On Equal Terms: Educating Women at the University of Chicago (Part 1)

On Equal Terms: Educating Women at the University of Chicago (Part 1)

On one hand, the University was the progressive place that accepted women as students from the day it opened its doors in 1892. On the other hand, it was the place where nepotism policies through the middle of the 20th century prevented some women fro...

Summary

On one hand, the University was the progressive place that accepted women as students from the day it opened its doors in 1892. On the other hand, it was the place where nepotism policies through the middle of the 20th century prevented some women from pursuing careers at the University if they were married to a tenure-track professor."The image I recall the most is of one woman talking about how each morning, nine out of 10 housewives sweeping their row house steps in Hyde Park have PhDs," says Megdal, who will attend Yale Law School in the fall. "I remember thinking as I listened that I'm lucky that I would never have to do that today."Then she thought about where she fit in that narrative: "I think back to the people who got me involved in gender studies, who changed the trajectory of my life, the kind of attention and support I had, those women had none of that."Megdal transcribed many of those interviews for a project by the Center for Gender Studies, begun in 2004. Excerpts from the 71 oral histories she and her fellow undergraduates plumbed now provide the soundtrack for a University Library exhibition, "On Equal Terms: Educating Women at the University of Chicago," which will be on display through July 14 in the Special Collections Research Center. Research for the exhibition also spawned an undergraduate course on the history of women and a companion exhibition at the Center for Gender Studies."The title sums up so many moments when the University administration, really in good faith, thought they were providing what was best for women," says Monica Mercado, who is a co-curator of the Library exhibition along with fellow doctoral History student Katherine Turk. "Reality often conflicted with that ideal."Through photographs, archival material, and audio recordings, "On Equal Terms" illustrates the everyday students, faculty, staff, and even faculty wives at the University.It's a very uneven story where the University was out ahead in certain aspects of co-education and behind in others, says Deborah Nelson, Director of the Center for Gender Studies. It's really an evolving story of higher education that's still going on right now around the hiring and promotion of women faculty and the Work-Life initiatives coming out of the Provost's office.