Marion Namenwirth #666 Transcript
JC: My name is Joyce Coleman and I'm here interviewing Marion Namenwirth. She
was a professor of zoology at UW from 1971 to 1979. And the date is March 27, 2004.
JC: So Professor Namenwirth, perhaps you could begin by telling me a little bit
about when and where you were born and a bit about your childhood.
MN: Well, I was born in August of 1939 in New York City. My parents had arrived
from Germany three years before. They had escaped the Hitler period. Well, the
Hitler persecution in Germany and were busy working in New York. They had not
been able to bring much with them, so they both worked to get some income. And I
was an only child. I grew up in New York having a very good time. Went through
the public schools and was very much taken up with what they were teaching me. I
00:01:00loved school and then went to the Bronx High School of Science, which was a high
school with a competitive entrance exam that was oriented particularly towards
science. And I worked hard there and really enjoyed the courses in science and
in other subjects too, but in physics, chemistry, biology. And then, set my
sights on going to college.
JC: OK, if I could just interrupt for a second. How did you become interested in science?
MN: That's a very good question. Well, the first sign that I would become
devoted to biology was that I was just nuts about animals as a child. And I
collected animals from wherever I could. I mean that would include the pet shop
and when going to the country in the summer, I would collect salamanders and
frogs, and as much as possible I would bring these animals home into my room in
00:02:00the little apartment in New York City where I lived and care for them. And
sometimes, re-release them into the wild if they survived for another season.
And I was very, very focused on animals.
So in school, when in junior high school, science was a particular class
subject, I loved it. I was really drawn to it. And I was crazy about my science
teacher, Ms. Monks. And I was completely absorbed by the science class. And also
by math classes. I think math and science were my favorites at that time.
MN: There's also the fact that being Jewish and with my entire extended family
having had to escape to another country recently, the family was very oriented
00:03:00towards educating children to have an independent profession with which they
could support themselves and preferably a profession that you could take with
you from country to country. And so seeing that I was really interested in
biology and science, they pushed me to go into medical school and become a
physician. And that seemed all right. So I aimed towards preparing myself for
medical school, although the more science I took, for example, in high school,
the more interested I was in science as a more theoretical subject and
particularly, biology and biochemistry rather than medical school. But the
background course work that you would take for medical school or for graduate
school in science were more or less the same and so I didn't have to make a
00:04:00choice and so I decided to take the curriculum that would prepare me for both
these endeavors, and choose later. Eventually I decided that I'd prefer an
academic career in science.
JC: OK, and now how did you choose a college for your undergraduate studies?
MN: It was difficult, it was very competitive at that time getting into schools
near New York City from New York City. And particularly so, from schools like
the High School of Science where practically everybody applied to college and
many of them, in or around New York City. So among the colleges that I applied
to was Cornell University. My family got advice from an American friend who was
an educator who knew the colleges somewhat. I applied to Pembroke and Cornell
and some other school, I don't know what. And I actually, though I applied to
00:05:00the arts and sciences school at Cornell, I didn't get in, but it was easier to
get into the agriculture school at Cornell and it had the same courses in your
first two years certainly as you would take in the arts school. In fact, you
took the same exact courses. So I went to Cornell. And I started in the
agriculture school with the intention of switching to the arts and sciences
college my junior year, so that I could take the curriculum that I wanted.
As it turned out, so many people were doing this that the school had made
arrangements where you had to pay years of back tuition. See the agriculture
school was tuition free and you had to pay years of back tuition if you wanted
to transfer. And I decided that that wasn't worthwhile, so I ended up after
finishing two years at Cornell, transferring to City College in New York, which
00:06:00was tuition free with the intention of finishing there. But then after a year
there I got married and my husband was a graduate student in music at the
University of Minnesota, so I transferred to the University of Minnesota to
finish my bachelor's degree.
JC: OK. Now it sort of sounds clear that zoology was a passion all along. So was
that an easy choice of that major?
MN: Yes, it was. And I should say that I considered the-- I was very interested
in these courses, but I was always also, very interested in art history,
history, anthropology, and the various courses of that sort that my--
literature, that my friends, my undergraduate friends we're taking and I audited
numerous courses and talked with them and so forth. And I think that the
greatest enthusiasm in undergraduate school that I had was really for these kind
00:07:00of courses, like history and government and particularly, art history and
philosophy and so forth. Which I was tasting as a dilettante And also,
literature courses, which I just loved. But my determination and my honest
inclination and desire to be a biologist never was threatened. I never
considered going into these other fields.
But even though they seemed much more exciting to me to take in the form of
course work, whereas the courses in biology, chemistry, so forth, they were
interesting. But they seemed sort of more like shop courses. I mean I felt like
I was getting the training I needed and I was definitely interested in them, but
my passions were aroused by the literature and art history and anthropology and
00:08:00so forth. And looking back on phenomenon, it's kind of curious. But anyway, it
was not at all a threat to my interest in biology. It's not that anyone was
pushing me in that direction at all. It's just that that's where my interest was.
JC: OK, so you think your parents would have been accepting if you had announced
that you wanted to switch to literature, for example?
MN: Well, they would have been concerned at first asking me would I be able to
support myself economically that way? That was their main concern and since they
were immigrants, they didn't have too clear an idea about what the bread winning
aspects of academic careers were. Now of course, this was the late 50s and
actually, the academe in the United States was expanding a lot. So it looked at
00:09:00that time as though it would not be difficult to have an economically viable
career in any one of a large number of fields of academe.
JC: OK. Now you mentioned that this was the late 50s. Was there a certain amount
of pressure. I mean maybe outside of your family, but just from television and
from people at school. Was there some sort of pressure for women to stay home or
to think about studying more traditional female areas?
MN: Let me say several things about that. First of all, I have always or at
least since I've been an adult, I've been amazed by the ability of the human
brain to simultaneously believe in completely contradictory things. I've been
part of this. So anyway, as I grew up, I suppose one of the more salient facts
00:10:00of life in my eyes was that women were as important and energetic and important
and able economically as men are. Because my mother was the dominant figure in
the family. She was very energetic. She was a very successful business woman for
that time. And I don't mean that she rose extremely high, but in the small world
in which we lived she did and she was obviously excellent at her work, which was
as a saleswoman of women's hats and a representative of a hat company. You know,
running its offices in New York. And she was very bright and aggressive and so
00:11:00it never occurred to me that women were less than men in any arena, even when I
saw that all around me. You know, I'd see it depicted on television. And I mean
I sort of heard what was going on in the society as I grew up in the 40s and
50s, but it didn't really take I guess because of the obvious counter example of
my mother. And there were a few instances where there was bald discrimination
lowered on me that I didn't even know about.
For instance, I was told later by my family that the guidance counselor in
junior high school, when I told her I was interested in science told my parents
or wrote a note to my parents saying that I should go into domestic science. I
didn't even know about that. Maybe I didn't know what domestic science was.
There was also the factor, for instance, that my mother was dismayed when I
00:12:00wanted to go to the High School of Science. She thought that I should go to the
high school for arts. The High School of Music and Art. And even though I'm sure
I wouldn't have gotten in, I really didn't have the talent for it. Clearly, that
was an example, she repeated this many times. An example of her having
internalized the idea that arts were something that girls should do and science
was not really something for girls. But I mean I just brushed it aside and
insisted. And so when I got into the High School of Science, it subsided as a problem.
However, one instance of having-- really absorbed a kind of double standard in
this respect that I remember is that there was a fellow student who I knew from
high school and then encountered again at City College. She had been in the High
School of Science and when I got to City College, she was majoring in
engineering. And I remember thinking that that was very peculiar. That
engineering was not something that a woman did. That was a man's thing. And I
fully-- this seemed totally obvious to me. And I was amazed at what she was
doing. And even though I never for a moment-- I wouldn't have questioned myself
I don't think if I wanted to go into physics. But you know, I preferred biology.
But anyway, I had this very strong feeling about engineering, so it got to me a
JC: Yeah. Now are there any outstanding memories you have of your undergraduate
degree at these three institutions?
MN: Well, I've mentioned my devotion to literature and art history and these
things which I was getting my first major taste of as an undergraduate. So I
really enjoyed Cornell University. I worked on the student paper and had many
friends who were majoring in philosophy and literature and so forth. And I
learned an awful lot about what life had to offer. I was pretty bored at the
City College, I found it very high school-ish and pedestrian in the science
courses that I was taking. I took almost exclusively science courses at the
00:15:00time. was interested in them, but it seemed very simple.
And when I got to the University of Minnesota, it was now my senior year and I
was able to take graduate courses, which emphasized actual research results
instead of having lectures that were kind of predigested. I chose courses that
consisted of reading actual research papers and discussing those in class. And
that I found totally intriguing, so I took a number of courses in genetics and
embryology at the University of Minnesota, which were graduate courses that
admitted advanced undergraduates and got more of a close-up feel for what
research would be like by reading actual accounts of research. That really
00:16:00whetted my appetite for graduate school.
JC: Was there anybody at Minnesota who was encouraging you consider graduate school?
MN: No, I don't remember having conversations of that kind. It was kind of like
everything else. I mean I never doubted that I would go to graduate school and
get a PhD. I later found out that my father doubted it after I got married. He
thought once I got married that then I would drop that idea, but it never
occurred to me.
JC: So then when you graduated you had your heart set on graduate school at that point?
MN: Yes. Actually, when I graduated it was around the time that my husband
passed his prelims in musicology and we were going to go to Europe for a couple
of years. He was going to do his thesis research there. We did that. We took off
00:17:00for Holland and Italy and a number of-- we moved around a little bit, but mostly
we were living in Holland and in Italy. So I had two glorious years of doing
what I wanted. I did not attempt to go to school there. I think I had taken the
graduate record exams before I left, and my intention was to apply while I was
in Europe to graduate school in the United States, which I did. And I remember
that a large consideration of what graduate school to choose was one that also
had a good music school, so that my husband could perhaps, get a job there or
something like that.
JC: OK. So then is that what lead you to pick Indiana University?
MN: Yes. In other words, it had an excellent program in biology, but also had an
00:18:00excellent music school.
JC: OK. And what courses and instructors stand out in your mind from your
graduate years at Indiana?
MN: Well when I first applied there, my intention was to study genetics with Dr.
Muller, who was a Nobel Prize winner, H.J. Muller. And I didn't realize that he
was not taking students any more. You know, he was around retirement at that
time. And of course, with the intervening two years in Europe more time elapsed,
so I didn't realize when I applied there that I would not be able to study
genetics with him. But when I got there there was the very excellent geneticist,
Tracy Sonneborn. And I also began to take classes from Robert Briggs, who was an
experimental embryologist. And when I began taking a class with him I realized
00:19:00that he was very much focused on the genetic aspects of embryonic development.
How genes function as organisms develop. And he was also very oriented towards
actual research and focusing on lab data and had much less interest in
theoretical questions. And was very focused on the evidentiary aspects of
science and remembering what's been demonstrated and what hasn't. So that all
appealed to me. You know, I liked him a lot as a person and he seemed very
bright, and his interests coincided with mine, so I ended up asking to work with
him and I really learned a lot from him. Though I also took courses from Tracy
00:20:00Sonneborn and that was challenging and very interesting. He's a very interesting
teacher. And also, I learned my first bits of molecular biology and biochemistry
taking courses in those fields.
JC: OK. Were there any women doing developmental genetics or biochemistry there?
I mean either faculty or graduate students.
MN: Well, there were plenty of women graduate students. I think about half the
graduate students in genetics and in embryonic development, at least half were
women. As far as women faculty, I remember a visiting woman faculty member who I
took a course from in ultraviolet biology. You know, the affects of UV radiation
on biological systems. I don't remember any regular women faculty, but I might
00:21:00just be forgetting. However, at that time, the so-called better schools, I mean
the ones with excellent reputations, had very few women faculty, if any, in
their science departments. And it may have been less asymmetric in liberal arts,
but in the sciences there were not many women in the schools with the bigger
reputations and that was just the way it was.
JC: Did you ever feel that women graduate students were treated differently than
men graduate students?
MN: I mean, first of all, even with somebody like Robert Briggs, the person I
worked for who had about half women and who seemed to me, in general, treated
00:22:00women reasonably, even with him there were some indications that men and women
were not considered exactly the same. For one thing, traditionally in some
fields like cell biology and embryonic development, women students tended to
gravitate to those fields. And I know that Briggs was concerned not to get into
a situation where there were more women than men in his graduate group. He felt
that that would be a threat to the well-being or being taken seriously or
something of his graduate group. So he was concerned about that.
Then there was a fact, which at the time, seemed totally reasonable to me. When
I asked to be a student working in his group, we had a little interview and he
asked me whether I was planning to have children. And if so, then what was going
00:23:00to happen to my graduate career? And I answered him that you know, I planned to
continue my career and I didn't see any problem with that, with having a family
and a research career. And that I was devoted to research. And he was satisfied.
And I was satisfied. That seemed a totally reasonable question to me at the
time, even though if I'd thought about it I would have realized that men were
all having children and many of them were married and they were not being asked
this question. But even if I'd make that conscious, I think it would still seem
totally reasonable to me.
MN: I think the phenomenon probably existed. I'd heard about it in theory and
I'm not so sure I saw evidence of it that faculty sponsors were more concerned
00:24:00about the viability of men's careers. So for example, in pushing them towards
particular research topics, they were more likely to saddle women with topics
that might not yield in the short run or that the things that were worth doing
that the professor wanted done, but which probably wouldn't have a splashy
result and which would therefore, make it harder for them to get a good job.
Whereas they would be more protective of men's long term interest in such selections.
JC: Was this something you noticed at the time or was this something you noticed
MN: I think it was more in the air. You know, in other words, something that
people were conscious of or concerned about or something. Or maybe later in my
graduate career. There was no such problem in Briggs' lab. One factor is that
he, in contrast to other faculty member, he encouraged the students to choose
00:25:00their own research questions. And I chose my own. So however, and this was very
unusual. In most labs the professor pretty much handed a problem to a graduate
student and there of course, it can be more of a problem. I think I might have
heard about this more later in the 70s when I was a faculty member and questions
of equity for women were more openly and self consciously discussed.
JC: OK. Now is there anything else you want to say about your PhD program or do
you want to talk about your post doctoral work now?
MN: I guess we could go on to the post doctoral work. I hope you don't mind if I
think of things later I'll--
JC: Oh no, we can certainly go back. Yeah, I guess I haven't really asked you
yet the topic of your dissertation and maybe that's important to know.
MN: I chose to work on limb regeneration in salamanders. And particularly on the
00:26:00question of whether the cells that engage in regeneration, whether they undergo
changes of cell differentiation like muscle becoming cartilage or something like
that. At the cellular level, whether a cell that had been differentiated as a
cartilage cell, whether its progeny would always still be cartilage cells when a
limb regenerated or whether there could be changes of cell types, so the progeny
of a cartilage cell might become a skin cell or a muscle cell or something like
that. And I studied this with using triploidy, having three sets of chromosomes
rather than two. Using that as a genetic marker and grafting tissues from
00:27:00triploid animals into regular diploid animals and then looking at the results
after regeneration. So I did extensive experiments and they were well received
and eventually, the stuff was published and I also reported at meetings and it
was considered of real interest at the time.
JC: OK. And how had you come across that topic?
MN: It was one of the topics we studied in Briggs' experimental embryology
seminar. I mean studied in the sense of read papers that people had published
about this. Actually, this is of interest because the most prominent researcher
in the area at the time was a woman at Harvard Medical School, Elizabeth Hay.
And she did excellent work in this field, was very much respected, and so it was
immediately, even though I didn't separate it as a category in my mind
00:28:00consciously, it is a case where it was obvious to me that a woman had done
excellent work in this field.
Now I would say also that there were several prominent women in the intersection
of genetics and embryonic development. And also in genetics itself, of course.
For instance, Barbara McClintock After a long time, she got a Nobel Prize. But
she was a very prominent geneticist and I should say that even in my
undergraduate career at Cornell-- now she had been at Cornell, although I don't
remember that that was made prominent. But she figured very prominently in my
undergraduate education. I mean her results were reported as very important and
described at length. Let's say at Cornell at the time, there were probably-- I
00:29:00can't remember a single woman faculty member in biology in the biological
departments or in chemistry or anything, but nobody seemed to slight the
importance of Barbara McClintock's work.
She and Elizabeth Hay and Beatrice Mintz were examples of women whose work was
treated with great interest and respect. Beatrice Mintz had worked with Bob
Briggs, my major professor, at a previous institution and at the Cancer Research
Institute in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania. And so he knew her work very well and
anyway, her work was important. So she was also a person whose work was
00:30:00presented at length and there seemed to be no hesitation or anything special
about the fact that these were women who were doing excellent science until they
applied for faculty positions. I'm not saying they applied at Indiana, but you
know, in fact, these more major institutions were not admitting women to the
tenured faculty on the whole in the science departments.
JC: OK. But it sounds like these three women in some ways, were like role models
MN: Well, I wasn't conscious of it because I wasn't-- there was no question in
my mind as to whether women could do good work in this field. I just wasn't
bright enough to think about it. I just never questioned it. But maybe
unconsciously it was reassuring. It was never a question in my mind at all. It
00:31:00should have been, but it wasn't.
JC: OK. Now did you continue doing similar research for your post doctoral work?
MN: No. Already, at the end of my graduate period, I got interested in something
somewhat different that has to do with the molecular architecture of eggs. And I
was trying to think of ways to divide eggs into different regions. Because the
different regions develop in different directions. Like one region becomes the
brain and one region becomes the digestive tract and so forth. And I was
interested in what molecules were initiating these different directions of
differentiation. So I wanted to focus on that for a post doc and I purposely
applied for a post doc in biochemistry because I felt I needed more experience
00:32:00in that line. And excuse me, a minute.
I was accepted in the biochemistry department at the University of Seattle to
work with Brian McCarthy who was a nucleic acid biochemist. And I proposed a
study of the different regions of a frog egg trying to determine what molecules
were important in getting differentiation going in different directions very early.
JC: And what kind of an experience did you have at the University of Seattle?
MN: It's the University of Washington in Seattle. Well, it was very informative.
This was a large lab with many post doctoral students. Brian McCarthy spent much
00:33:00of his time traveling around the country giving talks and examining grants on
peer review panels and so forth. He was not so often in the laboratory, but
there were very good post docs there and I learned a lot from them. They were
from different countries and they had a lot of experience in biochemistry. Of
course I worked a little with Brian McCarthy himself, but mostly I learned from
the other post docs and I tried techniques that I had never had any laboratory
experience with. You know, I learned a lot.
JC: So it was generally a positive experience then?
MN: Oh, definitely.
JC: And then you finished that in 1971. What was the job market like at that
point for people with your training?
MN: It was fabulous. And the reason was that I happened to appear on the job
00:34:00market at the moment when Congress was lowering the boom on the major
universities, telling them that they had to add women to all their faculties.
And so I was inundated with job offers. It was totally over the top in the sense
of all of a sudden, for a brief period, or maybe not so brief. But it was just
the beginning of this period of the major schools really coming under pressure.
So I had a series of offers and I chose the University of Wisconsin.
JC: OK. And maybe you could just clarify. Now this was 1971 and yet, like the
Equal Opportunities Act or Equal Employment Opportunities Act and Title IV were
both passed in 1972. But then you're saying before 1972 there was still interest?
Yeah, I presume that there was a lot of talk about this in Congress and that
00:35:00probably universities were asked to send representatives to testify and so forth
about whether this should come to pass. You know, I wasn't paying much attention
to what was going on in the government at the time. But you know, it was sort of
generally known in the front section of science and nature, there's a lot of
chit chat about what's going on in government and so forth. And I think Congress
didn't just pass something out of the blue. There's always a period before where
there's wrangling about it and I guess that the major schools knew that this was
And then also, they were challenged now. I mean the women's movement was
gathering force and it was embarrassing to not have women on large numbers of
departments. And I mean because a lot of these things happened by sort of
00:36:00gentleman's agreements. You know, I think before people were not sitting in
faculty meetings saying we can't afford to have a woman on the faculty. There
was just a kind of understanding that that was not going to help the reputation
of the school and women were diverted by their family chores and that it was
just unwise to take a woman applicant so seriously.
JC: OK. Now you mentioned the women's movement. Up until this point, had you had
any involvement or any interest in the women's movement? Did you know very much
MN: No, nothing.
MN: In fact, I remember during my post doc period I drove down to California to
visit a friend, a friend from way back, and we drove around one day for fun
00:37:00around Carmel and I remember sitting in the car and the car's going round and
round. She was driving and she began talking about NOW. And I had no idea what
it was. She told me it was the National Organization for Women and I told her I
had never heard of it and she could hardly believe it. So no, I knew nothing
about it. That was like 1970.
JC: OK. Now why did you accept UW's offer over all of their offers you received?
MN: It had a very large and very good biology research establishment, which was
spread over a very large number of departments. A few of them in the arts
school-- in the arts and sciences college, but there was the whole agriculture
school and the whole medical school, all of them had departments devoted to
various aspects of biology, genetics, biochemistry, and so forth. And so all
together, there were a very large number of researchers who many of whom, did
00:38:00excellent work that I knew of. And then also, the school had a lot of internal
research funds that they allocated to support researchers, including especially
new people coming in. So they were offering superb facilities and a lot of start
up money. And it just seemed an excellent opportunity in a place where I'd be
happy to live and so on. But I had offers from other good places. You know,
Amherst was one that I remember and Austin, you know, University of Texas.
JC: Do you remember who recruited you? Who the chair of the department was and
how the recruitment process worked?
MN: I don't know really what was going on before I came as far as recruitment. I
think that Robert Auerbach had a lot to do with arranging for me to be
00:39:00interviewed-- for me to be considered. And he was a developmental biologist and
I don't know what the politics of it-- or I don't know really what was going on
in the department at the time and what it meant if I was competing against other
people for this position. I really don't know.
JC: OK. Now, so you get to UW in 1971. I was wondering if you could just talk a
little bit about the situation of women in the sciences on campus, just where
were the women? What types of positions did they have? Where were there no
women, that sort of thing.
MN: Could we stop a minute?
JC: Absolutely, yes.
JC: Now you were just going to talk a little bit about the situation of women in
the sciences when you came to UW in 1971.
MN: Yes. There were hardly any. I can't think of a single woman faculty member
who was in a tenured position in a science department that I interacted with. No
undoubtedly there were. I would say, for instance, Lorraine Meisner was in such
a position. That was in the agriculture school in, I think, well, whatever
school it was, whatever college it was, it was like State Hygiene Department or
something like that. I don't remember exactly. But she definitely had a secure
and important position. But you know, in botany, zoology and as far as I know,
chemistry and physics and so forth, I didn't know of any women in tenured
positions. Or I don't recall them now, certainly not in the zoology department
00:41:00where I was hired.
MN: Now there had been a woman professor. She was promoted to professor in her
last year on the faculty. But she'd been an associate professor for many years
before that. Her name was Nellie Bilstad in zoology. I think I might have met
her at retirement parties for other people or something like that, maybe. I'm
not sure I met her in life. But I did hear occasionally that Nellie Bilstad had existed.
She had taught histology and sort of cell biology kind of courses. Primarily
histology. And as far as I was told, she did not do research. She did just
teaching. She seemed to be the only woman who had ever been on the tenured
faculty or in a tenure track position. There were a number of women working at
00:42:00non-tenure track positions in the department when I came. There was Marion Meyer
who was a lecturer and also, taught and did not do research. And then as the
women's movement heated up, around the mid 70s, she was moved to a tenured or
tenure track position. I don't know whether she first became an assistant
professor, then being moved from the non-tenure track to the tenure track or
whether she was-- I don't remember. But anyway, she received a secure position
in the tenure part as a result of the women's movement.
And there were also women who were project associates, post doctoral fellows and
many of them had been there many years. But also, like Helen Meyers who was a
00:43:00senior scientist. However, these were not tenured positions or tenure track.
They were research positions that were-- that didn't have that kind of security
and also didn't have that kind of influence in the department. You know, if you
are a tenure track faculty person, you engage in faculty meetings and you have
some influence on the policies of the department and that was not true of anyone
who was not in tenure track.
JC: OK. And did you feel at all out of place or did this bother you that there
were so few women in tenure track positions?
MN: Well it seemed like, as I mentioned, I realized that I was coming into the
faculty system at a moment when it had been opened to women for the first time,
so I knew that this was an unusual situation. And that things would change, but
00:44:00I fully expected the system to open up. That I would be followed by many other
women who would gain access to tenure track positions. And in fact, of course,
that happened. It didn't happen smoothly. But you know, over 10, 20 years women
have been able to get tenured track and tenured positions at major universities,
and the situation is different now. It's not perfect and a lot of women have
been forced out in the process. There was a lot of discrimination and
discomfort. But over time, things have changed.
JC: OK. And you attribute a lot of this to the women's movement and to federal
legislation as well. Do you remember the impact of federal legislation? I mean
you said before even the legislation was passed universities started to be
00:45:00concerned about the number of women on their faculties and to try to hire more
women. Do you remember what happened after the legislation, if there were
particular committees or particular administrators? What sorts of specific
actions came out of that legislation?
MN: I think that the schools came under pressure to achieve numerical goals in
the admission of women to the tenure track faculty. In the first few years these
goals had to do with having a certain percentage of women among the newly
recruited assistant professors, the people in tenure track could be promoted to
tenured positions, but were initially at the assistant professor ranks. And
then, in the later 70s, there were-- excuse me. Yeah, in the later 70s, there
00:46:00were goals for the rate of promotion. And so every year or two, the university
would publish tables that purported to show what proportion of each rank of the
faculty were women now and what proportion of women versus men were being
promoted. And progress was extremely slow. There were statistics about what
proportion of eligible candidate pool for each position were women. And there
was pressure for universities to interview at least one woman for every new
position. And of course, there was a lot of window dressing with this. I mean
some of the time women were brought in who were not serious candidates just so
that they could say that a woman had been interviewed. And there certainly was
00:47:00resistance and also, there were women who left who were hired and then left
before they were promoted because they didn't feel comfortable in the situation
in departments and so forth.
But the effect of the legislation was to keep the pressure up for performance on
these goals. And I think that the entry of women into the higher ranks of the
university would have been--
MN: --into the associate professor and professor ranks at the university was
00:48:00exceedingly slow. The rates of promotion were very slow and they were not hiring
women directly into the higher ranks on the whole, so throughout the period that
I was at Wisconsin, women were concentrated in the lowest ranks of the tenure
track and also they continued to be a large portion of the non-tenured faculty,
the people who were helping with-- who were teaching specialists and research
specialists of different kinds.
JC: Why do you think that progress was so slow?
MN: I think that there was discrimination involved. Let me focus on Wisconsin.
You know, of course the situation varies from department to department. But in
00:49:00the zoology department for example, I didn't expect any discrimination at all
against women. These people seemed to me to be very reasonable and kind of
liberal, progressive types on the whole. And well meaning and the whole idea of
discrimination was silly and they thought it was silly and they thought of
themselves as entirely focused on the quality of research and teaching and the
quality of thinking. And I agreed, so I didn't expect when I went there to see
any signs of discrimination at all. But as I was there and saw the way that the
tenure system worked in practice, the way the system worked of treating people
and giving them opportunities before tenure and then evaluating them for tenure.
It was obvious to me that it was not even-ended comparing the way women and men
00:50:00were treated. So I think to a considerable extent, this was unconscious on the
part of the faculty in their decisions. I think they believed in what they were
doing. As time passed, women and society in general became conscious of a lot of
ways that biased decisions are made that are not exactly intentional.
Let's say an example in the zoology department would be that the only experience
they'd had with a woman on the tenured faculty was a woman who was doing just
teaching and not research. And my impression was that's the way they wanted it
and that's what they thought of in terms of women. That women were service
00:51:00personnel who got the teaching done. What was really valued in the biology
departments at the University of Wisconsin was research, not teaching. I mean it
was important to get the teaching done and they gave lip service to the quality
of teaching, and some of the teaching done there-- much of the teaching was a
very high quality. But whether it was or it wasn't, that wasn't the important
factor in deciding whether you got tenure. It was really research. And they
would load up-- they would load me up, you know, their debut woman of that
period with a lot of teaching. When it came time to allocate time either to
teaching or research, they sort of kept the pressure on for the teaching and
were kind of stingy in providing the kinds of opportunities for research,
00:52:00research time that they routinely offered men. That would be an example of
biased decision making.
JC: OK. It almost sounds like there was a sort of a-- I'm not sure if I'm
understanding correctly. But there was sort of a simple idea of discrimination.
Sort of, well not giving somebody a job. That's discrimination. But perhaps less
understanding of the very subtle ways in which discrimination can take place?
MN: Yes. It just wasn't thought about and some of these things you had to-- you
had to see it in action to understand it. For example, one thing that I learned,
one thing that was extremely helpful and was an example of the openness of the
department, of the zoology department, was that when I first came there in '71,
they had decided that the faculty discussions when somebody was considered for
00:53:00tenure were going to be open to all the faculty, including the non-tenured
faculty. So as a result, I was able to sit in on the discussion for whether two
or three of the men ahead of me would become tenured. And from sitting in on
those discussions, I got an idea about how the tenure considerations worked.
Excuse me a minute.
You know, what sorts of questions were debated in deciding whether to recommend
tenure for an assistant professor. And what I saw was that one faculty member
would take responsibility for shepherding the case through the faculty. You
know, that person would carefully examine the record of the candidate and
00:54:00presumably, have talked with them and have some idea about their strengths and
weaknesses. Of course, the candidate was not in the room. But that professor
would present that person's case to the rest of the faculty and kind of act as
his lawyer, acting on his behalf and kind of defending him, or at least trying
to explain the weaknesses and give a lot of attention to the strengths.
MN: When I came up for tenure, nobody was willing to take that position. And
having heard about this in the situations of other people too, I think part of
the problem was that there was something sociologically embarrassing about
00:55:00taking up the cause of a woman. So a problem was created in the structure of the
way the tenure system was to work. And what was problematic about it was that
there was no rule in the university that said one person shall act as the
defender or lawyer or representative of the candidate. This is something that
had developed informally. So that when nobody wanted to do it for a woman,
nobody realized that this was-- they weren't even so conscious that that's what
usually happens or that if it didn't happen for a woman, that this would create
a problem in itself. You know, so that's an example of one of the things, which
by the end of the 70s was a paradigmatic situation that universities realized
they had to step in and deal with. And there were many things like that,
00:56:00including for instance, the tendency to give women a whole lot of teaching to do
and then ask why they weren't doing so much research. There were many things
like that that were sort of not exactly planned, but they ended up in biased decisions.
JC: OK. Now, at what point did you become involved with the women's movement on
campus? Can you talk a little bit about how the women's movement came to campus
and your role in it?
MN: Well, I don't remember exactly how I learned that there was an organization
forming called the Association of Faculty Women, but I learned about it. Maybe
there was just an announcement sent around. Or I don't know. I went to a meeting
and I was very impressed by the women I met there. One of them and one of the
00:57:00prominent ones was Ruth Bleier, from the neurophysiology department. They were
virtually entirely-- excuse me a minute, I have to cough.
Yes. They were almost entirely women from other departments. I think that one of
the post docs in the department, probably Gabrielle Kass [-Simon], I think she
might have told me about the Association of Faculty Women. I think we went
together at any rate, went over there together. But there were almost no women
who I had known before and so I met other women in other departments. They
seemed like dynamic and interesting people, so I was very interested in it and
they took an activist role in trying to create-- take actions that would push
00:58:00the university towards admitting women to higher positions at a more rapid rate.
So I continued to go to the meetings and work with them.
JC: OK. Apart from Ruth Bleier, do you remember any of the other leaders of the AFW?
MN: I think that, at least at the beginning that Cyrena Pondrom participated.
She then, perhaps already at that time or soon after, took on some kind of
administrative post in the University. I don't remember who-- I think there were
both women faculty, but also a lot of women who were in research positions or
non-tenure track positions. It certainly wasn't representative of the women on
00:59:00campus. I mean many women didn't come or came only briefly. I don't remember
whether, for instance, Lorraine Meisner was there or I'm sorry I don't remember.
JC: Oh, that's OK. It was a while ago.
JC: But it sounds like it was very meaningful for you just to start connecting
with other women on campus?
MN: Yes, definitely.
JC: Now did you start talking to them? Would you talk about experiences you were
each having in your own laboratories or was it more about sort of public
agitation, more activism?
MN: It was more in that direction, but there was some discussion about problems
people were having at work and how to deal with them. What had been set up
within the administration to assist women was really not worthwhile. It was not
01:00:00functional because these offices with representatives for women's advancement
really owed their allegiance to the administration and were really-- their
objective was to prevent a scandal, not to help individual women, even though
that's not what they said publicly. But people who tried to go to these offices
with-- affirmative action offices with complaints or with requests for help, the
kind of help they would get was not necessarily in the interest of the
plaintiff, but had to do with smoothing things over for the administration.
JC: OK. Now did talking to all these women and meeting them, did that change
your perspective about your own situation? Did you start to see things differently?
MN: Well, I guess it was certainly nice to feel that there was the potential for
support there. But I was completely lulled into through most of the 70s, I mean
until I came-- was rejected for tenure, I had been lulled into the feeling that
things were very above board in that respect in the zoology department. For
example, I realized that I was getting more pressure to do more teaching than
the men were, but I expected that that would be considered when they considered
me for tenure. Since they had loaded all this teaching on me that they would
realize that that takes time and that the research articles that I published in
01:02:00that period would have to be balanced against what my teaching obligations were.
There was also the phenomenon-- and this is another one of these things that at
this time, universities had not realized they had to deal with. That if you are
one of the few women on tenure track on the campus, especially in science
departments, and if the school is under pressure to have women in positions of
power, then you are asked to sit on a gazillion committees, S that there will be
a woman on the committee. And this happened to me too and being not to-- having
not much insight into the situation I agreed to do a whole lot of administrative
work, quite a bit more than men were expected to do. You know, thinking that
yes, it was important to have women on these various committees and assuming
01:03:00that this would be taken into account in a reasonable way when at the time of
tenure evaluation. But you know, it wasn't. And this is a widespread phenomenon.
I had been completely lulled by the fairness and even generosity that I had seen
in the consideration of other assistant professors for tenure in the zoology
department, which happened to be men. All of them, that's all there were. I'd
been lulled into thinking that they would be even-handed and reasonable in
evaluating my record. And so when you say did I feel like I could lean on the
association of faculty women for backing? I wasn't really expecting to need
backing until late in the game.
JC: OK. And yes, we certainly will come back to the tenure issue a bit later on.
01:04:00Now I guess when you say-- I know this was a while ago. Do you remember specific
examples of what the Association of Faculty Women was doing? Were they trying to
create particular positions or certain committees? Do you remember just sort of
some examples of how they didn't accept what the university was doing already
and where they were pushing for more?
MN: Well, we would analyze the reports and tables that were produced by the
administration, which they used to demonstrate to the government and the public,
I guess, that they were active in affirmative action. That they actually were
trying to recruit and promote women. And we would point out that very little
progress was being made and a lot of women who were hired were leaving while
01:05:00they were still assistant professors and that numerous women were being rejected
for tenure. And that even though five or ten years had gone by during which
these efforts were supposed to have being enforced, yet still the percentage of
women among the full professors was minuscule and there were very few women
among the associate professors. And the women that there were, were all crowded
in the assistant professor ranks and that this wasn't-- or among instructors.
And that this was hardly changing and at this rate it would take several
centuries to get to equity. And so the Association of Faculty Women was issuing
statements and having not exactly press conferences, but placing articles in
01:06:00newspapers and sometimes there were demonstration. I think there was an activist
movement that had to do with obtaining locker room space for women. There was
JC: Oh, in athletics. I've heard something similar to that. Yes.
MN: But most of it had to do with criticizing the rate at which women were being
admitted to the higher positions in the faculty and questioning the true motives
of the administration and so forth.
JC: OK, so a lot of what you were doing was countering the official information
that was coming from the university?
JC: OK. Do you know how the University viewed the Association of Faculty Women? Presumably.
MN: Let me just add one other thing. I think there was a discussion and I don't
remember to what extent this happened of trying to develop sort of like
sponsorships for women in the sense of that there was an effort to link new
women faculty with experienced women faculty, so that they could have a coach
who knew something about the way the university worked and help them.
JC: So like a mentorship program then?
MN: Anyway, in answer to your-- could you repeat your question?
JC: I was just wondering how the university viewed the AFW, how it treated it.
What the attitude of faculty members and administrators was towards the association.
MN: I think that it was an antagonistic relationship. They considered them sort
01:08:00of a nuisance lobbying group. And I think that the Association of Faculty Women
was considered to be radical or to be dominated by radical women. And so, in
that sense, I suppose that to the extent that people, faculty and zoology knew
that I was attending those meetings or interacting with them, it might've races
some eyebrows, but nobody ever-- but I don't know. You know, I think the
attitudes of the faculty varied. I doubt that too many faculty lost any sleep
JC: OK. Do you know of any women who perhaps didn't agree with the Association
of Faculty Women? Who perhaps found the organization too radical?
MN: Know of individual faculty who felt that way?
JC: Well yeah, I'm wondering about the women on campus. If there were some who strongly--
MN: I think so. A few of the people in there were considered radical and over
01:09:00the top by some others. There was a woman who was in educational--
JC: Joan Roberts, perhaps?
MN: --administration or something.
JC: Yeah, I think her name might be Joan Roberts?
MN: Yeah, that's it. She's an example of somebody who was very vociferous and
who did some strident things, I guess. Though I can't remember what they are.
But I think she would be an example of somebody was considered unreasonably
radical and so the fact that she was an activist in AFW would've sort of painted
the organization in some people's eyes. And that was true of Ruth Bleier also. I
think probably the lesbianism of some of the women also would've disturbed-- at
01:10:00the time, would've disturb some women. So I think that quieter women would have
been dissuaded from interacting with the organization. However, probably a
larger factor was that those women who were in the tenure track type of
positions were extremely busy and stressed for time. And so always in these
things, most women don't make the time commitment.
JC: Yeah. Now apart from the Association of Faculty Women, do you know of any
other ways that women got together on a formal or informal basis? And you know,
this might be like reading groups or consciousness raising groups or weekly
luncheons or Sigma Delta Epsilon.
MN: Well, I think Sigma Delta Epsilon and such things did meet and I remember
01:11:00getting announcements about them. And I know that, like Helen Meyer who was one
of the research specialist in the department, like a senior scientist. I think
she was involved with that or maybe Marion Meyer, who was initially a lecturer
when I was there. But I did not go to that. But I remember getting announcements
I did learn that some graduate students were meeting in some kind of
consciousness raising group and eventually I went and Patricia Whitt was the
graduate student who got me involved in that. And she might have gotten me
involved in the Association of Faculty Women too. That was very important to
01:12:00them and I found it very interesting when I did go. And was very surprised
because Patricia Whitt and the other women, like graduate students and post docs
and so on who discussed things at these meetings were very-- they expressed a
lot of unhappiness with their situation in graduate school or in labs in a post
doctoral capacity. Feeling that the atmosphere was very uncongenial for a woman.
And I was very surprised, very surprised.
For instance, one of the complaints they would make was that when there were
seminar, research seminars that the male researchers and students and so forth
were showing off all the time. That there would be all these sort of questions
01:13:00and critiques and so on, but that they were not really sincere. They were mostly
directed at showing off what a bright guy you were and pushing yourself ahead of
others. And they found this revolting. You know, didn't want to participate and
felt that they were being-- the women felt that they were considered lesser
beings because they didn't participate in this sort of pushy, showoffy-ness You
know, I mean I went to many of these seminars they were talking about and I
didn't experience things that way, so I found it amazing and interesting that
JC: Maybe you could just clarify what exactly the term consciousness raising
group means. Just to make sure in case there are some listeners who don't know
what that means.
MN: Well, to me it means people talking about their experiences and in
01:14:00particular settings. And then discovering that feelings that they had had that
they might not have made conscious to themselves or might not credited thinking
that only they were experiencing things this way. Finding that many other women
if it's a women's consciousness raising group. Many other people in the room
have had the same experiences, and so by exchanging impressions they are able to
form their ideas more clearly and also, gain strength and support in the
realization that they're not alone. And many people are suffering from the same factors.
JC: OK. So sort of a sense of gaining validation from hearing that other people
might have had similar experiences?
MN: Right. And also formulating your ideas by different people interacting and
01:15:00people bringing in different insights. And so being able to create a bigger
picture out of it.
JC: OK. So once you became involved with this consciousness raising group, is
that something you continued to go to?
MN: Irregularly, yeah. Somewhat. But of course, at the same time, time was
passing and more and more was being published about discrimination and the
women's movement and patriarchy and lectures were being given and it got to be--
of course, there was more discussion and people's ideas developed. I don't think
I would have been able to develop these ideas on my own and I was quite
astonished at what was developing. It did make sense to me just that, I mean of
course, Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex and a whole lot of
01:16:00subsequent books commented on how women were second class citizens and how this
was part of the history of patriarchal societies and so forth. And this whole
web of ideas gradually dawned on me through the consciousness raising groups and
people recommending books to each other and so forth. I would not have
encountered this kind of thing on my own. I was quite wrapped up in biology.
JC: Now you mentioned books and speaker. Other than Simone de Beauvoir, do you
remember any other particular speakers or books that circulated around campus
and that were a really important source of ideas?
MN: My problem is going to be that I don't know the dates really. I eventually,
through these-- well, a group of women scientists at Wisconsin began meeting
01:17:00eventually, but I think that was in the 80s. And so I did quite a bit of reading
in connection with that group. And I really don't remember exactly when that
started, although I do remember that it resulted after a lecture given by Ruth
Bleier. I think given at the Women's Department or there was a department or--
JC: The Women's Studies Department perhaps.
MN: Women's Studies Department. Ruth Bleier gave a lecture and I don't remember.
I suppose it was the early 80s, but I don't remember exactly when. This created
a good deal of excitement and a group of women decided they wanted to continue
this in discussion groups that met regularly. And that group met regularly for a
long time and would agree to read particular articles or books and discuss them
01:18:00and these were primarily books about a feminist take on science and on
scientific institutions and how women scientists were treated and this kind of
thing. And you know, so for example, an author whose books were read a lot in
that vein is Evelyn Fox Keller. I suppose that was more starting in the 80s and
we're back in the 70s now. So I don't remember back then much.
JC: OK. But it does sound like there was a lot of discussion, consciousness
raising groups. People were talking about these issues a lot.
MN: Yes. I was fairly outside this, so for me not until sort of the end of the 70s.
JC: OK. I'm just going to turn off the tape recorder now.