& A: Anita King ’37
Anita King ’37, who
turned 90 last January, has spent much of her life working
toward a better world. After her Smith graduation, she attended
the Columbia University School of Social Work, from which
she graduated in 1939, and worked for many years with families
and divorcing couples. In the 1960s, she worked as a lobbyist
in Washington, D.C., for the Women’s International League
for Peace and Freedom. And since moving to Williamsburg, a
short jaunt north of Northampton, more than 20 years ago,
she has lent her energy and passion for peace and environmental
responsibility to local activism.
King currently chairs the
Population Program for the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra
Club, which works to raise awareness of increasing world population.
The Population Program teamed up with Smith’s Project
on Women and Social Change in the 1990s, and frequently organizes
lectures and events at Smith and in the surrounding community.
On Wednesday, September
27, the program presents a lecture by Jane Roberts
titled “34 Million Friends of the Women of the World”
at 8 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room. In 2000, Roberts launched
a national effort to raise $34 million ($1 from each “friend”),
in response to the refusal by the federal government to release
that amount (approved by Congress) to the United Nations Family
Planning Program (UNFPA), which assists families in Third
World countries with birth control and AIDS prevention.
King, who frequently visits the Smith campus, stopped by last
week to discuss the upcoming lecture and her life as an active
voice for peace.
News & Events: What is the importance
of raising $34 million for the UNFPA? How far along is the
The importance is that the United Nations would use that money
for clinics that they serve around the world, where women
go for contraception, where they get information about avoiding
AIDS and so forth, so that money is very, very important.
And the UN goal three years ago -- when we invited to Smith
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, [executive director of the UN’s
Population Program and] head of the organization Family-Planning
-- was to cure fistula, which is a horrible thing that happens
to a lot of women who are really too young to be having a
child, whose bodies are not sufficiently developed, and who
during birth the lower part of their body is really torn apart.
It costs $350 to sew a woman back to health.
I had heard that they raised
$4 million so far, and Jane is working at it very busily now,
she has appointments [to speak] in many different states,
and she has several appointments in New Hampshire, and at
the University of Vermont, before she comes here on the 27th.
She sends the money directly to the UNFPA in New York City.
has the response been in the Smith community to your efforts
to bring influential speakers to campus such as Jane Roberts
and Thoraya Obaid?
AK: Well, I
think, generally, we’ve done very well. There were a
couple of times when the audience was smaller than expected;
but over the long haul, we’ve had at least one lecture
every year since 1993, and most of the lectures in Neilson
Browsing Room have been filled, 100 people. There have been
a few times when there’s overflow, like when Obaid was
here. Among others, we’ve had Margaret Carlson, who
was formerly the assistant head of health and welfare in Canada,
and who was really a superb lecturer. When I picked her up
at the airport, she said, “call me ‘Maggie.’”
N&E: How did you become involved with
the Population Program?
AK: It was really
accidental. When I moved here 19 years ago, I had been a member
of Sierra Club, but had never done any work with them, and
I attended one local meeting, and afterward I got a phone
call that they were looking for someone to go to Washington
to lobby for international family planning and reproductive
health. All expenses paid. We would want you to stay there
for a week, they said. Well, I was delighted because I had
left a large group of friends [in Washington] when I moved
here, so I saw the opportunity to also visit with friends
as well as do some work for the Sierra Club.
Well, I love lobbying. (I had
spent lots of time lobbying in all the previous years of my
life on peace issues.) So, I saw two members of the house:
Barney Frank and another. It was a very easy job because Massachusetts
is predominantly Democratic, and it was fun. I came back and
I decided this is something I want to be involved in.
an active member of Sierra Club, what predictions might you
make for the future of our planet’s environment?
AK: Well, I
know that there was a survey among leading scientists in many
nations of the world that were pretty gloomy in terms of prediction.
On the other hand, if we got ourselves together, we and all
the nations in terms of changing the fuels that we use, we
might avoid the serious consequences of global warming, which
would be of course the warming oceans, the rising oceans that
would pretty well wipe out the big cities along the coasts…If
we begin really to value all of our wealth and natural products
instead of placing so much value on corporate wealth and corporate
success…it really would require quite a turn about.
are some ways that things have changed in our society, from
your perspective, since you graduated from Smith and Columbia
School of Social Work?
AK: At the point
that I went to school of social work, the emphasis was that
people had to adapt to the environment, to the community,
the circumstances they were in and so forth. I never really
bought that. I didn’t like that approach. Of course,
I think that there are a lot of things that happen in the
community that require change, too. I practiced social work
for a couple of years. I was making what was standard price
for social workers, $72 a week. That was in 1953. Then I dropped
out to have my children, and did not go back to work for ten
years and then after that.
turned 90 this year.
AK: Yes, in
kind of advice might you offer to young people embarking on
their professional lives?
had a variety of kinds of jobs, and I think it’s okay
to try different things. Of course, you need to stick with
one thing for a while before you know what it’s all
about, but I think it’s enriching to try different things,
and there’s a lot to be done that needs to be done to
save the environment; to actually save the survival of the
race because of where we’re heading at this point.
Also, working on projects that
are important to you. I think each of us has to have something
that we really feel is important to work on and to stick with
There are a lot of people who
retire around 60, 65 and 70 but then find satisfying volunteer
work to do. But on the other hand, there’s a large pool
of people over 65 or 70 who really could be useful, say, teaching
children reading and children who need extra help, and they
could also join various environmental groups and be helpful
that way, and they would also probably live longer.
I certainly don’t have
the amount of energy I had ten years ago or 20 years ago,
but I want to continue as long as I can. I think that satisfying
work is one of the things that has kept me alive.