This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
April 24, 2003
18 pages Open
Pages 1-3: Lubin discusses her interest in women's studies and relates why she felt
the establishment of a Women's Studies program was so important. Lubin describes
the various individuals that emerged and took the initiative to get a Women's Studies
program started at the University of Florida in 1977. Lubin goes on to describe the
process for establishing the program, including hiring staff, establishing a curriculum,
and going before the University Senate.
Pages 4-6: Lubin talks about the opposition the Women's Studies program
encountered from the very beginning. Lubin analyzes the reasons behind the
resistance from both men and women in establishing this new discipline. Lubin
describes the University's initial "hands-off' attitude in supporting the Women's Studies
program. Lubin points out the importance of the Association of Women Faculty, as it
had many of the same members as the Women's Studies program, played a crucial
political role, and used its data collection and analysis to influence university
Pages 7-9: Lubin describes the process of developing the curriculum as the program
itself was being established. Lubin states her initial role was as a class consultant for
the Women's Studies program. Lubin discusses the obstacles she faced as an
African-American woman involved with an, at least initially, white, middle-class women's
organization. Lubin compares the first students of the Women's Studies program to
those involved with the discipline today.
Pages 10-12: Lubin examines the role of minorities in the Women's Studies program
and concludes that minorities are not involved to the point they should be today. Lubin
talks more specifically about her direct role in the Women's Studies program, including
specific courses and programs she suggested the program implement. Lubin states
her views on the current state of the Women's Studies program at UF and gives
suggestions for where she would like to see it move in the future. Lubin discusses the
change in public perception of Women's Studies from the 1970s to today. Lubin says
the scholarly community has evolved into thinking that Women's Studies is a significant
Pages 13-15: Lubin points out the feminist thinkers and authors who had the greatest
influence on her life and career. Lubin describes her childhood as one of great
independence, and she relates that background to her interest in feminist thinkers and
Women's Studies. Lubin discusses her active involvement in the Civil Rights
movement as a mother, student, and faculty member.
Pages 16-18: Lubin discusses comparisons between the struggle for civil rights and
the struggle for gender rights and concludes that, for her, the two issues are very
difficult to separate. Lubin discusses the evolution of Women's Studies as a discipline
and is pleased with the program's high level of acceptance in today's university
community. Lubin concludes by describing the practical applications of Women's
Interviewee: Mildred Hill-Lubin
Interviewer: Robyn Benkendorf
Date: April 24, 2003
B: I'm here with Mildred Hill-Lubin at her home, and she has agreed to give me
some of her time today to talk about the beginnings of the Women's Studies
Program and her involvement. Thank you very much.
H: You're welcome.
B: Let's start out at the beginning. How and when did you become interested in
women's studies as a discipline?
H: When I came here [to the university] in 1974, there was a great deal of interest
and excitement among the women, and primarily white women. There were not
many black women here. The ones who were here, I don't think were interested
in Women's Studies or any of the women's programs at that time. Actually, we
didn't have a Women's Studies [program]. I know [one group] started meeting at
[one woman's] home. I think I'm going to be bringing two organizations together
in one, but the same women, all of us, were sort of together and interested in
B: So, it was more of a group that came together, not just particular people?
H: There were particular people.
B: As well.
H: I should say this, there was both the Association of Women Faculty [led by
Glenna Carr and Felicity Trueblood] as well as the Women's Studies Program. I
know you're interested in the Women's Studies Program, but all of us were
involved in this [matter of women being more visible at UF]. There was no such
thing as a Women's Studies program in 1974, but there were people talking and
wanting to [improve the situation]. As far as I can recall, Irene Thompson [UF
professor of English; director of Women's Studies Program at UF, 1977-1986]
went to MLA, the Modern Language Association [meeting], shortly thereafter, and
she [returned] quite interested in wanting to start a Women's Studies program
here. She was in the English Department, and so was I, and we started talking
about it, [but] not exactly meeting. At that time, it wasn't a formal affair; it was
just sort of people expressing interest and saying that UF needed a Women's
Studies program. As I recall, [before the program came into existence, many of
us would] speak in classes about women's voices being silenced and [how] we
needed to be heard. I heard [various white women discussing this subject;
therefore], I thought, certainly I want to be [involved] because I want to make
sure that the African-American woman's voice would be heard. So, I stayed
around with the group.
B: But Irene Thompson was sort of the figurehead or the one who really took the
initiative to get it started?
H: Yes, and then there was another woman here. I can't remember her name.
She [had] offered a course on women and healing, Women and Healing I
believe. I participated in that [class]. It was an interdisciplinary course, and that
came, I'm sure, before the Women's Studies Program began. We [also] started
[visiting] various classes [at the request of the institution to talk] about women
and the situation that no one [in Tigert appeared concerned]. At the same time,
there was a book [Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, 1978] that
[came] out by an African-American women named Michele Wallace, I believe her
name was. It had generated a great deal of interest among black women.
Then another book by Toni Cade Bambara called The Black Woman had [been
published]. It came out around the beginning of 1970s. I'm almost sure it was
about that time. [Both] were [writing], Toni Cade Bambara particularly, about how
women were, well, not abused but misused.
B: All women?
H: No, African-American women. Even in the Civil Rights Movement and in the
Black Power Movement, the women did a great deal of work, but when it came
time to give power or assign authority [to the women], the men didn't want to do
it. I think [a] major [statement] that Stokely Carmichael [former Black Panther
Party member and prominent civil rights activist and organizer of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] said, "the best place for a woman is prone."
Of course, that made [many black women] feel really sad. Therefore, I came with
a little bit of energy about this [notion] of women's [place in scholarship and in the
world]. [Regarding the Women's Studies program,] I think Dean [Harry H.] Sisler,
who was the dean of the graduate school at that time, gave money to Irene to do
a preliminary class to see if there would be interest. At the same time as that
happened, she and Ruth McQuown [professor of political science and associate
dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UF, 1961-1974], who was a
major figure in [the movement], nominated me to become an assistant dean in
the graduate school. That was interesting because [I and Carol Van
Hantesveldt] were the first women [hired as administrators] in the graduate
school [although the announcements of out new positions stated the
appointments are not part of the efforts to recruit more women administrators.
We were looking for the best people to do the job.] After [the trial] was held,
interest grew and grew because there [it had been successful]. Therefore, [Irene
and Ruth] they decided that we needed to go to the University senate and ask if
[such a program could be approved]. The men most of them, I'll say were
opposed, [but not all] because as I pointed out, Dean Sisler had given some
money [to Irene] to [teach the] preliminary class. Of course, she had to do it as
an overload. She was in the English Department, and she did it as an overload.
B: So, some of you had to go to the University senate?
H: Yes. Well, the three of us went to the University senate to present this proposal,
Ruth McQuown, Irene Thompson, and myself. Now, Dean McQuown was the
highest ranking woman at the University at that time, and she was an associate
dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Of course, that's where the
Women's Studies Program started. [Ruth] was very tactful in getting things
done and was able to talk about [subjects] in such a manner that people, would
accept [her ideas]. When we went before the senate, [Ruth] did all the talking;
[Irene and I] sat there as support. After a [short] discussion after she finished,
the [Senate] agreed that [the program could be approved], [but] it would be on
probation or something to that effect.
B: On probation meaning on a trial basis?
H: Yes, although we had already had one class on a trial basis, but nevertheless
they had another one. Then at that time, we had to organize what type of
classes we were going to have. I believe at that period we decided we would
have an interdisciplinary course on women. Then, we would also [teach] a
course called Women in Literature because we were in the English Department.
I remember teaching in the interdisciplinary course, and then Irene sought other
professors from various disciplines to teach [in this course too]. I believe there
were about four of us, and we would all teach one section of our particular
B: How was the feedback from those professors she approached? Did anyone turn
her down, or was anyone really against it?
H: No, because, as I said, she selected people out of that group who had
[expressed] interest in [promoting such a program] and who were very much
interested in [being a part of the program]. I don't think anyone turned her down.
We were all excited that we were going to be doing something like that. That's
what we did for a period. I know I may have taught two or three years in the
interdisciplinary class, and then I thought about maybe I'll try to pull in some
more African-Americans. So, I asked another African-American woman, Faye
[Gary-] Harris in nursing [one of the first African-American faculty members in the
College of Nursing, started 1975]. She uses her maiden name Gary. Then she
started teaching in it, too. In other words, she replaced me.
B: She replaced you?
H: Hm-mm [yes]. I wasn't teaching it when she started. She did the portion on
black women. Also, [Irene] had organized the steering committee, and I served
on that for a good while.
B: So, you were involved in all aspects of the program?
H: Yes, I was involved in all aspects of it. I don't know what else to say. That was
the beginning of it.
B: Where was the program's original home on the campus?
H: In the English Department.
B: In the English Department, just took out a little corner over there?
H: At the beginning, as far as I can recall, Irene's office was the first home, and then
finally a room was found and they named that the Women's Studies' office. But at
the beginning, it was in Irene Thompson's office; then a room on the fourth floor
of Turlington, and that's where most [of] the documents [and materials were
stored]. That's as far as I can remember. I know [the program remained in
Turlington for a few years]. [When Irene returned] several [women] came as
directors. Then [the program] moved from the English Department. I think the
second move was maybe [to] the basement of Anderson Hall, and that's where it
was for another] long [period]. But by that time, people were beginning to
accept it much more graciously than they did in the beginning.
B: There were a lot of people against it?
H: The men, they didn't even talk about the Women's Studies Program. There
wasn't that much discussion on it. It was the idea that we'll just ignore [it], [it]
isn't anything that should be in a university curriculum. I don't recall any man
volunteering or participating in it at that time, but I can recall it wasn't a matter of
whether there was a Women's Studies [Program], but [whether] there were
faculty members who would try to teach something in their own discipline. [On
one occasion, when a woman professor gave a lecture on women in a piece of
literature], a male professor [argued that her interpretation was destroying] the
literature and [that she was] just trying to make it fit. They just would [make] all
kinds of [statements and saw our efforts to discuss women was humourous]. We
would be rather discouraged.
B: But you kept on.
H: We kept on. There were many women who were opposed to it, too. I can
recall that. I think about it very much now because I know two women, one of
them I know did get more and more interested while the other never participated
too much in the [concept] of having a Women's Studies Program. She just said,
"bah, there's nothing, I don't want [to do] that." And she has done well. She
has written a great deal, but I don't think she has ever embraced the idea that
Women's Studies is significant. I'm not sure, but I have a feeling that she hasn't.
But there were some women who were opposed to it, [also].
B: Do you have any idea where that opposition would come from, from the women?
H: Well, it is the same issue as anywhere; the idea that it was a change and that it
was something new and it did not belong in the university. It was a fad or it was
something that we had come up with just to come up with a new course. They
didn't seem to be interested that women had not had a voice and that women
had been oppressed. The[se] [traditionalists] had achieved their goals [as
successful professors], and so they felt that all women should follow that path
and not be worried about [being heard]. I think that [these critics believed]
perhaps [women] were [interested in such a professor] trying to find an easy way
out of not doing what people would have considered a stringent or classic
education. For a while the [opponents stated that] all those women are doing
over there is just consciousness raising. And we did have to spend time doing
consciousness raising because there were people who were not interested in it.
But then we moved from consciousness raising to the idea that we are teaching a
discipline, we are really teaching content and material. Well, we always had that
idea in mind, but they [thought] oh, they're over there just talking about
themselves, just giving information that has no merit in a university curriculum.
B: So, was that the thinking of the university as a whole or was there more just a
minority that supported Women's Studies?
H: As far as the University, I'm not so sure what was [their position]. They just had
sort of a hands-off kind of attitude.
B: Just let it die or let it prosper.
H: For the most part, it was really centered around the English Department [and]
Irene Thompson, but there were other disciplines represented in it. For
example, in the interdisciplinary course, there were people from other [colleges]
who taught [sections] in it. I know there was somebody from Education, and I
can't think of her name, either.
B: Just a lot of different disciplines also became incorporated with it.
H: It was a cross-discipline course, and people became interested. It's almost
difficult to talk about just Women's Studies without talking about the Association
of Women Faculty, because practically all of us were involved in both of these
groups and we were trying to promote both areas. The Association of Women
[faculty] was doing it more from a political standpoint of trying to insist that there
should be more women on campus, that we should have more power. They
collected data to show the [lack of women on campus and the] discrepancies [in
salary between men and women having similar accomplishments]. I know one
time there was a big battle over wage differences and pay, and we had to have a
counterpart, a male who had the same qualifications as we and show that we
were making less than this person. The irony of it was that we were the ones
who had to prove [that we were underpaid]. We had to find our counterpart in a
B: You had to prove you were equally qualified.
H: And then prove that we were equally qualified and that we deserved the pay that
this person had.
B: Did anything come out of that from the University side?
H: From the University, yes, they did respond to it. [In addition,] the [university]
created an Office of Women's Concerns or Women's Affairs or something like
that. So, all those things sort of worked together to get us going and getting the
program off its feet and promoting it and advancing it, but at the beginning it was
not easy. The men wouldn't talk. They wouldn't be argumentative. I didn't find
them argumentative. In a sense, some of them were, but they were just like, oh,
that's nothing. What is this? It was just that kind of attitude that nothing was
going on of significance in this program. That was the primary attitude. After
the Association of Women Faculty started documenting all of the evidence, I
think the university became a bit more concerned that it needed to do something.
So, from then on, [Tigert] started listening. The [top administrators] had
meetings and listened to the women give reports on what they had discovered.
Now, in the [recent article on the 25th anniversary of Women's Studies], someone
said that a committee in Tallahassee had to approve all courses that were
offered. According to that document, the [individual] said the [purpose for a
Women's Studies program was sent] to Tallahassee and the senate there
[approved it]. I don't know about that, but I know that [eventually all courses
were sent to] Tallahassee for [approval], but at first it was the University senate
that we went to [for approval].
B: Let's talk a little about the curriculum of the program. Aside from that initial
interdisciplinary course and the first one that was around to drum up interest,
what were the initial courses that you guys offered? Were they more
interdisciplinary with the English Department and the Education Department and
all sort of coming together like that?
H: No, we didn't come together. Every two weeks or so, [one person] would teach
on [her] topic. The interdisciplinary course was divided up into sections.
B: Oh, so it was sort of a guest lecturers cycle?
H: Yes, and the Women's Literature course, just one or two faculty members taught
that course. I had an unpleasant experience with that, but I won't talk about [it].
B: Who decided on the curriculum as the program started to expand more? Was it
the group of women faculty?
H: The [steering] committee. Women would submit proposals for courses to the
committee, and then they would approve [them] and state that [a certain] course
[would] be offered at that time. They were offered, I'm not sure exactly how. It
was just like many of the other centers. [An instructor] submitted a course in [her]
department [which treated a topic about women], and then it would be entered
also as a Women's Studies course. That was basically the way that it was done.
B: At the time, you worked as sort of a class consultant for the Women's Studies
H: At the beginning of it, I was a class consultant. This was before the Women's
Studies Program started. I was invited to various classes to talk about Women's
Studies, [especially black women.].
B: This was sort of the drumming up interest period.
H: Yes. I guess it was 1979 or something like that because I was in the dean's office
from 1977 to 1980, so it's sometime in that period. Last year was the twenty-fifth
anniversary, so it must have been 1977, I suppose. [The Women's Studies
Program officially began in 1977.]
B: That sounds right. You said initially Dean Sisler put aside some funds.
H: Well now, that was before 1977.
B: I'm sort of back tracking a little bit here, if that's okay with you.
H: That's okay.
B: The funding came from her initially, but once the program....
H: From the graduate school. [Dean Sisler] was a he.
B: Oh he, excuse me.
H: The first course that I believe Irene taught, Dean Sisler and the graduate school
provided the money for it, and she did it as an overload in the English
Department. The next year, I think, that's when we decided to organize and try
to get it approved by the senate.
B: So, as it grew, you went to the senate and you asked them for more money?
H: Well, we asked the [Senate] to approve it and hope[d] that somebody would then
[give] funds. I don't know who gave the money but because it was in the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I assume that we got money from the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I think most of us taught] it as an
overload. We would have our regular assignments, but we were willing to take
on that extra class just to make sure that Women's Studies would get up and
B: How did the Women's Studies advisory program work? Was each advisory
member an individual unit, or did you all sort of work as a group with input?
H: We worked as a group. We would meet regularly and have a discussion about
what was going on and what needed to go on.
B: Who took the Women's Studies courses initially, when they were first offered?
What type of student was it?
H: That was interesting. There were many young women who were interested, and
they enrolled, but at the same time there were men who would enroll. They
were there just to...
B: See what it was?
H: And also to be antagonists and to cause disruptions and [make] problems in the
B: How did you deal with that?
H: Oh, my. We would try to answer the [agitators] as best we could because we
knew that was what [they were doing], that they were trying to discredit the
classes. You never knew when they came in whether they were coming in really
serious [or not]. I won't say that it was all the time, but for a long time we had a
lot of trouble with men coming in just to be there to disrupt the class. Then
finally, there were some men who became interested. Black women definitely
did not want the title of feminist. That was one of the [reasons] that many black
[students participated in the program.] Then finally, Alice Walker [author] came
along with the term "womanism," and that opened the way a little for black
women, but they were not interested [very much]. I suspect that even today,
many black women would not declare themselves as feminists [they believed in
equality of men and women, but had other reasons] or even womanist
[respecting women beyond the boundaries of race or class]. I know I moved to
womanist myself. There was this notion that [feminism] was a middle-class, white
woman's organization and that [white women] were not eager to answer some of
the needs or try to find out and answer the needs of black women, that they just
didn't have those concerns.
B: How did diversity fit into the program if it was initially a white, middle-class
H: Well, that was the notion that people had, and it was basically [true]. I was
practically the only black woman who at that time even went to any of the
meetings or tried to listen. I had some rather hurtful moments at times because
things would be said that I didn't like because they didn't take into consideration
that I was both black and a woman, but I stayed on in there. I do recall I went on
sabbatical in 1980 and shortly after I came back, I believe [the program was] by
that time, in Anderson [Hall], and I can't remember whether it was Helga Kraft [or
someone else] who was the director, but I wrote a letter saying that I didn't want
to be on the advisory committee anymore. I thought that they needed to get
some more black [women] instead of myself always being there.
B: Did you feel you had to sort of jump through a few more hurdles because of your
race as well as your gender?
H: Oh, yes. Quite often I'd have to do that, very much so. One was a very big one,
but I don't want [to] talk about it.
B: I respect your privacy. So, we were talking a little about the students who took
the program initially. What sort of student do you think takes Women's Studies
H: Oh, I think most of them now are serious and they would like to see Women's
Studies, Women and Gender Studies, grow into a big field and be respected by
everybody. At one while there, Women's Studies programs [at other
universities] were closing down, but [the one at UF] stayed alive. There were
Women's Studies conferences, and we would go to them. I know I went to one
or two. One at the University of Connecticut, I do remember going to. But again,
[even at the conference] there was division. Many [of the participants whispered
that] only lesbians were taking the classes. They would say things like, oh, the
lesbians are taking over. I mean, these were [women] who were part of
women's studies programs but also had their own feelings about things. They
felt like, oh, my goodness, [the lesbians are taking over]. Quite often, these
were black women. It was very eye-opening to me because I had gone through
the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement, and some of the
same statements that were made in those movements were being made in the
Women's Studies movement.
I have even gone further because I am interested in both African and
African-American literature. At one time, African women and African-American
women were somewhat together in terms of their interests in womanism and
African feminism and black feminism, but then Alice Walker wrote this book
called [Possessing] The Secret of Joy . Then there was a great division
between African-American women in the United States and African women [from
the continent] because [the book] dealt with clitoridectomy [performed in some
African cultures]. Of course, not only African-American women, but there was
anger with white women, too, because many white women decided that they
were going to try to get the African women to speak up and stop [this procedure].
The [white women] did do things like that, and, again, I guess we were not at
that consciousness level where we could feel comfortable answering, but finally
[I] moved to the point to [stress] that oppression is oppression and that we have
to try to get rid of it as much as possible [wherever it exists].
B: Why do you think more minorities became involved in the discipline of Women's
Studies, or do you think they are even involved to the point that they should be
H: I don't think they are completely involved in it now. I [research and] write about
an African woman writer who calls herself an African feminist. By the way,
[African women writers] argue that [African feminism is] different from even
feminism that we know [in Africa]. Now, they will link it in some ways with
womanism. The men in Africa, the critics in Africa, argue that [African women]
borrowed [the idea] from the West, [but] these [writers] say, no, they didn't have
to borrow it from the West. They had seen [female] oppression in their own
countries, in their own homes even, and therefore they had made up their minds
that something had to be done before they [heard] anything about what the
women of the West were doing.
B: Let's get back to the UF program in particular. Were there any specific ideas or
programs that you suggested that they implement, and if so, how successful
were they? I'm talking about programs that you yourself suggested and thought
would be a good idea.
H: Well, I participated in the interdisciplinary course, and that was my idea that the
black woman's voice had to be heard. The other one, I did want to teach a
course in black women writers under the heading of Women in Literature, but
that's where the big fight came.
B: Big fight?
H: Well, the issue was decided that, no, it couldn't be done that way. I couldn't
teach it. That was one of the sensitive issues there. [interviewee requested the
following be inserted: After being denied, later I had the opportunity to teach a
course on Zora Neale Hurston, an outstanding black Florida woman writer who is
associated with the Harlem Renaissance, but her best known work is Their Eyes
Were Watching God, published in 1937. I taught this course under the heading
"Major American Authors." At the time I helped to organize a conference called
"Black Women Against the Odds" through the Institute of Black Culture. We had
three such conferences before the name was changed to "Blacks Against the
Odds." I am sure the name change had something to do with the ambivalence
many blacks have about the focus on women.]
B: What would you like to see the Women's Studies Program do or accomplish in
H: I think it's moving along very well now. The big problem that I think I see now is
that the University will be stable and then we can continue and [other courses
and activities build on the present program]. I think that at this moment,
Women's Studies seems to be doing much better than it has in the past. I think
Angel [Kwolek-Folland, director, Center for Women's Studies and Gender
Research, UF, 2000-present] is giving very good leadership and bringing in as
many diverse groups as possible, working with coalition groups that have the
same [goals]. Oh, did I say that word?
B: Scratch that?
H: I don't want to use the word coalition. I don't know where you stand, but I'm so
sick of that coalition bit from the war effort [of President Bush] that I think it has
lost its meaning [reference to "coalition of the willing" a term Pres. George W.
Bush used to describe the nations that fought aside the United States in the Iraq
war of 2003]. Anyway, I think the [present program is] willing to work with other
groups. I think the content courses are fine. I don't think [the university has]
enough black women [as faculty or involved in the Women's Studies program]. I
have been very impressed with the number of white women who have come into
the university [since 1977] and have become involved in Women's Studies and
are interested in promoting it, but we still don't have enough black women to
work in the field. [Black women appear to continue to be] more interested in
working on race instead of gender, and I understand why, [but I do not think the
two can be separated]. We, as black women, have come to [embrace] the idea
that we have this intersection of race, gender, and [sometimes other oppressive
forces such as age, poverty, etc.] because [this intersection often causes
problems for me because white women colleagues would make statements] that
would almost annihilate me. I couldn't agree because I was both a woman and
a black. If [a person] said things such as, well, blacks seem to be getting better
treatment than women, well, now, I'm both. So, [one] can't [make statements] like
that. Quite often, [I would hear] remarks that would just make me absent,
because I [suffered] both [race and gender discrimination]. By being the only
[black] in the group, it made me feel hurt in many instances that [such statements
were] said. But I think things have changed considerably. Even the idea of
adding Gender Studies, because [now] males [are] in the program. There are
males who are interested in trying to get rid of the patriarchal system and [wish]
to come up with new means of power, [expressing] that there [may] be other
forms of power other than the way that [it has] been [defined] in the past. I think
[Women's Studies/Gender Studies] is a well-established discipline now, that
people accept it, and [have] done a great job [of changing old patterns and
concepts]. I thought, last year as the twenty-fifth-year anniversary. We have a
great program. I'm sorry we don't have as much of the history. I really am
sorry. I don't know what has happened to Irene. I don't know whether she
would even be able to give an interview.
B: Oh, we actually contacted her, but she was too ill.
H: Too old, she couldn't remember it. But she was the major one who came with
the idea, and Ruth McQuown was the one who pushed it. We must give [them]
the credit for that.
B: Let's talk a little bit about the public's perception of Women's Studies.
H: Now or back then?
B: Well, now as opposed to back then. Do you think the views have changed at all?
H: Oh, yes.
B: Do you think the perception now is accurate?
H: We even have Friends of Women's Studies now. We have people, artists,
coming in and putting up exhibit displays in the Women's Studies' office. I think
B: Has really embraced it now, more?
H: Now, I won't say the total community has embraced it, but the scholarly
community or those who are even interested in scholarship and research [on
women] have entered into thinking that [Women's Studies is significant].
[End of side Al]
H: The African Methodist Episcopal Church has always been a bit more open to
women, but it was women who were assertive and were determined that they
were going to go on with their feeling that they were equal to men. If God called
them [to preach], they should have the same right as men. So, [the African
Methodist Episcopal Church ordained women early in history]. At the last
conference, we elected a woman bishop, and [many of us] are very pleased
about that. I don't know whether she calls herself a feminist, but we know she is
a woman, and that made [many of] us feel good [and proud].
B: That's good. You were talking about being a womanist and being a feminist
before. Now, there are some people who think of feminists as really militant,
and in a very negative light.
H: Well, at that time, people did. They thought of it more as man hating. That was
one of the issues. Of course, black women were very much opposed to that
idea. We felt that we could not afford to hate our men. As a matter of fact, they
had almost programmed us at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement that
we were to be there to support the men. We were there to support them, but
then we discovered that they betrayed us a bit afterwards. Then Alice Walker
came up with this [concept from the folk] womanism. [Walker redefined the folk
meaning and], if you look at [her] definition, she meant a whole society. But for
the most part, people talk about it as two equal entities, the liberation of women
and the emancipation of blacks and so on. That was more or less what
womanism stood for [at one time]. Alice Walker had said all along she wanted a
whole people. She liked some men and she liked some women, but she wanted
a whole [society]. Now, the black women writers who are writing now, argue
that we hope we will create a world where there will not be any racism [or "ism"
oppressing anyone]. [Women's Studies] has broadened considerably from the
B: You've been mentioning sporadically several feminist thinkers and such who
have influenced you. Is there any one who you really drew from their views and
such, or several that really influenced you and really struck you?
H: I have always been interested in women who were leaders. I remember in high
school, there was a woman teacher, and she was [the] assistant principal. She
was always on the front line. She was always doing something. She was in
charge of the oratorical contest, or she was in charge of practically everything.
But she wasn't married. So I said to myself, "I would like to be like Miss Walker,
but I want to get married." I remember saying that early. I've been all along
interested in women. In my reading [and research], at first I wasn't interested in
Ama Ata Aidoo, the writer I write about, and African feminism as I was in her
ability to include so much of the oral into the written. For black people, [orality
and feminism are connected]. It's so hard to separate all of these things. Now, I
remember when I first read Michele Wallace, I didn't like her book, but then as
my consciousness increased, I could see where she was coming from. Then at
the same time, there was a play [by] Ntozake Shange, the artist/poet who is [now
on the faculty at UF], For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the
Rainbow Is Enuf. Her play was very popular about this time, and all of these
[factors influenced] me more and more about women and ways to empower
women and especially black women. I thought black women deserved more
attention and recognition.]. I think I've always just been a woman, a person,
who felt independent. As a little girl, I [grew] up during WWII, and at that time
[many items were] rationed. My mother was sick a great deal because she had
so many children; she was just constantly having miscarriages. At that time, I
didn't know what was going on, but I knew that I was able to do things. So, I
would say to her, and I must have been eight or nine years old, mama, I'll go to
the store and get some detergent, or I'll go and get us some sugar. And I had to
ride the bus. We were living in Alabama, and we would have to ride [to
Columbus most often to shop]. Well, I would get the newspaper and wherever I
found [an advertisement stating there was a national item] I would say, "mama, I
can go and get us some." So, she'd let me go.
B: A natural born leader.
H: I was always wanting to get out there, and I would go. It was so interesting
because I was so little. While the crowd was all pulling to try to get the items, I
would go under them and I could get whatever I needed, and I could ride the bus
back home as a young girl. I think I must have said all that in the early [tape],
B: How did the climate growing up, the area around you, sort of influence you? Did
it influence you any in the way of wanting to be a leader and further feminism or
anything like that, or did that all come later?
H: Well, I don't think the term feminism was even around, but I was always around
women who were leaders and they impressed me, and I always said I wanted to
be in that way. Early, I wanted to be a teacher, and I always said I wanted to get
married. Now, I have some reservations about marriage, but I've had two. Not
that I'm opposed to marriage, but it's a hard thing to get two people together to
live together. I just finished [teaching a] book, [Changes: A Love Story] by Ama
Ata Aidoo, and [one of the characters states that in marriage, "one] she said one
them has to be a fool. So, I won't go to that extreme, but I know it's a difficult
process. As she said in the book, [one has] to give up a great deal of self, and
that's hard for me. If you want [a person] to get married, [she does] have to give
up some of [her self]. My husband used to always tell me, oh, you're the
independent one, you're so independent. I said, "well, somebody has to do
[what has to be done]." I didn't see any reason why I couldn't be the one.
B: Let's talk a little bit about the Civil Rights Movement and your involvement. How
did you feel about faculty involvement in civil rights protests? Did you feel as a
member of academia that protesting would affect your status?
H: I was not at the University [of Florida] during the Civil Rights movement. I was
at another college, Paine College [Augusta, Georgia], my alma mater.
Interestingly, I've had a very unusual, erratic life in terms of education. I hate to
tell you when I went to [college]. I went to school way, way back, and then I got
married [at] the end of my sophomore year. I wanted to [go] back to school, and
I asked my husband. [Before we married] he promised me he would let me [go]
back [to college] because I was always determined I wanted to [finish college],
and I didn't even have any money to go to [college], and no one around me [had
any]. That's all in the other one [interview], too, so I don't need to go into all
that. Anyway, what was the original question?
B: How did you feel about members of academia being involved in the protests?
H: I was at a black college, and we didn't have too many faculty members who were
protesting because they were afraid of losing their jobs. Now, I was out there. I
was one of the ones. My son integrated the schools in Augusta, Georgia. At that
time, if you even had an NAACP card, you could almost lose your job if someone
found it out. By my working in a private institution, living on campus, many
[whites] didn't know how to get in touch with me. They found out a few days
before [my son entered] school, and [whites] started calling me on the telephone
and saying they would kill [him] and all that. [They said that] they were going to
kill him. I wrote a letter to myself the night before I carried him to school. [It
stated that if my son was older he could be sent to war and so I sent him
because I believed integrating schools was as important as fighting for one's
country. Bot would mean he was fighting for freedom.] One of the deans, a
male dean, went with me. When we went in [to the college], on each side [of] the
[walk], whites were standing [and we had to go] through, and I was scared. I did
not participate in the sit-ins, but I was in favor of the students doing what they
B: But you kept more of a low profile.
H: I went to all the meetings. See, what happened, I went back to school in 1960,
and that was just the beginning of the Civil Rights movement and the sit-ins and
so on. At that time, I had two sons, and my mother agreed to keep them for me
[so I was able] to go back to school. So, I felt that I [had] better not jeopardize
that [opportunity]. I'd better stay [safe] and try to get my degree. But I would go
to the meetings and give ideas, and the [sit-i students] would come back and tell
what happened. I eventually did march some, and I hate to say it, but I was on
the FBI list at that time, according to people, I was in favor, I thought [blacks]
deserved freedom. We had a difficult time trying to teach during that period, too.
The students didn't come to class very much, but we would go meet the
students. If they were in the student union, [I] would go to the student union; I
would go to the student union and have class. I remember when the CIA would
come to campus recruiting or the FBI, oh, the students would [really protest]. I
was there. I was involved there. By that time, I was a faculty member. I did
eventually march, and my grandmother was so angry with me. She [said], you
can't, you'll get killed and leave your children, and all that. And I said, well, I
hope if I get killed, they will pick up the banner and continue. I was a little smart
B: So, you were very active and sort of pushed for civil rights. What are some of
the differences and similarities, do you think between the struggle for racial
equality and gender equality?
H: Not much for me because, [you] see, I had to do both of them. I think maybe
racial equality is so systematically institutionalized that it's just really hard. You
can see that, it's obvious even on our campus right now, [there are few] black
women [faculty] on campus [in comparison to] white women. Then when [the
university hires black women], [it] doesn't keep them very long because UF
doesn't treat [black women] quite right. Racism is just a big, big problem. But
being a woman now, you've probably heard Shirley Chisolm [first black woman
elected to U. S. Congress, 1968, served until 1982 fighting for labor and women's
rights and for public education; ran for Democratic presidential nomination in
1972] say that she had more problems as a woman and had more gender
problems than she did with race. I'm not quite sure I agree with that. I think
I've had more problems as race. Again, it's very hard for me to separate the
[two]. You don't know whether it's race or [being a] woman when you're being
oppressed. In my situation, I do know, well, no, [I] better not go there. I
understand. I have had it said on both ways. No, it wasn't so much [as] race,
[because] there were other women who were white women who were suffering
along with me. I used to tell this friend of mine. We [both] came [to UF the
same year], and we are retiring together. I used to say to her, "and this, too,
shall pass." [When we] would be so upset [over ill treatment]. [The problem] was
gender [oppression] then because I knew she was involved, but in terms of
myself, it's very difficult for me to make a distinction as to which one [is
changing], except to say that change is so slow. For example, the black
community [has] come around a little with the [knowledge] that we have suffered
from racism, but being a rather religious group, too, we still hold on to this idea
that somehow men need to be the head of the house or we must give men the
dominant role. I don't know whether it's just the religious or whether it's part of
our heritage that has come over because Africa has the same issues. For me,
oppression is oppression, regardless. I don't say you have one better than the
other one, and another better than the other one; it's just a bad thing for us when
we have any type of oppression as far as I'm concerned. I started to say I even
say that about our government.
B: But we won't get into that.
H: We won't get into that.
B: Let's get back to a little bit about Women's Studies and feminism in general. Do
you think men can do Women's Studies?
B: Do you think it's more difficult for them in any way?
H: I would like to think that men can do Women's Studies because if we are talking
about creating a world where we will get rid of gender oppression, the men have
to get involved in it, too; otherwise, we are not going to get there. We can't get
there. We can push and push and push, but the men have to make some
changes, too. It has to be a mental thing, believing that we can do that.
Therefore, I believe there are some men, and I've known some men even here at
the University, who have joined in with the women to try to make a difference.
Yes, I do believe men can be feminist. Although, the term now is losing some of
its power and negativity. We don't talk quite as much about feminism as we
used to, or womanism because the world is getting wider. But I guess it's still
racism, even when we talk about other groups of people. It used to be more or
less black and white. Well, I guess it is black and white because you can see
that in everything.
B: How do you think the discipline of Women's Studies has evolved since its
H: Very well. I think we've come a long way. I think we've overcome numerous
hurdles, and now it's fairly accepted in the university community. That's a major
hurdle. We even have support from the University administration that they will
contribute, too, if they have money. I don't know now what's going to happen
with the new changes in money and [organization], but [Women's Studies] has
been promised that [it] would get new facilities. I think it has evolved very well,
much more than we felt that it would at the beginning.
B: So, you're pleasantly surprised?
H: Yes, and I'm very surprised at the number of white women who have come on. I
didn't even know that many white women were interested in pursuing education.
I think that [the issue addressed in Women's Studies programs and Women's
Liberation and Civil Rights, and the Black Power Movement] [encouraged
women] to even feel that they should go on to [college] and get their degrees,
and they have really done well. I have to give white women [credit] because
they started publishing books. That has been one of the, I think, major
weaknesses in the black struggle. We didn't get as much done, but then, of
course, we have all kinds of barriers to sort of keep us from getting as many
books published. The women, too, had barriers, but they didn't have quite as
many as we [have]. So, they have done very well in getting [material] out, and [I
am exceptionally] pleased [about what] I call the literary renaissance of the
1970s, [a period when] the black women moved ahead, both as artists in terms of
writers and visual artists as well as scholars doing criticism.
I must say that it's a result of the kind of strong movement that came with the
Black Power movement, where [blacks] came through and said, we are going to
stop depending on whites [to] judge our work and beg them to accept us. We
are going to feel good about ourselves and be proud. Of course, the "Black and
Proud" slogan came out, and then there was the change in images that we saw.
I never will forget the first time I went to Africa and saw a billboard with [an]
advertisement of [a] black [woman] on it. It was a great experience. I think I
even brought [the product home]; it was a bar soap, and it had a black face on it.
Well, now you can find [black] images [more in America]. Another thing [that] I
spent a great deal of my time doing [was going] to bookstores asking, "Do you
have any black books?" When are you all going to get black books? The same
is true with art. Early, I went to museums, and I never could find anything on
blacks. But it helped my children. [One of] my sons gives me credit for making
him [appreciate] art now. [He said it is] because I took [my two sons] to museums
when they were small.
B: What do you think the practical applications of Women's Studies are?
H: It allows women to feel that they have rights and that they are able to do and be
equal. It makes another half [of] the human race human. It just does a great
deal for women to come into that realization that [as persons; they may fulfill their
dreams, that they have the right to do so. Therefore, they] go ahead and
[achieve] them. It has done marvelous things for us. Many women may not
realize it, but I think it's been just a watershed in terms of strengthening [the]
confidence of women, getting them in positions and jobs that they never would
have been able to get into. Just almost a miracle in a sense. It's been very
good for women, [it] makes us feel good about ourselves and [to] have a voice.
We still don't, I think sometimes we don't, use [our power or abilities] quite as
much as we should, particularly in large groups. I know I was a part of the
American Council on Women in Higher Education, and the woman who founded
that group said to us, one of the things you almost always do when you're in a
large group is ask a question. If you ask a question, people will get to know you,
and I've always remembered that. If you go to a meeting, you [may] watch and
see [that] very few women [will ask questions]. The men dominate the question
and answer period. A few women will walk up and do it, but for the most part
men dominate. That is one area we are going to have to push in more. We
tend to be all right in our classrooms or when we are together with other women
and so on, but in large groups we don't speak out enough, I think.
B: Well, great. Thank you very much for giving me some of your time. As we
wrap this down, is there anything else you would like to say for the record?
H: I'm glad the University of Florida was one of the universities that helped to get
Women's Studies off the ground. I think it had a great deal to do with the
Modern Language Association promoting it. At the same time as [professional
groups] were promoting Women's Studies, there were [groups] trying to eliminate
racism in the academy. So, I'm very happy. I feel good that I came along at
this period in history. I do. I feel very good about that. Since I always had this
energy in me from a little girl, I probably would have been [stifled if it had been
another person]. I also had [many] women to take an interest in me, and that
helped me out, too. [They included my mother, Mrs. Mary B. Anderson and a
white teacher at Paine College, Dr. Ruth L. Bartholomew who taught and
encouraged me, but also gave and loaned me money to go to graduate school
and my grandmother, Mrs. Lizzie J. Lewis who pat and blew life in me when I
was born after the mid-wife said that I was dead.]
B: Great. Thank you very much for your time.