By Caroline Jenkins Hanna
What was it like for the early female professors at Amherst?
[Book] A new book that explores the heartbreaking and inspiring stories of the first female professors at Amherst gives insight into the evolution of gender equity in society and on campus.
The experiences described in Gender Matters: The First Half-Century of Women Teaching at Amherst—such as being given a starting salary less than that of a husband “so as not to upset the stability of the marriage”—serve as a reminder of just how much the college has changed in a generation.
“Amherst now is certainly not the Amherst I came to—it’s not just different, but better,” says Rose Olver, the L. Stanton Williams ’41 Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Emerita (left). “And that is due in part to the many voices, real talent and exceptional scholarship of women faculty in the past 50 years.”
Olver was the college’s first female tenure-track professor. She and colleagues Elizabeth Aries (below), the Clarence Francis 1910 Professor in Social Sciences (Psychology), and Jane Taubman, professor emerita of Russian, together edited the book.
Published by Amherst this fall, it chronicles an October 2011 campus symposium of the same name.
The book contains, among other elements, transcripts of symposium sessions, essays from participants, and autobiographies and necrologies of the “pioneers”—Olver, Aries, Taubman and more than 50 other women hired as Amherst professors between 1962 and 1983.
The impact of female professors on college policies has been significant. For example, it was only through their influence that, in the early ’80s, Amherst implemented a maternity-leave policy that enabled professors to take off time for childbirth. And in 1986, thanks to a recommendation from the Committee on the Conditions of Work for Women, the college initiated its first campus daycare program.
“Changing a tenure-track college or university is like turning a battleship—it takes time,” says Taubman (left). “It wasn’t until the 1990s that we started seeing women routinely chairing committees and departments. Today we have women serving as the president and dean of the faculty, and there are several departments that are majority female.”
Aries notes that, at present, a large group of new, diverse, talented professors—including many women—has arrived on campus. Women now make up about 46 percent of the faculty.
“We’ve looked at coeducation and the experience of women students over and over and over again,” Aries says. “What we have never looked at is the coeducation, so to speak, of the faculty. What are the lessons we can learn so we don’t repeat our mistakes with these new faculty? These are critical discussions to keep having.”
In 1974, as the faculty voted on coeducation, female professors wore “Keep Abreast of the Times” T-shirts.
Photos from Amherst College Archives
To order a copy of Gender Matters ($25 plus $3.75 shipping/handling), send a check, payable to the Trustees of Amherst College, to the Amherst Communications Office, Box 5000, Amherst, MA 01002.