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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The committee that proposed the women's studies program

When the chancellor called the committee to examine the feasibility of launching a women's studies department, Lane recalls, the appointed male and female faculty were divided by age, experience, and passion. She remembers how the women overcame those barriers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. 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

The committee then was appointed by the Chancellor.
PAMELA DEAN:
And you were a member of that committee.
MARY TURNER LANE:
I was a member of that committee. The appointments were essentially all from the College of Arts and Sciences. They were from philosophy, psychology, history, economics, political science, romance languages, mathematics, another from history.
PAMELA DEAN:
So your appointment was essentially, was in part a recognition of your long involvement in women's issues.
MARY TURNER LANE:
I had served, yes, I had been involved in women's issues, and I had served as a general college advisor, also. And then I see here there was also someone from the department of music. It was quite a large committee. Chaired by Professor Simpson of sociology.
PAMELA DEAN:
What was the tone of that committee? Were most of the people that were appointed already committed? I mean you were, Peter Filene was.
MARY TURNER LANE:
There were two undergraduate students on it, I think we should say that, actually three. The tone of that committee [laughter] , well, as I go down the list, it's a little bit like going down the list of senators today and knowing who would vote for Bork and who would not vote for Bork [laughter] . In all fairness, I would say that the men on the committee probably had never heard of Women's Studies.
PAMELA DEAN:
With the exception, probably, of Peter Filene.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, except, I'm sorry, Peter Filene from the Department of History. So that, for many of them, the whole notion of the Women's Movement having an academic branch—well, both factors, the Women's Movement itself would be an area about which they were not particularly familiar, and this evolving academic branch of the Women's Movement would be something else with which they were not familiar. So as we began to work, it was easy to know [laughter] who was already committed and who would need a good bit of understanding and review and education. So it was really in that context that we did a very thorough study of the status of women's studies at that time in the United States with a great deal of emphasis going to the topic, What do we mean by it? How do you define it? As well as the philosophical and academic rationale for beginning to think about it. We gathered printed material. We brought in professors from other universities who were already involved in this and who could speak to it. And the committee proved to be very good listeners.
PAMELA DEAN:
Other than perhaps a general skepticism on the part of some members of the committee, were there any specific arguments posed against Women's Studies?
MARY TURNER LANE:
I think there was a very strong bias as to, is this really necessary? It was very difficult at that time—we're talking about thirteen to fourteen years ago—so much of what we've come to accept now certainly was not acceptable then. Those of us who were speaking in support of Women's Studies had to do it both passionately but intellectually as well. The men were scholars in their own fields. They had been part—as I look at the ones who were on this committee with the exception of one, the younger professor who was already in history—the other men had been part of this very traditional male university for the bulk of their academic careers.
PAMELA DEAN:
Generally, they had not had women in their faculties.
MARY TURNER LANE:
As I look at the faculties that are represented here, for instance, the department of mathematics. There surely was no woman in that department. The department of sociology, almost no women in that department. The department of philosophy, there'd been no women there. The department of psychology, yes, there had been one or two. The department of economics, that was a woman but she was the only woman in the department of economics.
PAMELA DEAN:
I don't recall who that was.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Dell Johanson.
PAMELA DEAN:
Was she someone who had been involved….
MARY TURNER LANE:
A tenure dispute. Economics separated out from the school of business, and she had a very difficult time and finally resigned. I don't know whether she went to another university. But I think that's an important point to note—that, yes, these men had had no contact with women as faculty in their departments. And I don't have the faculty figures for 1974 but I think they would show very few women, less than, well, I don't venture a guess.
PAMELA DEAN:
Well, we can get that somewhere.
MARY TURNER LANE:
We did have women as instructors, then as now. Of course, now we don't have instructors. We simply give people a one year appointment. But we had a large cadre of women instructors. Most of them were women whose husbands were on the faculty. So of course, no job was open to them. You could not have couples teaching at this University except in rare occasions. So it would be important to note that the Women's Movement as far as the movement of professional women into careers had not really hit home with most of the men.
PAMELA DEAN:
Look down that list and tell me from what you know, were most of the women junior faculty?
MARY TURNER LANE:
All, all. I would doubt that there was a full professor, a woman who was a full professor in the University at that time. We were all very junior. You had junior and very junior. And the men, just a cursory glance tells me they were all full professors. They were not only senior, but very senior.
PAMELA DEAN:
I would suspect, again, Peter Filene would be the exception. He must not have been here all that long at that point.
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, I don't think so. He was the only one who was different. But yes, I would quickly say that all of the men were senior faculty, were full professors. And all of us were assistants and associates. So that made for a good bit of tension and difficulty. The image of the Women's Movement at that time, also, was a very flamboyant one.
PAMELA DEAN:
Bra burners.
MARY TURNER LANE:
The bra burners, the marchers, the screamers, the placard carriers.
PAMELA DEAN:
Not professional.
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, no, absolutely.
PAMELA DEAN:
Not collegial.
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, that's another dimension that, I think, created some problems. So it was an unusual and, in many ways, a difficult group of men. We had to convince these men in rational and reasonable ways, even though I used the word passionate a few moments ago. We felt passionate about this. We were very strong in our commitment to it, but our approach had to be a rational and reasonable one.
PAMELA DEAN:
Do you recall any specific incidents, any specific case where you felt resistance on the part of older men that was overcome?
MARY TURNER LANE:
I remember Robert Mann from the department of mathematics who had a very hard time even thinking about this. He did ask to read literature from sociology, in particular. And I remember the chair, who was Richard Simpson from sociology, recommended Durkeim's book on anomie, and I could not help but wonder what that would do to inform or provide any kind of new information. But it was very difficult to tell the chair that there might have been other literature. [laughter] I think some of us began to bring in some other literature that did not necessarily focus on Women's Studies but had more to do with how people learn, had to do with the nature of how we are socialized. There's a great body of literature in sociology and psychology that has to do with how we become male and female. But we had a very difficult time introducing that area of literature to these faculty members. I will say that all members were very committed in the time they spent on the committee. They did the reading, and they came, and they attended to the speakers who came.