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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 >>

Carving a spot for women's studies within the university

Though Lane did not actively seek the position as the first director of women's studies, when the dean offered her the job, she decided to accept it. She explains her basic rationale and how she sought greater access to resources peaceably by telling the story of how she got an office in Hamilton Hall.

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

PAMELA DEAN:
You shared an office with an existing….
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, let's talk about the office.
PAMELA DEAN:
I think the office is a nice metaphor for the degree of support.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Well, let's talk about how and why I took the job in the first place. [laughter] Because they did have a search committee. I do not remember who was being interviewed. I was having a very busy year at that time, and as I recall, my mother was ill and I was spending a great deal of time there. So I remember being interviewed. I suppose I was very surprised to be considered because I was not in the College of Arts and Sciences. The reality of an education professor on a university campus is that they simply are not perceived in the same intellectual capacity or category as faculty in History, English, or whatever. [END OF TAPE 4, SIDE A] [TAPE 4, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]
MARY TURNER LANE:
So I was delighted to go to the interview after having spent a year on the recommendation that there be a program. I certainly was interested in knowing what the three committee members were seeking. So I simply went along.
PAMELA DEAN:
You didn't go out and seek this position. They came to you.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Oh no, no, no. No, I didn't. As far as I was concerned, when I finished this assignment, I assumed that that was the end of that, and it would certainly be a College of Arts and Sciences project.
PAMELA DEAN:
But as you pointed out earlier, the potential pool was not extensive.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Oh no, I knew that. That the number from which they might draw would be very limited but I assumed that it would be from the faculty who were already teaching courses in Women's Studies. So the interview was fun. I had no great investment in it except to say that, very frankly, what I'd just said to you about I realized that most faculty believed that a professor of education is limited just to the knowledge of education. But my doctoral minor was in the social sciences, so I had had extensive work in sociology, history, political science, some psychology. And then my undergraduate major had been in English. And these were areas about which they might not know. So I left the interview, had fun, enjoyed it, and frankly, never thought about it again. That was the end of it as far as I was concerned. So I was truly quite surprised to get the call from Joan Scott asking me if I would take the position. There was a great deal to think about. While I had tenure and had been promoted, I had not been promoted to full professor. I had been too over committed to student activities, to a variety of things, to really….
PAMELA DEAN:
You put a great deal of time in on those committees during the sixties.
MARY TURNER LANE:
I did. I had done an enormous amount of work on committees, probably because it appealed to me, and I thought it was important. And I also thought that was what one was supposed to do. But I had to make a very serious decision, that if I go for this Women's Studies position, it will be an enormous full-time commitment. And I probably will not get to the research and writing that I would need to do for the other promotion. So I had to make a very clear decision as to whether I wanted to do this or not. I was very excited at the prospect because it was new. It was challenging. It was challenging to think that I might be able to bring about change for women on this men's campus. That was the greatest challenge of all to think…. That was both frightening and overwhelming but it held the possibility of great rewards, I thought. So I meditated greatly on it and decided I would do it. I've never been much of a risk taker but I thought, this is the time. So I did it. I guess that decision was made in the spring. And the arrangement was that I would be half-time in that position and half-time in the School of Education which unfortunately meant still carrying a load of nine hours a semester.
PAMELA DEAN:
That's half-time? [laughter]
MARY TURNER LANE:
That was half-time. So that was an extremely difficult, it became a very difficult task to balance. But anyway, I said I would do it. I taught my regular summer school assignment. I thought about this, but I did not approach the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences until registration had ended. And then I went to him and said, "I've come to find out what my office assignment is?" And the answer was, "Oh, I just thought you'd stay right on where you are, in the School of Education." I said, "No, that seemed totally inappropriate because the position was in the College of Arts and Sciences. So the office would certainly have to be in the College of Arts and Sciences." Well, he'd have to think about that. [laughter] So, as I recall, I may have gone over each day for about two weeks or a week and a half. Meantime students were asking and faculty were asking, "Well, where's the office?" I said, "Well, nobody's thought about an office in South Building for me." So both the students and the faculty said, "We're ready. We'll make phone calls. We'll write letters. We'll put the pressure on." I said, "No, I've come into this with my own style which is to be, in a sense, non-threatening," because everybody with whom I worked within the power structure was male. And I think whoever was the first director on this campus had to be aware of that and had to approach them in a way that was in one way assertive but was not threatening and in a way that was designed to get something done rather than bring about a confrontation. That was my style, and I felt that that's what I had to do.
PAMELA DEAN:
That was the approach you wanted to take.
MARY TURNER LANE:
That was my approach.
PAMELA DEAN:
Beginning with this question of the office.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, yes, and so by the middle of the second week, Dean Gaskin said I have two places to show you. So we went out and looked, and I choose an office in Hamilton Hall on the sociology floor. All of my typing was to be done in Dean Gaskin's office in South Building if I had any typing.
PAMELA DEAN:
If, yes. [laughter]
MARY TURNER LANE:
So that was a very strange arrangement, but we started that way.
PAMELA DEAN:
So you had a whole office to yourself, a real office?
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, well, someone else came in in the afternoon and used it. I was sharing the office but that part of it worked out all right.