[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Kasper: Good morning, Vivian.
Castleberry: Good morning. Nice to have you back.
Kasper: Well, it's lovely to be back. We have talked about the many parts of your life—your deep commitment to your career as a journalist, your devotion to your marriage and the rearing of five daughters. And we've talked about your deep roots in the Dallas community, particularly in the Dallas women's community. This morning I'd like you to start with, if you will, a narrative description of those three major sections in a very busy and devoted life. Would you pick up with the business of how your career as a journalist started and go from there?
Castleberry: My career as a journalist probably started when I was a child and I will just give you a really quick run through. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist, I have no idea why, but I started writing as a very small child and continued to write throughout my growing up years. My first professional job was with the Petroleum Engineer Publishing Company. I followed that with Cosmetics Magazine, and then became the first women's editor of the Texas A&M Battalion when my husband was a student there. And then went back to the Petroleum Engineer and was on leave of absence from that magazine when the Times Herald called and asked if I were interested in a career as a newspaper journalist.
So I went with the Times Herald about 1955 and I went as home editor and served in that position for a year. Then, because I was buying into the societal structuring of the time that a woman couldn't combine a home and a career and a family and do it all, I resigned, and then went back after some persuasion and it was a nice persuasion and a real love affair and intent on my part. I went back then the next year as full-time women's editor of the Times Herald.
Prior to that, and you may be interested, I said I started my journalism career as a child, I also edited my high school newspaper and my college newspaper—all of those by way of preparing for my lifetime career as a professional journalist.
Kasper: I remember your saying to me in one of our earlier interviews that you even knew as a young child, before you were in high school, that you knew that you would always write.
Kasper: And that part of the antecedents to knowing that you would always be a writer was the work that you did with your mother on words. Could you tell a little bit about your mother's influence?
Castleberry: Oh, yes. My mother was a very strong influence in preparing the way. I was a child who was brought up in the country without a great many privileges from the standpoint of there were no libraries in my neighborhood. And my mother, from the time I was a very small child, played word games with me. And I remember even when we would cook together or wash dishes together, we would play word games and she would emphasize or ask for a specific word to describe a specific situation. And as a young child, always helped me with my words. And even after her death, I've said, "Oh, my words, my words," and I still miss my mother because I can't find the words sometimes to express what I really want to say.
She continued to be a strong influence. I remember as a child growing up, mother never said to me, "Now, when you leave home." She always said, "When you go to college." I did not realize it at the time, what kind of a
pattern it was setting for me, but in retrospect I know that her preparation for sending me out into the world—as I have reviewed it, I think my mother did two things for me. She held me very close, she was a very loving person. But at the same time, she never let me get too comfortable there until she threw me out into the world again to see how far I could go and how many waves I could make.
Kasper: And when you were in high school, when you edited your high school newspaper, tell me a little bit more about that because there was an unusual piece to that. It wasn't just a high school newspaper in the conventional sense.
Castleberry: No, it wasn't because the—the high school was small so the paper itself was published by the city newspaper. The Athens Weekly Review, every Thursday, published our newspaper. So my responsibility as the editor of that not only was to make the assignments and to bring all of the material in, and under the direction of Weyman Blythe Hood, who was an extremely important influence at that time in my life, to see that all of the material was edited to size, that it was delivered to the weekly newspaper that then published it, and that was their gift to us. And our gift to the city was seeing that a weekly newspaper went out.
Kasper: It was good training grounds.
Castleberry: It was extremely good training ground.
Kasper: It wasn't just the kind of usual off-the-cuff high school paper.
Castleberry: No. No, we did it. We did the work. We did the writing. We did the editing. We did the whole format. And then when I got to college, when I edited my college newspaper, we actually put the paper to press. It, too, was an unusual situation because at the time I was in SMU, we had no publishing company on campus. And we would take our material downtown to a publishing company and stay with it until it was put into form and printed. And I remember one time one of the very unusual printers said to me, "If you don't know what you're doing, pretend that you do, and then try to find out because nobody comes fully qualified to know what he or she is going to do with a certain part of their career. And it's all learning and any of us can learn it."
That was my college career. And then when I went to work for the Times Herald, it was a totally different framework of reference because it was, of course, extremely professional. You had to go out with a newspaper every day and no matter what else was going on, you had to meet that daily deadline.
Kasper: Did you feel that you were reasonably well trained to take on that? How did you actually start?
Castleberry: Well, I didn't know what I didn't know, which I think is a place that we probably all begin in our careers. When I was hired at the Times Herald to do this job, I was hired with the understanding that if I had any problems, I simply would ask somebody who knew and they would help me do it. And because I was so unprepared for that kind of professional role, I didn't know what kind of questions to ask. And I probably, at that stage of my life, pioneered a lot of material and a lot of information that I wouldn't have done if I had known better. It's a matter of just doing and then finding out later. And I used to say that they have no idea what I don't know. And that's just as well because I then can go on and make that breakthrough.
Kasper: Now what year did you come to the Times Herald and what state did you find the women's pages in? What were they doing at that time?
Castleberry: It was a traditional women's pages in every sense of the word. It was called "Women's News." They covered food, fashions, and what I like to say, "the four F's"—foods, fashion and frivolity. And they covered those well. I have no quibble with the way that things were covered at that time. Society was covered with a capital "S." It was what the Four Hundred in town were doing and how they were responding to life. It was the debutante balls and that sort of thing that was covered. And very early on I started trying to cover society as I perceived it, with a little "s," which means all of humanity—the social structure of the community from the very first.
I inherited a staff that was fairly traditional in its framework although there were, as I recall, some great, wonderful people there who helped me learn. The fashion editor, for instance, was nationally known and had been in the past, she'd been there quite a long time, Graydon Heartsell. She had been the women's editor at one time briefly when they were trying to make some kind of changes, innovations in the paper. She could have been a thorn for me and instead she was one of the greatest helps that ever was because she took this young, brash person, who had somewhat come in off the street, seriously. And we took our work seriously. And I learned a great many things from her professionally and otherwise.
Kasper: What year was this that you came to the Herald?
Castleberry: That was '57. That was 1957. I had gone there in '55 and had stayed a year and a half, had gotten pregnant, left, resigned, and had gone back in '57 as the women's editor. And from that time on, began to do things that were not expected or accepted from that time.
Kasper: Tell us a little about that.
Castleberry: Well, for instance, when I first went to work for the Times Herald, the very word "planned parenthood" was not printed in the women's section. And I did not know that until I did it. And I learned—that's one of the things that you learn by doing, that you can't—but what I did in doing that, not knowing, was to make a breakthrough and from then on we covered Planned Parenthood and it was an accepted thing for us to do. So I did a great lot of that kind of breakthroughs because I didn't know what not to do, I did it, and I learned that—I did it. I always felt like that it was better to do and then to be told that was wrong, than it was not to be sufficiently challenged to make the—to try to do it.
And the thing was that so much of this material was, I thought, just things that everybody should be knowing and things that everybody should be doing, that I really was innocent in not knowing what not to cover and what not to reach for. So I covered abortion from the very first of going there. And I always knew when I covered anything that had anything to do with freedom of choice that my telephones were going to ring off the wall then for the next two weeks and I probably wouldn't be able to do much of anything else because all of the people who were anti-choice would be calling.
But we covered the breakthrough. One of the things that I've always considered not sufficiently covered in any metropolitan newspaper in this country is religion—because the background of religion impinges on all of our lives, whether or not it is organized or disorganized, it is still a strong given. So I covered the changing church women and how the church impacts society and how it moves into our individual lives. We were one of the first people in the community to cover child abuse. The very first story on child abuse in Dallas that was ever written, we wrote. And we did it, and when I say "we," I am using the editorial we because, of course, I didn't do all of this. But I was in a position as the women's editor to assign the stories to a staff that then went out and prepared and covered these issues. I personally wrote the story on child abuse because I had been called from a friend of mine at the medical school who had uncovered a lot of things that were going on in the community and the child abuse was one of them. [Tape interruption.]
Kasper: Yeah, I was just going to say, let's cover that—
Castleberry: Let's keep going.
Kasper: You're doing perfectly. You're covering, almost to A to Z actually, issues. Then the last question I have on this—actually, the last two questions
on this section, and then we'll move on to family—are what are some of the problems you've encountered, although you've already mentioned some of those, and then your legacy—briefly—I mean, because that's not so much the narrative. And then we'll go onto marriage and family.
Castleberry: Okay. [Tape interruption.]
Kasper: Vivian, tell me a little bit about some of the problems you encountered with management and beyond when you would cover some of these unconventional stories.
Castleberry: Anne, see, you must remember that this was in 1957, and at that point in time, and still really a lot of times, most men, and remember that my entire management was comprised of men, I was the only woman in any kind of position of responsibility or authority. And so the whole framework was male. And at that time, every man judged—or evaluated—what was going on for women by what happened in his own home. And all of them had traditional wives. So the kinds of problems that I encountered were simply that the men did not think women thought of these things. My entire management was—they were puzzled for the most part. And a great many of the things that we did as breakthrough stories for human interest stories, we were doing against the grain of not only public opinion, and I always said to my staff, you must be far enough ahead that you make breakthroughs in journalism, but you must not be so far ahead that you lose your public. So some of the problems that I encountered were, they were puzzled by the fact that we were interested in these subjects, couldn't understand, and gave us a bad time because they didn't think anybody else was interested.
Some of the specifics were sex education in the public schools. Why would anybody be interested in that? That was something that you talked about behind closed doors. And I think one of the things—one of the fascinating stories that I can tell you is that very often, as time went on, and I knew I was going to make waves, what I would do would be to prepare these stories and wait until my management went out of town and then we would publish. Then I would get my hand slapped on Monday morning.
And one of the specific things that I recall that we did was—at the time the Dallas County Juvenile Home was in a very sad state. It was out on Knight Street and it was a house, a big old rambling two-story house, that was not really equipped for children, and there were a lot of children in a facility that had been set up for not more than seven. And there was no air conditioning and it was over 100 degrees, and it was in the hot summertime, and I went out there—the reporter who really wrote the story and I went together. And so on Sunday morning, we came out with the story that the children are crying on Knight Street. And on Monday morning, every Dallas County Commissioner was in that place and it's the first time they'd probably been in there since they'd been in office. But very shortly after that, we had a new facility for children. And I don't think that we did all of it, I certainly don't take credit for doing that sort of thing, but it was simply another bridge into the community of what was going on there and what needed rectifying in the community—the changes that were made.
I always felt—it was interesting to me as I think about it—I always felt more comfortable in the hovels of South Dallas and in West Dallas where there was only Spanish being spoken, and I am not a linguist and I do not understand Spanish, but I felt more comfortable in that setting than I did in the glitzy Four Hundred kind of country club, Petroleum Club milieu. And I remember one time my society editor conned me into going to a very important event with her in Dallas, and I always made it a point to go with my reporters from time to time into everything
that they were covering so that I would be there and know what was going on myself. So this time I went with Val Imm to the Petroleum Club to a big party and in the very middle of the party she came over and whispered over my shoulder, "Please wipe that expression off your face." So it was very interesting. I'm not really answering your question, I think, specifically, but giving you more of the flavor of what was going on in my life at the time.
Kasper: You did report to me earlier, I remember, that management kind of—well, let me characterize a little bit. I think they just never quite knew what was coming down the pike from the women's department.
Castleberry: No, they really didn't, and I think they were very uncomfortable with us. And I remember that from time to time I would get a new boss, I got lots of new bosses that I had to train. And I remember one time they hired this man and he came in and I had to report to him. And finally, in utter frustration with me, he said to me one time, "But Vivian Castleberry, I was hired to handle you." And I said to him, "Good luck. Better people than you have tried." [Laughter.]
Kasper: And failed.
Castleberry: And failed. And it was just that, again, I can't take credit for doing these things. What I think happened was that I always felt this inner need that I was working for the public and I was a public servant and this was more important than any of the impediments that were put in the way. And along the way, Curt would say to me, "Why are you trying so hard? Why don't you just do what they want you to and don't try to do anything else and just be happy doing what you're supposed to do?" "And after all," he would remind me, "they are paying your salary. They deserve to have what they want." And I kept saying to him, "But it's not that simple. There is a reading public out there that we are supposed to be serving and I am compelled to do that." So I kept making the breakthroughs although it was extremely uncomfortable for me at times and there were a lot of times that the atmosphere walking in was not altogether conducive to my best mental and emotional health. But it worked.
Kasper: That's a good summary. Right there. We can stop right there and move on to family issues. That's very good. And that public servant thing is terrific. You did not bring that up before. And that is perfect because that is, if I had to choose a one liner, which I don't ever do, but if I had to, to kind of encapsulate the way you feel about your journalism career.
Castleberry: Do we have a second? Can I see who's here?
Kasper: Curiosity is driving you crazy, right? [Tape interruption.]
Kasper: Vivian, you mentioned earlier that you began your career as a journalist at a time when most women were traditional mothers and wives—
Castleberry: Oh, did I ever! That's right.
Kasper: —wives and mothers and stayed home. Tell me, how did you do otherwise?
Castleberry: Well, the interesting thing was that when Curt and I married in 1946 we started out with the idea that we would have two careers each—one in the workplace and one at the home place. And I think at that time I didn't know how different I was because I had been a career woman and I had not read a lot of the stuff and this was right after World War II and if you, for those of us who are old enough, we will remember that right after World War II every publication, every story that came out, admonished women to go home again. If you have anything wrong in utopia, go home and have another baby and that's going to correct everything. This was all the message that we got. So when Curt and I decided that we were going to have two careers each, one at home and one at work, we didn't understand how different we were because I hadn't read all that stuff at that time.
Then when I began to have children and started reading it, I was already committed to a career. And what I did all the way through was try to realize that I couldn't fail at anything. What I had to do was do this as a whole. So my commitment to my family was whole and total, but at the same time, I had to carry on a career. And Curt was exceedingly helpful. I remember the time he said to me, "Honey, if you think somebody will pay you for your talents, please go out and work for them and earn a paycheck because we do not intend to fit into your neat little cubbyholes." And that was a very freeing experience for me because it turned me loose to let me be. And I knew then, at that stage, that I did not have to be committed to what the great society expected me to be, but that I could make the breakthrough.
And very early on, I did three things for myself with evaluation that were incredibly helpful. One of them, the very first one, was that I would carry no guilt. I would do the best that I could with what I had to do with while going through it, but that I would not carry around a burden of guilt for the things that had not turned out right. And the second thing was that I would make things right with my God, my mother and my husband. Or, my God, my husband and my mother, in that order, and let the rest of the world do whatever it wanted to. So, anyway, briefly, that's a philosophical way of answering a very in-depth question, but that's briefly how I did it.
Kasper: In terms of sort of the daily reality—
Castleberry: Well, now, the daily reality—Curt and I ran our family like I ran my staff, and that is, we ran it with purpose, we ran it with a permissible outline. And that is that every Saturday morning we had a family counsel meeting around the breakfast table and we decided who we were, what we needed to do. And one of the things I kind of wanted to show you enroute, just last week I unearthed one of the things that stayed on my kitchen bulletin board for a full year. And this was in 1966-67 where, in a family counsel meeting just before school started, we put together what the rules and expectations were for each family member and that was our outline guide for the year. Now, I don't mean that things worked perfectly—they didn't. There were pieces always falling out as pieces always fall out in life. But what it did was to give each of us what the expectation level was for the others.
Another thing that I did, just a little thing—I always had a rule and an understanding with my children that if they had a need, they let me know, to put it on my calendar, if at all possible. For instance, we would not go after work back to the store to pick up school supplies. If they needed a pencil or a tablet for tomorrow's schoolwork, they let me know before I left the office so that I could stop on the way home and pick that up. Otherwise, they would do without. And it's very interesting how quickly people learn to take responsibility for themselves if you do not bend too much. We were flexible. Flexibility is a part of it, and we always said we're going to set these rules and regulations, but we never set them in concrete because what happens daily—a sick child—can screw everything up. But at the same time, if you're working within a framework of family expectations of each other and the responsibilities to each other, then it works.
And that's what I see so often happening in today's world, that parents are taking so much responsibility. They're not asking their children what their needs are. They are not helping them to understand what their needs and wishes are.
And I know that I imposed a lot of responsibility, Curt and I did, on our children, but it worked. And somehow, when I was going along there, I knew that it was working. I don't know how I knew that, except that they seemed to be healthy kids and doing all right emotionally.
Kasper: You also had an understanding with the paper, too, about your hours and your home responsibilities.
Castleberry: Yes. When I went to work for the Times Herald I said, "I will do a great job for you. I want this job. I can do this job, and I will do it better than anybody else can do it, but you must let me do it on my own in my own way of doing because," I said to them, "I cannot afford to have a disaster at home. You cannot afford to have a women's editor who is a disaster in her home life. Therefore, I must do both of these things and I must continue to do it as a whole and I must continue to do it well. So there will be times that I'm not going to be there on the spot when you may look for me." The interesting thing is that if I had that to do over, I would have that in writing as a contract because I had to retrain every editor as they would change management. I had to retrain each one that that's the way I worked and it took a lot out of me. So now I tell young women, "Get it in contract form."
And the way I did it, of course, was to take my children to work with me on Sunday afternoon when there was nobody else there. The older ones, I would take them down with their books and their homework and assign them a desk and let them do their homework. That gave them a sense of where their mother was when they were at home and I wasn't. It also gave them a sense of my responsibility to the career that I followed. And I also told my children at a time when it was exceedingly not done, that my work was important to me and that I—I could hear other women say to their children, "But honey I'm doing this just because—I'm doing it for you or I'm doing it for—just, we need the extra money." I always said to my children, "I have a career because I want a career. That's who I am."
And I remember one specific—a child one time, who was extremely unhappy because she'd had to change schools. And after tears and recriminations and the thing issue—"I'm not going back to that old school, you can't make me." I finally set my foot down one day and said to her, "Your work is over at the school. Mine is down at the Times Herald. You go and do your job and leave me free to do mine." And then later I felt sad about that and started to comfort her and found out she'd already taken care of it, you know, all she needed was the ultimatum. And children take care of a lot of things if you give them the choice of doing so. So those are some of the specifics that we did.
And the other specific was that Curt was always there for me. He always was supportive and the rare times that he had to be out of town, he—when people say, "How did you do it?" I say, "I could do it because Curt could tie sashes and comb hair and make curls as well as I could. And that's the way." Also, very early they learned to iron their own clothes, they learned to fold their own socks, they did all this sort of thing.
Kasper: I remember your telling me a story about how the house was organized, too, so that there were ways of simplifying and yet keeping the home comfortable as well as practical.
Castleberry: Yeah. There was one room that I considered my room. That was the living room and it was my room and it always had to be cleaned up and picked up because I needed a sanctuary—a place that I could do—one of the little things, specific thing, was that I never folded socks. I always bought all white socks for the children in stretch size and I put them in a basket together when they came out of the laundry and it was up to them to find them and put them on. Some of my friends thought my children were underprivileged. And the interesting thing was that they seemed to accept it as the norm because that's the way we did things.
Kasper: And when the children, when the five girls, were grown, I remember you told me at one point that you kind of reflected back with them on what it was like to have an untraditional mother.
Castleberry: I did. Yeah, I did. I've enjoyed interviewing my daughters as I've enjoyed interviewing other people. And one time I got them all together, all five of them, and I said, "Now, tell me, from your point of view, what was right and what was wrong, what went well and what didn't." And, well, one of the fun stories that I find—when my youngest daughter had just graduated from college, she and I did a program called "The Mother-Daughter Relationship" for a leading organization in Dallas, and they asked her what it was like to grow up with a working mother. And she said, "I hated it. I just absolutely hated it." She said, "I'd get sick at school and the nurse would call and say that your child is sick and the paper would say, 'Well, your mother is out on assignment and we can't reach her right now,' and the neighbor would have to come get me." And she said, "But," she said, "see, I turned out okay." [Laughter.]
So, they really, the girls know now that it was okay to have a non-traditional mother. At the time that they were going through there, I had to keep reminding them that it was okay and their father reminded them it was okay to have a non-traditional mother. And the interesting thing was, from my point of view, I had to do a lot of things that were probably uncomfortable for me, such as, specifically, when Curt would be in charge, they had a party. Nobody kept bedtime. And I came in one night at 10 o'clock and everybody was still up and they were having a great time and the den was in a shambles, but they were just so tuned in. And my immediate reaction was, "Why don't you have these kids in bed?" And he looked at me and said, "But, it's not hurting them." He said, "We agreed that if things did not hurt them morally or physically or their educational sense of well-being, we wouldn't sweat it. And I don't think these kids are permanently damaged by having a good time until 10 o'clock tonight, do you?" [Laughter.] And, of course, I had to agree that, sure enough, no.
Kasper: So be it.
Castleberry: So be it, right.
Kasper: Vivian, at the same time that you were in this busy career as a journalist and a busy career as a wife and mother of five growing girls, you also were extremely active as a community leader in the Dallas community, especially the women's community. In fact, Liz Carpenter said that you were the godmother of the women's movement in Dallas. Can you talk a little bit about some of the activities you were active in?
Castleberry: Yes. I'll get to be specific real quickly. But I think the reason she said that was that I, again, was the span. I was the bridge from what was going on in the community to the greater reading public and that's probably the reason she assigned that. Specifically, and personally, I was involved in all of the opening wedges of the women's movement and the children's rights movement and the custody movement, this sort of thing. The reason being because that's a part of the whole human being and it's imperative to the whole of us that we take care of these little pieces. So I was one of the founding members of the Dallas Women's Center and of the Women for Change prior to that, one of the thirteen women as the founder, one of the founders of the Women's Issues Network, and one of the founders of the Executive Women of Dallas, and the different things that came along, because I happened to be there and had collected information and people knew me and knew what I did, then I would be drawn in as one of the founders.
And that was another thing where my management was not always comfortable. I was on the first Dallas Commission on the Status of Women and because I wanted to do that and had in the background helped to put together all of the ingredients for that to happen and had been in the background a political motivator in moving the city council and our elected officials to the point in time where this was possible, then at that stage I knew that I could not take a public role without permission. So I went to my editor and I said to him, "This is where I am and I want to do this." And I didn't say, do I have permission to do it? I said, "These are things that—here's the given, and here's what I want to do about it, and I want to know what degree of comfort you have with that." And as a result, he said to me, I didn't say may I—I never asked for permission. And, as a result of it, he said, "I'm perfectly comfortable with it as long as you do not take a leading position." So that was just great with me. I could be the undergirding framework to help things happen and somebody else then would take the bows and whatever else came along.
But that's how I managed to be involved in all of these changes—as a what I consider to be a change agent in the community for what was going on in women's and family issues in the community.
And, again, what was always so important to me was to do this so that all segments of the community were included. For instance, beginning in 1957, shortly after I went with the Times Herald, I did an annual women's panel for the Times Herald. Every year we had a women's panel that opened up issues that were significant to women. And because I put it together and ran it, what it really served for me was a way that I could get to what's going on in the community and what the people are thinking behind the scene. And then it would provide a week of stories, plus, the great bonus, was that I then had a first-person, singular person in every segment of the community that I could go to for anything significant that was going on in that community. I knew who to ask.
Kasper: Plus, it built that sisterhood.
Castleberry: It built a great, wonderful sisterhood that still goes on. I still meet people informally in Dallas even to this day who will say to me, "When are you going to do another women's panel?" And I have used the techniques of that—again, you never know where you start and where you finish—but what all of these different things that I have done have given me information, ability and knowledge to do something else so that I can put together another program for somebody else. And I draw from all these different experiences that I've had in the past.
Kasper: And the Homemaker Panels went on for twenty-five years didn't they?
Castleberry: Homemaker Panels went on for twenty-five years. We changed in scope, we changed in the way we did them, we changed in who we asked, but that particular program started—again, it started because I had a need. I had a need in the summertime for stories that had substance and depth. And in July and August in Dallas nothing goes on at that time. So I created the panels so that women could feed in to me some of the information that needed to be reported to the community. As a result of that, then, every year we would bring back all of the prior panelists, plus community leaders, and we built a kind of a framework of sisterhood that included about 500 women. And we cut across all ages, all ethnicities, all backgrounds, all colors, all interests. Marvelous things happened, such as the year that I seated the president of the Junior League next to the woman from South Dallas who lived in a housing project and whose eight children were sleeping on the floor because they had no beds. And by the end of the day, the president of the Junior League had not only provided beds for all of the children, she had provided medical care for one of the children in need. So what it really did—what I found out very early on was that women, underneath the top surface, speak the same language. They all give birth, they're all there together. If you get that top layer off and they hear each other's human needs, that's all it requires to get the needs answered.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Kasper: —and I know that you feel that these separate pieces are not in fact separate.
Kasper: That you see them as a whole and that they are integrated. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Castleberry: Yes, they are—I've always known it had to be integrated. I think one of the best things that happened to me was early on when I realized that I am a
whole person and these things that I do are the roles that I play, but I must not at any time let the role take over the person. And I've been very purposeful about that in that at each stage of my life I would review, in my own mind, where I am and how I can integrate this next phase.
And there were some amusing things that happened along the way. For instance, one very amusing thing to me was the time when we were so busy with all of our children at home, all five of them were still there, and my career had hit its peak and I was working long hours. And one morning, Curt started to leave the house and he got to the door and I said, "Honey, hang in there, this is a good marriage and we're going to look after it pretty soon." And he opened the door and stuck his head back in and said, "It better be pretty soon so that I'll still be here." [Laughter.] And it was a humor, but it was also a warning signal to me to do something about that. So, at that stage, we started purposefully planning retreats or getaways just for the two of us. We didn't get to do it very often, but the very first thing that we did was drive over to Fort Worth and take a suite of rooms in a hotel because we didn't want to go far and we didn't want to be involved. And Curt is a television watcher and I'm a book reader. So we took a suite of rooms and he was in one room most of the weekend [Laughter.] watching television and I was in the other room reading. But we were together and we were not distracted and we went out to dinner together and we could walk hand in hand. And one of the things that I've always known is that this part of my life is so good, the personal part of it, and I've said to people, "I want to have time to walk hand in hand into the sunset with this man I married."
And so we have tried our best—I have tried very diligently to keep these three separate parts of my life integrated into the whole and to be—try to be lenient with myself, too, when one thing for a period of time takes precedence over the other. And by that, I mean, when you're rearing children and you wake up one morning and everything that you've planned falls out of place, that's when flexibility, incredible flexibility, is required. And to think ahead—what are my options? How am I going to handle this? And to know that you're not always going to have the answer. And not to blame myself if I don't have the answer and if it doesn't turn out the way I wish it had turned out.
So it has always been with me a sense of integrating and becoming—trying to become a whole human being. For instance, there's one other specific that I would like to speak to, and that is, that when I knew that I needed to leave the Times Herald. At that stage, I had done just about everything that I could possibly do in the way of innovation and—
Kasper: You're talking about retirement now.
Castleberry: Yes. When I was ready to retire and I knew that the time had come for me to spend some time doing the things that I had learned were important and significant for me as a human being. I also knew that a great lot of who I was was wrapped up in what I did. So Curt and I took a house in Colorado and for five weeks we stayed up there and the kids came and went and we were just there all of the time in residence and so I would walk by the streams, by the water and walk the mountains and didn't put on makeup and let my hair go. And I had five weeks of discovering some of the inner layers of who I was as opposed to the byline that came out in the paper three and four and five times a week, because I wanted to be sure that I could live with the who I am in addition to what I do. In a very large sense, as I look at it, I lived the role that many men live in that my career was significant and important, and it was also public. I said, "I don't have any sins, very much, that not everybody knows about because I've published them all everyday." And so who I am is what you see.
And it was all an integrated whole and all of those years that I was there and working, and rearing the children, and doing the community things, I was thinking about what is the next step, what is the next step? What do I want to do when this is over? Where do I want to be when this is over? And although I didn't always have answers, and it frustrated me when I didn't have an immediate answer. I also knew—I know deep in the heart of me that the answer is there and that it will come in due time. So that I prepared all of those years that I was working for the next phase and what it would be, and when I got to retirement, I knew that I was going to devote a large piece of my life to peace efforts, because if we have no world,
none of this other stuff is significant. So we have to make the world safe for the next generation. I had no idea where that would lead me, but ten days after I left the Times Herald, I was on my first of three trips to the Soviet Union as a citizen diplomat and I have been back two other times working toward creating a peaceful world in which we can rear our children and in which we can resolve our differences without killing each other. And when I say that, it's such a small piece of the whole, and I realize what a minute, minuscule part I have to play, but that does not excuse me from playing whatever significant role I can to see that it happens. And when enough of us do that, it will take place.
Kasper: One of the things I would like you to address briefly is it seems to me that part of the philosophy that underpins this kind of integration that we've been talking about between your career, your home life, and your activity in the community, is a sense of obligation that is both personal and public. And you play that out—the personal and the public—in all the roles you play. In other words, the personal obligations at home are not really different from the public obligations you have as a journalist and as an activist. Can you kind of address this philosophy?
Castleberry: Yeah. It goes back to that saying, that when I told the Times Herald they cannot afford to have a women's editor who makes a disaster at home. It is personal, and I think it is personal for all of us in that the kinds of things that need to happen into our world, if we cannot make them happen in our personal lives so that they become an example of what we're talking about to the public—and I don't want to come off sounding holier than thou. I realize that there are experts out there who may not have it all together in every area of their lives, and I'm not being judgmental or evaluating. But for me, what I was doing in the world would have been totally insignificant if I had not been able to live it out in my personal life. And the same thing is true in my personal life. If I were not able to reflect this into the wider community as one way to make a difference. Someone asked me last weekend if I have always been this serious about myself, and I said, "Well, I suppose I have. I've always taken life very seriously and, so far as I know, I just have one time to do this and I want to do it right and well. And I also want to be on the growing edge and the cutting edge so that there's never something I don't want to be doing tomorrow. So I keep knowing that tomorrow—I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring, but whatever it brings, I want to be prepared for it."
Kasper: And would you reflect a little bit, too, I mean, I know this is in the same vein, but maybe you can push the analysis just a bit further, that each piece is a natural extension of the piece that precedes it. The personal follows into the journalism career, and the journalism career is followed by your social activism. Each one flows from the other.
Castleberry: Yeah. It flows from rather than follows.
Kasper: That's exactly right.
Castleberry: It flows from rather than follows, because, again, it's the center of an integrated whole and I'm still working at it. I'm not there. And I am not an example for anybody else, I'm only one of the avenues through which this can happen. But the whole point is that this integrated whole is where it comes from in that I—well, for instance, I'll never forget the day when I was a young woman when I said, "I am not a wife and a mother. And a community volunteer. And women's editor of the Times Herald. I am not those things. I am Vivian Castleberry. I am a whole person and all of these things are the different roles I play, the different hats I wear, at one time and another, and I don't want to ever forget that the other part is important, but I don't ever want to think that that is exactly the whole of who I am." And maybe that's taking oneself much too seriously as a point of whether you can make a difference or not. I believe that every human being born is a unique human being with talents that need to be developed and that need to be given to the world and thrust out into the world. And if I can be an avenue through which people discover the depths of who they are—
And one of the great joys of my working all those years was that I discovered the absolutely wonderful values of every human being. I never did an interview that wasn't a mind exploding gift to me, even those that I didn't want to do [Laughter]
because I would find when I got there that there were avenues and depths in these people that they maybe didn't know. And I always knew that they wanted to give you the best that was within them. And when I reported, I reported from that angle. I want to know who the whole of you is. I am not looking for the vulnerable points. I am not going to highlight and headline the things about you that are negative or the things that you consider to be insignificant. I am going to struggle until I find out where you're coming from, what makes you like you are, why you do the things you do.
And that, I think, came out specifically when I covered parents who abused their children, and they had a national convention in Dallas, and that had always been one area that I could not really come to grips with. Who would abuse a little child? And since I had covered child abuse, I knew that. And then I turned around and covered abusive parents, the National Conference of Abusive Parents, and found out where these people were coming from and the great anguish and agonies that they had experienced in their own lives and their struggle to become whole human beings.
Kasper: Yes. Well that, in fact, begins to touch on one of the last kinds of questions I wanted to ask you. And that was, what do you think are the consequences of this sense of integration in your life on your career as a journalist?
Castleberry: I wish I knew.
Kasper: I wish you knew. I think you do a little bit.
Castleberry: I wish I knew. I mean, to answer you honestly, when people say, "What do you think you've contributed?" or "What kind of legacy have you left?" I don't have the remotest idea. And I have never been interested in that. What I really hope to be able to do is to do it and turn it loose to the world and let it go. And I hope it's good things that are turned loose.
Now, if you want me to be more specific, I can give you some of the feedback that I've had and that will probably help to at least be the reality of what is going on. I have people all of the time tell me that what I did way back there in reporting these stories has made a difference in their lives. And when I meet them in the grocery store or at a public meeting and they say, "Do you remember such and so?" And sometimes I don't even remember, very honestly. I think this is a part of—one of the things that Curtis said to me years ago is that "You never remember your enemies." And I said, "No, I know where all the bodies are buried," but I choose to ignore that part of it because there's no point in emphasizing where the mistakes have been made. You use those as growing—stepping stones, but never emphasize those and try to find out where—
Kasper: Or as you've said before to me, you learn by negatives. That's an expression you've used in the past.
Castleberry: Yeah, you learn by negatives. I've used that a lot and I've learned a lot by negatives. I've learned a lot of things not to repeat. You don't do that again. And you don't do it that way again. And I'm constantly in a learning mode, even as I approach my sixty-eighth birthday, there are things that I haven't discovered yet and things that I don't know yet, and things that I don't know about people. So I try to keep myself constantly on the cutting edge of what is coming over next. I don't know how long I'll be interested in doing that and that doesn't matter, it's important now.
Kasper: Do you see that the book that you're working on now, the history of women in Dallas, is a natural extension of your journalism career?
Castleberry: Of course it is. The interesting thing is that for twenty-eight years I lived the importance of women and the significance of women in the Dallas community and that is the great unexplored thing. We have wonderful histories of the community written, but the human side of what has taken place is totally left out—totally. So what I am doing is a book on the history of my community as told through the voices of women. And I have found absolutely marvelous women who are, what I say are, in the cracks of history, or between the commas, or in the footnotes. Things that have never been told because the public life was what you got, if you got it at all.
And so what I'm doing, and what I tell people, is that I am simply confirming my prejudices by writing this book because I have always known that there would be no Dallas, both literally and figuratively, had there been no women, because, literally because women give birth and they nurture the children and they care for the human dimension of life. Figuratively, because women have been on the cutting edge of every important social breakthrough that has ever taken place in our city. They started all of the social services that are there now. They opened the Dallas public library; they opened the opera; they opened the symphony; they opened the theatre center; they did the first plays that were ever held; they opened the schools—and they opened them for girls because they sent their boys back east to universities, but they had to have places to educate their daughters, so they opened schools and educated their daughters; they did the first child care centers that were held. They did everything of any social significance—the breakthroughs were all made by women. So what I'm doing is confirming my prejudices.
Kasper: And what you're doing, too, is, by extension or drawing back, you're also reflecting on your own personal life, and I say that, as a journalist, your major contribution from my perspective is that unlike the journalism that you came into in the late 50's, your major contribution is that you addressed the human side of the news. Now, would you, sort of in closing, would you talk about that?
Castleberry: Yeah, I think what we did—we're the change agents. Because what we did was to look for the unreported element and unreported dimension of the community. Men are inclined by their conditioning and their training, and this is not a negative—but they're inclined by their conditioning and their training, to see things in quantity. If they can measure it or weigh it or count it, it has significance. Women do things that are by quality. And it's all an aura and an essence and it's things that you do not count, cannot weigh, cannot quantify in any way, but is this significant part of whether people survive and thrive. The birth-givers, the nurturers, the people—how is it that those of us who feed the human race are insignificant? If people don't eat, if they aren't nurtured, they don't survive very long.
And somehow I always knew that—and that was a dimension that we put into the section. We covered all of the social issues in the community and increasingly we did not ever leave out the specifics of who was marrying whom, when. Because one of things that I've learned that is interesting is that every—there's twice in one's life that you cut a clipping from a newspaper and keep it forever. One of them is when you're a bride and the other one is when somebody in the family dies. You clip those and keep them forever. And you always remember how the paper treated you at those times. So through the years I got a lot of that. As I began to be known in the community for other things, people would call me about an obituary and they would call me about other things that were personally significant to them. But those things had to be put into the whole dimension of what was going on in the social issues in the community.
Kasper: So it's not just that you in the paper addressed social issues that had not previously been covered in the paper, you also uncovered in that process the human side, with an understanding that the human side is the underpinning of what keeps us going.
Castleberry: The human side is where it happens. And nothing ever happens in a vacuum. The crime story that erupts on the front page tomorrow happened in a societal setting that made this possible. And what I was looking for was what is possible. You know, what is going to happen next. [Tape interruption.]
Kasper: What we want to do now is we want to do the memorabilia and the outside. I mean that's, I think, all that's left.
Castleberry: I think we really are. I feel comfortable with the wrap up if you do.
Kasper: Oh, I do. I do.