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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 >>

Publicizing women's studies

During her tenure, Lane had some unexpected opportunities to publicize what the women's studies program had accomplished.

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:
What kind of response did you get? These people were mostly men?
MARY TURNER LANE:
I think of the, oh, forty, thirty-five to forty people who would show up for the brown bag lunches that we had, the brown bag meetings that we had once a month, thirty-five or forty would be male, and there were maybe three females. [Interruption] This really was not very productive because I found that I would interact with the people that I knew—the men who were chairs of departments, although I tried to introduce myself and make myself known to other department chairs. I'm not sure that I was very successful in that.
PAMELA DEAN:
What kind of response did they have to the whole idea?
MARY TURNER LANE:
Well, not boundless enthusiasm, acceptance, maybe, of the idea. "Oh yes, I heard about Women's Studies," something like that.
PAMELA DEAN:
No seeking you out, "Now tell me what that means."
MARY TURNER LANE:
Almost nothing in the way of questions. Very courteous, "How are things going?" comment that you might make about everything. But not a great deal of involvement unless it might be a department that might have some interest, true interest, in what we were doing, such as the English Department, the History Department.
PAMELA DEAN:
Some people within the department who were raising this and who had been active in encouraging and supporting it?
MARY TURNER LANE:
My contacts with South Building were fairly limited. So I managed to reach out, I think, in terms of publicizing and making goals known through the media in some rather unexpected ways. One of the things that happened when the office first opened was a number of female reporters from newspapers across the state would telephone my office and ask me either for information about or opinions about certain events affecting women that would be happening either in the state or in North Carolina. Several of them even came to Chapel Hill, at my invitation, and we met and had lunch because they wanted to know more about Women's Studies, whether they were going to use it for their articles they were writing or not. They simply said, "This was something I didn't have an opportunity to study when I was in college. I'd like to know more about what it is." So I shared the program and the goals. As I left a reporter from the News and Observer one day, I said, "Anytime you want to do a feature study on Women's Studies, I'll be glad to give you all the time you need to talk about it." Well, within three weeks she called and asked if I would be the "Tarheel of the Week." Well, if you don't know the News and Observer, you don't know that this is a major half page feature that comes out in the Sunday newspaper, and it's always highlighted the Saturday before. It was quite a coup, I thought, to be able to capture that half of one whole page in the News and Observer. It was also quite rare that they had a woman to write about as the "Tarheel of the Week." So I think that the young woman, the young reporter, had been as aggressive in seeking that opportunity as I had been in saying, "Let's write about Women's Studies." So in that article I was able, I think, to explain what the program was about, to look at young women in the context of the current times and to look at women in general, and to also present myself as a rational, thinking human being. The image of the feminist, and that was a word I almost dared not use because it was so threatening to most people, the image of the feminist at that time was the image of Bella Abuzg and Betty Freidan with a little bit of Gloria Steinam thrown in, but mostly Bella and Betty, both of whom are wonderful human beings. I had opportunities to spend lots of time with them later on. But that was the image that the male had of what a feminist was, an aggressive, hard talking individual, who was so fixed in ideas that nothing would ever change her. So that as I presented myself in my own very traditional way, then I think that somehow I was less threatening, and that notion of I'm a product of the South, I'm a product of the culture of the South, and I'm concerned about the status of women and the economic future for young women in the state and in the South. That article, I think, was a very positive contribution to the image of Women's Studies and was followed three weeks later by a request from President Friday of the General Administration for me to be his guest on "North Carolina People," which is a thirty minute television show that comes on on Sunday evenings and has been coming on for ten years. That was a very popular program, and I was delighted to have the opportunity. I was confronted with a dilemma though. Bill Friday is a long term friend of mine. I've known Ida and Bill since I've been in Chapel Hill. He was an excellent manager and leader of general administration but he had not a single woman on his staff. So part of my task, I felt, was almost to make sure that I could educate him as to what the Women's Movement was all about and why women should learn about themselves and why women should be represented in all positions. So I was concerned about how to work within the context of a friendship but, at the same time, help him to understand the basic philosophy and rationale of the Women's Movement and of Women's Studies. Well, the interview was very easy and very pleasant to do, and it was very exciting for me to think that I might be speaking to parents and young people across the state about a program that was sound and valid and appropriate to the education of young women. When Bill asked me the question, very seriously—and I should say he is a splendid interviewer, he's never threatening, he puts you at ease and does everything possible to pull out what you want to say and what you're interested in—when he asked me the question, "Mary Turner, why do women want to work?" I suddenly realized that was my opportunity, and I responded by saying, "Bill, I think women want to work for the same reasons that you and I want to work. Look at the wonderful attributes of the jobs that we have. All of the things we enjoy in terms of money, rewards, power, interaction with people," on and on. So I didn't know how well I did that until a professor in journalism told me some time later that she used that film to represent how an interviewee can control the interview. I was grateful, or it was interesting at least, that she thought that was pretty much what I was doing. So those two pieces of publicity, I think, were very significant. I think they said to people in South Building, the public is interested in this, and this can be treated in an academic way that is appropriate. I think that the television program certainly indicated that President Friday was interested enough to spend some time on that. Not long after that I was asked to speak to the Faculty Council. The council was doing a series of short presentations on new programs, and that gave me twenty minutes to describe what was happening. I saw to it that many female colleagues attended that day. So at least there was interest on the part of faculty women in that. This resulted in a write-up in the University Gazette and in the Alumni News. So those were very simple ways, perhaps, but I think they were effective. I volunteered to go to alumni meetings across the state. I learned that most of those meetings invited Dean Smith and the football coach. It really wasn't until Doris Betts came along as chairman of the faculty that alumni groups began inviting academic representatives, it seemed to me. So I volunteered to go because I spoke with Rollie Tillman, I believe, who was arranging those meetings—he was in hospital development—that I would be happy to do that. I never received an invitation to go. But that would certainly have been a way to do it.