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Fredonia Academy
Fredonia Normal School
Teachers College
Faculty Dames
The Post-War Years

Fredonia 1961-Present

Student Reaction
Thanks To

State University College at Fredonia/SUNY Fredonia,
1961- Present

The work of women was finally being appreciated as America gained a conscience, and as boundaries, conventional ideas, and curfews were being challenged. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act passed, but the long hard fight for civil rights and equal opportunities continued. Until the mid-1960s, Fredonia was still primarily a teachers college, and students were focused on completing their studies and beginning a teaching career. However, at the beginning of the 1970s, the campus climate changed dramatically. On April 30, 1970, the Nixon administration announced the decision to invade Cambodia. The National Student Association called for a nationwide strike. On Monday, May 4, 1970, four students at Kent State University were killed in an anti-war demonstration.

The students of SUNY Fredonia also united and began to address campus issues. Fredonia remained one of only a handful of state schools that had a curfew for women. On October 15, 1970, 400 people attended an 11:30 p.m. demonstration to end the restriction against women. The walkout was incited by freshman women who were concerned about their limited freedom. Women were also questioning the very real sexist practices that had controlled their minds, bodies, and spirits. In the fall of 1972, the student newspaper, The Leader, printed a series of articles dedicated to fighting for "the availability of safe, effective birth control methods and abortion services." At this time the College Council also modified restrictions for off-campus housing for students age 19 and over, and co-ed dorms came into effect at the beginning of the 1973 spring semester. In May 1973, Fredonia's Federation for Women acted to end the tradition of All-College Queen, and the College Judicial Board granted an injunction to stop the election. Although women were beginning to find a voice, there remained evidence of sexual humiliation. The Leader ran a cartoon called, "Little Man on Campus," showing a naked woman bouncing from a professor's office, with her bra just ahead of her. Two male professors watch and comment, "I hate this time of year when the students start pressuring faculty to change grades."

Between 1969 and 1975, the proportion of women faculty and staff on college and university campuses improved, but their professional status remained significantly below that of their male colleagues. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting gender discrimination in public education. Yet, in 1977, the college newsletter, Campus Report, stated that women faculty, nationally and in New York State, continued to earn 3 to 10 percent less than their male peers.

Professor Carol Accorino Prevet of the Department of Theatre and Dance, who was hired in 1967, shared her experience:

"I was told that I didn't need a larger salary, because I had my husband's salary, too. My department chair, at first, didn't want me to marry. He tried to stop me by saying it would never work because we were from two different religions."

Mary Crea, a member of the secretarial staff on campus since 1969, reported:

"I was asked when I was interviewed if I was married, and had children. He wanted to know if I was planning on starting a family. He thought I would leave my job once I was married."

Also commenting on the role of women on campus was Marge Lagana, who worked at SUNY Fredonia from 1970 until 2001:

"Women did not have leadership positions. They were mostly secretaries and janitors. Many of these women were college educated but never were able to leave the secretarial role and be promoted to a supervisory position. Women then, and now, are still underpaid. Secretaries were pulled from their normal jobs to run orientation and registration without any additional compensation. Those in power didn't think twice about it [assigning secretaries to extra duties]. They figured we didn't have anything better to do. That was what we were here for."

Pamela Kirst, a member of the Classes of 1977 and '96, who later became a member of the college's Learning Center staff, noted, "People expected me to be a secretary or kindergarten teacher. That was what women did. I knew that wasn't what I wanted."

Sara M. Sievert began work at Fredonia in 1965 as a classified specialist in the Fenton Hall library. In 1969, the women of the library helped to move all materials to the new Reed Library, and developed a Serials Department. "Although a lot of hard work both physically and mentally went into the project, very little appreciation was given by the administration." Sievert also served as President of the campus local of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). With CSEA leadership and persistence, promotion became a reality for the clerical staff.

In the late 1970s, Dr. Maureen Fries of the Department of English began a Feminist Literature course and eventually helped to establish the Women's Studies concentration. Rape, sexual abuse, and harassment were discussed openly. The Women's Student Union formed, and a rape counseling center opened. Women students responded with a new sense of vigor and determination. Faculty and community members were also becoming involved with women's issues. In 1971, faculty wives helped to found the Northern Chautauqua County Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). These women were concerned with the plight of women factory workers in local steel and food processing plants. Faculty wives contributed significantly to raising awareness of women and women's issues in the Fredonia/Dunkirk area. Joanne Schweik, a member of the Faculty Dames hired in 1974 as a part-time archivist in Reed Library, began to compile a collection of women's music, news and history. Schweik chaired the campus Affirmative Action Committee and worked with Fries to write the affirmative action section of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities accreditation report. In 1975, the Council for Women's Concerns formed to encourage the hiring, retention, and promotion of women across campus, to address inequity issues, and to provide overall social and professional support for women.

The 1980s were years of a growing economy, a tendency toward conservative values, and image building. Unemployment was at its lowest in years, but the value of the dollar was steadily decreasing due to inflation. In 1981, women throughout the United States hailed the history-making decision by President Ronald Reagan to appoint Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman justice to the Supreme Court. While the Cold War was raging, the college was experiencing hard economic cuts. A march in early September 1985 at Fredonia protested a tuition increase and a decrease in financial aid.

During this decade the college hired a record number of women faculty. They came with new ideas and fresh outlooks for expanding the roles of women in the academic institution. Jean Harper became a mathematics faculty member at Fredonia in 1988. The hiring of Harper, wife of Dr. Gregory Harper of the School of Education, was an example of the increasing opportunities for women on campus. While Harper commented on this phenomenon, she also was quick to note the low retention rate:

"Women were still not given tenure. They often were not promoted like their male colleagues. Women were expected to do it all - raise a family, hold a job, and take care of a household, all the while smiling. Yet there is very little day care available, and the work day grows increasing longer."

When Dr. Minda Rae Amiran came to Fredonia in 1981, the Women's Studies concentration was at a critical moment. Almost all of the students in the program were about to graduate. The Women's Studies committee faced an apparent lack of interest and support from students, administration and staff. Faculty members were not offered financial stipends in support of the program, and department chairs refused to allow release time so that interested faculty could develop and teach necessary courses. Community member Carol Adams, founder of the Chautauqua Rural Ministry, taught the introductory course at this time. Reflecting events at the national level among feminist groups, the community of active women on campus also began to factionalize.

Despite the efforts of some of the faculty, few courses were offered and the concentration became inactive. Amiran and many other concerned faculty members were able to re-energize Women's Studies as a minor in Fall 1995. In 1993, as part of the effort, students circulated petitions and canvassed the campus asking students, faculty and staff to sign the following statement:

We, the students of Fredonia State College, feel that students should have the right to be able to take classes that address problems that go on in our society. One of these problems is the ignorance in respect to women's issues, and the virtual non-existence of classes that address this problem. Therefore, we ask that the concentration in Women's Studies be resurrected at Fredonia State. While we understand that a few classes are presently taught in this area, there are not enough to open up a concentration. We, the undersigned support the effort to resurrect this concentration.

Today, SUNY Fredonia offers a Women's Studies minor with classes in many disciplines and has an active Women's Student Union.

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