Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

First Women's Studies Department Founder On A Life Committed To Feminism

"The Girl At The Fence," is a memoir by Carol Rowell Council. Council co-founded the first Women's Studies department in the world at San Diego State University in 1970.
Carol Rowell Council
"The Girl At The Fence," is a memoir by Carol Rowell Council. Council co-founded the first Women's Studies department in the world at San Diego State University in 1970.
First Women's Studies Department Founder On A Life Committed To Feminism
First Women's Studies Department Founder On A Life Committed To Feminism GUEST:Carol Rowell Council is the co-founder of the first Women's Studies Department, which was established at San Diego State University. Her memoir is called "The Girl at the Fence."

This is KPBS Midday Edition I'm Maureen Cavanaugh An event that celebrates the past and future of the women's studies movement takes place next week on the campus of the University of San Diego. And it couldn't happen in a more appropriate place than San Diego. That's because the first women's studies department in the world was developed at San Diego State University in 1970. So now it's been 45 years since women's studies has been uncovering the unsung female heroes of history and giving voice to the issues that are important to women's lives. Joining me is Carol Wahl Council she's cofounder of the first women's studies department and author of the book the girl at the fence. Welcome Carol. Ivorian Pleasurably your stock there's a poem at the beginning of your book written by Joyce Knauer -- and she's go she's a cofounder with two of the first women's studies program you called her your mentor Yes Why? Well when I came back from a conference on sex roles and 1968, up north -- I learned that there were so many problems facing women in so many issues and inequities and I came back to the campus looking for a feminist and I asked around are you a feminist and no -- and they usually say -- what's a feminist -- denied struggle with the definition. But one day someone said -- yes I do know a feminist and her name is Joyce Howard and I think you should color of coffee. And so she and I began the consciousness-raising groups and the actions that led towards the founding of the women's studies program. You were still a student when he cofounded the women's studies department -- what drove you as a teenager really -- you were just 19 to take this on? I think my first inciting moment realizing how people were oppressed were in the Sunday and the church in South Texas when I was about 13 years old, and my father and I and my mother also were for civil rights but when the blacks came to the door of the church, and I turned to smile, date word let him beyond a certain point and I asked another my mother what's happening and she said I guess we'll have to let the man decide this -- and all my elementary school teachers are sitting behind the and my mother was a teacher and they don't talk me -- we were equal in this site red and yellow black and white and I got angry and felt they were hypocrites and with that background, when I learned about women's oppression, I was just propelled into action. Now when you were developing the women's what became that the women's studies department -- were you aware at that time that you are doing something on the campus that had never been done before? Yes. Yes. The first thing was coming back from where I met these feminist and thinking how am I going to find another one once I found another feminist we put together a rap group and we started -- That the consciousness-raising group The music group exactly One of the first things we talked about was that we didn't have much experience talking that we were often a male-dominated settings. But that's a discussion group turned toward let's do something -- do something action oriented and more than that was create and build something that's lasting. Which kind of to listen to the education arena. And I have been gathering materials from East Coast feminist and North in California but there was no mention of women's studies. I was going to ask you how you even put together any kind of curriculum because I mean there were -- back in those days there was not many textbooks have any information about women or their history right Right So what we did is we dream the impossible we said well would like to learn about and water are resources and as we were going through the academic process of lobbying the different committees we said let's put on some experimental classes. Will just approach women faculty and whoever is supportive can do a class -- that was the grassroots beginning so Joyce converted her women in literature class to focus on I mean or literature class to focus on women in literature for example. And for other faculty didn't we had the experimental courses. Now when you were putting this together, did you get complaints that you know this time the thing was unnecessary -- that this was not the kind of thing that a university should offer as any kind of a course? Sure. I think the most romantic moment was when we had to make a presentation before the full faculty of the college of arts and letters which the program was proposed to be housed in -- and after we made our presentation, and elderly gentleman pulled himself out of his chair and he said the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. We don't need any women study programs. And I thought dashboard is that did opposition but I thought that is so out of date and so wrong. We get some good reaction -- slowly other man professors there were only four or five women in that room -- stood up and said -- I don't agree with Dr. so-and-so -- it is a valuable field of knowledge and we should create it and the Dorset. You write in her memoir that you've dedicated your life's work to equality and liberation for women. When you look at that mission, in terms of the world today, where to see progress and where these stills the inequality? While there's much more awareness of course and we've been conducting awareness campaigns around sexual assault sectionals: domestic violence and so many issues -- there's a body of knowledge of feminist scholars have created that informs other universities and high schools and the community in general but you can carry -- cover a whole civilization in three or four decades. So there's pockets of ignorance or reticence just about anywhere. I come anywhere in the city and as I mentioned the San Diego State have the first women's studies program many people say it did -- I didn't know that -- I said you used to be on the website you know when Stephen Weber was there it was right there in the front but a lot of people don't know that. And that's the same with so many of the other issues equal pay -- for women is still as current an issue now as it was then. You know one of the aspects of the women's movement was that it was always global and ambition. To liberate women around the world and it seems that women are still an afterthought and international policy quite often. Why you think that is? Well patriarchy has been going on so long that it's really been ingrained not only in men's minds button women's minds to not speak up -- not have a voice -- not see a possibility outside of may be the immediate realm of the home. Depending on which country or culture -- more more women are beginning to see that they do have a voice and some of those countries are ahead of us in the sense that they developed photos -- past policies that their legislatures must have 30% women or they're going towards goals that will maybe be 50% which I would like to see in the United States of America. I want to let everyone know that the event on Monday is called reflections on the women's studies movement. It takes place on the USD campus. Is Monday afternoon from 4:57 PM and I've been speaking with Carol who counsel she's cofounder of the first woman study department and author of the book the girl at the fence. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank you morning my pleasure Your listing to KPBS Midday Edition

Event: Reflections on the Women's Studies Movement
Event information for Reflections on the Women's Studies Movement discussion with Carol Rowell Council on Feb. 2, 2015.

The first Women's Studies Department in the world was developed at San Diego State University in 1970.

It's now been 45 years since the department has been uncovering the unsung female heroes of history, while giving a voice to the issues that are important to women's lives.

Carol Rowell Council co-founded the Women's Studies Department along with Joyce Nower. Council was 22 when the department was established.

Council said she first noticed inequality when she was a 13-year-old girl in Texas.

"My father and my mother were pro-Civil Rights, yet when the blacks came to the church — they weren't let in beyond a certain point," Council told KPBS Midday Edition. "I looked at my mother and she said, 'I guess we'll have to let the men decide this.' With that background, I learned about women's oppression. I was propelled into action."

Six years later as a student at San Diego State, Council and Nower began drafting a curriculum for the Women's Studies Department.

"We dreamed the impossible," Council said. "We said, 'What would we like to learn about and what are our resources?'"

But the creation of the first-ever Women's Studies Department came with some opposition.

Council, who documents her story in the book, "The Girl at the Fence," said she recalled a senior faculty member saying the department wasn't needed.

She said there's still "pockets of ignorance anywhere" but women have made headway.

"There's much more awareness," Council said.