Ruth Mahaney & Nancy Brand: Insight into IU’s History of Women’s Reproductive Rights

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of Margaret Sanger’s family planning and birth control clinic, the forerunner to Planned Parenthood. Margaret Sanger, a nurse and birth-control activist from Brooklyn, New York opened the clinic on October 16, 1916 in pursuit of establishing greater reproductive freedoms for women. The clinic was shut down ten days later and Sanger was sentenced to 30 days in a workhouse as a result.

Many individuals at IU also fought for women’s reproductive rights. But no more so perhaps than the members of IU’s Women’s Liberation Movement. On August 3, 2013 archivist Dina Kellams sat down with alumnae Ruth Mahaney (’70) and Nancy Brand (’73) to gather stories about their experiences while they were at IU. What she got was a detailed account describing the struggles that they and others went through to further women’s rights on campus.

At the beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement here at IU, women formed support groups on campus to discuss issues concerning women’s rights. During one discussion, however, they soon found that one of the bigger issues that the women faced was finding ways to have medically safe abortions:

Ruth recalled a particularly horrifying experience a friend had with an abortionist, saying that the person meant to perform the procedure stated that they had to have sex before he would complete the intended operation. Upon hearing this, the woman fled the clinic and ended up giving up on an abortion all together. To combat these problems, the women formed what would later become the Midwest Abortion Counseling Service.

The ladies used the Women’s Center (described by Ruth in the interview as “the Women’s Liberation House”) as a base of operations to conduct their work. The house’s phone number, under Ruth’s name no less, became the number for people to contact for these services.

But even with counseling, women experienced many difficulties while flying under the radar to have these abortions:

When asked if they were scared about potential repercussions in helping these women, the ladies replied with the following statement:

womens-crisis-service-advertisement
Advertisement from Women’s Handbook Spring ’75

After abortions were legalized in 1973, IU’s Women’s Liberation Movement established a Women’s Crisis Service whose goal, according to the Women’s Handbook Spring ’75, was “to provide Bloomington area women with sisterly support in crisis situations such as rape, divorce, and abortion, and also in areas such as legal problems, day care, and minority women concerns.” The Crisis Service operated out of the Women’s Center but, according to the advertisement, was “seeking funding for a separate phone line and expanded facilities.” The women were eventually able to establish a rape crisis center which would go on to become Bloomington’s Middle Way House.

front-page-jan-feb-1975
Front Page Cover: January-February 1975

For more information on abortion counseling and how attitudes changed after the 1973 ruling see Nancy’s interview with The Front Page (IU’s feminist newsletter published during the 1970s) located here. The interview is contained within the January-February 1975 issue on pages 7-9.

For more information on IU’s Bicentennial Oral History project contact the IU Archives or Kristin Leaman.

Office of Women’s Affairs

Office of Women's Affairs-"Majority Report" Newsletter, Apr. 1989
Office of Women’s Affairs-“Majority Report” Newsletter, Apr. 1989

The Office for Women’s Affairs (OWA) was established on August 15, 1972 in response to the growing awareness of discrimination against women in the academic community. Bloomington Chancellor Byrum E. Carter stated that the OWA’s purpose was to “establish a climate in which women faculty, students, and staff are provided with full opportunities for the development of their abilities.” One of the greatest responsibilities of the OWA was to advocate on behalf of women and other IU community members who felt discriminated against.

OWA’s first dean was Eva Kagan-Kans, a professor of Slavic Languages and Literature. During her post from 1972-1975, her function, she stated, was to be an “ombudswoman,” investigating specific grievances, reviewing salaries and budgets for gender discrimination, examining access to research opportunities in graduate program, and redressing the underrepresentation of women at the faculty and administrative levels. Kagan-Kans also counseled undergraduates on future career choices at both the college and high school levels.  Jessie Lavan-Kerr, a professor of Art Education, served as OWA’s second dean. In 1976, while noting the “foundational inroads” the OWA made under the leadership of Kagan-Kans, Lavan-Kerr specified a need for “redefinition” of the office, gearing it to more “action-oriented directives” regarding equal opportunities for women faculty, students, and staff. Lavan-Kerr was dean from 1975 until 1979.

Office of Women's Affairs-"Among Women" Newsletter, Oct. 1981
Office of Women’s Affairs-“Among Women” Newsletter, Oct. 1981

OWA’s third dean, D’ann Campbell, was an assistant (later associate) professor of History and an adjunct associate of Women’s Studies. Campbell saw her job as an “advocate.” OWA’s function, she stated, lay in “coordinating, funneling, and being a catalyst for a lot of projects to enhance the status of women on campus. We’re the affirmative side of Affirmative Action. We don’t wait until something falls apart. We can be sensitive to areas in which there are potential problems.” Under Campbell’s leadership, OWA oversaw the development of such projects as creating a videotape dealing with sexual harassment on campus (the first of its kind in the country), addressing the lack of female social networks in graduate school, and conferences to integrate women’s history into standard course work (80% of Western Civilization and American History courses never mentioned women in either books or lectures). Campbell was dean of OWA from 1979 until 1985. In 1985, Nancy Brooks succeeded Campbell, serving as interim director.

Office of Women's Affairs-"Focus, Vol. 3, No. 1" Newsletter, Draft, Dec. 1978
Office of Women’s Affairs-“Focus, Vol. 3, No. 1” Newsletter, Draft, Dec. 1978
Office of Women's Affairs-"Focus" Newsletter, Publication, Dec. 1978
Office of Women’s Affairs-“Focus” Newsletter, Publication, Dec. 1978

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Collection of OWA records housed at the University Archives contains flyers, correspondence, advertisements, grant information, mentor-mentee program information, data on reports, and surveys of students, faculty, and staff members at Indiana University. All matters pertaining to the OWA are now handled by the Office of the Dean of Students (for student concerns) or the Provost’s office (for staff and faculty concerns). The Collection has been updated with newly acquired materials and is open for research. Contact the IU Archives for more information.

American Association of University Women, Bloomington Branch records (version 2.0)

The finding aid for the American Association of University Women, Bloomington Branch records has been updated with new materials!  Founded on February 12, 1913, the AAUW, Bloomington Branch (then called the Association of Collegiate Alumnae) worked to fight prejudices against women in higher education and in the workplace.  It also helped fund scholarships and fellowships for women to conduct research and pursue advanced degrees.

Today, the A.A.U.W. has around 150,000 members and 1,500 branches around the country.  The organization remains very active, frequently endorsing legislation promoting women’s rights in higher education and beyond.

New additions include meeting minutes between 1927 and 1954, as well as numerous newspaper articles which highlight the many issues with which the A.A.U.W., Bloomington Branch was involved, including women’s rights, education, and politics.

The branch was active in raising money for the national A.A.U.W. Fellowship fund.  They also frequently formed committees and hosted guest speakers to address a wide range of important issues such as women in public office (1948) and the “denazification” of Germany after World War II (1946).  Notable speakers include Dr. Kathryn McHale, national general director of the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C. (ca. 1936), and Dr. Margaret E. Morgan, Mental Health Commissioner of Indiana (1956).

The AAUW, Bloomington Branch was also host to many students who came to study in the United States through AAUW fellowships, including Laura De Arce of Uruguay in 1939.  She was the first woman from Uruguay to receive the American Association of University Women Latin-American fellowship and studied at Indiana Univesity in 1939.

For further information on the collection, contact the Archives!