If you want something, you may have to create it
From the time I was ten years old, I felt that my life had been saved because there was something I was meant to do in the world. This was due to three factors; (1) I was born in 1928 only because my mother’s abortionist, after she had had seven abortions, was out of town when my mother went to see him to have me aborted; (2) I was a Jew born in Berlin, Germany, and due to the importunings of my much-older brother, our family left Germany early, in 1933, and, after nine months in Belgium, came to the U.S.; and (3) I was bright.
I always wanted to be a writer, but didn’t plan it as a career because I thought it would be too lonely and isolating.
I didn’t find what it was I was to do until 1965 when I joined a new federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as the first woman lawyer in its Office of the General Counsel. The EEOC was charged with enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibited employment discrimination based on gender. I played a significant role in guiding the interpretation of that prohibition.
In 1966, I became a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
But until I published my memoir in 1999 at the age of seventy-one, no one other than my fellow feminists knew about me.
Now in my late eighties, I am overwhelmed with things to do and am a feminist activist, writer, and public speaker.
What made you decide to finally realize your lifelong dream?
It evolved. For me, it was not a dream; it was a drive. I felt I had to do it. What my family and society expected of me was that I get married and have a family. l knew that that was not an option for me. There was something else I was supposed to do, and I couldn’t get diverted from it by marriage and family.
What were the specific obstacles that you faced?
I didn’t have guidance. My parents were immigrants, with barely any education, unfamiliar with American customs and institutions. My brother was fourteen years my senior, left home to marry when I was ten, and was an immigrant like me. There was a guidance counselor at my high school, but she was unable to provide me with much assistance. I do not remember that there was any guidance available at college. I was operating blind in a world I did not understand.
What helped you get through them?
I just kept going.
Were there people who tried to discourage you?
My family tried to discourage me from going to college; they wanted me to get married and raise a family. They thought a college education would harm my chances of finding a husband. My family and many others tried to discourage me from going to law school. In 1954, by and large, women did not attend law school. But these things did not dissuade me. My problem has always been making up my own mind as to what I want to do in any situation. Once my mind is made up, I don’t care what anyone else thinks.
How did you feel when you finally accomplished your lifelong dream?
I am grateful for the life I’ve had and continue to have. Now in my late eighties, I continue my activities as a feminist activist, speaker, and writer. I am frequently honored and interviewed. It is a wonderful and fulfilling life..
What advice would you give to others who are contemplating finally living their dream?
If you have a dream or passion, follow it if you possibly can. But you must also be practical. Generally, one has to make a living and may have responsibilities to others. These must be taken care of in addition to following your dream or passion.
If you want something, you have to go after it, and sometimes you have to create it. Nothing has ever fallen into my lap. I have to get out there and beat the bushes–and I do that to this day.
Click here to read more about Sonia’s life as a feminist activist, writer and public speaker. To read reviews of her book, Eat First—You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter, click here