She recruited women firefighters, fought gun violence

| July 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

Ann Reiss Lane

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Ann Reiss Lane was a homemaker like most women of that era.

But unlike most of her contemporaries, Lane was also an activist. Her list of accomplishments would grow over the years and has included co-founding the group Women Against Gun Violence (WAGV) with feminist Betty Friedan.

The two women had met at an international women’s forum in the 1990s and became fast friends.

“Betty didn’t drive. She lived in New York, and so I drove her, when she was in town,” Lane told us.

One day she got an unexpected call from Friedan. “Ann, you have to do something about guns,” she said.

“Do I? What do you mean?” Lane asked.

Friedan explained, “It was [Lane’s] job now to organize women because women were the caregivers for their families and communities.”

“I said, ‘Okay, sure,’” Lane told me last month, as if starting a group that would spearhead legislation, education and awareness on gun violence was easy as pie.

Far from it. Pressure was mounting at the time from a campaign to sell guns to women, with ads running in glossy fashion magazines.

Lane and Friedan’s newly formed WAGV held a two-day conference with speakers and visitors from all over the state. Los Angeles Chief of Police Willie Williams was the keynote speaker. The group soon marked its first success — helping to ban a hand-size, poorly-made brand of gun that easily misfired.

A triumphant Lane continued to work alongside city officials, like then-City Councilman Mike Feuer (who would go on to the state assembly and is finishing his term as city attorney) to pass more gun restrictions in the city and in the state legislature.

Those efforts have suffered a recent major setback, she lamented on a warm summer day in her backyard, where she finds solace among the tomatoes and other vegetables she grows.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s unacceptable in every way,” she said of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to expand gun rights.

On the plus side, with the political landscape such as it is, WAGV is gaining new board members and supporters, said Lane, who is now chair emeritus of the group. (Friedan died in 2006.)

Lane was recognized by KCET as a local hero and given the Angel of Peace Award by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles.

Before Lane became an activist and was a mere 16, she met her future husband, Bert Lane, at her family home on Citrus Avenue. They were married for 73 years before Bert, who would also become a stalwart in our community, died in February. They raised three sons and celebrate four granddaughters and one great granddaughter, Ann beams.

Looking younger than her years with blue-polished toenails, her rescue terrier mix by her side and a T-shirt that says: “Change gun laws or change Congress,” Lane says she didn’t know what she wanted to do when she graduated from Stanford and UCLA. She wasn’t interested in being a teacher or a librarian — the only fields open to women at the time all those years ago.

As a young mother, Lane longed to get out of the house. She found camaraderie at a local chapter of the League of Women Voters, where she early on got some sage advice: “Stop worrying about the United Nations and get involved with local government. That’s where the action is.”

When Mayor Tom Bradley called to appoint her to head the city Library Commission, she thought, well I know where libraries are, so why not?

Five years later, when she got the call to head the Fire Commission, she knew even less about fire stations. She also said yes.

She found her resolve, and she swam against the current when the city’s first three female recruits were initially nixed because they couldn’t haul heavy hoses and paramedic bags.

“Too bad. Maybe next time,” the fire chief told Lane.

Not so fast, thought Lane — the Fire Commission’s first female president.

“There’s no reason they can’t be allowed to build their bodies” and be trained like the men were, she countered.

She won the argument and was proud to salute the graduating class including the first women firefighters.

“It was a long, hard struggle,” she remembered.

“I traveled around the country to see other fire departments that hired women,” she said, and she did other tasks that were not typical of a Fire Commissioner.

When she joined the civilian Police Commission that oversees the Los Angeles Police Dept., there was a club for wives, and there was a training program for minorities, but there was nothing for women recruits.

“This is unacceptable,” she thought, and she formed a Women Advisory Council.

“This is a thread you will find throughout my whole career,” she said of her efforts to gain equality for the sexes.

Lane says that she never classified herself a feminist like her old friend Friedan.

“I did what I did because that’s what I wanted to do.”

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Category: People

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