Randall-David, Elizabeth (Betsy)

Rose Norman interviewed Elizabeth by phone on February 25, 2013.

Biographical Information

Elizabeth (Betsy) Randall-David (b. 1944) was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. Elizabeth graduated from Duke University with a double major in psychology and zoology, and later earned a master’s degree in psychology from the New School for Social Research in New York. After moving to Gainesville, Elizabeth received her RN and PhD in medical anthropology from the University of Florida. She moved to Gainesville from New York City in the fall of 1972, with her twin sons and her then-husband. When Elizabeth moved to Florida, she had wanted to become a midwife, but the closest school offering nurse midwifery training was in South Carolina, so she shifted her interests to more general women’s health issues. She started nursing school at the University of Florida in 1973, and through that met the women who co-founded the Gainesville Women’s Health Center. When the GWHC opened in 1974, Betsy was Head of Counseling, and then the Executive Director from 1975-1978. She met her life partner Sara Victoria Jarvis (then known as Vicki) when she hired her as a counselor at the GWHC, and they have been together since 1978. They live in Durham, NC.

On working at the Gainesville Women's Health Center

"When I moved to Gainesville, I thought I was moving to the end of the earth. I bought every color of embroidery thread I could find before going, I was so sure they would have only two colors. I had no idea where I was going. In New York, I had joined New York Radical Women in 1970, to keep my sanity after my twins were born. I had also worked in the Eastern Women’s Health Center in New York (one of the first abortion clinics in the United States), so I knew about abortion clinics when I moved to Gainesville, started nursing school, and met the women who founded the Gainesville Women’s Health Center."

"It was a wild and crazy time. I loved every minute of it, yet it wasn't easy, by any means. We offered many services after we got our feet on the ground--well woman care three nights a week, abortions two days a week, and we ended up doing a vasectomy clinic every couple of months. We also offered sexuality workshops. Betty Dodson came to town, and we were never the same after that. She taught us about loving our bodies and teaching our partners to do the same. It was a challenging time because our medical director, as well as the doctors who did the abortions, lived an hour and a half away in Jacksonville, FL. We had a local doctor, Dr. Menzies (aptly named), as our back-up doctor, but we were very, very aware that if we over-used him he probably wouldn't stay with us (we were paying him only $25/month). So we took an incredible amount of responsibility on our own shoulders, and really tried to evaluate calls from women after abortions before calling him. That was challenging, a lot of responsibility, and I swore after that time that I would never wear a beeper again in my life!"

On tensions at the clinic

There were some tensions there, too. One was between clinical and non-clinical people, because the nurses were taking a lot of responsibility, and we were all on low wages. As Executive Director of the whole organization, I was making $12, 000 a year. Even forty years ago, that was not a lot of money. Another tension was between the lesbians and the straight women. At the Southeastern Women’s Health Conference that we organized, one of the workshops was about straight and gay women working together. It was so popular that we did two sessions of it, and after the conference, a number of us continued meeting. Ironically (or maybe not so ironically), every single one of the straight women (myself included) became a lesbian. There were also tensions about people who had male children. I had two 7 year old boys, and there were events where some of the more radical lesbians didn't want male children there. And, of course, there were racial tensions. Deborah David was one of the few African American women working at the clinic at that time, in fact [she was] the first African American we hired, and she was pretty militant about Black Nationalism. I was pretty close to Deborah for awhile, and was at the home birth of her first child. But we were in an early evolutionary phase of really understanding a lot of the racial tensions, and how we needed to be working more on our stuff related to racism. I had already left to go back to graduate school when Deborah and the rest of the staff were locked out of the clinic." [See Pam Smith’s memoir]

On feminist community in Gainesville

"But it was a very interesting and wonderful time. We all socialized together, and supported each other in what was going on in the rest of our lives. Working at the clinic was a whole lot more than a job. I've never had another experience like it, where the borders were permeable between the personal and the professional. It was all one. A lot of people who weren't even working at the clinic, but were part of the next circle out, worked with us on a number of mental health and other women’s health Issues -- including the feminist book store, and [they] were influenced by us. There was really quite a movement in Gainesville. It was impressive just how many people were involved in the feminist movement, both community women and faculty, students and staff associated with the university. And it was extremely incestuous. We all were with everybody else’s partner at least once at some point. When we moved to North Carolina, we didn't seek out the women’s movement crowd (which is very strong in Durham). The Gainesville experience was so intense, we needed a break from it. We became friends with different types of people, some lesbian, some not."

On training medical students at the University of Florida

"One of the things I did at the Gainesville Women’s Health Center I continued when I moved to Durham. That was the Pelvic Teaching Program. We taught medical students, who came to the clinic in groups of three. One of us would do an exam on another one of us, and the students would observe and then practice pelvic exams on us, and get feedback from us. It was a wonderful program. The medical students actually paid their own money for us to teach them how to do a humanistic pelvic exam, where women were the teachers, not just bodies. In Gainesville, that program got co-opted by the medical school. First they asked us to come to the medical school and be the teachers, with a medical faculty person in the room with us. Some of us did that once or twice, but we really balked at that, because we weren't really the teachers. We were really more the bodies. When I moved here to Durham, there was a women’s health teaching group that I joined. That group is still going. It teaches almost all the medical students, physician’s assistants, and some nursing students in the state of North Carolina, and I was in that group for about ten years here. It’s a wonderful service to all women, because these doctors learn how to do a really good exam, and we give them lots of targeted feedback, like asking the woman’s permission before touching her, inserting the speculum slowly, etc. The medical schools pay the group here. There are not that many programs like this left. About four years ago, Byllye and I spoke at the UF medical school about the Pelvic Teaching Program. Now, their medical school has more of a standardized patient approach, using trained volunteers as surrogate patients. That’s how they do all sorts of teaching, not just pelvic exams. Before we gave that talk at UF, I did some research and learned that this group in Durham is one of very few still doing the Pelvic Teaching Program, which has been going since the 1970's, started by a group of radical feminists here (some of them lesbians) probably 35 years ago."

On the clinic's development as more mainstream health care

"One of the differences between the early days and later times at the Gainesville Women’s Health Clinic, was that the first group of women working there were very committed to the politics. Later, more people got hired who were not what some of us would think of as staunch feminists, and they saw it more as a job. They were very nice women who were committed to doing a good job, but they were not radical feminists. The first group of us absolutely saw it as a calling and a mission, something that we cared deeply about, having those services available for women. Later, those people were more of a minority. That shift came after I left, and it’s hard to know what led to it. Part of it is the normal evolution of most organizations; over time they become more institutionalized and mainstream. Some unfortunate things happened. We had two different cases where people working for the clinic embezzled money from the clinic. Also, Byllye, Judy, and Margaret broke off and started BirthPlace [in 1978], so their presence wasn't there any more. I had left the clinic by then. I don’t know when or why it happened, but the philosophy of the clinic got watered down somewhere along the line. Eventually, people got burned out with all the feminist politics (e.g., the consensus decision-making, like what color toilet paper to use!), and the staff saw the clinic and its services as a job not a calling."

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