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An invisible angel: Judith K. Meuli

Movements for social change require all kinds of invisible angels to create lasting change. The feminist movement lost one such angel when Judith K. Meuli died early Friday, December 14. Rarely in the spotlight but always working hard as a vice-president, secretary or board member, Judith Meuli was a founder of the west coach branch of the National Organization for Women(NOW) and of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Arriving in Los Angeles from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin on the back of a motorcycle in the early 1960’s, Judy was swept into the wide-eyed optimism of the era, finding herself among other new college graduates seeking to break into the science-based professions. Having been a pre-med major at the University of Minnesota, she went to work in the labs at UCLA and was rising quickly toward the low-hanging glass ceiling of the day.

Frustrated by limited opportunities in her chosen field, she shed her lab coat and slacks to put on gloves, hat and heels to protest the male-only environs of the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel as part of NOW’s “Public Accommodation Week” protest against restaurants and bars that banned unescorted women. Judith said, “We were afraid they wouldn’t take us seriously unless we dressed like ‘ladies’, but we eventually got over that”. To help the reborn women’s movement get its message out, Meuli learned graphic design and began making and selling movement-oriented jewelry, buttons and pins.

In 1969, she found a partner in life, in the movement and in their company Women’s Graphic Communications: Virgina A. “Toni” Carabillo. Together, besides cofounding L.A. NOW, they also co-edited the NOW Times, and their home on Hi Point in Los Angeles soon became a hub for feminist action.

That first duplex on Hi Point was Judith’s initial foray into real estate, which helped her partner Carabillo have the financial support to become a full-time activist and feminist thinker. Over time, Judith bought and renovated more duplexes and apartment buildings, then expanded into stock market investments. She had early success with tech stocks when others thought those companies were too risky.

Judith found a way to combine her real estate acumen with her feminist concerns by partnering with young women in the movement to help them buy a first home or duplex. She lent money for down payments and debt consolidation and freely dispensed good advice, telling everyone, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep”.

Meuli and Carabillo co-authored two books of feminist thought and history, The Feminization of Power and The Feminist Chronicles: 1953-1993. While Carabillo did most of the writing, Meuli proofread, designed and did most of the marketing. Of her jewelry designs, she was most famous for “The Brassy,” a chunky women’s symbol combined with an equality sign that was even given to Pope John Paul II by Betty Friedan as a protest against his policies on women’s issues. “I’m sure he was thrilled,” said Judith.

After Carabillo’s death in 1997, Meuli took some time for personal introspection, reading and visiting with friends, although still remaining active on the board of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the organization she helped found in 1987 with Carabillo, Eleanor Smeal, Peg Yorkin and Kathy Spillar. She moved all her real estate holdings to the San Fernando Valley and created a new home with her second great love, Stephanie Palmer, and their cats. She loved swimming in their saltwater pool, walking to the neighborhood coffee house, and her friends at the Feminist Majority always enjoyed her visits to the Beverly Hills office.

During the past several years, even as she fought a valiant battle against multiple myeloma, Judith spent many hours organizing, editing and digitizing an extensive archive of her and Toni’s materials related to the second wave of feminism that will be housed at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute. The archive will also be available in digital form at UCLA, Smith College and Duke University. Judith also made substantial financial donations to the Scheslinger Library, NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation and to Gary Schiller, M.D., for his research on multiple myeloma. “I just think we should all put our money where our mouth is,” she said.

Judith worked tirelessly, loved “to do” lists, laughed easily and was extremely resourceful. She was a beloved aunt and a mentor for many young women. She is survived by her partner Stephanie, her brother Al Meuli, sister Yvonne Hebert, five nieces and nephews and a large chosen family full of interesting and talented women. A celebration of her life will be held at the Feminist Majority on January 19, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. Contributions in honor of Judith may be sent to the Feminist Majority Foundation, 433 So. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

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