Marquette Women’s Center traces roots to age of inequality, discrimination
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Women’s Center in Marquette is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013. In a four-part series starting today, the center’s history, present and future are highlighted.
MARQUETTE – To understand why the Women’s Center in Marquette started 40 years ago, a little context is necessary.
The women involved in the center’s beginnings – Holly Greer, Sally May, Pat Micklow and Karlyn Rapport, now affectionately called The Founding Mothers – can offer some perspective on what their world was like in 1973.
“A married woman couldn’t get a library card on her own,” Rapport said. “Her husband had to sign for her to get one.”
“And a woman couldn’t get a loan on her own,” May said. “And a married woman was referred to as ‘Mrs. John Doe’. Her first name wasn’t in there at all.”
It was during an era when women’s rights were being brought to the mainstream of society’s discussions that the Women’s Center was born, 40 years ago.
It was after Betty Friedan’s seminal book, “The Feminine Mystique” was published in 1963 that something began to stir in towns across the United States.
“‘The Feminine Mystique’ voiced feelings we had about our lives,” Rapport said.
“The Women’s Center started, really, with us establishing consciousness-raising groups in the late 1960s,” Micklow said.
“We had a big meeting of some of these smaller groups,” Greer said.
“We were all together,” May said. “The first one I went to seemed very subversive to me. I had said I would go and I did go and wow, was it an eye-opener to be in this large group in a basement.”
May was not alone in that feeling of initial uncertainty.
“I was a young married woman with children. I loved my family but I felt trapped,” Micklow said. “That’s why I went.”
And some of the women interested in consciousness raising were even more conflicted.
“Some women came but said ‘I can’t stay here’,” Rapport said. “They said it would change their marriage and jeopardize their relationships.”
“A lot of us had a lot of work to do with our own husbands,” Greer said.
“And our own feelings,” Rapport said. “Our spouses understood once we talked to them.”
May said, “We tried to get them to start a male (consciousness-raising) group…”
“But that didn’t fly,” Micklow said, as all four women laughed.
An American Association of University Women conference on the changing role of women in society led to discussions about protecting women who were endangered in the one place they should be safest: their homes.
“These women needed safe harbor,” Rapport said. “We needed safe harbor for women who were victims of domestic violence.
“I was a speech pathologist and many clients who were my patients because of injuries they suffered at home, they couldn’t return to their own home. They couldn’t return to their parents. A minister said to one of my patients, ‘you made your bed and you have to lie in it.’
“We needed to find a safe place for these women, but agencies back then were working separately, not together.”
Meanwhile, Micklow started law school in 1973.
“And I had one woman professor. There was not a women’s restroom in the law school building at the University of Michigan,” she said. “That was what it was like when I started.”
Micklow and a female friend wanted to earn extra credit by doing a “body issue” case study.
“It became the first legal article on wife assault published,” she said.
“It was about how women are treated in the court system,” May said.
“We talked to social workers, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and interviewed 20 victims,” Micklow said. ‘The article showed how bad intervention was.”
Rapport said, “The AAUW conference showed we needed to be trained on how to respond, of how to be of help. We needed a resource guide and a shelter where families could be safe.”
Because these women were so serious about helping abused women, some of them opened their own homes to those who needed help.
“I did that,” Greer said. “And one woman robbed me”
“One woman I took in stayed in my closet and I couldn’t get her to come out,” Rapport said.
“I went to one house after I was called about a situation and I got there before the police did,” Greer said. “There was a guy waving a gun around until police got there.”
Rapport said that even when the police did arrive at domestic violence scenes, often the man was taken away from the scene to “cool off,” then brought back to the home.
“The prosecutor’s office back then had a cooling off period, too,” Micklow said. “The woman would sign the complaint but they’d wait two weeks before they filed it.”
May said, “So that would mean two weeks with the perpetrator right there. So many of these women had young children as well.”
It was in these circumstances that the need for a place to provide for women’s concerns was solidified.
Coming Tuesday: The start of the Women’s Center in Marquette.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.