Born Blue by
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Prompted By Politics

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Original campaign button, 1960

My mother was a proud FDR Democrat and preached it at home. My father’s family grew up quiet Republicans, transplanted to Detroit from St. Louis. We never got him to admit who he voted for in 1960, but he became more liberal as he aged.

I was not quite four years old during the 1956 election, but my older brother and I held a mock election. We carefully laid out a ballot for each state (I’m sure my brother, then almost nine, did all this, since I couldn’t write yet), marked a vote for each state and tallied the score. In our household, Adlai Stephenson won. We quite admired the erudite senator from our neighboring state.

I was unabashedly in love with JFK. I watched his inaugural address on my lunch break (we still came home for lunch from elementary school), sitting on the arm of our sofa on the black and white TV in our den. I have the Life magazine with the Kennedy’s motorcade on the cover and his speech inside. They were the epitome of elegance and grace as far as I was concerned, and his death, three years later, just shattered me.

On June 6, 1968, my clock radio awoke me with the news of RFK’s assassination and I lay under the covers, weeping. My mother came to see why I hadn’t gotten up. I muttered, “They got Bobby too”. I was in high school, too young to vote, caught up in my own life, paying attention to world affairs, but not politics, per se.

I attended Brandeis University, a hotbed of liberal politics. A year before I arrived, it had been the headquarters for the Student National Strike Center, when campuses across the country went out on strike to protest the U.S.’ bombing of Cambodia. A few months earlier, four students at Kent State were gunned down by the National Guard. Mine was a closely-screened in-coming class. Yet, a few weeks after I arrived, Brandeis again made news, as three of their students landed on the FBI 10 Most Wanted List for robbing a local bank which resulted in the murder of a police officer. Years later I would sit next to one of those students at an event on campus. She was now out of prison. She had repented of her ways and was seeking reconciliation. We had a short, but fascinating talk. Google Katherine Ann Power.

I was never politically engaged in that way. At my Northwestern interview, the recruiter kept asking me if I would burn my bra. I was interested in their Theater Department. After graduating high school, I did stop wearing a bra, but was mocked by my roommate for continuing to wear mascara.

I found my political identity at the end of freshman year, in 1971. Always a liberal and interested in social justice, this was before the Supreme Court had passed Roe v. Wade and I came home to Michigan late for my period. Very late. My father saw how gloomy I was and we took the dog out for a walk one night. I confessed what was ailing me and that I didn’t know how to handle it. At the time, abortion was legal only in New York and New Mexico. I told him I thought of suicide. He chided me. He told me to see his golf partner who happened to be an OB/GYN. If the news was bad, he would try to get me a therapeutic abortion in Michigan. If he couldn’t, he would take me to New York. All this went on without my mother’s knowledge. I had first obtained birth control at a Planned Parenthood office while visiting a friend in NYC over intersession the previous Feburary, but nothing is fool-proof.

The  pregnancy test was negative and the doctor gave me a shot of progesterone to bring on my period, but he also discovered that I had a class III Pap smear (pre-cancerous) at the age of 18, and did a simple procedure a few weeks later to clear that up. Days later, I slipped my father a note when my period arrived. I found it in his papers when he died. My father was one of the all-time good guys.

But my passion for a woman’s right to choose, and access to health care was born that summer. I will ALWAYS vote for those who stand up for that cause.

My first vote was cast for McGovern in 1972. Though I was voting absentee at college from Michigan, I was proud to be in Massachusetts, the one state that went for McGovern. I have never voted for a Republican and cannot imagine a scenario when I would. Their party values are abhorrent to me.

This election season has been particularly troubling, watching the Orange Monster, a man who proudly disrespects women, minorities and other disenfranchised groups, get away with outright lies on national TV and his followers just don’t care, or are completely ignorant. I understand they also may be voting one issue, but how can they vote to put that man in charge of this country? There is no sense of decency, social justice, understanding of the issues. Only rage. It frightens me to my very core. Having lost relatives in the Holocaust, this reminds me too much of 1930s Germany.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Democrat, liberal, Planned Parenthood, abortion
Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    My background is much like yours – no surprise – even to having a Republican father who wouldn’t say who he voted for in 1960. Very moving story of your father’s support for you when you thought you were pregnant. Thanks for sharing, I always look forward to your stories.

  2. John Zussman says:

    Your pregnancy scare must have been frightening, but the silver linings were tangible: it crystallized your father’s love and support, and it engaged you politically for the rest of your life. I hope young women read stories like yours, so they understand why the “good old days” were actually dark and scary.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, John. I was quite frightened, but learned I could tell my father anything and always count on him. Now, the morning after our earth-shattering election, it seems that we will be going back to those “good old days” in far too many awful ways.

  3. Patricia says:

    As John said, we forget these were scary times–and I never would have gone to my father for help with this, you were very lucky there indeed. Your story is the perfect illustration of this fact: Feminists are not aware of different things than other people; they are aware of the same things differently.

  4. I believe you’re right in comparing this to 1930s Germany. The “Orange Monster” won by playing on people’s deepest fears, most of which are all tied up in racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. Much the same way the Nazis rose to power in 1930s Germany. It’s truly a terrifying time we live in. Thank you for this essay, Betsy.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I have been thinking recently how lucky my daughters and granddaughters have been to grow up in the post Roe v. Wade era. I remember how my sisters in college feared pregnancy most of all. Not easy to get the pill and I knew someone who went to NYC for an abortion. So afraid we are headed back to those times. Politicians have no business making decisions for women about their bodies.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As you can tell from this story, I totally agree with you Laurie. I fear for the next generation too, who don’t remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade, and take their reproductive freedom for granted.

  6. I, too, was moved by your pre Roe v. Wade scare. How many of us have similar tales from those days. I would imagine the interviewer who asked about bra burning was a man. Wasn’t that just the way!

    And I dare say, Brandeis was a bit to the left of liberal in those days. Brandeis friends wrote “Strike” on the water tower during the Cambodian actions, they had a very active SDS chapter, people chained themselves to armory gates, and yes, as you mention, some folks went beyond civil disobedience. Such a turning point for many of us, those days, standing at the crossroads between resistance and the troubled agenda of the Weather Underground and less principled infantile leftists.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Charlie, the Northwestern interviewer who asked about bra burning was a man (when I think back, it was a really rude question, wasn’t it?).

      By the time I got to Brandeis, its worst radical days were over (I arrived in Sept, 1970). That is why my class was so closely screened. Most of our class just became pot-heads, but social justice was on the rise and many tutored Waltham kids. The student strikes were over and within a year or two, the Watergate investigation picked up a head of steam. Nixon was gone a few months after I graduated. We popped a bottle of champagne from our wedding!

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