Emeritae faculty cite changes, urge continued concern

According to a panel of emeritae faculty, there have been many changes in the way women faculty have been treated at Emory over the years. However, they said, those changes are fragile and need to be protected and preserved. The panel discussion, "Pioneering Voices: Emeritae Women Speak," was held on March 27 as part of Women's History Month.

Panel member discussed their experiences as early female employees of Emory and their perceptions of the way women were treated on campus. Following the individual narratives, moderator and Educational Studies Professor Carol Hahn asked the women to tie together common themes from their monologues in a discussion format, then allowed audience members to offer their own insights and experiences.

Betty Edwards, professor of anatomy emeritus in the School of Medicine, said she "came to Emory during the war, in 1943. I found out I wanted to be a teacher after I worked in the lab for a couple of years." Noting a definite change since that time, she said, "We didn't talk about women's needs at Emory until 1974."

Elizabeth Stevenson, Candler Professor of American Studies Emeritus, began her Emory career in 1960 as a secretary, a position she held for 14 years before taking a faculty appointment in the Institute of the Liberal Arts, where she taught for 12 years. "In 1960 I was able to see women in achievement roles on campus. I remember how aghast men were at the possibility. I learned something about living in a community with fierce agreements and disagreements that still held itself up as a community," said Stevenson, who retired in 1986.

Lore Metzger, Candler Professor of English and Comparative Literature Emeritus, "came as a visiting professor in 1967. I was struck at how they hired me. They lost a person in the field, and the men in the department called their buddies at other universities. One man called one of my former collegues. In my case, the good-old-boys network resulted in the first female appointment in the college as a full professor," said Metzger.

"My sense of Emory in 1967 was that the community modeled a plantation," she said. "There was paternalism, idiosyncratic decision-making, and no processes that ensured equal and just treatment. You trusted them to make the right decisions." Metzger, who retired in 1992, also said that at that time Emory was "less concerned with women than the war in Vietnam. There were more important issues to be addressed, such as civil rights. Women were invisible minorities at Emory even though they made the place run."

Donna Brogan, who was hired in the School of Medicine in 1971, also "had an impression of Emory as paternalistic. I was the only woman out of seven department members. My boss used to say that our department was overrepresented with women, since I represented 14 percent of the department, and the average was 8 or 9 percent."

In 1980, Brogan became the fourth female to attain the status of full professor in the medical school and was the only woman in her department until the late 1980s. "In 1990," she said, "I left to form the School of Public Health," and was the only woman in the school at that point "above the rank of assistant professor."

"Some incidents are amusing if you have a perverse sense of humor," Brogan said. "At meetings I was asked, `What field of statistics is your husband in?'" She said that until 1971, fringe benefits such as free tuition to the children of Emory employees went to males only. "They weren't available to female faculty members unless you had a lot of documentation that you were the sole financial source in your household."

Hahn noted the common threads within each narrative. "The themes in these individual monologues express isolation, paternalism and women who were brought into temporary roles, which resulted in a revolving door." She cited the beginning of the Women's Caucus in 1973 as a time when "many of us found one another." The Caucus, which continued until 1982, lobbied for various concerns such as appointments to committees and child care.

Hahn brought a tape recording of the late Educational Studies Professor Emeritus Dora Skypek, who had intended to participate in the discussion, but died on Feb. 14. Skypek said on the recording that women on campus had "problems with feeling silent, not heard."

"We were fraught with anxiety," Metzger said. "They taught women not to take an active role in trying to change the system."

"I was lucky to come in during the turmoil of the 1960s. It was a stimulating and creative period," Stevenson said. "Out of that movement, [concern over women's issues] started and naturally grew from that atmosphere." However, she warned, "The atmosphere has turned around. Be on the lookout, or the attempt to put women in their place will happen again."

One audience member told the audience about questioning a salary inequity in her department three years ago. "The department said, `Well, your husband is working, isn't he?' Unequal pay is definitely continuing," she said.

"Maybe when we realize that the laws are fragile we'll go back to grassroots activism," said Women's Center Director Ali Crown. "Many policies that we've come to rely on are very threatened right now."

-- Danielle Service

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