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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Juanita Kreps, January 17, 1986. Interview C-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Encouraging women to find satisfaction as professionals, not just as mothers

Kreps was "pregnant all the time" in the 1950s, which removed her from the full-time work force. This absence put her behind her female contemporaries; she was already five to ten years behind her husband, who received his Ph.D. at the same time that she did. Kreps had not yet begun to think about the social constraints on women in an academic context, but was encouraging women to find satisfying employment before she began writing on the subject in the 1960s and 1970s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Juanita Kreps, January 17, 1986. Interview C-0011. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LYNN HAESSLY:
I was wondering if you could tell me something about having babies and being a young working mother in New York in the '50s.
JUANITA KREPS:
Well, actually, I didn't have any full-time appointments when I was having babies. I taught a class at a time or two classes at a time, whatever I could manage. But I did it pretty much at my convenience from the time of the first child-we had three very close together-really, until they were pretty much in school. It was difficult to get help in New York, so I could never have managed, or didn't think I could manage, a full-time job. Anyway, I was pregnant all the time. But it was a period in which I was mainly out of the labor force for all practical purposes. I did edit a couple of books. When Clif left the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to take an appointment at the University of North Carolina, and we moved to Chapel Hill, Duke asked me to teach part time. So I began teaching introductory economics, two, then three sections of the same course. By then the kids were all in nursery or other school and I could work that out. Gradually, as they got older and into school I worked into a full-time appointment. But there were about six or eight years there in which I was part time. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
LYNN HAESSLY:
Do you think that being out of the full-time work force for those years hampered your career?
JUANITA KREPS:
I've been so fortunate with my career it is very difficult for me to have any complaints about how it worked out. I think what it did was put me a few years behind the level of achievement that many yound women expect today. Of course, in those days women didn't feel the same pressure. But Clif and I got our Ph.D.s at the same time and his progress up the academic ladder always was five to ten years ahead of mine; we are about the same age, as well. On the other hand I was able to do some writing while I was at home. I never resented being out of the work force during that time. Looking back on it, I must say I enjoyed it and I didn't feel pressure the way I sense young women now feel.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Do you think that time outside of the work force helped you to focus your research interest on women in the labor force?
JUANITA KREPS:
No, I don't think so because I didn't write anything on the women work force problem until much later. Actually, I wrote Sex in the Marketplace after I became dean of the Woman's College.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Which would have been '69?
JUANITA KREPS:
Yes. I don't remember whether it was published in '70 or '71. The problems that we now all talk about only began to become academically acceptable, and not quite that even, until the forces in society as a whole-that is, the civil rights movement on back of which the women's movement came-forced us to give attention to what were some very pressing and intractable problems. So I don't claim any early perception of that. My personal solution to those difficult problems was to try to go ahead and do what I felt I could do no matter what the rules were.
LYNN HAESSLY:
For yourself?
JUANITA KREPS:
For myself. And to try to convey to my students this same spirit that working it out was an individual business. You didn't have to do a career but if you wanted to, these were the options. Only later did we begin to think about it in terms of what the societal constraints were.
LYNN HAESSLY:
I've read that you had made speeches and made comments about women's interests in satisfying employment even before Betty Freidan published her first book. [The Feminine Mystique, in 1963]
JUANITA KREPS:
That is true. I was trained as an economist who was interested in labor problems and it quickly became apparent that the woman aspect of it was critical. I made some speeches which were, I suppose, pretty extreme for their time. I did something at one point called "Six Cliches in Search of a Woman" and I was trying to demyth a good bit of the rubbish about femininity. And trying to say to the students that they were going to want more than home and family; that satisfying work was important to women. What were they going to do with their minds when they graduated? It was never in the systematic and eloquent fashion that Freidan did it but I must say it was much more pointed in its references to work.