Sartorius, Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement: Emily Taylor's Activism.
In Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement, Kelly C. Sartorius examines the advancement of women's activism in higher education through the life and work of Emily Taylor (1915-2004). At first glance, Taylor seems an unlikely subject for a feminist biography. As dean of women at the University of Kansas from 1956 to 1975, her career was largely situated in a period known as "the doldrums" or "the dark ages" between women's suffrage and women's liberation (17). Any chance of Taylor's engaging in social activism would seem to be further diminished by her career choice. Historians of higher education have noted that, with the advent of coeducation, universities created the dean of women's position in order to supervise female students who were marginalized with respect to their male peers. Over time, deans of women became stereotyped as stern and trivial enforcers of rules--and by the mid-twentieth century, deans of men had superseded them in the new field of student services. Sartorius' book takes exception with narrow, stereotypical views of the dean of women to show that Emily Taylor (working in concert her fellow deans) actually advanced the cause of feminism by teaching autonomy for women, lessening parietal rules, promoting sex education, and counseling unplanned pregnancies and rape victims. Taylor also supported civil rights, calmed New Left student protests, and fused her work with radical feminists. Underscoring the importance of her biographical subject, Sartorius states that Emily Taylor and Marion Talbot--dean of women at the University of Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century--were "bookends on either side of the story of women's advancement into higher education" (182) (1) Sartorius notes that Talbot entered university administration in 1892 because there was a hesitancy to admit women students. When Taylor retired 1982 (as director of the Office of Women in Higher Education at the American Council on Education), she had witnessed a doubling of the number of women presidents in higher education. Sartorius attests to Taylor's enduring legacy by noting that while gender segregation created organizational structures that faded after Title IX, "many ... strategies" of the deans of women "remain woven into the fabric of higher education" (18).
At the book's outset, Sartorius claims she is "not a traditional academic" (xxi), nor is Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement "a traditional biography" (xiii). A researcher in gender, education, and leadership, Sartorius has worked in higher education administration and resource development at Kansas State University and Washington University in St. Louis. Armed with documentation from extensive archival research as well as many interviews with Taylor, Sartorius uses her subject's life as a lens to view feminist work in higher education from the 1930s to the 1970s. The book takes on widely-held misconceptions about the period, including beliefs that feminism went quiescent and existed primarily on the political left in U. S. cities, and that the academy functioned as a place of social conformity. Throughout her discussion, Sartorius emphasizes that the marginalized figure of the dean of women is worthy of understanding.
The book presents Taylor's life through themes, showing in Chapter 1 how her training was an outgrowth of the thinking of early deans of women who wanted to move into careers. In Chapter 2, Sartorius connects the views of the early deans to the development of women's self-governance. Later, in Chapter 3, she shows how Taylor sidestepped pressures that limited deans of women in order to implement early systems of vocational guidance and self-governance on the KU campus. Chapter 4 details how Taylor replaced parietal rules with a counseling system for sex education that included advice on contraception, unplanned pregnancies, and sexual assault prevention. Chapter 5 considers the degree to which Taylor's activism on behalf of women overlapped with civil rights and the New Left as her office became increasingly involved with campus protests. Sartorius then demonstrates, in Chapter 6, that a variety of feminist theories and coalitions came together in Taylor's office, creating an "intergenerational flow of feminist ideas" between students, staff, and the dean of women (18). The book concludes with Chapter 7, a consideration of Emily Taylor's legacy.
Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement is an important book for scholars of women studies, higher education, and the history of education. It would also interest educational biographers who might question whether there is such a thing as "a traditional biography." As early as 2008, in an essay published in Vitae Scholasticae, Craig Kridel identified five major biographical forms including the scholarly chronicle, the intellectual biography, life history writing, the memoir biography, and the narrative biography. (2) Although Sartrious might be cautioned against easy categorization in her depiction of "a traditional biography," she should also be commended for seeking new ways of understanding history through the perspective of one life. In that sense, Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement serves as a good example of what Barbara Caine means when she cites a recent "biographical turn" in the humanities and social sciences involving a "preoccupation with individual lives ... as a way of understanding contemporary societies and the whole process of social and historical change." (3) Caine argues that especially in women's history, it is not the most powerful people who offer the best insights but, rather, those who are "less-exalted." Caine suggests such biographical subjects provide "extraordinary" perceptions in their understanding of particular institutions and the social developments around them. (4)
In Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement, Sartorius succeeds in delivering noteworthy perceptions that can enhance an understanding of U.S. women in higher education during the mid-twentieth century. I look forward to following the research that will likely be spawned by her book.
Linda C. Morice
Southern Illinois University
(1) See Lora Helvie-Mason, "Pivotal Communication: Marion Talbot's Voice for Educational Equity." Vitae Scholasticae 27, no.2 (2010): 43-66.
(2) Craig Kridel, "Biographical Meanderings: Reflections and Reminiscences on Writing Educational Biography," Vitae Scholasticae 25, (2008): 5-16.
(3) Barbara Caine, Biography and History (New York: Palgrave, 2010), 1.
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|Author:||Morice, Linda C.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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