High Flier

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Martha Thomas

March 2017/April 2017

Jean Moon moved to Columbia in 1971 and a few months later started freelancing for the local newspaper, the “Columbia Flier.” She quickly worked her way up to become general manager of what eventually became Patuxent Publishing, where she remained until 1995. Today Moon runs a public relations firm that focuses on Howard County businesses and organizations. She has been involved in a number of philanthropic projects, including the Women’s Giving Circle, the Columbia Foundation, the Columbia Festival of the Arts, and was a founder of the Howard County Poetry and Literary Society, known as HoCoPoLitSo.

Q Columbia’s founding was based on progressive ideals. Has that vision had an effect on Howard County as a whole?

Columbia started off with such a strong identity, its own brand—before we even used that term. Initially it was a very geographically contained area and we thought what happened here would be contained here. But the early Columbians benefitted financially from being early arrivers; they bought their homes at prices that very quickly escalated. So Columbians who were attracted to the new town sold their homes, and some moved outside of Columbia where much larger lots and homes were available. They ended up influencing the region.

Q People didn’t necessarily come for the home prices.

Not at all. People came here for a reason. I don’t know of many communities that were as intentional. The founders said, we’re going to have the janitor living next to the company president. We’re going to have blacks and whites living together. The idea of Columbia was immensely popular. We arrived in 1971 on Columbia’s fourth birthday. It was already a community with an identity. It was one of the first planned communities in the U.S.

Q So the people who moved here were looking for that kind of diversity.

They were yearning for it. There was a pent-up demand in the market by people who had felt excluded. Even the religious institutions were different. We had an Interfaith Center. If you were a church going person, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish families all worshiped in the same facility. The ecumenical movement was also occurring in American society at that time. A particular set of historical occurrences influenced Columbia. On top of that, we had this charismatic founder who communicated that you could come here and do things you couldn’t do anywhere else.

Q Was Columbia a good place for women back then?

When they talked about it being a community open for all, they were really talking about race and income. They weren’t talking about gender equality. It’s interesting to remember the cauldron out of which Columbia was born. The great civil rights movement, to be followed by the women’s movement which gathered incredible momentum in the late 60s. And there was also the Vietnam War. All of these informed the consciousness of the people attracted to Columbia. The people who settled here were far more engaged than subsequent waves of arrivals. Nothing was here. There were no organizations. The people who arrived in this Martian landscape had to create everything.

Q So you residents set about creating things?

I once had lunch with Jim Rouse and told him I thought what marked Columbia was that everyone thought they could do something about it. He said, ‘About what?’ I said it didn’t matter. There was this sense of possibility.

Q What were some of those possibilities?

Women formed their own coop nurseries, for example. At the beginning women did all that by volunteer. They formed the rape crisis center, the domestic violence center. The consciousness raising was going on nationwide, but it was more concentrated here.

Q You mentioned to me that the founders expected women to drive shuttles as volunteers.

We’d have to go back in the archives to confirm that. The founders seemed to expect women to get together and have coffee. They actually considered having a shuttle that would be driven by women volunteers. By the time women got here there was no way that was going to happen. When I got here, there was a twice weekly get-together in the morning for women. They had day care, so women could hatch out their plans together. Women very quickly hit the ground and realized that there were needs to be addressed, and they began creating institutions. It was the women who created many of the institutions that we still have.

Q What was your experience when you moved here?

When I came to Columbia and couldn’t get a job as an English teacher right away, I decided to create a Women’s Studies class at Howard Community College. In the summer of ’71 when I was like suicidal because I’d left my (university) job in Milwaukee, I was sitting at the pool one day and looked at the Columbia “Flyer” and said, ‘I could do a better job than this.’ I was one of those people who started in journalism when I was 11. I’d worked on school newspapers all through high school, and worked for the Daily Oklahoman when I was in college. I showed up at the (Flier) editor’s doorstep. I started in November 1971 as a freelancer and was editor by March of 1973. I continued to teach Women’s Studies at night for about five years. As I moved from being editor to general manager, I hired many women who were taking my classes. Women were just starting to enter the workforce. Most of the women in my classes were young mothers.

Q So it sounds as if women played major roles in your business and in other Columbia institutions.

We should feel very proud of all the institutions women have created here. They are the backbone of the community we have today. Our caring, compassionate community rests on the foundational efforts of strong women. Women have become more and more leaders in philanthropy and civic leadership. We have our voice, we have our vote, we have our time. But we also have our money to spend to change the world.

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