“I was feisty, and it served me well.”
Linda Wolfson’s leadership philosophy first developed during her time at Mount Mercy College (now Carlow University) in Pittsburgh, where she thrived with the “benefits of an all-women’s college.” This female-centric environment allowed her to exercise a “leadership ability that I had and really wasn’t inhibited about showing.” During her time as a student, the college existed as a “cult of non-materialism” within which, she recalls, “we became extremely involved in the civil rights movement.”
Linda joined other like-minded students and began working with the United Negro Protest Committee, the action arm of the NAACP. Through this work she learned about the logistics and importance of direct action: “they did a lot of direct action, but it would start with negotiation, and then it would accelerate.” Linda reminisces: “nothing else has ever affected me quite as much in terms of the things that make our society held back. Until the day when we understand that we differ because our melanocities where one person’s body makes more melanin than somebody else’s, and that we’re all the same species, we are going to be held back.” Linda’s work during this time culminated in her participation in the “march on Montgomery, the one between the confrontation on the bridge and the final big march.”
After graduation, Linda moved to Washington, D.C. where she became involved in the women’s movement at the height of the second wave of feminism, a “tumultuous time.” She recalls that “it was a time when we built relationships, and we tried to figure out what was our responsibility? And how do we spend our time when we’re not at work? In a responsible way?” Over the next 20 years, Linda strived to answer these questions by organizing various groups for social action and having a sustained involvement in community work.
Upon arriving in South Bend, Linda began teaching science at Adams High School in the “regular track” because, “it’s like my brothers and my neighbors I grew up with.” She became involved in the community by joining the League of Women Voters. With a group of other community members, she helped found the Community Forum for Economic Justice (originally the Community Forum for Economic Development) as a way to “cross constituencies – environmental people, union people, community people.” One of the first goals of the organization was to “really talk about the question of equity” as a way to help people understand the difference between equality and equity. They achieved this, in part, by focusing on the whole question of wages and income through “people telling their stories.”
More recently, Linda has been an instrumental member of Community Action for Education (CAFE). CAFE unites parents, teachers, principals, and community members in the fight for equitable treatment for all students in the South Bend Community School system. To this endeavor, Linda brings her years of activist and community organizing experience through her philosophy that “you don’t always have to be in people’s face, and you don’t have to be symbolic.” Instead, she works on building relationships. She tries to “look at situations that are bad and figure out what’s the good side of it.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project
Linda was a 2018 CMWL honoree.