Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Women on campus, Bentley Historical Library
(Image: Bentley Historical Library.)

Women: Yesterday and today

By Susan Thwing
.

Audio history illustrates changing times

Women on campus, Bentley Historical Library

(Image: Bentley Historical Library.)

Edith Croak, Class of 1963, describes why she came to the University of Michigan when an education was only part of her reason:

“It was very clear to me that the message was ‘get married and create a family: three or four kids.’ But, I look back, and I realize that I’d been given another message all the way along in terms of my mother’s own example. She was a woman of ability. She had quite a responsible position when she became engaged and got married.”

Fast forward to Mira Shane, Class of 2017:

“I would definitely say that, even though I do think of maybe meeting a possible spouse here, I came to college for me and for my career and what it can offer me later in my life as an individual and hopefully an empowered woman.”

These contrasts are just a few of those presented in the audio/video series Women on Campus: Changes, Choices, and Community, developed by the University Unions and the Michigan League.

Created in celebration of the Michigan League’s 75th Anniversary in 2001, the Friends of the League, working with Enid Galler, interviewed alumnae from the 1920s through the 1960s. They discussed activities at the Michigan League, living arrangements, social life on campus, interest in national and world events, and the benefits of a U-M education.

In 2013, Peter Zubulake, a School of Information master’s degree student, digitized the audio-cassette interviews for use in the Michigan League and Bentley Historical Library archives. Last year, Sarah Shelby, LSA-Screen Art & Cultures Class of 2017, combined the audio interviews with videos of today’s female student leaders. The juxtaposition of their answers tells an enlightening story of how much things have changed — and how some things have stayed (almost) the same.

Women on campus: Changes


 

Then…

Lorene Wagar, Class of 1929:  Of course in those days a girl couldn’t get into the Union. You had to go in with an escort, and you had to go in the side door. You couldn’t go in the front door.

Interviewer: What did you think about that?

Lorene: Well, those were the rules. I’m not one to challenge too much (laughter).

Aileen Schulze, Class of 1950: Well, we had to sign in and out. And during the week, you couldn’t stay out past 10:30 and on the weekends it was 12:30, I believe. We had to act like ladies (laughter).

Interviewer: How did you feel about those rules? Did it ever occur to you that…

Aileen: No, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the men didn’t have to be in by any certain time and the women did (laughter). I don’t know. That’s just the way life was then.

Share your thoughts and memories in the comments section below.
Edith Croak, Class of 1963: It was rather subtle, almost invisible. No one in my graduating class (laughter), so far as I know, aspired to be anything other than a teacher or a nurse or a secretary. It was just so different then. Of course, I knew it was a woman’s profession. My mother and two of her three sisters were nurses and I didn’t consciously say, I’m a woman and I’m going into a woman’s profession. I just always thought of myself as being a nurse. No one had suggested any differently.

Susan Johnson, Class of 1965:  He thought that whatever I did I should get a degree in education because that was something that would be good for a woman. And I said, “No, I have no interest in being a teacher,” and he said, “You’re a woman. What do you think you are going to do with chemistry as your major?” And that was the first time that I stepped back to think that those things that I thought were really exciting — nuclear physical theory, whatever — required a PhD. Somehow that wasn’t in my construct of the time, so at the end of my freshman year, I went back to more general studies in LSA and started looking for another direction.

…and now

Adedolapo Adeniji, Class of 2017, International Studies Major, Detroit Entrepreneurship Network Member, Program for Intergroup Relations Program Coordinator, UROP Peer Advisor: There’s something to be done in terms of pushing women into STEM fields. Either because of how women felt in high school (or before that) or how women start feeling in college, there’s this idea that we can’t do STEM fields. But I know a lot of women who are capable to be the best in math, to be the best in the life sciences and the health sciences.

Contemporary women of science

Rhonda Jack, a chemical engineering doctoral student and Sunitha Nagrath, associate professor of chemical engineering, discuss results from a cancer cell detection device. (Credit: Joseph Xu.)

Grace Wan, Class of 2017, Political Sciences Major, United Asian Americans Organization Board Member, President of the Asian Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Ginsberg Center Student Advisory Board Member: A lot of disciplines, I think STEM disciplines, as well as even Poli Sci for sure, are very male-dominated. And I think in those learning environments sometimes it’s difficult as a woman to speak up when you know that a lot of your male peers are just going to be raising their hand first. It always feels uncomfortable.

Allison Kurlak, Ross School of Business Class of 2017, Ross Career Services Peer Coach: It does frustrate me when someone glazes over my opinion and doesn’t give me a little bit of credit. You can’t help but think it’s your gender when it’s a guy doing it.

Florence Rivkin, Class of 2017, Organizational Studies Major, Community Action and Social Change Minor, Organizer of Women’s March on Washington: I’m not STEM but I have friends in STEM and they say that it’s really crazy that they are the only girl in a huge lecture.

Chandani Wiersba, Class of 2017, Public Policy Major, President of Yoni Ki Batt, Vice President of Women and Gender in Public Policy: I think [we need more] women of color, queer women, women who are not Christian, women who are immigrants. It’s important to understand social identities intersect, and we need to see women of color like ourselves so we can have role models.

Adedolapo Adeniji: There’s a space for you here, there are people here, and maybe that starts from having more women teach those classes, so that people are OK with going to those classes ’cause they think they can become those women. There are some women that I look up to in different departments, that are the heads of departments. OK, I can be a professional like you one day, I can be a learner like you one day, because I can see them.

Women on Campus: Choices


 

Then…

Interviewer: It’s interesting that all three of you met your husbands as students and married very shortly after you graduated.

Alumna: It was pretty much a pattern in those days.

Alumna: It certainly was.

Suzanne Meyer, Class of 1935: I always had jobs but I never had a career. Henry was on a nine-month appointment and I wasn’t looking for a full-time job, ’cause I worked with students and international things at the University.

Evelyn Alix, Graduated 1930s: Well, I got a job immediately with the Detroit Children’s Aid Society, but I made sure it was that close to Ann Arbor because Neree was still here. He was furious when he found out I was going to graduate in February. So, I guess I planned to use my degree — and I did off and on, and then later in life.

Women in classroom, Bentley Historical Library.

(Image: Bentley Historical Library.)

Interviewer: Dorothy, you married on graduation day.

Dorothy Novi Wilson, Class of 1939: Yes, and my husband was one year behind me so I took a graduate year, rather deliberately.

Edith Croak, Class of 1963: It was very clear to me that the message was, “Get married and create the family, three or four kids.” But, I look back and I realize that I’d been given another message all along in terms of my mother’s own example. She was a woman of ability. She had quite a responsible position when she became engaged and got married. She was in training to be a hospital administrator. When she gave up that position, and although she never complained, it was so clear to me, in looking back, she should have had a professional outlet. She did an enormous amount of volunteer work and did it very capably.

Susan Johnson, Class of 1965: Marriage was the preferred route for women; you could have careers but it should be alongside your family or as part of that. Women didn’t sacrifice family or make the option to do that instead of family.

…and now

Chandani Wiersba, Class of 2017, Public Policy Major, President of Yoni Ki Batt, Vice President of Women and Gender in Public Policy: I definitely came to college for my career, but more for my education — not specifically wanting a degree just so I can get a job but also wanting a degree because it educates me in a way that just stepping out of high school wouldn’t educate me.

Florence Rivkin, Class of 2017, Organizational Studies Major, Community Action and Social Change Minor, Organizer of Women’s March on Washington: I came here for a career, for sure. Even though my parents did meet here. So, that was definitely talked about to me (laughter).

U-M wildlife ecologist Nyeema Harris

U-M wildlife ecologist Nyeema Harris completes the installation of a “camera trap” at the U-M Biological Station. (Image: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.)

Hannah Caywood, Class of 2017, Honors English, Ross School of Business, Member of Opportunities to Educate Children, Women’s Club Water Polo: I definitely came to college for my career. Ever since I was a kid, my Mom has worked in the business world. I’ve always grown up with a really positive female role model and I’ve looked to her for guidance throughout life. I always focused on going to Michigan for my career, but it’s interesting to look back only a short time ago to see that that might not have been an option for some women.

Grace Wan, Class of 2017, Political Sciences Major, United Asian Americans Organization Board Member, President of the Asian Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Ginsberg Center Student Advisory Board Member: No, I did not come to college for my marriage. I did come to college for my career.

Allison Kurlak, Ross School of Business Class of 2017, Ross Career Services Peer Coach: Definitely career, yeah, not marriage at all (laughter).

Mira Shane, Class of 2017, African American Studies Major, Women’s Lacrosse Goalie, Social Chair of 58 Greene A Capella: Even though I do think of maybe meeting a possible spouse here, I came to college for me and for my career and what it can offer me later in my life as an individual and hopefully an empowered woman.

Women on campus: Community


 

What advice would you give to younger generations attending Michigan?

Marylen Oberman, Class of 1958: Take advantage of everything that this University offers. It’s huge. It’s much bigger now than when I first started. But when I first started, it was big to me. Go beyond classes, look at activities on campus, become involved, care about people, and find out what’s going on.

Peggy Laird, Class of 1945: Well that she would broaden her understanding of people from every walk of life. That she would learn many new things that she hadn’t thought about before. I’m sure there are courses which even the best of high schools cannot offer that she would get here. And that she would find, through guidance and through the courses she takes, what she really would like to do with her life.

How have you benefited from being at the University of Michigan?

Chandani Wiersba, Class of 2017, Public Policy Major, President of Yoni Ki Batt, Vice President of Women and Gender in Public Policy: Being in an organization like Yoni Ki Batt helps me figure out what I’m passionate about and what I want to do post-college.

Did you have a female role model or mentor at U-M? Share your experience in the comments section below.
Adedolapo Adeniji, Class of 2017, International Studies Major, Detroit Entrepreneurship Network Member, Program for Intergroup Relations Program Coordinator, UROP Peer Advisor: Optimize, DEN, IGR, UROP, and the Ginsberg Center all opened their doors wide for me. They all had mentors for me. I even have pseudo-mentors via MESA and Trotter, which really shaped my experience at U-M. Everything has been so interconnected, and I felt at home in all of those spaces.

Allison Kurlack, Ross School of Business Class of 2017, Ross Career Services Peer Coach: I think it’s opened up my eyes to a lot of different types of people. U-M can be somewhat of a bubble but it has made me realize there are so many different types of people out there with different backgrounds, different types of family life. It makes me more accepting of others and also opens your eyes to things that need to be fixed.

Mira Shane, Class of 2017, African American Studies Major, Women’s Lacrosse Goalie, Social Chair of 58 Greene A Capella: Even through some of the turmoil that we’ve seen over the past couple months, it’s inspiring to be at a place like this with a lot of different opinions.

Hannah Caywood, Class of 2017, Honors English, Ross School of Business, Member of Opportunities to Educate Children, Women’s Club Water Polo: I think reflecting on where Michigan was and the time our parents came here, even our grandparents if they attended college, it’s really important to think about the positive change that’s occurred and what we can do as students, as members of the community, to facilitate positive change in the future.

Mira Shane: I don’t know where I would be without 58 Greene and my lacrosse team just in terms of that empowerment, that love that is able to fuel me, to keep pushing to take my degree to the next level. I have these great conversations with people that really care about what matters.
 
 
This content is reprinted courtesy of the Michigan League (Top image: Bentley Historical Library.)

Susan Thwing

SUSAN THWING is a public relations writer and content producer in marketing communications at U-M.