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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 >>

Mary Turner Lane's dedication to women's studies and women's issues

While in retrospect O'Connor has great respect for Mary Turner Lane, the first director of the women's studies program, she was disappointed at the time by the way Lane handled the administrative side of the position.

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.

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MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: I noticed, too, that Mary Turner Lane was listed on this list, and I should mention her because, of course, she played a very important role on this committee. She was the person, as I remember, who actually put together the most important, the most time-consuming part of the report, and that was to look at other campuses and gathering up materials. Eventually, she published that in a journal, as a separate, a broader consideration of Women's Studies. But she spent a great deal of time and energy on this, and as a result, of course, of this recommendation, I was on another committee to look for a Chair of Women's Studies, and we were very fortunate to get Mary Turner to agree to serve with us. We did not have to look outside the University, so it was just going to be a search on campus and …
What were the specifications? What was the job description? What were you looking for in a director? MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: I think that's an important issue because things have really changed now. I remember that we were using as a guide to the job description the way that American Studies, one of the more recent curricula at the University, the way that it was organized. We, the committee, would describe it to potential candidates as, "Well, this will be similar to the American Studies Program, and this is the way it works." And so we used some overviews that had been put together, I believe, as a matter of fact, for affirmative action and for our affirmative action report, or just sort of how it's structured and material like that. They have a director. At that time, Joy Kasson, was full time, and she didn't have another appointment in a department, but we saw it as half-time in Women's Studies and half-time in a department.
Just as a matter of funding or did you see this as an advantage, to be grounded and connected with a department? MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: I remember these are all issues that we went over so often, and I had just finished looking at my own possible directions for the expansion of the proposed course that I put in, as Appendix E of that report, and I said that the position should be budgeted as full time in Women's Studies and if departmental affiliation is desired by the board and the director, that department should receive the services of the director with no loss of funds from the departmental budget. I saw it that way so that it would be a gift rather than subtracting half-time from a faculty member. The University does not handle the appointment that way, and I'm not sure if that's even a possibility, but I think it's kind of a pity. I would like to see the directors, as a matter of fact, have the freedom to decide to affiliate or not to affiliate. There are advantages for someone who is trained in a discipline since there are very few ways that one can get a Ph.D in Women's Studies. I believe, as a matter of fact, Sarah Lawrence might do that for you in Women's History, and there might be a couple of places, but it's very unusual and very hard to establish yourself with that kind of, with a degree that isn't recognized all over. So we knew we probably were going to get somebody with a degree that was terminal in their own area, but we felt that they would feel stronger if they were accepted by a department as well, that they would feel this kind of strength.
So that someone would maintain their involvement with their major field as a career matter. MARGARET ANNE O'CONNOR: As well as Women's Studies. It is becoming more of a problem, I think. I do think that perhaps I've been at meetings where people have been asked, "Are you going to see yourself as someone in English and also Women's Studies, or Women's Studies and also English?" A battle back and forth, and I think that is a problem, but I would like those problems to be resolved at the point of hiring, not at another level, so that someone doesn't find themselves in an untenable position after they've come. I think it's fair for us to bring them out into the open earlier. When Mary Turner was appointed, I was under the impression--I was on the search committee--that we were looking for a half-time director who would teach the Women's Studies 50 course. When Mary Turner accepted the position, it was on the premise that she not have teaching responsibilities. She taught her regular course load, virtually, in the School of Education, and Joan Scott taught the course. I was disappointed, and that, I must say, is the only way I really felt disappointed in Mary Turner's commitment. She did quite a bit of the groundwork and administrative work that was absolutely vital to the course, so again, now when I can revise my feelings, I think that perhaps I was disappointed unfairly. There was no clear description that said, "This person shall teach this number of courses. This person shall have office hours." Today we have those, and I do think these have been responses and changes to the whole idea of affirmative action, whether the job is filled by a male or a female. We've all profited from a kind of accountability that the government has pushed on us at one level, and writing down the job descriptions made us think about the requirements in a way that, I think, provides more fairness. When we first did this, no, it was not that clear cut.