Women at UW–Madison

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to understand the challenges women encountered in higher education during the 20th century.

Students will be able to understand the importance of women’s studies departments in the history of Feminism.

Students will be able to understand how gender discrimination in the universities impacted the tenure process.

Sources and Readings

Recommended Primary Sources:

“Tenure Denial Spurs Hassle” article: Read Article Here

This article details the disturbance that occurred after the tenure meeting with Professor Joan Roberts and committee members from the Educational Policy Studies (EPS) department. The article provides a brief summary of Professor Roberts’ tenure case: she was denied tenure from the department for apparently failing to meet the necessary scholarly requirements. In the aftermath of the meeting, there was protests and physical altercations between the department members and those supporting Professor Roberts.

“U prof awarded $30,000 in tenure battle” article: Read Article Here

This article explains how the university ultimately decided to settle out of court for $30,000 but did not accept any blame or admit wrongdoing. The article also summarizes the case: how EPS changed their justification for denying tenure from the number of publications to the quality of publications, the DILHR investigation that concluded Roberts likely encountered discrimination on the basis of sex, and how Roberts continued her research at Syracuse University.

“New staff opening Women’s Studies” article: Read Article Here

This article calls for a new position to study other women studies departments around the nation, so UW–Madison could develop their own program more. The article also mentions how UW assistant chancellor, Cyrena Pondrom, was criticized for failing to adequately support Professor Roberts during her tenure battle, as Roberts was a key leader in the women studies department at UW.

Mabel Watson-Raimey Article and Blog: Read Article Here & Read Blog Post Here

This article and blog from UW–Madison explains the history of Mabel Watson-Raimey, the first female African American student to attend UW. Watson-Raimey graduated with a teaching degree in 1918 and taught in Milwaukee public schools for only three days because the district discovered she was Black and promptly fired her. After her firing, she worked at a law office in Milwaukee and became the first African American woman to attend Marquette Law School. She passed the bar in 1927 and practiced law until 1972.

Recommended Readings:

Selected Chapters from Marian Swoboda, ed,. Women Emerge in the Seventies. (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin System, Office of Women, 1980). Read Book Here

Additional Primary Sources:

“Firing Sparks Controversy” article: Read Article Here

This Daily Cardinal article describes the large meeting where EPS reaffirmed its denial of tenure to Professor Joan Roberts tenure again. In the article, they include excerpts from Roberts’ speech to the committee, which was uncommon in the tenure process. In her excerpts, Roberts claims that her individual case was unimportant but was important for future cases, the rights of all women throughout the university, and claims her research and teaching were both innovative.

“Joan Roberts Hasn’t Dropped UW Tenure Fight” article: Read Article Here

This article explains that Roberts did not stop her tenure fight and that she believed EPS discriminated against her. In the article, they mention that Roberts accepted a position at Syracuse University and the investigation found that Roberts likely encountered discrimination on the basis sex. Roberts sought a formal apology, acknowledgment of the discrimination, and reinstatement to the university. She also acknowledges the disappointment in her case but mentions that it brought attention and cause to gender discrimination in higher education.

Carl Kaestle Interview Excerpt: Listen to Interview Here

This is an interview with former EPS department member Carl Kaestle, where he discusses the Joan Roberts case. In the five-minute section of the interview, he provides background about the case, who publicly disclosed their votes, the protests and violence that occurred after the public meeting, and the struggles the department faced in the aftermath of the vote.

Additional/Alternative Readings:

Nancy F. Cott, ed,. No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Read Book Here

Flora Davis, Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America since 1960. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991). Read Book Here

Joan Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (Dec,1986): 1053-1075. Read Article Here

Discussion and Questions

Primary Source Discussion Questions 

Tenure Denial Spurs Hassle:

  •       Why do you think the author used the term “militant?” Was it militant, why or why not?
  •       Why did the Educational Policies Studies department deny Dr. Roberts tenure?
  •       Explain what Dr. Roberts meant by that her case was a “political issue.”

U prof awarded $30,000 in tenure battle:

  •       Why was the university disappointed or annoyed that Dr. Roberts did not stop her tenure fight?
  •       Why did the article mention there was evidence that Roberts was discriminated against in her tenure case? What was that evidence?
  •       What were some of the key findings you took away from the university’s report about gender disparities? Why did you find them interesting/surprising/compelling?

New staff opening in Women’s Studies:

  •       Why were women’s studies departments an important aspect of the Feminist movement?
  •       What were some of the challenges, debates, and questions surrounding the women’s studies department at UW?
  •       How did Dr. Roberts’ firing affect the women’s studies department?

Reading Discussion Questions

  •       What political victories did women achieve during the 1960s and 70s at UW–Madison and across higher education more broadly? How did they achieve them?
  •       Why were women studies programs a vital component to feminist movements and how did they relate to Joan Roberts and her tenure case?
  •       Macaulay writes that “institutional sexism and less-than-democratic power structure of academia constituted a bruising reality.” (27) How can academia promote and constrain “revolutionary” causes and ideas?

Discussion Norms: These are based on Walter Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life, 138-9

  •       Do not raise hands
  •       Address one another, not the discussion leader
  •       Invite others into the conversation
  •       Cite and/or reference the texts to support your texts
  •       Base response in the reading/sources
  •       Listen to and build on others’ comments
  •       Critically Agree and Disagree

For more ideas about structuring discussion and asking good questions, see The Discussion Project

Source Citations

“Tenure Denial Spurs Hassle” article: George Hesselberg, “Tenure Denial Spurs Hassle,” Capital Times (Madison, WI), February 28, 1974,  UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.

“U prof awarded $30,000 in tenure battle” article: “U prof awarded $30,000 in tenure battle,” Daily Cardinal (Madison, WI), March 8, 1979,UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries.

“New staff opening Women’s Studies” article: “New Staff Opening in Women’s Studies,  Capital Times (Madison, WI), November 22, 1974, accessed at https://newspaperarchive.com/madison-capital-times-nov-22-1974-p-23/

Mabel Watson-Raimey Article: Williams, Phoebe Weaver, “A Black Woman’s Voice: The Story of Mabel Raimey, “Shero”” (1991). Faculty Publications. 74. https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/facpub/74

Mabel Watson-Raimey Blog: Käri Knutson, “More than a footnote: Remembering the life of William S. Noland, the first known Black graduate of UW-Madison,” UW–Madison News (blog), March 3, 2021, https://news.wisc.edu/more-than-a-footnote-remembering-the-life-of-william-s-noland-the-first-known-black-graduate-of-uw-madison/

“Firing Sparks Controversy” article: Marian McCue, “Firing sparks controversy,” Daily Cardinal (Madison, WI), February 12, 1974, UW Archives, Madison, Wisconsin.

“Joan Roberts Hasn’t Dropped UW Tenure Fight” article: John Welter, “Joan Roberts Hasn’t Dropped UW Tenure Fight,” Madison Capital Times (Madison, WI), January 17, 1976, accessed at https://newspaperarchive.com/madison-capital-times-jan-17-1976-p-3/

Carl Kaestle Interview Excerpt: Kaestle, Carl. “Oral History Interview: Carl Kestle.” Interview by Barry Teicher. December 1994. OH #0474, UW–Madison Oral History Project, UW–Madison Archives, UW–Madison Libraries, https://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/61897