Interviewees: Mary Margaret Carney
Interviewer: Charlotte Kinch
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Dr. Mary Margaret Carney, an educator, identifies her interest in the women’s movement originating with women’s inequities in education. She believed there was extensive gender discrimination in the field of education. Interview includes discussion of: the women’s movement in the State of Indiana; women’s under-representation at the University of Indiana; honor societies for educators and how they may or may not respond to women’s concerns; and her initial reservations about the IWY conference and how “radicals” might overshadow the effort. Carney concluded that the conference was not as chaotic as she originally anticipated.
Charlotte Kinch: I’m talking to Dr. Margaret Mary . . .
Mary Margaret Carney: Mary Margaret.
CK: Mary Margaret Carney about the Indiana women’s movement.
MMC: I was not really at all aware of what the people in Indiana were doing, concerning the women’s movement, until I was invited to a conference sponsored by the Department of Public Instruction in the state. And I was asked to address the topic there: opportunities for women in the profession for administrative positions. And I did some research and showed the terrible state of affairs, which, of course, matches most other state records, that there’s very poor representation of women in — and I noticed in particular it being in Bloomington, Indiana, where Indiana University is located — that women are very poorly-represented period, and show a poor picture when it comes to administrative positions. They have had law suits at Bloomington for women that have been replaced by men, and given a higher salary, and have been sued for the difference in the salaries. But, at this one conference, they had a great deal of literature, which was just based on the problems of women in Indiana. And I was very impressed by that, but I think that there somehow is a great problem in their dissemination of it. In other words, they had it, but I would have had no knowledge whatever that this was a reactive that they, you know, have a very reactive group, obviously. Because there’s no attempt, apparently, to disseminate it.
My own personal reasons for being interested in the women’s movement is because I have seen, in education in particularly, the great inequities. And I feel that I would almost like to have the time come when we didn’t use anything but a last name, and that we would be judged on qualifications only, and that sex, I wouldn’t want a job because I was a woman, but I would want to feel that if I were hired it would be because I was the best qualified. And I would wish that it would come to that, that sex wouldn’t even be a factor in employment. Just qualifications. There’s, I think, in a way, the harm’s been done to the women’s movement, because — and we did have an instance in my own department at the university, where they were told that they were to hire a woman, but preferably a black woman. And it was a disaster. And that’s what has done us more harm than good is when these incompetent people have been hired. And I think that again reinforces the premise that it should be the best qualified person; there shouldn’t be any kind of, either, none of this quota business, as it were. Except that, you know, they have to answer somehow. There has to be some kind of constraint where we know for sure they did, indeed, judge the best qualified.
CK: We’ve heard so much of this, “equally qualified.” And I think that most of us who are professionals, and most of us who aren’t professionals, are pretty sick of the life assumption that a woman isn’t as well qualified as a man, which is what undercuts that.
MMC: Well, unfortunately, being associated with an educational association, I’ve become aware that, for many, many years, it was very true that indeed women were not qualified, because they couldn’t aspire to taking administrative positions. So they didn’t prepare for it, so that when the time did come, some years back, when they were going to be at least considered, they had to hurry and get prepared, because it would just have seemed a waste to them before that to have taken administrative forces, since they would never be considered for a principleship or a superintendency, and the like. And now, in my work, I go all around the country, because we have a hundred and five chapters throughout thirty-two states, and D.C., to Hawaii, and the Philippines. And it’s interesting to hear remarks about how women have been put upon in these various states. I was in Austin, Texas, and learned that, for many, many years, they had the Homesteader’s Right, which reduced the taxes.
But if the father of the family died, the woman had to surrender that right at the time she needed it the most. So, it was pointed out that we don’t know how these things ever got started, but that obviously when the men today realize how unfair, they do set about to remedy it. I also sat next to the provost that Ann Arbor, Michigan, who is the first woman provost there. And she made the remark that, oftentimes when committees are named that there’ll be no women. And she will say, “Hey, what’s the matter, you know, that we haven’t got representation here.” And the men, she said, do not do it deliberately; they simply do not think about women. And, unless there’s someone there to draw that to their attention, they’re just excluded. But she feels that it’s not an intentional exclusion. It’s just that they haven’t been used to considering that women should be there.
CK: They don’t see women. You didn’t tell us the organization of which you’re executive director.
MMC: It’s Pi Lambda Theta, which is a national honor and professional association in education. There are certain scholastic criteria, and have to provide evidence of leadership in order to be invited. So, an invitational thing. And then we have undergraduates, graduates, professional people, in fact, some of the people that are renowned as women, who have made a difference in education, have been the national presidents of this association. For instance, May Segal, the first woman dean in the United States, was the national president. Helen Walker, who was long known for her statistics books that we probably all used.
Beulah Van Wagenen, who was the editor of the Highlights magazine, used by grade school teachers. And on and on. I was just very, very impressed by the caliber of women, and a woman related to me, in 1939, she attended a biennial council of our association in Syracuse. And she said that she came away with the feeling, after seeing these women, who were so determined, that she could really do anything she set her mind to do — that they had overcome the obstacles, and they were making a place for themselves. And she felt that, if the role modeling that they provided her was incentive to know that she could get ahead if she put her mind to it.
CK: We were talking about the fact that women had a hard time getting into administration, and then getting experience. It might be that one of the advantages that we don’t think too much about our women’s organizations is that they do serve as vehicles, in which women can gain administrative and parliamentary experience, so that, when the opportunity comes, they have it.
MMC: I’ve heard some of the members of our association say that they didn’t aspire to be anything until they associated with persons in this, in Pi Lambda Theta, where they were provided with these role models, as it were, where it gave them the incentive to go on and get their doctorates, and eventually get into administration when it opened, when the avenues opened to them. And I think, you know, as they say, it’s a very true thing. And, by the way, our association was only for women until 1974. In February of ‘74, the chapters ratified the amendment to admit men. Prior to that, it had been a women’s association that had been established in 1910 at the urging of a man. And, but the point was then the honoraries, as they were called — Phi Delta Kappa is the honorary for men; it had been for years. It was started at the same time by the same man. But, because there was never going to be the possibility of women being admitted to it in the early days, the women were urged to form their own organization, which they did.
So, it’s been in existence since 1910. And an interesting kind of backflash, I think, to this is that at the same time that our association opted to admit men, the men’s organization opted to admit women. And many of the women were just very eager to be invited to membership. But I have received letters since, that when they got into the association, they realized that these men, really, who predominated, were not interested in their problems, had no knowledge of their problems, and, therefore, it didn’t turn out to be so rewarding as they had anticipated. So, instead, they have come back to our association, because even when we opted to admit men, we retained two purposed that refer specifically to women. And they are to foster leadership among women and to improve the status of women in education. So even our thousand men members have to help serve those purposes. And many of them are quite willing, because they too have been very aware of the inequities.
CK: How are you finding the conference? Are you enjoying it? And do you think it’s serving the purpose that it was called for?
MMC: Yes, I had strong reservations coming, having read about the state delegations, and the so-called . . . I don’t know the word I want. You know, the . . . it was all going to be tried to be forced through.
MMC: Yeah, the radicals were going to take hold. I think in view of that, I had very strong reservations about coming, thinking that it was just going to be nothing but chaos. But I’ve been very favorably impressed, especially by last night’s session. That even those who were determined not to see some of the resolutions passed, did not really have the strength or, apparently, the interest. Their counter-resolutions were not well-prepared, and I thought this was, you know . . . he distracted me now. I wonder what that was all about.
CK: I don’t know.
MMC: It’s a boy, isn’t it?
CK: Hard to tell.
MMC: Yeah. Can’t tell. Yeah, I think it’s a boy. Anyway. That indeed there wasn’t the chaos that I anticipated. And there did seem to be a great deal more unity than I ever thought was going to occur.
CK: The chairs were very impressive, too, didn’t you think?
MMC: Yes. Yes. I was a little disturbed at knowing, and, having had a great deal of experience in our own biennial councils at parliamentary procedure, I was a bit disturbed when the chair said that they would even the motions, not motions, but parliamentary inquiry, would have to take their turn. I knew that should take precedence over any other motion, but then it was corrected, eventually. I don’t think there was a deliberate attempt, really, to keep the minority silent.
CK: What do you think it’s going to take now to boost these resolutions into, put them into effect? After all, this conference has no actual political power. It can’t enact anything in terms of law.
End of Interview