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NOW head finds niche back home

July 06, 1998

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer

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NOW chapter president, Dee DeVoreBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

Deborah "Dee" DeVore has come full circle.

The Hagerstown native was 18 years old when left for the University of Maryland. She didn't come home for another two decades.

Now, however, DeVore has been back for about three years and is the new president of the Washington County chapter of the National Organization for Women.

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DeVore, 41, had no great epiphany that brought her into the women's rights movement. In college, she said she was fascinated by women's studies courses and gradually formed opinions that would shape the rest of her life.

"That's sort of what got me involved - reading books," she said.

DeVore stayed at the University of Maryland for two years, before moving to Denver to study film. She also spent about four years in Boston, where she met and married a Frenchman.

DeVore is now divorced, but her marriage led her to Paris, where she taught English for eight years.

DeVore said living overseas has broadened her perspective on life.

"I appreciate the differences between people," she said. "I've always been attracted to people different from me."

Linda Smith, vice president of the county NOW chapter, said she expects DeVore's international experience to be an asset.

"I'm very pleased that she came forward to take the position. She knows the county, but she's also been other places and done other things," she said.

Some of those other things include labor battles. DeVore said she and two other teachers won a labor suit in Paris against the company that employed them.

DeVore said she was trying to form a union because teachers had not received regular raises, when she was dismissed from her job. She said the company tried to classify it as an economic layoff.

The court ruled it was "licenciemment sans cause rel et seriuese" - laid off for no good reason.

DeVore said she filed the suit in 1993. Three appeals later - after she had moved back to America - DeVore received her damage awards in 1995. The six months' back pay and damages came out to 43,000 francs, or about $8,500.

But the larger goal was making her point, DeVore said.

"When you get justice, it's better than money," she said.

DeVore said she fought for justice while she was living in Boston, too.

She said she helped organized office and technical workers at Harvard University.

DeVore said she also tried to unionize fellow workers who collected tickets when she worked at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The first vote failed. It was not until she had moved to France that she learned the workers voted in favor of the union.

DeVore said she tired of Paris and was underemployed in France, which is in the throes of a severe recession.

Since returning home, DeVore has had her fingers in many pies. She provides care to an elderly person three days a week and would like to start a business matching the elderly with other caregivers.

DeVore said she misses teaching and has approached Hagerstown Community College about teaching a seminar on travel etiquette. She said she would like to work with travel agents to teach business travelers about the differences among cultures.

She also has an unfinished screenplay.

At NOW, DeVore takes the helm of the county group at a time when the national organization is focusing on the 1998 elections. She said she supports "Victory 2000," the group's campaign to elect 2,000 feminists by the year 2000.

DeVore said she also hopes to encourage more young people to join the group and change its perception.

"I want to debunk the idea I think a lot of people in Hagerstown have that NOW is some sort of radical organization," she said.

DeVore was elected president only a year after joining the organization.

"It probably is unusual, but she is a unique individual," said Smith, the chapter's vice president.

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