Teal Ferguson Viscount grew up, you might say, in Kenwood Country Club. Her parents took her there as a child and when it was time for her debut, Teal Ferguson naturally "came out" at Kenwood.
Later, Teal Ferguson and her new husband, Robert Viscount, were given a Kenwood membership by her parents. Yet now that the Viscounts have broken up their marriage, Teal Viscount has lost it all. Her husband, however, has not.
Membership at Kenwood, she was informed by the club's president, always belongs to the "man of the house."
"It's just a straightforward business policy," Kenwood president Harold G! Free said. "We've been doing it this way for 50 years, and it'd be a shambles otherwise."
If she wishes to continue exercising her club privileges, she must reapply for membership and pay an initiation fee of at least $800 all over again.
Miffed and stunned by Free's fiat. Teal Viscount complained to the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission that KEnwood Country Club is practicing sex discrimination. A confidential investigation of the complaint has begun.
"The 'man of the house' . . . oh boy," the mother of four said yesterday, her voice rising and shaking. "It's rotten. I've never been an activist in women's issues. Never.I guess it takes something hitting you. I've never been a marcher (for women's rights), and now I'm ashamed I never was."
Free, however, scoffed at her contentions. "It doesn't amount to anything. I've known the lady since she was a brat here at Kenwood. She just didn't order her life very well."
Teal Viscount's dilemma began after she separated from her husband last fall. "I wrote the club to make sure the membership stayed in my name, and I thought that would be the end of it." Then Free informed her that regardless of how a family membership comes about, the husband is the "owner."
Chagrined, Teal Viscount nevertheless continued to visit the club occasionally and even signed some bills. There are no cash transactions at Kenwood. Yet recently, when she was dining there with her sons, including one who at the time was only 15, the bills were presented to the boys to sign. She thought it strange but did not protest.
The last straw occured last week. Teal Viscount took friends to the club as guests and was not permitted by the management to sign the bill. "I thought, 'Gee, that's strange, all my life I've belonged to this place,' so I asked the waitress why," Viscount recalles. "She said you name is posted in the kitchen. You can't sign.' I said I was humiliated but held myself together until I got home."
According to the club's rules, Free explained, Teal Viscount must now apply for membership on her own. If she is accepted she will have to pay the initial fee, which ranges from $800 to$2,000, plus monthly dues from $45 to $75, depending on the type of membership. "We had another woman do that" after a divorce, Free said.
Whether the Human Relations Commission has jurisdiction in this case is unclear, because the county group has not yet determined whether Kenwood qualifies as a place of public accommodation under its authority, an investigator explained.