Emory Report
March 30, 2009
Volume 61, Number 25



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March 30
, 2009
Students tap stories of pioneering women

By Carol Clark

At first, a lot of the discussions in the “Gender, Justice and the Environment” seminar “felt like male bashing,” recalled John Roberson III, a senior majoring in environmental studies. In the end, the course challenged him to think about the role women have played in the power structure of society and in his own life.

When it came time to capture the story of a woman who helped transform the Emory community, Roberson thought of his aunt, Eva Wilcox. She started off working in food services in 1954. “She took night classes, learned how to type and operate a computer,” Roberson said. She went on to become the first African American woman hired to a staff position in Emory’s registrar’s office.

Wilcox was one of 11 “pioneering” women who were honored during Women’s History Month in a project called “Breaking Boundaries: Oral Histories of Women of Emory.” The project grew out of the seminar taught in environmental studies by Ellen Spears, instructor, and a similar course in women’s studies, taught by Mary Odem, associate professor of history and women’s studies.

Sixteen students from these classes recorded oral histories of women who launched the Women’s Studies program and helped it grow into one of the best in the country, nurtured sustainability initiatives, and broke racial and gender barriers at Emory. The students recently gathered at the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library to formally present their recordings and transcripts to the University Archives, and to publicly thank their research subjects for their contributions to the community.

“I had an emotional investment — I was telling someone’s story that I had met and sat down with,” said Shayne Sebold, a senior majoring in women’s studies, who interviewed Carole Hahn, Candler Professor in educational studies, about her role in forming the Emory Women’s Caucus.

The other honorees included:

• Delores P. Aldridge, Grace T. Hamilton Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, the first director of the African American Studies program

• Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, who helped establish the first feminist studies program at Emory

• Martine Brownley, Goodrich C. White Professor of English, director of the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, and a past director of women’s studies

• Saralyn Chestnut, former director of the Office of Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Life

• Robyn Fivush, Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Psychology, and a past director of women’s studies

• Pat Marsteller, director of the Center for Science Education, who has worked for academic policies that encourage women in the sciences

• Patricia Owen-Smith, professor of psychology, who helped establish the women’s studies program at Oxford

• Mandy Schmitt, a graduate of Emory College and the law school, who went on to become director of sustainability initiatives for the city of Atlanta

• Frances Smith Foster, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Women’s Studies, who early in her academic career in California became part of the movement for African American studies and women’s studies.