The Women’s Liberation Movement and Women’s Organizations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Sarah Raphael, History 250: The Historian Craft, Fall 2022
During the 1960s and 1970s, a movement swept across the United States. This was the second wave of the women’s liberation movement, and its goal was to gain equal rights and personal freedom for women. This pertained to experiences in politics, work, education, and more. Another focus was educating about reproductive rights, whether that be about abortion, birth control, or advocating for oneself. There were multiple organizations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that helped to advocate for women’s rights and educated on issues relating to it for women both on and off campus. These organizations include the Associated Women Students, University Women’s Action Group, and what was then called the Women’s Resource Center. There were also a few other smaller organizations such as the Women’s Studies Program and the Women’s Rights Committee that also helped further women’s rights.
The women’s liberation movement had many goals. While these include the ones mentioned above, it goes even further. The National Organization for Women (NOW), created in 1966, worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to insure women had access to jobs in, “every corner of the U.S. economy.” Because of this, employers that were known for discrimination were then required to provide proof of the hours and pay that women worked and received. In addition, NOW demanded greater access to contraception and abortion. Other significant events that took place during the movement included the United States Congress passing Title IX of the Higher Education Act in 1972 and the legalization of abortion in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court in the hearing of Roe vs. Wade.
The Associated Women Students (AWS) was an organization at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that worked to manage women’s hours until 1970. These hours depicted what time female students living on campus were to return to their dorm rooms in the evening. AWS also outlined how often and when women were allowed to leave campus. Students were required to fill out a sheet saying where they were going. In 1970, however, the hours system was abolished, and women were able to leave campus and return at their own discretion rather than an organization’s. This was a big leap in women’s rights on campus, as women were now allowed more autonomy, just like men as the male dormitories did not have any specified hours.
While AWS did, in a way, restrict women on campus, they shifted their focus to educating women and promoting discussion about women’s rights. The organization planned talks for their members on “Sex, Morality and Future,” and “Sex, Drugs and Future,” featuring both male and female speakers. These discussions were a step in the right direction for AWS even though the discussions themselves were only open to members of the organization. However, because AWS was no longer managing women’s hours, the main function of the organization, they lost membership and interest quickly. By the middle of 1970, AWS was abolished.
The University Women’s Action Group (UWAG) took the place of AWS. UWAG had goals that stemmed from the ones from AWS but were much more focused on women’s rights and liberation. Events that UWAG held were also accessible to everyone rather than just members of the organization. Some examples of these goals include extensive job counseling, developing daycare centers, organizing a women’s activity fair, and more. In addition, they provided information about family planning, ending legal discrimination, establishing women’s studies courses, and attending education conferences. UWAG also focused on establishing a space for women to get the help or education they needed on a vast variety of topics. UWAG ended up establishing the Women’s Resource Center, which became their main project as an organization.
Although the Women’s Studies Program wouldn’t officially form until 1976, the first class on women’s studies was offered in 1971. An undergraduate student, Patricia Kaminski, of the University Women’s Action Group, (UWAG) advocated for classes about women and related issues to be offered at the University. She worked with other students and faculty to create the first course about women’s studies called ‘Women in Contemporary Society’. The next year, several other courses were being offered about women’s studies including ‘The Philosophy of Feminism’ and ‘19th-century Women Writers’. Over the next few years, a proposal for the creation of a major for women’s studies was worked upon by faculty and students and was finally accepted by the College of Arts and Sciences in 1976.
The Women’s Resource Center (WRC), now called the Women’s Center, was established by UWAG. It had four main purposes as follows: to establish a place where knowledge through all sorts of mediums about local and community services for women’s organizations, serving as a liason for the University between community and state groups, a place to discuss problems and understand them, and to work on programs that could benefit everyone at the University and further women’s rights. However, while the organization was originally created by the Women’s Action Group, they were not focused only on the Women’s Liberation Movement. In the Women’s Resource Bylaws, they state, “The overall goal of the WRC is to foster understanding of the changing roles of both men and women and of the growing diversity of life-styles in contemporary society and to examine the implications of these phenomena for individual men and women.” In order to do so, a goal of theirs was to make the WRC inviting and comfortable to anyone who intended to visit. WRC also wanted to work with several other organizations on campus to serve students’ interests. They produced several pamphlets and newsletters to send out and notify students of their efforts and events.
There was another very important organization that was advocating for women’s rights and equality. The Women’s Rights Committee, as sub-committee of the Human’s Rights Committee dealt with a variety of concerns about women’s rights. The Women’s Rights Committee was established in May of 1970, and in 1971 they released a report listing many concerns about women’s equality at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In this report, they examined differences in salaries, discrimination against clerical workers, and inequalities working women faced in campus libraries. The Women’s Rights Committee found that women in all levels of education at the University earned on average less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, women in clerical positions at the University were less likely to be promoted or get a raise, were paid poorly, experienced a lack of benefits, and were treated unfairly. Women working at the libraries on campus shared similar problems as clerical staff but had the additional concern of having specialized skills that went beyond a typical worker, but were not recognized for their work.
The next year, the Women’s Rights Committee released another report, but this one was mainly focused on anti-nepotism sentiments at the University and how those sentiments affected women’s’ abilities to gain promotions, tenure, and jobs. The Committee argued that anti-nepotism sentiments ‘handicapped’ many women who were current faculty members, and those that were looking to be appointed to positions at the University, whether that be faculty, clerical, or other positions. In one case, on the issue of tenure, a tenured woman was asked to give up her tenure so that her newly hired husband could receive it instead. While it was asked informally, both her and her husband left the university to pursue careers elsewhere as they, and her department, argued that tenure was not something to be ‘given up’ or exchanged. Arguing for women’s equality, the Women’s Rights Committee suggested changes to the, then current, policy on nepotism and revised it to say that “relationship by family or marriage shall in no way be a consideration in appointment, promotion, or tenure, except in a valid conflict of interest situation.” In their suggestion, a conflict of interest situation was defined as one member having superiority and the ability to dictate pay or promotion for another member. However, in no way did this revision imply that tenure should only be granted to one family member, as the previous policy did.
The Women’s Rights Committee did not exist as a sub-committee under the Human Rights Committee for long though. On October 2, 1972, Chancellor James Zumberge approved the proposal of the Women’s Rights Committee to become the UN-L Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and for it to be responsible to the chancellor’s office. The new group had several goals that were similar to the previous iteration. CSW regularly undertook need assessments surveys about women staff and faculty. In addition, they created a bank of resources, available to groups that needed it, on women who were qualified for different positions in academic fields across the University. The Commission was largely focused on women having equal opportunity for education and work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They were intent on monitoring Title IX guidelines and the way it was presented at the university through policy and action. In the later 1970s, the goals of CSW were largely the same but included a few others. CSW made it an objective to inform the UNL community about sexual discrimination and promote UNL women’s accomplishments. These goals are similar to what the Commission strives to accomplish today.
There were many accomplishments made by the organizations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to further women’s rights and equality during the 1960s and 1970s. The Women’s Center on campus still provides a lot of care and knowledge for women when they need it, as was the goal of UWAG when establishing it. In addition, the Women’s Studies major and minor have now turned into Women’s & Gender Studies and covers a wider range of material than when it was established in 1971. While women certainly have more rights and experience less discrimination today compared to the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 70s, organizations like the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women still fight for gender equity on behalf of students, staff, and faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. There are certainly still issues pertaining to equality everywhere in the world whether that be about gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, etc., but over the course of the women’s liberation movement at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, several advancements were made for women and by women.
- Elinor Burkett, “Women’s Rights Movement”
- Associated Women Students (AWS) Regulations for Campus Living
- Associated Women Students (AWS) meeting minutes, January 7, 1970
- Letter to event speaker about Associated Women Students (AWS) talks, 1967
- Associated Women Students (AWS) meeting minutes, March 25, 1970
- University Women’s Action Group (UWAG) request for funds, 1971
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Women’s Studies pamphlet, page 5
- Danielle Rue, “Women’s Studies at the University of Nebraska Lincoln”
- A UN-L Woman’s Directory, page 1
- Women’s Resource Center Bylaws, page 1
- Women’s Rights Committee Report, 1971, table 6
- Women’s Rights Committee Report, 1971, pp. 6-8
- Women’s Rights Committee Report, 1971, pp.16-24
- Women’s Rights Committee Report, 1972, page 3
- Women’s Rights Committee Report, 1972, page 11
- Women’s Rights Committee Report, 1972, page 18
- James H. Zumberge to Linda Pratt about UN-L Commission on the Status of Women
- Letter from Leslie Manning to Adam Breckenridge, page 3
- Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women 1978 Objectives
- Associated Women Students, 1970, RG 38-2-6, box 3, folder 3, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Associated Women Students, AWS Regulations for Campus Living, RG 38-2-6, box 3, folder 3, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Burkett, Elinor. “Women’s Rights Movement.” Last modified, November 6, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/event/womens-movement.
- Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women, Objectives for CSW, RG 4-2-97, box 1, folder 5, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Ferguson, Moira. “The History of Women’s Students at UNL.” Accessed, March 21, 2022. https://www.unl.edu/wgs/history.
- James Zumberge to Linda Pratt, RG 04-02-97, box 1, folder 6, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Leslie Manning to Adam Breckenridge, RG 02-02-97, box 1, folder 5, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Nebraskan Staff Writer. “Obituary.” The Daily Nebraskan, April 10, 1970. https://unlhistory.unl.edu/exhibits/show/no-men-allowed/overview/aws.
- Nesha Neumeister to Event Speaker, RG 38-02-06, box 3, folder 1, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Rue, Danielle. “Women’s Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.” Accessed, March 25, 2022. https://unlwgshistory.wordpress.com.
- University Women’s Action Group, 1971, RG 38-03-47, folder 3, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Women’s Resource Center, 1975, A UN-L Woman’s Directory, RG 52-03, box 49, folder 1, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Women’s Resource Center, 1975, Nebraska Union Women’s Resource Center Bylaws, RG 29-20-10, box 10, folder 10, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Women’s Rights Committee, 1971, Women’s Rights Committee Report Fall 1971, RG 12-10-22, box 23, folder 11, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Women’s Rights Committee, 1972, Women’s Rights Committee Report Spring 1972, RG 12-10-22, box 23, folder 11, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections
- Women’s Studies Program, 1977, Women’s Studies at the University of Nebraska Lincoln: Then & Now, RG 52-03, box 49, folder 1, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives and Special Collections