"I was the first language arts major at WVU. They realized that English teachers often end up advising yearbooks, newspapers, having speech club and running theater. I had classes in all that, and I did all that.
"When I was a sophomore, I was editor of the club section. Then I went for the biggie. The university marked its centennial in 1967. I had a love of history. I made my pitch about writing a history for each section and they chose me. My father had been editor 50 years before, so I named him honorary associate editor.
"It was 408 pages and it sold out. After all the bills were paid and enough was put away for the next year, the treasurer and I were allowed to split the remaining profits. I got $1,000, a lot of money then.
"I guess my first feminist act was writing a letter to The Daily Athenaeum at WVU wondering why the WVU band was all male. It was a holdover from the ROTC tradition. They didn't change it until 1973, and the band doubled and became best in the nation.
"After 21 years in Morgantown, I thought, 'Where can I go that is most unlike Morgantown?' I spent one year in grad school at the University of Hawaii and one year teaching high school.
"I could write a book about that. I was in a graduate dorm with people from all over the world. It was a totally diverse experience. I learned how to relax. I shed the girdle, the coat and gloves. We wore muumuus and flip-flops.
"I cried all the way home. Hawaii was a dream come true, and I had to leave it. But I was going home to get married and be an Air Force wife, so that was exciting.
"As an Air Force wife, I started in California and then went to Florida. I taught in a horrible school there, 7 through 12, an awful combination. Some students never believed we had landed on the moon even though you could see the rockets going up from their backyards. It was 1971 to 1973. I took them to plays. I took them to Orlando. We did a yearbook.
"The base closed in Orlando. We went to Pease Air Force Base in New England. It's cold from October to June. We joked that you would have summer on July 4 between 2 and 4 p.m.
"In New Hampshire, I worked at the YWCA as program director. My boss guided me into feminism. I began to be aware of battered women. It was shocking.
"When I got to Charleston and joined NOW, Sherri O'Dell said we needed to start a battered women's shelter. I was on the planning committee. Women had no place to go. They couldn't get money for months. We fixed all that, but we didn't get rid of the problem. Every year, 1,000 women are beaten to death.
"I was president of Charleston NOW from '80 to '82 and state president from '88 to '92.
"We did a lot of things. Reproductive rights. Sexual assault. Pay equity. Sexual harassment.
"There are two laws that I thought of that are now part of West Virginia Code. In 1980, I read an article in Parade magazine about people being injured on amusement rides. I wondered if we had a law.
"Sen. [Si] Boettner introduced it in 1980. It sailed through the Senate but got stuck in the House. The majority whip was on the board of the State Fair. He said, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' He didn't run the next year. The bill passed. It took us eight years.
"I read an article in the Gazette about pregnant women prisoners being shackled during labor and delivery. You don't shackle a woman during labor and delivery. It's unsafe.
"Delegate Bonnie Brown introduced the law against it. It passed about four years ago with no opposition. There were only 250 bills that passed that year and mine was one of them.
"Picture the West Virginia Seal. You've got two men and a big space in the middle. I would love to see a mountain momma put in there.
"We still have sexual harassment and battered women and sexual assault in the military. And reproductive rights are eroding. The right-wingers know they can't override Roe v. Wade, so they have chipped away at it until it's not available to 80 percent of the country. We have so many restrictions that it is hanging on for dear life.
"In the '90s, when I was teaching at St. Albans High School, I had the forensics team, and we were county champions for four years.
"That was the last place I taught. The activism began to sap so much of my energy. The state NOW presidency was like a second job.
"When people get to my age, it's so important to remain fit and intellectually active. I want to dance at our granddaughter's wedding.
"I still write and advocate for things, but it's not a full-time job anymore. I wish I had the energy to lead West Virginia NOW, but I'm a grandmother. We baby-sit our granddaughter, Olivia, full time. She's a total delight."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.