Get to know Continuum Member Jo Ann Madigan

photo caption: Continuum member Jo Ann Madigan

Whether you are budgeting your values, building community power, or acting as a stabilizing force, there are all sorts of reasons to join The Continuum. But don’t take our word for it. 

We sat down with Continuum member, history holder, and all around delight Jo Ann Madigan. We want to share a bit about Jo Ann and have her share with you why she’s part of The Continuum

Can you tell me a little bit about who you are and how you got connected to Women’s Foundation California?

I’m now retired and 79, but I worked in social justice my whole career. Since college and even in high school I concentrated on women’s issues, on women’s health in particular. Eventually, I ended up doing some consulting work with the Women’s Funding Network which is how I first met Surina. 

But the truth is that I’ve been involved with WFC in one way or another since its founding – back when we used to file all the donors by first name! Let’s just say there were a lot of Marys.

I worked primarily in civil rights and anti-war stuff and got into women’s issues. I worked for many years with American Friends Service Committee focused on what health and mental health services were available for women and whether they were women centered – focused in San Francisco. 

I volunteered with Planned Parenthood pre-Roe v Wade and eventually got a job running their clinics. I worked at the San Francisco General Hospital, at a private organization doing health education and before I retired I ran a coalition, Californians for Reproductive Freedom. When I started there I was their first staff person. 

How did gender justice get on your radar?

There were many moments and I’m lucky in some ways. I was not raised by political people – but both my grandparents were immigrants from Italy and Ireland and my family very much believed in social justice even if they didn’t call it that. I had a nun for an aunt and she was certainly the most radical.

She and my mom gave me lots of support for being different; for doing what I thought was right and going my own way. They all knew it would mean leaving Rochester, NY – I left when I started college and never went back except to visit. When I started at Trinity College as a young woman I wasn’t allowed to wear pants. And for my first visit to Planned Parenthood, I had to wear a wedding ring. 

When I went to buy a car and it came time to pay – the salesman told me I had to go home and get my husband. I knew that was illegal in ‘73 so I said, “No. Go talk to your manager.”

That’s the era I grew up in, but even now I’m encountering still just an enormous amount of sexism. Raised as a Catholic, you could be a nun, a teacher, or a mother and I just didn’t believe that.

What attracted you to Women’s Foundation California?

You do great work – you funded me when I ran Californians for Reproductive Freedom! I still believe that we have a hell of a long way to go. I’d like to see many things mainstreamed – birth control, maternal care, etc – I’d like to see it as primary care.

It’s really important to have someone who is focused very specifically with a gendered lens. I’m still wildly appalled and amazed at how women are treated. And the older I get, the worse it gets! 

Women’s Foundation California works with organizations and populations that wouldn’t normally get the money and that is really critical. I am also a person who believes in good leadership so when Surina came back as CEO I liked that.

Why do you give monthly?

Part of it is common sense. Whether I was a project manager or the CEO, I know what it means to spend your life applying for grants and filling out evaluations. It took away from my work to have been on the treadmill of funding cycles. That steady funding from monthly donors really matters.

I don’t have a lot to give, but I choose certain organizations and I give monthly. 

You are someone who has been in this work for a while. What advice would you offer or wisdom would you share from your experience?

Number one, of course, is to listen. Everybody has a culture and an ethnicity in a way and you only have your own and the only way to understand the world is to listen and try and put yourself there and see how that compares to what you have in your culture. 

I retired not until I was 69, but I felt like it was time to move aside. At that time Californians for Reproductive Freedom had grown tremendously – and I take a little bit of credit for that. I worked with incredible women and they helped me lead them places they might not have gone.

By the time I left, it was time for new leadership and the new people who had been brought into the coalition to take over. I feel really strongly about the need for people to step aside so new leadership can grow. I hope more people can learn to do that – there are still some leaders in the women’s space who haven’t stepped aside. 

Don’t get me wrong, when I retired I was a burnt out puppy. As a result I don’t think I could do as good work. No matter how clever or smart or caring I am, I didn’t grow up with computers. I was good at it but there was no way I would catch up to what was possible. I could let younger folks do it, which I did. There is a point at which you gotta move over.

I’m very struck by how lucky I am to have been in so many movements and to see the cycles that we lose all the time but we win slowly. When I tell young people the stories of what it was like when I was growing up, I realize that we have come a long way and that gives me hope.

I made it a point to have a life. I always negotiated good leave time – things that I thought nonprofits could afford so that I could visit my family, care for sick friends – I was part of the AIDS era. It allowed my husband and I to travel the southwest and go to Italy and we had time to decompress – so we could keep going. 

Basically, “Do less and do it damn good – you’re not gonna fix it today.” You have to survive, yes, but you have to thrive in order to have vision and do anything new or exciting that might actually work. You have to have faith.

This work is powered by you.

The feminist future we are building together in California is going to be built by all of us sharing our time, our money, and our skills.  Please consider contributing today.

Together We Are Unstoppable.

Sign up here to join our mailing list and receive updates about our programs, partnerships, and more!