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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 >>

Raising awareness of feminist issues among students through Women's Studies 50

Women's Studies 50 was the important introductory course that exposed many students to the idea of women's studies for the first time. Lane describes the structure and the process of the course and how the students seemed to become awakened to feminist issues through the course's programming.

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

One of the major tasks in that second year was to organize an interdisciplinary course or introductory course, that's really what it was, which we called Women's Studies 50. Joan Scott, as professor of history, was the mover in that course description and in organizing and outlining that course. She taught it the first year. And the way that we evolved the focus of that course was to decide that the introductory [course] would look at women through a number of perspectives, different perspectives, as represented in six or eight of the major disciplines. So that after introducing students who came to the course as to why we had something called "women" and why it was valuable to study women, we would begin to ask professors from other disciplines, really, to try to bring a distillation of the view of women that had evolved from their discipline. The course was organized so that we had a major lecture once a week and then discussion groups twice a week. Our first lecture was often in religion, and the professor who looked at women through the perspective of religion was able to offer not only the image of woman as she had emerged in Christian religion but in a variety of ancient religions and other religions today. We drew from religion, law, history, psychology, literature, art, I'm not sure we got music in. But as the course was offered we would vary the disciplines, perhaps. We began eventually drawing people from maternal and child health. We had about eight lectures, followed by questions, followed by discussion. The lectures were always supposed to be, the lectures had assignments, reading assignments, to go with them. Assignments were supposed to come before the lecture and then assignments that were supposed to come after. And then at the end of the course we tried, the professor, Joan Scott and the graduate students and whoever was working with it, to pull together ideas about, knowledge about, feelings about the status of women—how it had evolved, become what it was, what are the myths, what myths had been discounted in the study of it. One of the interesting by-products of that course—and the course was made up of, we preferred that they be juniors and seniors, but we found out that there were sophomores, juniors, and seniors, graduate students could take the course and get credit in a different way. We had from the beginning a few young men who took the course, and what happened to many of the students, male and female, was that one professor or one discipline would pique the curiosity and the interest of the students. And the students would take more courses in religion or in art or in literature that might focus on a deeper study of women and different aspects of women. So that was a by-product that came about that I'm not sure we had not planned for, but it was a very positive one. Evaluations were always done very carefully. They were read very carefully. They indicated that a number of young women were feeling very good about learning more about themselves and how women had come to be depicted the way they had been. They felt that they had grown in their own strength and knowledge, and it was very positive. Fifteen percent, plus or minus, still felt very threatened by the knowledge and by the ideas that were coming out about women. They were still threatened by any discussion of lesbianism. They were very threatened by discussion and approaches to marriage that were other than the traditional marriage with the man as the worker and the woman as the person in the home. And thirdly, they were still very threatened by the concept of "career." If there is anything that I learned in working with young women over a fifteen year period, that women are comfortable with the idea of jobs. They had moved toward that but they are very uncomfortable with the idea of career. Now, I didn't discover that on my own. There's a lot of research on that and there has been for a number of years. But those would be the three areas that women, that students would still not feel good about.
PAMELA DEAN:
Even those who had taken that initial step to take a Women's Studies course still found that challenging some of those basic assumptions made them uncomfortable.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Yes, that's what we were doing. And they were not comfortable with that. Many, not many but two or three young women revealed that they came into the course with great reservations. And they really didn't think that women had been perceived in such negative ways until the lawyer said it was so. [laughter] We used a brilliant woman lawyer, Marisa Schoonmaker who established her own North Carolina Laws Affecting Women—I don't know what you would call it. It's an organization. And she came each semester to speak, really, on that topic—on "What is the image of women in law?" And she took them from the notion of property, women as property and women with no rights, she took them through history in a very interesting way. And then began to cite cases that had to do with divorce and property, and widowhood and property, and single women and property. And I cannot think of anything that was more revealing to young women than the status of North Carolina law at that time. She did a masterful job in presenting it. Young women believe that if it's the law, then it's the truth. So when she cited North Carolina law, then that in a sense made it possible for them to believe what all these other people had said. [laughter]
PAMELA DEAN:
Well, it's much more visible and overt. It's very concrete embodiments of what is otherwise rather subtle attitudes that you may not be able to pin down so clearly.
MARY TURNER LANE:
That's right. That was very interesting to me that they could then believe the other things that they had doubts about—but if that's the way it is in law.
PAMELA DEAN:
Very interesting.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Well, in any course, you don't expect every student to be moved by exactly the same thing. But a lot of attention went into that course, and a lot of personal interaction took place with the graduate assistants and the professor that taught it and with me, as well.
PAMELA DEAN:
The graduate assistants had a very active part in this.
MARY TURNER LANE:
Very strong role in this.
PAMELA DEAN:
Much stronger than is the case in most courses.
MARY TURNER LANE:
And they, once we began to identify them, they began to be involved in the planning of the course, as well. The course structure that we put together, and I do have some copies of that, the structure and the format stayed essentially the same but it varied and was modified dependent upon response from students and a number of things.
PAMELA DEAN:
Availability of faculty to come in and teach and do lectures.
MARY TURNER LANE:
The course also became a way to involve other women faculty and men, as well, who were interested in some aspects of women's history or perspectives on women. So we added professors. We began to invite, once we put together a calendar of when the lectures would be presented, we sent this to faculty in other universities. We invited faculty on campus to come to these lectures. It was a way of cross-fertilization, really, among faculty and students. So it served some very good purposes, it seemed to me, and continued to be modified. We were never able to offer it more than in just the spring semester. The enrollment moved, in the six years that I was with it, from about thirty or thirty-five the first year to eighty or ninety which is almost too large for a class like that.