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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Anne O'Connor, July 1, 1987. Interview L-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Female graduate students play important role in the push for gender equality at UNC

O'Connor credits the students at UNC for many of the early changes that occurred for women. In addition to pushing her to take on her first women's studies class, she remembers that they also demanded more female faculty. As the status of women became an increasingly important topic, more and more demands were made on the female faculty who were already at the school. A few minutes after this, she reflects more specificially on the ways the female graduate students in the English department affected the atmosphere of the university as they used their positions teaching freshmen classes and negotiating with the faculty to accomplish greater change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Anne O'Connor, July 1, 1987. Interview L-0031. 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

Tell me about the general tone or the general atmosphere in the University. Was there a widespread demand for this? Where did this idea come from? MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: As I suggested with my own class in the English Department, I really do think that the impetus emerged from the students first. This was and still is a very conservative campus. When I joined the English Department, it was about the same size as it is now, about sixty faculty members at the assistant to full professor level in the department. At the time I arrived, they had let their single woman go, the year before I arrived, And they hired one woman, as an assistant professor, the year I came as an instructor. So that was one out of approximately sixty. That's unusual for an English Department because at least one third of all Ph.D.'s given every year in English are given to women, and here at UNC we've been giving women Ph.D.'s. since about 1910. Clearly, hiring women was not a priority. Let me understate it that way. There was no sense at the faculty level that this was necessarily a priority. Of course, the University had traditionally been a men's institution, at the undergraduate level, and that might account very much for the predominantly male faculty. But this was the time that the University opened its eyes, too, to its changing status and the changing group of students that it essentially served. I was aware when I came that there weren't many women, and when I became an assistant professor my second year here, I became involved with groups that were working toward promoting the role of women in all areas on campus. The committee that was put together by the Faculty Council at the recommendation of Ria Stambaugh, I think, was very important. I believe that recommendation came up in 1971 or 1972, and that motion that she submitted to the Faculty Council really sparked an interest among the faculty men and women who were here to look at exactly what our priorities were in hiring and to move toward a broader role for women at the faculty as well as the student level on campus. As a response to her motion that we look at the low numbers of women among full members of the faculty, the Committee on the Role and Status of Women was formed in about 1972. I believe that John Schoppler headed that committee for the first year or so, and then after she came, Catherine Maley took over as chair of that committee. And I was on that committee. I think I was on that committee. I feel like I was on every committee at the University my first five years here. It's such a different world for the women at UNC now. Back then there were so few women that most of them were run ragged by multiple committee assignments. Women would find themselves on two or three University committees and still be saying "no" to serving on a fourth. The fourth committee chair would then say, "Well, we tried to get a woman but we couldn't find one who was willing to serve."
There was one woman--if I recall, it was Women's Studies, but I'm not sure, it may have been one of the other committees--who turned down the request that she serve the committee because she said she was on thirteen others and she thought that that was enough. I also noticed that in the late 60's, Mary Turner Lane was on almost everything. MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: Mary Turner Lane was on everything.