The Western feminist evolution

Adriane Hardin

Mary Ellen Miller was hired at Western in 1963 and soon became pregnant. She was forced to take a leave of absence without pay from teaching in the English department.

Miller was married, but that didn’t make any difference.

The swollen bellies of pregnant women were once deemed inappropriate for Western’s classrooms – but women today can be found in virtually every building across campus in a variety of jobs.

They include Western’s leaders, teachers, staff members and prominent students. They manage construction projects, patrol campus and work with state leaders.

“Sometimes I can look back and laugh at some of the differences, and I can look back at horror and disbelief at some of them,” Miller said. “But mostly I look back and think it’s a normal evolvement.”

Miller said she felt like she was always treated like a “full-fledged human being” at Western, but she resented having to take an unpaid leave of absence from her job.

“They thought it was inappropriate for a pregnant woman to stand up in front of students,” Miller said.

But that didn’t discourage her from pursuing what would become a 41-year teaching career and a position of prominence on the Hill.

Annie Angueira has been on almost every roof on campus, and she’s hung in a harness off of Cherry Hall.

Angueira is one of Western’s planning, design and construction project managers. After owning a construction business in Miami, she came to Western in January 1998.

There were only five females in her classes when she first went to engineering school at the University of Florida. About 20 to 25 females are now in the same type of classes, she said.

One of Angueira’s favorite projects has been the Downing University Center renovations, she said.

Despite sometimes working on weekends and holidays, her job on campus isn’t as demanding as owning her business.

“Construction can be high stress if you can’t find humor in it,” she said.

Facilities Management Director Doug Ault said Angueira’s biggest contribution is her enthusiasm.

Angueira said she gets a good sense of satisfaction to see projects finish, but then must look toward the future.

“When one finishes, there’s four more waiting,” she said.

Miller represented the faculty on the Board of Regents for two terms and remains the only woman in Western’s history to serve as faculty regent.

The way women dress, live and work on the Hill has changed over the years. But such changes did not happen overnight, said Lowell Harrison, historian and author of “Western Kentucky University.”

“If they had occurred all at once they would have been almost revolutionary,” Harrison said.

Women were once the only people who called the campus home – there were no male dorms.

“Women led a very regulated life if they lived in the dorms …” Harrison said. “You almost had to have a court order to get permission to go to Louisville or Nashville.”

Female students living on campus were subject to rules and regulations about their weekend travels and visitors, he said.

Most male students lived in boarding houses around Bowling Green.

The dress of women on campus is one thing that has changed tremendously since the 1950s.

If women wanted to wear shorts on campus, they were told to wear a raincoat over them, he said.

Some departments on campus told women not to wear slacks, Miller said.

That didn’t stop them from baring their upper thighs when the miniskirt was introduced in the 1960s.

“So women were prancing around with these skirts way above their knees, but they weren’t permitted to wear slacks,” Miller said.

But Sarah Taylor, a 1952 alumna, said she doesn’t think the changes in dress are a good thing.

“I liked our styles better than what the girls are wearing now,” Taylor said. “Right now it is about as tacky as I’ve ever seen it.”

Women are taking more part in the classroom today as students and faculty, Miller said.

The law has also played a role in changing things for women on the employment level.

She said she was asked whether she had small children when she was hired.

“I can remember resenting my first department head for asking me about my children,” she said.

The changes brought during the 1960s on a national level came on a smaller scale to campus.

It is difficult to pinpoint when things changed for women.

“A lot of the changes were so gradual and so subtle that they were never really codified, and it’s hard to pinpoint at any moment when this became that,” Miller said. “The national mood was against oppression.”

Lisa Brown has spent four years patrolling the Hill as a campus police officer. Though people don’t always see Brown – she works the midnight shift – she’s excited about working with students at Western.

Brown began her career in family court dealing with domestic cases at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

That job kept her off the streets.

“I wanted to be outside patrolling, dealing with the public,” Brown said.

Brown said she is treated as an equal on the force, although she is the only female officer.

Even suspects haven’t tried to take advantage of the fact that Brown is a female police officer, she said.

She said the one downfall to being a police officer is the hours.

“You don’t always get enough time with your family,” she said. “Of course, it’s better here because they work around you if something is going on with family.”

Despite the drawback, Brown isn’t disappointed with the career path she has chosen.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Brown said.

Pregnancy also became an issue for Catherine Ward when she came to Western in 1972.

“I had just been married and I was told that if I got pregnant I’d be fired,” Ward said. “I wasn’t happy about it. That was the reality of that day.”

Ward was later instrumental in getting curriculum for the women’s studies program approved in the early 1990s.

“The study of women’s studies has theories of feminism that really drive the readings and the discussions in the classes,” said Kathryn Abbott, interim director of women’s studies.

Such courses give students a general idea of what feminism is and isn’t.

“People judge each other based on race, sexual preference, et cetera, and we try to make people realize that we are all equal,” said Angela Fetty, a junior from Waldorf, Md.

But for Chicago junior Mackenzie Erd, the meaning of feminism is very simple.

“Feminism is simply showing young women that they can do much more than we’re raised to believe,” Erd said.

Classes aren’t the only benefits the program offers. Guest lectures, speakers are often sponsored by the program.

“Women’s studies is a force to be reckoned with on campus, but I remember when people would have practically been laughed out of the room if you suggested women’s studies was an appropriate curriculum,” Miller said.

She said she thinks women have become more assertive in the classroom and that those classrooms have become more conducive to women.

Women walk through the hall of Wetherby Administration Building and Thompson Complex as administrators and faculty.

They serve in various positions – Western’s provost, general counsel and legislative liaison are all women.

“I still think there are many areas that can be improved as far as gender opportunity,” Provost Barbara Burch said. “We can continue to create opportunities and help folks know that those doors are open for them.”

Robbin Taylor drives from Bowling Green to Frankfort three to four times a week to keep Western tied to state government proceedings.

But her job as assistant to the president for governmental relations doesn’t end there.

Taylor has served as Western’s legislative liaison and the Spirit Masters’ adviser since October 2001. She also oversees Western’s event staff.

Taylor spends a large portion of her time tracking bills and talking to state legislators about issues affecting higher education.

Taylor said the groundwork for success as a legislative liaison involves being knowledgeable and trustworthy.

“This is not a job where I feel women have a barrier,” she said.

Taylor is also in charge of federal government relations.

On the Hill, Taylor oversees ceremonies, such as dedications and ribbon cuttings.

Taylor graduated from Western with a degree in public relations and government in 1990. She received a master’s degree in public administration from Western in 1997.

Taylor moved to Hopkinsville from Florence, S.C., in 1982, but she’s lived in Bowling Green since attending Western.

Bowling Green junior Shelly Glorioso gets chills when she thinks about the inequalities women suffered not long ago.

Glorioso said she is still concerned about the inequalities that people face today. She and other Western students decided that feminist issues weren’t being discussed and supported enough by students on the Hill.

Glorioso is a member of the Feminist Activism Network, a network of Western students who focus their efforts on supporting feminist issues.

About 22 students will attend the March For Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C.

FAN’s formation shows that the women’s studies program is making accomplishments, no matter the membership, Ward said.

But the organization has trouble gaining new members and retaining old ones, Erd said.

While the role of women is evolving and changing, FAN members say that people are uneasy about a group of people supporting women.

“You always get a shocked look and then they say, ‘oh,’ like it was a deathly disease that I told them I had, ” Fetty said.

Herald reporters Shawntaye Hopkins, Beth Wilberding and Lindsey Reed contributed to this story. Reach the reporters at [email protected]