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Sarah Weddington - March 31, 2003

Sarah Weddington told us her 45 minute talk would have three sections, and that is how I will divide my summary.

  1. Having fun.
  2. Roe vs. Wade
  3. This week's Time magazine featuring a list of "80 Days That Changed the World."

Having Fun: Airlines always tell you that in case of an emergency you should first put on your own oxygen mask. This is another variation on, "Before you can help others you must first help yourself." Women need to find oxygen for life. There are a great many battles to be fought ahead, and women already do so much to make the world go around. If women do not take care of themselves they will not have the energy they need to do what they want to do. In any case, I think the point was that women need to have time for themselves and have fun so that they can get the energy they need to fight all the other battles.

Roe vs. Wade: This story needs more than I can type up or recall. Sarah gave us a very intricate behind the scenes story of the whole legal process that went into the Roe vs. Wade decision. What I remember most though was that stories matter. A recent NY Times article told how these days many children of pro-choice parents were pro-life. Sarah told the following story:

A friend of hers collects buttons. She was wearing one on a flight one day that featured a coat hanger with a red circle and a slash through it. The flight attendant kept glancing at the button as she walked by. Finally she stopped and asked, "What have you got against coat hangers?"

Many people today do not remember the stories of what things used to be like. Women travelled long distances or outside the country to find doctors who would perform abortions. Women who could not afford to travel were forced to rely on primitive and dangerous methods, like coat hangers and screwdrivers. Hospital emergency rooms were often filled with the side effects of these dangerous methods. There is a great need for women to tell their stories to remind their children what things used to be like. This need is not confined to abortion either. Women take many of their rights and opportunities today for granted and do not realize how recently things were so very different.

An example of how things used to be different was when Ms. Weddington went to apply for a credit card and was told by the bank manager that she needed her husband's signature to apply. That offended her, especially since she was the one working and was paying her husband's way through school. She didn't get his signature. Instead she went and ran for the legislature. After getting elected she created and got passed an equal credit rights law. Ms. Weddington then went back to the bank and got her own credit card.

80 Days That Changed the World: Time magazine recently ran an article listing 80 days that changed the world. Of these 80 days, only ten related to women. What about the role of women in the years and events that led to those days? At this point my notes only have a few key points from this section.

Today's women do not know what it used to be like. Women used to always hear words like, "don't," "can't," and, "shouldn't." There was a time when women like Sarah Weddington would get up each day and say, "This isn't what it ought to be and we are going to change it!" And they did! Women today need to "laugh, enjoy, and get their energy up, because we have major battles ahead."

INTERESTING NOTES: Sarah Weddington was the first speaker to take the microphone and walk around the stage while speaking. This is probably part due to being a lecturer in college. She is also the first speaker that had protesters outside. Early in her career her administrative assistant was Ann Richards, a future governor of Texas. Ms. Weddington told us one of her mottos was, "Always get the best volunteers."


How have you handled major setbacks?

She pointed to three things.

  1. Good friends and family. You need people who knew you when.
  2. Whatever it is, it's temporary.
  3. Faith.

She related a skiing story here. Like dealing with moguls or waves you need to keep your knees flexible. Coming all the way down the slopes without falling is no good. You need to learn how to go a little fast and learn how to fall.

As a college professor what do you see as the greatest challenge facing your students?

Many people say it is finding out what you want to be. At that age you cannot really know. "Life is a series of course corrections." You need to learn to be flexible.

Any thoughts on the protesters outside?

If nothing else they will show you the determination and organization of the opposition. That is why the religious right is able to get so much done in so many places. (They have taken over school boards in six states and can exercise a lot of control over the content of textbooks.)

Any suggestions for young women today?

Know the stories. Know what it was like. In college Ms. Weddington's dorm had a $500 abortion fund. Everybody pooled their money and if someone needed to get an abortion they could afford it.

What age would you rather be, then or now?

"I'd like to be 25 or 30, but know everything I know now."

Do you think we will get a woman president?

Perhaps by 2020, 100 years after women got the right to vote. And it will be a Republican, not Hilary Clinton. You are more apt to get Democratic men to vote for a Republican woman than you are to get Republican men to vote for a Democratic woman.

How do you think women would handle the crisis in Iraq differently?

There would be a greater emphasis on diplomacy. She teaches a concept in her leadership course called "Relational Leadership." Women would be more apt to build and preserve relationships.

Each quote had a context. However I think they all fit here. (Just in case you want to use them in your own speech.)

  • Bob Hope at a commencement speech. - There is a great world out there waiting for you. ... Don't go!
  • Talk show host Jerry Springer on what stories he likes. - If you want to save the whales, call Oprah. If you are sleeping with whales, call me.
  • He who laughs, lasts.
  • It is not what you know, but who knows that you know.
  • Ross Perot, back in his campaigning days, was visiting residents of a nursing home. He met a 90 year-old lady there. He leaned over and asked her, "Do you know who I am?" She looked him up and down and said, "No. And if you don't either, you can ask at the front desk."
  • A boy and a girl were playing. The girl said, "I want to be the doctor. " The boy said, "I get to be the doctor. The girl said, "Okay. I get to be Secretary of Health and Human Services."
  • My memory is bad on this one, but the gist is there. And 82 year old woman was sitting next to a middle-aged man at a dinner. She leaned over and asked, "I bet you'd like to pick up a younger woman here and take her to a motel." He said that he might. She replied, " You know, if you pick up an older woman, you can get half off your room at the Mariott."

At age 26 Sarah Weddington filed the winning brief in the Supreme Court case of Roe vs. Wade. She was the first woman from Austin elected to the Texas House of Representatives, where she served three terms. In 1997 she became the USDA's General Counsel. She is currently a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching a course called Leadership in America.