A History of Feminist Activism
at Miami University, Oxford Campus

1969-1993

By Stephanie Abrams
American Studies, May 1993
Miami University


INTRODUCTION

   Although there have almost always been small groups of women working in the United States form social change, women working in a movement advocating change in their own lives has come in waves. The Suffragist Movement, or Women's Rights movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is often considered the first wave of feminism in the U. S.

   The second wave of feminism began in the mid 1960's. Under President Kennedy, the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. The act provided that employers must give men and women equal pay for equal work. Soon after, under Lyndon Johnson, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion and national origin.(1) These two laws provided a backdrop for the second wave of feminism.

   In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and the book became a best seller by 1964. In the book, Friedan critiqued the limited roles allowed for women as wives and mothers. It encouraged many women to become active outside their homes and married lives. Although Friedan's book basically ignores the situation of minority, lower and working class women, who by necessity were already active outside of the home, the book is often looked at as a turning point for many middle class white women. These women were encouraged to examine and do something about their limited situations.

   Enough women were interested that by October 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) held its first formal meeting, with Betty Friedan as the organization's first president. The group's goal was to create equality between women and men, calling for "equal participation and treatment of women in employment, education, and government, for establishing new institutions to facilitate public roles for women, for true equality in marriage, and for destroying false images of women."(2) NOW set up task forces to address seven areas of including employment, religion, the family, the mass media, politics, and female poverty.

   In preparation for the 1968 elections, NOW prepared a Bill of Rights that included support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), as well as for reform of abortion laws. The issues of abortion and the ERA became divisive for NOW and led to a splintering of the group- some women felt that the issues did not belong on the organization's agenda, while others wanted the agenda to push harder, to be more radical. Some NOW members splintered off into smaller groups, but NOW continued working on its agenda.

   Around the same time, in radical politics, another branch of the second wave of feminism was developing. Some of the women involved in the Black Civil Rights struggle, in organizations like the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and in the New Left in organizations like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), began talking to each other about how they felt mistreated and left out. In general, the men, in their critique of society, failed to examine the position of women. As Alice Echols writes "The new left initially lacked any critical consciousness of gender relations"; so women began meeting in small groups to discuss male supremacy and its effects on them.(3) However, at the same time the women involved in the Movement were experiencing sexism, they were also given a chance through leadership roles to "break out of confining, traditional roles". (4) In a way, these women were getting the chance to do what the women influenced by Friedan's book wanted to do.

   "But at the same time that the Movement was building women's self-confidence and giving them the opportunity to break out of stultifying roles," Echols adds, "it was, paradoxically, becoming a less congenial place for white women". (5) In the Movement, where women's personal problems ideally took second place to other 'more important' issues, women's concerns with their treatment within the Movement were seen as detracting from the 'true' cause, and as apolitical.

   Women in both SDS and SNCC took the initiative to write position papers addressing their concerns. Mary King and Casey Hayden wrote for SNCC during Freedom Summer(1964), "Sex and Caste", while in 1965 the issue was raised within SDS. The authors of the paper placed the struggle for sexual equality in the new left practice of ridding of the separation between personal and political issues. (6)

   During the next few years, women, especially white women, were further marginalized within the Movement, with the expulsion of whites from the civil rights movement and the concentration on draft resistance in the New Left, where women could really only be supporters since they were not drafted.

   In 1967 the issue of sexual inequality was raised again at SDS's June 1967 National Convention in Ann Arbor.(7) The group of women who raised the issue called themselves the Women's Liberation Workshop, and they declared that "as we analyze the position of women in capitalist society and especially in the United States we find the women are in a colonial relationship to men and we recognize ourselves as part of the Third World."(8) The men resisted the claim, and in the fall of 1967, women in the Chicago convention issued "To the Women of the Left," in it claiming that "only we can and must define the terms of our struggle" thus "it is incumbent on us, as women, to organize a movement for women's liberation".(9) These were the beginnings of radical feminism.

   Like liberal feminists (such as the members of NOW), radical feminists faced divisions in defining issues as well. These women, coming form the Civil Rights and New Left movements, split into several small, localized, grass roots type groups in which they developed their politics.

   Activists both in the liberal and radical sectors of second wave feminism were busy trying to change the position of women through educating, raising consciousness, protesting and legislating change. AT the same time, small groups of women on college campuses across the United States grew interested and also wanted to change their position within society or the structure of society itself that made women and men unequal.

   One such campus was Miami University in Oxford. Although Oxford's campus has long had the reputation of being highly conservative, second wave feminist activity has been stirring here since the late 1960's following and sometimes mirroring feminist activism on the national level. Though certainly and a few men became active in advocating, pushing and legislating change in university policy.

   The goal of this paper is to explore this history of feminism's and activism at Miami University, Oxford Campus. Many groups representing different sectors of feminism and activism sprung from the university and its surrounding community. Both liberal and radical feminist politics could and can be found in Oxford, and feminists demands for change have varied widely. Much of the activism was reflective of the larger women's movement in the United States. Sometimes, because my information is not complete, it is difficult to attribute the cause of certain events, however, I do my best.

   Finding and gathering information for this study was difficult. Records are scarce, scattered, and contain large ellipses. I reviewed several years of the Miami Student (the campus student newspaper), conducted eight in depth interviews with faculty members involved in some way with feminist activism, and gathered pamphlets, newsletters, committee reports, and work of previous students. (9) With this information, I have tried to pull together a somewhat cohesive herstory of feminist activism on the Oxford Campus of Miami University.

   One of the most important critiques of the second wave of feminism has been its exclusivity. That is, it is accused of ignoring the experience of most groups of women, focusing only on white, middle or upper middle class women. In recent years, feminists have increasingly become aware of the differences in women's experiences that race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. may make. Any account of feminist activism needs to be sensitive to the differences as well as the similarities in women's experience. Yet in the case of feminism at Miami, this task is particularly difficult. Here the average family income of attending students i s currently $80,000, and only 2% of students her belong to a racial minority group. The student body is a privileged, mainly while one, thus, most of my material is referring to or about privileged, white people.

   Certainly, in a semester of work, I could not cover everything. I write this with the hope that other students will continue to fill in the gaps I leave, so someday there will be a more complete herstory of feminist activism at Miami.

   The rising of a second wave of feminism has often been attributed to women's involvement in other social movements during the 1960's. Activism at Miami University, Oxford campus concerning Black Civil Rights and War Resistance, followed national trends. Several front page stories of the Miami Student covered these issues. For example, in the April 6, 1969 edition, a front page story is "BSAA Requesting MU Investigation For Discrimination". Paul Payne, the then student president of the Black Student Action Association said "Educational genocide has got to stop. We are tired of lies being taught about black people." (1) This article is only one of many throughout the Student showing activism and concern surrounding Black Civil Rights.

   Activism surrounding the Vietnam war also existed in Oxford. In October of 1969, over 500 college and universities nationwide, including Miami participated in anti-war activities. According to the October 14, 1969 Student, the weeks theme was "Work for Peace" and plans included speakers, teach ins and candlelit marches.(2) On the same front page appears an article citing a Dayton Daily News article about Miami SDS'ers allegedly issuing a written threat to bomb the ROTC building on campus.(3) Whether or not the threat was real, the university considered the threat real enough to appear in the paper, showing student activism surrounding the war was certainly present in Oxford.

   Activism surround Black Civil Rights and War Resistance was reflective of activism elsewhere, as was one woman's response to the movements. In the February 3, 1970 issue of the Student, a member of Oxford Women's Liberation, Ronna Benjamin is quoted as saying, "Men who are involved in radical movements think that women's liberation is not very important alongside problems like poor and social injustice."(4) This exclusion and belittling of women's issues was a main critique that led many women to form radical feminist groups in large cities where other movements were stationed. It seems that similar dynamics, on a much smaller scale, were in play at Miami.

   Perhaps, students here reacted a little more slowing than most students did nationwide. According to Karen Maitland Schiling , a faculty member who has been at Miami since 1975, the most politically active women students were busy on the Committee for Socialist Alternatives (CSA). CSA was a student and faculty group, and Maitland-Schilling remembers much of the women's students action "centered around this, rather than gendered activity." (5)

   The tardiness of women's liberation activism on a large scale has to do with at least two factors. One factor is that Miami is basically a conservative campus. Another is the fluctuating nature of any college campus. Students are usually here for four years, and then on their way. This high turnover rate leads to fluctuation in student groups and only the most established student groups are able to remain active. Because of this fluctuation in groups, the most effective way to approach the history of student activism is to divide the activism into issues such as women's safety, images of women, and the education of women and feminists, as well as the education of the community about feminist issues.


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Contents | Acknowledgments | Introduction | Women's Safety | Images of Women | Education | Conclusion | Endnotes


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