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The Women’s Movement at UD Over the Decades

By Hannah Kratofil '20 and Alexandra Michalski '20

In celebration of International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8th, we are sharing what we have found in our research about the history of women on UD’s campus. From the 1960s to the founding of the Women’s Center in 2003, many women at UD have passionately supported the feminist and women’s liberation movements which swept the nation during these times. What follows is a history of those efforts, compiled from Flyer News articles.

Prior to the emergence of the women’s movement, there were notable differences in the way that men and women were portrayed on campus. Throughout the 1960s, women were referred to as “co-eds,” and the only substantial appearance of women in Flyer News were announcements for homecoming queen and the winner of best-dressed contests. Women’s sports were relegated to the back pages of each issue, confined to only a few sentences. This trend continued throughout the ‘60s until the early ‘70s when the “co-ed” designation was dropped in favor of the terms “women” and “female.” 

In the 1970s, both second-wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement found passionate supporters on campus. The Women’s Liberation group - apparently a student-led organization -  saw renewed enthusiasm after its founding in 1969, quickly garnering support for the movement. They hosted panels and discussions, and distributed information on birth control and contraceptives. In 1970, the University Activities Organization (UAO), in conjunction with the Women’s Liberation group, sponsored a first Women’s Liberation Month. All month long, the University hosted speakers and discussion panels focused on the theme “Society’s Daughters: the Restless Women of the 70s.” One participant at the event, said that the “women’s liberation movement at UD is gaining momentum, as consciousness-raising groups yield more and more ideas.” 

Building on the momentum of Women’s Liberation Month, the Women’s Liberation group scheduled a “Women’s Week” the next year. The week consisted of a five-day program including panels, lectures, and workshops, but it was unfortunately canceled after only one person showed up for the first day. In 1972, they tried again with a “Women’s Weekend,” featuring films, discussions, and workshops culminating in a keynote address by Shirley Chisholm on the role of women in politics. 1975 saw the second attempt at a “Women’s Week;” this time around, it was well-received, with various films, speakers, and workshops drawing students in to learn more about the women’s movement. 

Into the 1980s, the conversation surrounding women on campus shifted to two main narratives: the awareness and prevention of sexual assault, and gender roles and women’s empowerment. Classes, seminars, and presentations made the realities of sexual assault visible on campus; they also explored gender roles, power dynamics and equality in religion and the workforce. In this decade, the salient issue was awareness raising and efforts to prevent rape and other forms of sexual assault and harassment. Flyer News published a series of articles that presented information and statistics on sexual assault. In October 1988, Flyer News reported that rape awareness programs hit campus; these measures included emergency phones installed at key locations around campus, the establishment of an escort system, and new programs to educate students on the danger of date rape. These awareness efforts culminated in January 1989 when the Rape Awareness Committee was formed by Lisa Merkel, consisting of 30 members from various campus organizations. It sponsored numerous seminars and presentations on the prevention of date rape and sexual harassment and a Rape Awareness Week in March 1989. 

Paralleling the discussion of rape on campus was a conversation about gender roles, equality, and the power dynamics between men and women. In March 1982, there was a workshop that presented women the chance to understand their roles by learning how to succeed professionally and socially in a previously male-dominated world. September 22, 1982 was Women’s Day, the theme for which was “You’ve come a long way baby!” The purpose of the day was to provide the opportunity for women to converse with professionals about their careers. Unlike Women’s Day in earlier decades which included a bridal show, the 1980s edition was updated to meet the needs of women. In November 1988, a panel sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department discussed the role of women in religion and the phenomenon of women seeking liberation within their faiths while challenging traditions and redefining their roles. 

By the 1990s, the primary focus of the women’s movement shifted to addressing rape both on and off-campus. In March 1991, a “Rape Awareness Week” was held to educate on the presence of sexual assault on campus. In October 1992, the Advisory Committee on Women’s Issues was formed to bring awareness to discrimination against women on campus. It was during this time that the University began to host “Take Back the Night” marches where students would march around the student neighborhood and campus, demanding an end to rape. In 1997, only twenty students participated in this march, and they were met with hostility on campus; cans and vulgarities were thrown and obscene gestures made at the protestors from Marycrest. The following year, sixty people attended the protest, including faculty members, and were once again met with vulgarities, though not nearly as many as the previous year. When asked why they decided to protest, one member said: “[it’s because] sexism is definitely present on campus, although it may not be obvious, it is still part of the campus environment.”

We found that the women’s movement on campus strengthened over the decades, adding new dimensions and reflecting the major trends of the larger feminist movement in society. Our plan is to continue to develop this narrative with additional sources resulting in a comprehensive timeline of the women’s movement on campus.

Stay tuned! Over the semester, we will share more on the history of the women's movement on campus.

Hannah Kratofil is a fourth-year student studying History and Political Science. She is also pursuing the Nonprofit and Community Leadership Certificate. Hannah is a student intern at the HRC and a Dayton Civic Scholar.

Alexandra Michalski is a fourth-year student majoring in history and minoring in English and film studies. She is also a student intern at the University of Dayton Archives.

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