Gloria Steinem with students. Photo by Jill Gable.

Next Wave Feminism

The Movement Forges Ahead at Rollins

By Kristen Manieri

Muriel Fox

On Mother's Day in 1980, NOW co-founder Muriel Fox '48 participated in a march for the Equal Rights Amendment in Chicago, Illinois.

“The torch is passed, and it has lit a fire.”

So declared Muriel Fox ’48, who visited Rollins along with 12 other Veteran Feminists last October to celebrate the National Organization for Women’s 45th anniversary and to participate in the Feminist Forum. As the co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), chair of Veteran Feminists of America (VFA), and legendary ambassador for women, Fox has made an immeasurable contribution to modern feminism through decades of advocacy, writing, and leadership.

Over the course of NOW’s anniversary weekend, Fox hoped to see her work continuing in others. And she did.

“The success of the conference was first that we succeeded in passing the torch—we now know that there is a group of feminists at Rollins who will spend their lives working for feminism because they have been inspired by the successes and dedication of the pioneers who founded the women’s movement,” Fox said. “These young women got it. Not just the ones who participated in the oral history project, but also the ones in the audience. I really think they are going to dedicate themselves to the future of this movement.”

Fox is referring to the 10 Rollins students who volunteered to participate in an oral history project during the summer leading up to the Feminist Forum. Completed under the guidance of Associate Professor of Education Wendy Brandon and Associate Professor of Philosophy L. Ryan Musgrave, the oral history project was designed to connect students with longtime feminists for the purpose of recording their stories.

“Feminists use oral history as a way of gaining rich qualitative data from those whose experiences have not always been included in research agendas,” explained Brandon, who paired students with VFA members and tasked them with asking the 13 VFA members to contemplate out loud the moment they first thought of themselves as activists. “The point of the oral history project was to go beyond a typical interview. The idea was for each student to listen to a story, and live it, and experience it alongside the teller. It’s not research on women; it’s research with women.”

As the stories were shared over recorded Skype and telephone conversations, a multitude of narratives unfolded and strong bonds were formed.  “There was so much value in the storytelling—and not just for the Rollins students but for the VFAs as well,” Brandon said.

Roxanne Szal ’13 interviewed Ginny Watkins, current secretary of Veteran Feminists of America, and called the experience eye-opening. “Ginny Watkins was a major advocate for working mothers and lobbied for childcare leave in the workplace; she also pushed for equality in the career world,” Szal said.  “At the time I was interviewing her, I was in the middle of an internship at a social services company called Resources for Human Development. I worked in the human resources department of the company, so I had grown very familiar with the idea of the Family Medical Leave Act, which mandates that companies allow employees to take time off in order to take care of a child, among other things, and ensures job protection.  It was amazing to share experiences with Ginny and to actually be living out what Ginny had worked so hard to pass.”

As part of the project, students created typed transcripts of interviews, which will eventually be archived at Olin Library. Brandon reviewed the transcripts and used them to form the basis of the panel discussions during the Feminist Forum on October 29 when the students in the oral history project met their subjects in person for the first time.

“I met Zoe Nicholson at Gloria Steinem’s stone ceremony and she immediately hugged me,” remembered Jamie Pennington ’12, who also interviewed Amy Hackett and Barbara Love. “I felt very honored and humbled meeting all three of them. I was so amazed by all that they had accomplished.”

Four sessions formed the day’s program, each giving the oral history project students the opportunity to continue the dialogue with their VFA counterparts as an audience listened. What unfolded was the opportunity to transform the academic ideologies and historical milestones of the women’s movement into living, breathing experiences that people could feel and relate to.

“I loved when Zoe Nicholson described her childhood desire to become a priest, and her subsequent denial from this position,” Szal said. “Her story really stuck with me because it forced me to look at different arenas in today's world where women are oppressed, like in the Catholic Church. This panel really reiterated the belief I hold that people of all ages, especially women, need to question things around them and those in power and use their critical thinking skills to demand equality and fairness.”

Although the weekend’s events reflected an air of pride, celebration, and optimism, the underlying tone conveyed a belief that many battles remain.

“We have come a long way, but it can all be undone,” said former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder ’01H, who participated in a panel discussion with Steinem. “As a young attorney in 1964, I volunteered to be Planned Parenthood's attorney in Denver. I would never have believed people would be trying to destroy Planned Parenthood in 2012. So we need to be sure we don't lose ground and continue to work together to make more progress.”

This sentiment was not lost on Pennington, who, thanks in part to Nicholson’s written recommendation, will attend grad school at Florida Atlantic University in the fall. “This conference and the work leading up to it solidified my dedication to feminism. There are still so many issues to address. This movement is just as alive and just as important today as it was in the 1960s.”

As for Fox, she left campus prouder than ever of her alma mater and the graduates it is launching into the world. “My memory of Rollins was that it was always a progressive school, one that believed in the individual, one that was always breaking the mold and working to change the world,” Fox said. “I left feeling that it is still on this course.”

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