Novelist and Kansas University alumna Sara Paretsky went numb with fright the first time she met Emily Taylor in 1964.
At a dinner, Taylor, then the dean of women at KU, asked a group of freshman woman what they were going to do with their education.
"I went numb. I didn't have an answer," Paretsky said.
Instead of following the traditional woman's role at the time teacher, nurse or secretary Taylor told the students they could, and should, do whatever they wanted to do.
"It was exhilarating and frightening," Paretsky said. "An adult had never asked me to do something serious."
Paretsky, author of 10 mystery novels featuring the private detective V. I. Warshawski, revolutionized the mystery genre by creating a strong female protagonist who uses her wits and her fists. On Monday night, she was the guest speaker at the inaugural Emily Taylor and Marilyn Stokstad Women's Leadership Lecture. More than 200 people attended the event in Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union.
Instead of focusing on her career as an author, Paretsky told the audience about the highs and lows of the women's movement during the last 30 years.
She derided popular culture such as movies and music, which she said increasingly have images of violence against women.
"In a perverse way, as women have become stronger in many areas over the past decades, the images of degradation against woman have also become stronger," Paretsky said.
She also said the struggle for abortion rights is ongoing and criticized Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft for trying to rescind abortion and contraceptive rights. She compared the struggle to Kansas women who helped the abolitionist struggle.
"I think it's time we Kansas women made another stand against Missouri scallywags," Paretsky said.
Paretsky, who grew up in the Eudora Township and graduated from Lawrence High School, said her experience as a writer followed the national trend in women's rights.
Although she wrote stories her whole life, it wasn't until 1982 that she published her first novel, "Indemnity Only." She's followed that with a string of best-selling novels featuring the Warshawski character. She also founded Sisters in Crime, an organization that supports women mystery writers.
On Monday night, Paretsky honored Taylor and Stokstad, the "partners in crime" who had encouraged a generation of women at KU.
Paretsky called Taylor "a beacon of light," and Stokstad "a model of what we can do along the way."
Deanell Tacha, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, and Barbara Ballard, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, also spoke at the inaugural lecture. Taylor, who served as dean of women from 1956 to 1975, and Stokstad, Judith Harris Murphy distinguished professor of art history, also made brief comments.
Suzanne Achleitner, Lawrence, came to the lecture because she enjoys Paretsky's novels and said she didn't expect the topic of the talk. Achleitner said she wished more students had been in the crowd to hear Paretsky speak.
"I think her focus on 'we have yet to reach equality, we have yet to find our voice,' I think that's very important for students to hear," Achleitner said.