Archive for Sunday, February 5, 2012

Panel discusses effect February Sisters had on women’s rights at KU

February 5, 2012


It was a Friday. C.J. Brune remembers because she felt relief the week was over.

But then, right after she got home and started on an already-late English paper, she got a call: Meet me at this address — she’d later find out it was 1322 La.— and bring enough clothes for a week.

“Having been involved in activist causes for some time, I was used to clandestine messages,” she said. “But this one took the cake.”

Brune arranged care for her two children, put aside her homework and walked into history.

On the street

Why did you come to the February Sisters event?

I’m very excited to hear from this group of women and know more about how events unfolded.

More responses

On Feb. 4, 1972, a snowy, frigid Friday, about 35 women, with four children in tow, occupied a small house on Louisiana Street, then the home to the East Asian Studies Department. From the start, they referred to themselves as the February Sisters, and by the end of that night 40 years ago, they emerged from the house challenging Chancellor E. Laurence Chalmers with six demands:

• An affirmative action program for women, run by women.

• A day care center paid for with student fees.

• That a woman be appointed to the then-vacant position of vice chancellor of academic affairs.

• An end to pay differences based on gender.

• A women’s studies department.

• A women’s health program, providing access to birth control.

At a panel discussion on Saturday at the Spencer Museum of Art, three women who were in the house — Brune, Mary Coral and Christine Smith — as well as three former KU professors who actively engaged in women’s rights at the time — Beth Schultz, Marilyn Stokstad and Betty Banks — discussed the sisters’ history and what it means to be a feminist today.

“We had peaceful demands that effected immediate, long-lasting change,” Schultz said, praising the collective action and civil disobedience of the sisters, who got Chalmers to agree to their demands between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. that Saturday.

The audience of about 100 was diverse — men and women, young and old — but all seemed to have an appreciation of the sisters’ work in progressing women’s rights.

“The results of their actions were positive changes for women on this campus,” Elizabeth Miller, recent doctoral graduate in American studies, said.

The sisters inspired another generation of women activists, including Carla Tilghman, who said that many younger women don’t realize the work done in the 1970s and also that “we’re not done yet” with advancing women’s issues.

Some of the women on the panel pointed to perceived threats to birth control access in Kansas. But Brune was hopeful, in a way, that a challenge might spark renewed interest in activism.

“I think the women’s movement is growing again,” she said. “It has to. Women’s rights are being attacked in every state.”

Despite the challenges, Coral’s message for current activists was upbeat, reflective of the successes of the sisters, including the founding of the women’s studies academic department and Hilltop Development Center.

“Know that you can make a change,” she said.


Maddy Griffin 6 years, 2 months ago

"we're not done yet"~~~ Woman's work never is.

WillNotSufferFools 6 years, 2 months ago

Contrary to myth, the progressive movement in Lawrence in the late sixties and early seventies was hardly advanced. After all, it was, and still is, Kansas. The occupation of the East Asian Studies building was neither very well planned nor organized. As I understand the facts, shortly before the takeover a well-known feminist (whose name escapes me) gave a talk on campus, which inspired several of the young women to ‘do something,’ resulting in the somewhat spontaneous occupation of the building, and the birth of the February Sisters.

My late father, Social Welfare Professor Norm Forer, well-known at the time as the ‘Campus Radical, was requested by Chancellor Laurence Chalmers to meet with women, ascertain their concerns and demands, and otherwise act as a intermediary between the central administration and the group.

As my father told me the story several years later, he was somewhat surprised with the response when he inquired as to their demands--they had none. In so many words he explained to the leadership that when one occupies a building, well-established rules for radicals require a political action to have an intent and purpose, and in the garden variety case of students occupying a campus building, demands were typically made by the occupiers consistent with that particular movement’s philosophy and goals.

Well, the women got to work and drew up a list of demands, which my father delivered to the Chancellor. As my father tells me, the Chancellor was ‘relived’ that the demands were ‘reasonable’ and the occupation was thereafter amicably and quickly resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, and without the threat or use of force.

An interesting tidbit of ‘inside history.’

Bob Forer

cato_the_elder 6 years, 2 months ago

Reminds me of Aristophanes' "Thesmophoriazusae."

Ken Lassman 6 years, 2 months ago

Few folks would believe the attitude that existed at KU (and elsewhere) back in the day, and we have much to be grateful for from both the February sisters and Chalmers. The reasonable changes would have come eventually even if this hadn't occurred, I suppose, but it might have been much messier, considering where things were at. I know a woman who went to the KU business school in the 40s and, while she got good grades, was wondering why nobody told her about businesses who came to campus to interview students for positions. She finally asked her professor and he said that while he couldn't stop her from getting a degree in business, there was no way he would help her get a job doing anything more than a secretarial position.

scarletbhound 6 years, 2 months ago

To Bob Forer; I well remember and admired your father. But I think you are distorting the sophistication of the KU activist movement in the late 1960s, early 1970s. A reference point. MS magazine, considered the first truly feminist publication, didn't release its first issue until January 1972. The February Sisters event occured in February 1972. A month lag behind the East Coast types is hardly an indication of backwardness. The fact is that Kansas has historically been on the edge of cultural change -- from the abolitionists to the Populists to the Suffragettes to the campus turmoil of the 1960s. Arguably, even today's conservatives who dominate Kansas represent an opposition to the established order, only now that order is secular and leftist. Regardless of the ideological bent, Kansas has historically been on the cutting edge of social change.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

"Arguably, even today's conservatives who dominate Kansas represent an opposition to the established order, only now that order is secular and leftist."

Please explain what you mean here.

Bob Forer 6 years, 2 months ago

Ms. Magazine was years in the making. There was no lag. There simply is no connection between an unorganized takeover of a building and launching a feminist publication.

"[F]irst truly feminist publication?" Most radical feminists of the day would disagree. Ms. Magazine was feminism for the masses. Countless dozens of much more radical "underground" publications had sprung up years earlier.

By 1972, students taking over campus buildings was passe. On the East Coast, such events had occurred four years prior.

goodcountrypeople 6 years, 2 months ago

Kansas and KU are hardly highly advanced, enlightened, or evolved on civil rights issues including the ones affecting women.. A first step might be to accord the minimum due process rights required by law to those who face mistreatment by KU authorities or the general community for reasons based on protected class status. The current practice seems to involve brutal retaliation against the victim including even bringing false criminal charges ( blaming and cruelly scapegoating the complainant and victim for being the problem) --completely sordid, dirty,and barbaric! For instance, in return for making a legally protected civil rights complaint KU's oh-so-professional HR and General Counsel might smear the source of that with hateful false allegations that the complainant himself made racist remarks. That's what the HR and General Counsel use investigators like Steve Ramirez for--to pretend they have someone on staff who cares about diversity issues, but who actually revels in making nasty false charges of racism and punishing workers without properly notifying someone they have even been accused beforehand.It's defamation and a violation of federal civil rights laws to bring charges against someone like this without a hearing, but KU does not bother to hold themselves accountable for the basic legal requirements of even the most minimal due process. Mountain people at work making a mockery of higher education and basic honesty and ethics!

I thought MO was full of plug-stupid residents, but KS has them beat in dumb ways of living and southern justice by several factors of ten. These morally bankrupt KU criminals obviously do not make sure their own hands are clean before they point fingers at others.

Terry Sexton 6 years, 2 months ago

I sense a smile in there! Monday hugs to you!

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