Ginny NiCarthy, 92, Author of Guide for Battered Women, Dies


She was working as a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s when she met her first husband, a customer who always had books with him. “I’ll marry you,” she said when he proposed, “but I won’t do any housework.” The year was 1953.

When her self-help book “Getting Free: You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life” was published in 1982, she was just as straightforward. “If you decide to change your life, it may be challenging, exciting and rewarding,” she wrote, “but it will also probably be difficult, lonely and frightening at first.”

The battered women’s movement was in its infancy, and the book, translated into several languages, became widely used at women’s shelters and in support groups for victims of domestic violence.

Ginny NiCarthy — author, activist, social worker and truth teller — died on Sept. 23 in Seattle in a mountain-view home that she had rented in order to greet visitors in her final days. She was 92 and had been battling dementia for four years.

The death was confirmed by her daughter, Iskra Johnson, an artist.

Over the decades, Ms. NiCarthy’s political protests landed her in jail more than once. While serving two months for civil disobedience after a demonstration at the Trident Submarine Base in Bangor, Wash., in 1976, she took up knitting.

“There is nothing quite like talking to your mother through bulletproof glass as she knits 1 and purls 2,” Ms. Johnson recalled in a tribute recently posted on Facebook. . “That may have been the last traditionally domestic act of her life.”

Virginia Jane McCarthy was born on April 30, 1927, in San Francisco, the youngest of five children of Paul McCarthy, a lawyer who was at one time the mayor of Redwood City, Calif., and Alice (Byrne) McCarthy. She later changed her surname to NiCarthy, using an Irish prefix that means “daughter of” rather than “Mc,” which means “son of.”

Ginny originally wanted to pursue an acting or writing career, friends said, but her interests shifted to social work after she became a psychiatric aide at a mental hospital. She received her master’s degree in the field from the University of Washington.

“Getting Free” used a workbook structure to guide readers through self-discovery and, ultimately, action. “What did you do right today?” it asked, calling for a daily checklist. “What are you telling yourself?” was the lead-in for a section on self-criticisms. If you feel that you broke a rule today, whose rule was it anyway?

“No intellectual or moral evaluation is made of the act of burning toast,” she pointed out. “If you do this exercise regularly, you’ll avoid the guilt, depression and anxiety that often follow self-blame. And you’ll be free to consider how you can change the behavior.”

A 1982 article in The New York Times called “Getting Free” “two guides in one,” explaining: “One is for women who need to explore their feelings about their relationships with their abusers before making a decision about leaving. The other is for those who want to know their options if they move out immediately.”

CreditIskra Johnson

Over the years Ms. NiCarthy was also active in movements for other feminist causes, civil rights, an end to the Vietnam War, nuclear disarmament and death with dignity.

Her other books included “The Ones Who Got Away: Women Who Left Abusive Partners” (1987); “You Don’t Have to Take It: A Woman’s Guide to Confronting Emotional Abuse at Work” (1993), written with Naomi Gottlieb and Sandra Coffman; and “Seeing for Myself: A Political Traveler’s Memoir” (2012), in which she reflected on her visits to Iran, Afghanistan and other unlikely vacation destinations.

Both her marriages, to Robert S. Johnson and Bill Crow, ended in divorce. In addition to her daughter, survivors include two sons, Matthew Crow and Nathan Crow, and a granddaughter.

In the 1995 book “Feminist Foremothers in Women’s Studies, Psychology and Mental Health,” Ms. NiCarthy recalled her childhood objections, in the 1930s, to being forced to wash dishes while her brother only had to take out the garbage.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t resent the unfairness of arbitrary status discrimination, especially related to gender,” she said. “I think I must have been born a feminist.”

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