Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Women in the Trades: Interview with Elaine Santo, Hannah Witzemann, Penny Spicer, and Janet

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Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Women in the Trades: Interview with Elaine Santo, Hannah Witzemann, Penny Spicer, and Janet


lesbian, Tucson, activism, history, feminists, 1970s, collectives, media


Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Women in the Trades: Interview with Elaine Santo, Hannah Witzemann, Penny Spicer, and Janet, 19:20

Southwest Feminists Reunite celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Southwest Feminist Festival Retreat held north of Tucson. That powerful experience in March 1973 and the dynamic creativity and political action that followed sparked feminists and lesbian feminists to reinvent their lives and organize for change over the next four decades. This collection consists of oral histories and digital scans of photographs from the past 40 years.


Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives
Anastasia Freyermuth, video producer


MiniDV tapes recorded on Panasonic DVX-100A digital video camera


Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives


16 March 2013


Southwest Feminists Reunite, Lavina Tomer, and Deborah Dobson


Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives


Southwest Feminists Reunite


H.264 300Kbps streaming QuickTime movie, 320 x 240

Women in the Trades: 19:20 and 42.8MB





Alternative Title

Interview with Elaine Santo, Hannah Witzemann, Penny Spicer, and Janet

Date Available

6 January 2014

Date Created

16 March 2013

Rights Holder

Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives
Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Jamie A. Lee


Elaine Santo, Hannah Witzemann, Penny Spicer, and Janet


Transcription by Courtney Martinez

Elaine Santo:
My name is Elaine Santo; I have been a pony contractor for 25 years. Hannah and I back…and Penny…all met at…

Penny Spicer: My House….

Elaine Santo:
At Penny’s house and it was in dire need of repair, plumbing and a lot of things. And we just meet up and realized that we all shared a common interest in the trades. And in doing alternative things. So that was kinda how we all got together.

I don’t know how exactly I found either one of you to come and help me.

ELAINE SANTO: I don’t know either

I don’t remember that either. But it started out you and me (Points to PS) and then you came by (Points to ES) and that’s how I caught up with you and then you and I finished (points to PS).

ELAINE SANTO: Well Hannah worked…well tell her where you came from..

Okay, I can from San Francisco and I worked for the gas company. I was one of the first women to work for Pacific gas and electric company. And so…the discrimination and stuff that I felt there was that most men just totally ignored me…


ELAINE SANTO: So Hannah, finish your story.

Anyway, so I worked for the gas company in Tucson…err San Francisco for about three years and then I moved to Arizona and Uh…just started doing…just started helping women out that I saw that their gas appliances weren’t running correctly and I just said, “Can I fix this?” and then word of mouth people just started asking me to help out…anyway…so then I met up with Penny and Penny and I restored a house, it was adobe and that was a pretty amazing and powerful thing that we did. If you wanna talk about feminism and stuff like that for us, I think what was really hard is that we were working class women and there were women that had money and had status, that was different then us. So we were discriminated…

JANET: Were they also in the trades?

No, but when we talk about feminists, most of the time we’re talking about… cause they had the time to sit around and talk about this stuff…right…so we needed them to be in the foreground or whatever, to be doing what they’re doing politically, because for God’s sake…we were doing everyday…we were in the trenches…dealing with the men that didn’t want to sell us the right part so that we had to come back two or three times because they were jacking us around and wouldn’t listen to us. They would tell us, “oh you don’t need that part, you need this part,” you know just bullshit and so uhm…yeah…yeah…I don’t want to say any more until other people have said something. Go ahead Penny.

Well, I grew up with a mother who did all the plumbing, all the wiring all the carpentry in the house, so it never occurred to me that I couldn’t as a woman do it which most girls don’t have that advantage. I started doing plumbing before…while I was in school and I had such a horrible experience with teaching and I had been putting myself through school by doing this plumbing and carpentry, building saunas and stuff and uhm…I...uh had such a horrible experience that that summer I had several people offer me some jobs remodeling a kitchen, putting in a porch, et cetera et cetera and it was a choice of taking those or getting a or trying to find a teaching contract so guess which one I took? So I ended up doing plumbing for about five years. Gosh…you got a lot of plumbers here… (Group laughs).

JANET: (Inaudible)

So when I bought this house…somehow we got together and I brought Hannah in as a partner in the house and the only male energy that went into that house was my father with cancer digging a trench for us.

HANNAH WITZEMANN: We did everything…


striking, digging doorways…We had Elaine in there helping us…Uhm..but you..

I found a new store opened up and he was an electrical supply place and we had to do this…there was a whole bunch of electrical stuff to do and he was wonderful. I didn’t have quite the same experience as you (looks at HW) cause he told me everything to get and what to do and how to do it. And he came and did some of it for me…for us and uhm…from 1980 on I did electrical work. He was the only man probably in the whole city who tolerated women in the trades but he was not a licensed contractor and I couldn’t work for him so I never got a license because I was not gonna work for any of those…

Just a little footnote, this woman is probably the best electrician in Tucson…that is my opinion.

ELAINE SANTO: She wired my place…


JANET: She would have wired my place but I’m poor…

I would like to say something relative to feminism okay because I think for me, I never looked at myself as a feminist…I mean I obviously was just because I’m a lesbian and because of growing up in a situation where you had to hide everything…even you skills for that matter. I never though of myself as…you know doing something…it was unique…but it was what I did…it was what I was good at. And I think all of us you know…if you have that knack that ability…my father fostered it in me I’m sure your dad was a mechanic…

I think it was innate don’t you…didn’t you all want trucks and stuff when you were little but you wanted dolls too…Isn’t it part of your DNA to be a hands on like…

ELAINE SANTO: Well that’s what I’m saying…

PENNY SPICER: I’m extremely mechanical


JANET: I think that’s why I am…

And so we never looked…I shouldn’t say we…I would say me, I never thought, wow…I just thought it was a great gift you know that my father fostered in me and allowed me to develop. And so I just said…Like Penny was a teacher…and I loved my kids and I loved teaching, but I hated the administration, I couldn’t work for the institution, it drove me crazy and so when I had this opportunity like Penny, that somebody came and…and I did have a male mentor and he took me in and he taught me everything and he was wonderful just the same way. And there are men, good men out there who do that. But then, like Hannah said, there’s a bunch of bozo’s that wanna…don’t want you because you’re taking away from them. But I never thought of myself as doing something so far out there that…I thought it was totally normal. You know…Hannah and I were talking that, we used to service elderly folks, elderly women who felt comfortable…JANET: was a plumber too…Where having a man come in your house and they bang around and they break things and they charge you crazy things and you know and they don’t explain everything and you know…they’re not sensitive

JANET: They don’t clean up…

Yeah…When Hannah and I and JANET: and I’m sure Penny too…when you get to an elder and you know they’re living on fifty dollars a week and you charge fifty dollars an hour, you’re not gonna say you know…pay up. I know for me, I had a lot of elder women who would be, “Oh, I made you some cookies,” and I’m like, “Cool” and they’d say, “What do I owe you?” and I’d say, “$2.00 for the gas,” and you know that’s it because that’s all they could afford but if you said to them, “Oh, nothing,” They were offended because they wanted to give you something…so you just had to go with the flow and it’s like when you had five of those people, then you would go to someone wealthy and you’d say, “you owe me five hundred bucks,” (group laughs) to pay for the three hours I spent with the cookie lady.

Wanna hear something funny, while I was talking about the both of the top of the person with the two letters and the bottom of the person with the two letters…I was talking to somebody today about those two women and it was so bad and I was like laughing… (Inaudible)

HANNAH WITZEMANN (to JANET:) So tell us about your experience.

JANET: My experience…

She drove these big things that had wheels that were as big as this room.

ELAINE SANTO: Janet was a coal miner

JANET: I thought you were talking about plumbing.

Group: No go ahead…we’re talking about trades

I started out…I became a plumber because I met Elaine at a party…it was a good party…Elaine had good parties. And then we started talking and we were talking about what I did for a living which was I used to be a plumber and got laid off cause, well cause they’re asses and wanted to move the company or something and so uhm…Elaine and I were talking and I says, “What you doin in the mine,” and I said I was a mechanic, I don’t know exactly what I said but I was a mechanic I’ll, tell you now, and she goes, “Okay, I’m looking for somebody and you’re hired,” do you have tools and that’s how quick that happened, just like that and I was only in town for a week I think. That was pretty great, so that’s how my plumbing started out. I started out as like…when Elaine was taking earlier and how I interrupted and said I think it’s innate in all people…of like even you sitting here…I think it’s part of your DNA…you know like it’s, “my brother trucks and my sister got dolls, one older one younger…I was like I want them both,” I wanted them both and I think that’s….the motherly part of me is I’m really motherly you know…but the wanna play with the trucks part of me….I played with some pretty big trucks…(inaudible).

She drove them in the mine…she was a coal miner. And JANET:, tell them about the men you worked with and how you were….

Hannah was talking earlier about uhm…you know how you had to prove yourself and shit and I felt that in the coalmine. Like I never did, I was like…look at me I’m in La-La land and I am in La-La land (laughs). So I went underground because this woman who was very powerful said, “Come on JANET:, Let’s do it, we can do it,” she left in two years and I stayed for seven more…seven more years and so you know. When she was there it was much easier because she was big and tall and I was strong. She was too but…and then so they didn’t really mess with us much, they would just tell my friend, which I’m not gonna use any names, (oh, that’s pretty amazing huh…I’m controlled, I’m not usually this controlled…just stop me at any time), so that’s where I learned how to work with a different group of people who I didn’t grow up with and then I became a mechanic you know…I went up the ladder, I was (inaudible) and any time a job came open I bid on it and the only qualifications were, “how long have you been there?” Well towards the end I was there…like I was one of the toppers you know and so that’s how I got the jobs, so I did all those jobs they were talking about. I was driving equipment, I did jobs like shoveling a lot of coal, a lot (inaudible) that’s why I got strong because I worked out, I was trying to be a bodybuilder…oh well (laughs). So I could be a coal miner cause I’m goofy, you know I was the third woman down there. The first two women they were totally opposite; the one woman was a rancher and uhm…was a rancher her whole life and so she applied at the job so she was the second person. The first woman was real tall and very beautiful and made up in make-up and the other one was a rancher, she had long blonde hair…I love’em you know…she was a cowgirl…a was really cool. And she was…the big tall women seemed more like…I kinda looked up to her cause I thought…she seemed older…that woman owned a restaurant…they hated her guts she had the top men wrapped around her finger it was really wonderful to see. It was…

With you on the low end of the totem pole and a lesbian did not have anybody wrapped around your finger…

Well I did after awhile…it takes a little conniving, you can’t be straightforward although in a way you are. You have to play the game but better that’s all, that’s the way life is…you gotta play the game just a little better…

HANNAH WITZEMANN: So Janet on the same note….

JANET: Oh, I’m sorry…

HANNAH WITZEMANN: No, don’t be sorry

JANET: You stopped me perfect…

No, no, no no…it’s alright, it’s just I wanted to say that there was a woman ahead of me at PG&E so I was the second woman in the gas company in San Francisco

JANET: Where?

ELAINE SANTO: Pacific Gas Company

The first woman, she told all the men that she could do exactly what they could do, she could handle any job that they could handle and then so she would get on the radio and you would hear her saying, “I need help, I need this, I need that,” and so it was embarrassing. Now I said to these guys, I basically just said, “look if I can’t get a bigger wrench and I can’t move it with a bigger wrench then I’m gonna call you on the horn and you’re gonna come and do it.” I said, “But I’m gonna do what I can do, you know and I’m not going to sleep with any of you, I’m not going to do any of that,” and there were some days when I would walk into the shop and I didn’t even want to see any of them because none of them wanted to see me. You know, so I just got my report and did what I did but you know on the same vain it’s like she was just so embarrassing because she just complained and whined and yet said she was the most…just as strong as they were and I never said that, I just said, this is what I need. But again, coming back…coming back to Arizona, what we did in Arizona, all I can say is that felt to us like we just did it, we were doing it where other people were talking about it. And yet, we also needed them to just be out there politically for us because you know…it was like day in and day out. I mean like, Elaine and I or Penny and I would be covered with plaster or covered with tar or whatever and who in the hell wanted to turn around and go to a meeting?

PENNY SPICER: That’s a lot of energy…

Exactly and then it was just all this (sound effects) and what’s the meaning of the meaning and it’s like….who gives a shit?

But then there was Arizona Trades Women, which we started in 1980 I think it was and I was the first president and that was, I think that was out political statement.

HANNAH WITZEMANN: Yeah, there you go.

Because we had women in unions that had a whole different set of baggage you know, they were…they had to be within a qualification, they had to be between twenty-two and twenty-six and they had to weigh 140 pounds…kinda like stewardess’s…you know…

PENNY SPICER: What job was this?

ELAINE SANTO: Some of the unions


No way…not in my union, not even at NCI at the cash register…

this was back then JANET:, these women did…there was only a window of time…

JANET: They didn’t have to geez….

…that you could be a part of the union and they had different things like different issues but they came to our meetings and they sat with us and we heard each other out. It helped us avoid things you know and then we would realize, like for me I got busted because I wasn’t a contractor like Penny at the time, the state came after me the city came after me…you know cease and assist and you all because I was advertising in a women’s magazine. You know and so we’ve all gone through those things but along the way I think the long and the short of it is, you find good people, good men good women who are doing it. And I do wanna say that the women that we did work, even though they wanted us to go to the meetings, they did promote us…

PENNY SPICER: And they also hired us…

ELAINE SANTO: And they also hired us so for that reason I say thank you all

(Group speak inaudible)



Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives Anastasia Freyermuth, video producer, “Southwest Feminists Reunite ~ “40th Anniversary Event” • Women in the Trades: Interview with Elaine Santo, Hannah Witzemann, Penny Spicer, and Janet,” Arizona Queer Archives, accessed February 25, 2024,