Each year during Women's History Month, we tend to honor suffragists, Eleanor Roosevelt, "Rosie the Riveter" and outstanding women in the arts. We easily overlook the women close to home who had an influence on our way of life today.
Last year at this time, those of us who attended the President's Commission on the Status of Women's panel of emeritus women were fascinated by their reflections on their early days at Emory. Because two of these pioneering faculty women-Lore Metzger and Dora Helen (Do, pronounced "doe") Skypek-died in the past year, I am especially aware of the important roles that women have played in the recent history of this University.
I would like to share some of the stories that Lore, Do and others told me-and ones that I witnessed-in hopes of stimulating readers to recall their perspectives on "the women before us" who helped to make Emory what it is today. Perhaps some would like to gather together to fill in names and anecdotes and to add other stories that complement this picture-or set my recollections straight.
Lore and Do and others who came to Emory as faculty in the 1960s characterized the environment as paternalistic and without procedures. There were no affirmative action policies for hiring, which was then done through informal-mostly male-networks. There was no monitoring of pay inequities: Do was told she was paid less because her husband made a good salary. Faculty were beholden to kind chairs and deans who "looked out" for them.
Women tended to be in revolving door appointments, as instructors or assistant professors who left before tenure. The few who stayed were usually the only women in their departments for years. I've always marveled that despite isolation and loneliness, those early women faculty carried on with distinction and good humor. Several had attended or taught at women's colleges, where they observed women professors, but once at Emory they had to write or rewrite the script on their own.
Things changed in the 1970s. More women faculty were hired. As chapter president of the American Association of University Professors, Lore appointed a committee that called an open meeting of women faculty and staff in the upstairs of the old Cox Hall. It was an electrifying experience where women from Emory College, the medical school, the law school and Candler came together to share stories of frustration, hurt and anger that they had borne in isolation.
That spring day in 1974, the Emory Women's Caucus came into being. We left with a determination to lobby for an affirmative action plan that covered women. What also came out of that meeting was the beginning of many lasting friendships.
For the remainder of the '70s, the informally organized Emory Women's Caucus met over brown bag lunches, identified problem areas, planned strategies, created a legal defense fund and heard from a variety of speakers. Caucus efforts were instrumental in the appointment of a 33-member, universitywide committee to write an affirmative action plan that covered women as well as other underrepresented groups.
After the University adopted an affirmative action plan, committees were established to provide important leadership. Additionally, the caucus developed the plan for what became the President's Commission on the Status of Women, lobbied administrators to address pay equity and child care issues and worked as advocates for a number of individual women who had been terminated or denied tenure. The Dora Helen Skypek files in Special Collections at the Woodruff Library contain copies of caucus newsletters, for those who would like to learn more.
If the '70s were the era of the Women's Caucus, I tend to think of the '80s as the era of women's studies at Emory. Earlier, a small group of women faculty met periodically to hear one another's research, providing support and encouragement.
It was in the mid '80s following Lore's initiative, however, that another group of women faculty began meeting on a regular basis to share new feminist research in their respective fields. Reading and discussing articles in this ad hoc interdisciplinary group, it became apparent that there was a vast amount of new scholarship. It was time to work for a women's studies program at Emory.
One advantage to being late in initiating such a program was that we could benefit from the experiences of other programs around the country. To avoid the marginalization that has occurred on many campuses, it was decided that all appointments would be joint and that faculty would hold tenure in a department rather than in women's studies.
Over time, the program at Emory grew into an undergraduate major and later added a graduate program, now one of the few women's studies doctoral programs in the country.
The most recent addition is the Emory Women's Center. Following two highly publicized rape cases, the president appointed the Ad Hoc Committee on Security and Responsibility, which looked into diverse matters such as public safety, communications and community. One of the recommendations of that committee was that Emory open a women's center that would serve students, staff and faculty. That recommendation is now a reality, although the center remains housed in a "temporary" trailer.
Emory is a different place than it was when I came as a new assistant professor in 1973, and not merely because of buildings, money and new faces. It is a better place because of women such as Lore Metzger and Do Skypek, who saw inequities and injustice and decided to act to change them. They stood in solidarity with those they felt had been wronged. They worked long hours writing petitions, reasoning with administrators and colleagues and serving on endless committees (Lore reported serving on 13 in one year!). Through such work, the early women developed friendships and a sense of community. As new generations at Emory face different challenges, I hope they too will nurture bonds of relationship.
Women's History Month reminds me that we have inherited much from those who went before us. I would like to see us capture some of the narratives of those who are still with us as part of an oral history project. But most importantly, I feel we have a responsibility to carry on their good works in the new Emory they helped build.
Carole Hahn is professor of educational studies.
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