Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Lane's leadership increases local visibility for the women's movement

Lane used her position as director of women's studies to increase the visibility of the women's movement all over campus. Eventually, Duke decided to emulate her model and established their own women's studies program.

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

Do you see any weaknesses, any things you would have liked to have seen differently? MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: I served on the Women's Studies Advisory Board for, I believe, every year. I was away for one year. I Fulbrighted in Germany in '78-79, but the rest of the time, I served on that Women's Studies Board. I was occasionally impatient. I wanted more changes; I wanted more interest in course development in the different departments. Mary Turner put her emphasis in image-building, in presenting a view of Women's Studies that showed first of all that it was respectable, and sometimes, I guess I got distracted by her Southernness and sort of assumed that this was some kind of power play in one sense rather than a sincere effort to improve Women's Studies. I would ask, "Who cares whether people think well of the program or not?" Well, it matters a great deal, of course. I've come to believe that everything that Mary Turner did do, meeting with sororities and going to women's groups on campus and working with the Chancellor and being sent to alumni meetings and that sort of thing. All of this image-building was important. She did an awful lot of that, and it was quite valuable. It made a difference. It brought Women's Studies into a realm that would still be untouched. There are still members of the University who feel that whatever good feelings they have about Women's Studies simply come because one of their good friends who is the president of the Chapel Hill Historical Association, who's a leader in her church community, who's been a Chapel Hillian for thirty years because she put time and energy into it, and she, in their minds, is so closely aligned with it that they have a sense of Women's Studies that separates it, perhaps, from the bra burning, early 70's vision that would be perfectly fine with me. If that's who the national antecedents are, O.K. I think that Women's Studies has a very different heritage in Chapel Hill on our campus.
PAMELA DEAN:
So you're basically saying that her major contribution to the program was to give it a degree of respectability and legitimacy? MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: Visibility.
PAMELA DEAN:
Visibility that perhaps a radical, hard-hitting approach might not have achieved. MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: I have to say this, that Mary Turner was much more radical and hard-hitting in what she wanted to do with the Association for Women Faculty, and there were other ways that she was working for improving the role of women on campus beyond what she got paid for and the hours that she might have felt were her responsibility in holding office hours or something like that. There was quite a bit of work for women being done. I think that, I also have to give her credit. She was the major person on our campus who worked toward the development of the Duke-UNC--they've just changed their name--at that time it was…
PAMELA DEAN:
Women's Studies Research Center. MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: The Women's Studies Research Center. It's now the Duke-UNC Center for Research on Women, and that, in her last year, that's really what she helped put together. I remember, too, I'm going to put this in because I'm on that board now. I've been on it for about three years, and Anne Firor Scott from Duke, who chairs their History Department, who did chair it, is also on the board, and I remember we interviewed her when we wanted to put together this curriculum in Women's Studies. She was against it. She came from Duke, and she said, "No, I don't want to see you ghetto-ize the study of women. I think it would be a mistake." Her book on the Southern lady is absolutely standard reading for Women's History, and yet, she could say, in 1974, that it would be a mistake. But, a few years later, when the opportunity arose to put together this center, she and Bill Chaffe decided that they would team up with Jean O'Barr at Duke and put together a Women's Studies Program. It was done almost by executive fiat at that point because there was so much feeling from the newer people who had been wanting it for years but meeting the kind of resistance of someone that they respected so tremendously like Anne Scott. They couldn't do anything, but as soon as she said, "Well, O.K. I can see if we're going to have this research program, maybe there would be an advantage of having a Women's Program at Duke." As soon as she agreed to it, Duke agreed. It looked from this side of Chapel Hill Boulevard as if it was her decision, really.