, that affect treatment and care.

Others who spoke were Representative Grace Meng of Queens and Suzan Johnson Cook, a former State Department ambassador for international religious freedom who is expected to run in a primary for the Democratic nomination to replace Representative Charles Rangel, who is retiring.

Extending the political thrust were Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who faces a primary to run for Congress, Southampton Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, who is running for the County Legislature, and the three East Hampton Town Democrats running for re-election in November, Supervisor Larry Cantwell, Sylvia Overby, and Peter Van Scoyoc.

The East End Women’s Alliance has always tried to be nonpartisan, but the causes it supported over the years made that difficult. As for Eleanor’s Legacy, it was founded in recognition of Eleanor Roosevelt’s profound contributions to humanity, and on the belief that it was going to take Democratic women in office to fight for what she believed in. Hillary Rodham Clinton was on the South Fork last weekend and I am sure she was on the minds of many, but her campaign for the presidency was not mentioned.