Bernice Sandler was serving as project director for the Association of American Colleges' Project on the Status and Education of Women, when Eric F. Goldman, the Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University and an expert on twentieth-century American history, wrote her, seeking information for a book that he apparently never finished. Sandler provided a copy of her response to Jean L. King, who became a close friend through their work opposing sex discrimination at American universities.
In the letter, Sandler reflects on episodes from her own life that awakened her activism on behalf of academic women. She also details the strategy she pursued to bring complaints against dozens of American universities. Because the letter was written four years after the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibited discrimination in education programs, Sandler felt comfortable about sharing once-secret details about the tactics she used. However, the events were still close enough in time that she felt the need to protect the identity of some of the people who had helped her.
project on the status
and education of
and education of women
1818 R STREET, N.W.
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20009
February 25, 1976
Professor Eric F. Goldman
Department of History
129 Dickinson Hall
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
Dear Dr. Goldman:
Please excuse the delay in my answering your letter. It was not the kind of letter one could quickly dash off a reply in response, and it has been difficult for me to set aside time to answer your questions. If the letter sounds somewhat rambling it's because it was written in sections, in different places, and at different times.
I'll try to give you more rather than less information, letting you decide what is relevant for your book. I have not put many of these details to paper before and this is as good a time as any.
First, about WEAL[A], the kind of organization it is and the role it played in the early legal actions seeking equal treatment for women: WEAL was founded in 1968 by Elizabeth Boyer, an Ohio attorney who had been involved earlier with NOW.[B] She was concerned with NOW's focus on abortion (which was hardly a household word in 1968) and by NOW's use of demonstrations as a technique. She therefore decided to set up a more "middle-of-the-road" group which would appeal to more "conservative" and larger groups of women. She set up WEAL so that it dealt only with issues concerning legal and tax inequities, education and employment (all broad based issues which are not readily controversial). While not condoning picketing, WEAL itself is formally prohibited from using such a tactic.
Boyer spent a year or so convincing several prestigious women to lend their names to WEAL's Advisory Board so that WEAL would have credibility. Thus the first board included several congresswomen, lawyers, at least one judge, etc.
I was not an original member of WEAL. Sometime in 1969 I read an article about WEAL and wrote Boyer. Her notion about the need for a "middle" group paid off. At that point, in my own thinking. I would never have joined NOW because it picketed and looked very "radical" to someone like myself who was just discovering that perhaps there was indeed discrimination. I hadn't even heard of the word "feminist." (My views about NOW have changed; I have been a member and also work closely with them on many issues.)
WEAL grew slowly, and is still a relatively small group compared to NOW, for example. It's membership is mainly professional middle class women, most of
[p. 2]whom are working for money (all women work but they don't all get paid for it). Despite WEAL's middle class and professional membership, it has been active in issues affecting all women; for example, it played an important role in getting the minimum wage extended to domestic workers.
WEAL was involved in a few lawsuits, such as one involving the publication of sex-segregated want-ads. When I joined WEAL in 1969, I had become concerned about discrimination in higher education. Naively believing that something that was morally wrong would also be illegal, I had begun to look at the various laws prohibiting discrimination, as well as reading how Blacks and Jews had handled discrimination in education. I quickly learned that faculty were exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which forbids discrimination in employment). The Equal Pay Act which covers salaries exempted administrative, executive and professional employment, so that faculty were not covered. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination against participants (e.g., students in federally assisted programs did not cover sex; it only applied to race, color and national origin. Thus none of the statutes prohibiting discrimination covered faculty or students.
Among my readings was a study done by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, evaluating enforcement of various federal civil rights laws and regulations. I remember being annoyed because the writer was openly concerned that any emphasis in sex discrimination would take away from discrimination efforts for blacks. (This was in 1969; discrimination against other minorities such as Chicanos was barely acknowledged in many places. Interest in sex discrimination was beginning to grow.) There was a section on Executive Order 11246 which was described as prohibiting contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin. There was a footnote to the description, and being academically trained, I automatically turned to the back to read in the footnote that the Order had been amended in 1968 to include sex discrimination.
It was perhaps one of the few times in my life I had a very powerful "Eureka!" experience. I was alone in the house but nevertheless shrieked aloud; I had made the connection that universities and colleges have contracts and as such, they would be covered by the Executive Order.
It was a discovery no one else had made apparently, [note]for when I questioned people about it, they were unsure as to whether my observation was accurate. I decided to call the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance which handled the Order to check out my understanding. I was fortunate in that the secretary I spoke with put me through to a fairly high official in the office (he must be nameless, unfortunately) who had been hoping that someone, somewhere, somehow would use the sex discrimination provisions of the Executive Order. (The Order had been used mainly with race discrimination against blue collar workers.)
My anonymous friend was most helpful; he helped me design the first complaint against universities, which WEAL would file in January 1970. I had virtually no experience along these lines, and my "paralegal" and political education expanded rapidly.
Thus, I learned that filing a complaint per se would not be enough; it would need to be accompanied by some "evidence." There was, of course, very little around; even the government no longer kept data on faculty employment by sex. I did a quick count of women and men faculty at each rank in the major departments at the University of Maryland (pretending to do research in order to get the data). I found two other studies, one at Chicago and one at Columbia, which showed the same pattern: the higher the rank, the fewer the women, and large disparities when the percentage of women faculty were compared to the percentage of women doctorates. Those three studies were the major "hard" data, but I found other bits and pieces, and quotes, enough to make an impressive 80 pages or so. My OFCC friend had said that quantity was important since most people wouldn't read it but would assume that if it was thick, it must be documentary. Another anonymous friend at an anonymous major foundation xeroxed 100 copies of the 80 page report.
The original complaint was sent not only to the Secretary of the Department of Labor, but about 40 copies (with an abbreviated set of data) went to Representatives and Senators, each with a personal short note, each laboriously typed or handwritten by myself, stating that the Department of Labor did not enforce its own regulations, and could the Congressman/woman please write the Secretary asking him to look into the matter. Several did, and since it is impossible for the Department to ignore Congressional mail, the bureaucracy began to respond as more complaints were filed and more letters came from Congressmen.
This first complaint which charged the University of Maryland, as well as all universities and colleges with a pattern of discrimination, was signed by the then president of WEAL, Nancy Dowding. I was given a title, Chairman (sic) of the Action Committee on Federal Contract Compliance and subsequently filed, under my own name, the next 250 or so complaints filed by WEAL during 1970 and part of 1971.
I had sent out a small press release and copies of the original complaint to some parts of the media and a few squibs appeared here and there. The Saturday Review printed a small blurb, with my name and address, which gave people a way to contact me. I also attended a few conferences concerned with women and handed out summaries of the Executive Order.
It was enough to open the dikes. Women on campuses across the country were beginning to examine discrimination on their campuses and the Executive Order added impetus to their actions. Since I was no longer on a campus, and since WEAL could file charges without anyone having to reveal their name, women from all over the country began to call and write me. I would give suggestions for some minimal data collection; they would then send it, and I would file. I would send copies, usually with handwritten notes to several Senators and Representatives, asking them again to write the Secretary of Labor (and/or the Secretary of HEW which does the actual investigations), asking for help in
[p. 4]getting the complaint investigated. I would also ask the person or persons giving me the data to also get as many people to write their respective Senators and Representatives about the complaint. At one point we generated enough Congressional mail so that HEW had to put someone on full time just to handle it.
Technically, the charges filed with HEW are not suits, but administrative charges filed directly with the government, and not in court. There is no form to fill out nor does one need to be a lawyer. Thus it was (and is) relatively easy for anyone to file a charge and ask the government to investigate.
Because application of the Executive Order was new for academe, and since sex discrimination in education was a new issue, I quickly became an "expert"-- not because I really knew that much then, but because what I did know was so much more than anyone else at that time.
Representative Edith Green had been concerned about sex discrimination in education for a long time, and was considering holding hearings on the subject. A WEAL Board member who worked on the Hill (but not for her) had been trying to convince Rep. Green to introduce legislation and to hold hearings. The mounting WEAL charges hastened her decision. Since I was one of the few "experts" I was asked to testify and to also recommend others, which I did. A month or so after the hearings, Rep. Green asked me to work for her Special Subcommittee on Education[C] to put together the record of those hearings. The job was a temporary one (about 6 months). It was a fine opportunity for me: I learned about the Congress and how it operates. Moreover, it gave me a kind of prestige, credibility and "respectibility" that those of us working in women's rights at that time did not easily have; henceforth it would be difficult for people to label me as a "kook," etc.--after all, I was a "member of a Congressional Committee staff...." It gave me, and of course WEAL too, greater legitimacy.
The record of the hearings served the same purpose: it legitimized questions of discrimination on the campus. The hearings were 2 volumes (about 1200 pages). Rep. Green had almost 5-6000 copies printed (instead of the usual few hundred). Every member of the Congress received a copy as did every major educational association, women's groups, etc. When anyone questioned whether or not discrimination existed in higher education we could refer to the Congressional hearings as evidence of a "massive pattern," etc. (interestingly enough, not one member of the educational establishment testified at the hearings. One association staff person stated to Committee staff that "there was no discrimination and besides, it's not a problem." Thus only individuals and groups representing women's issues testified at the hearings that were held for the bill that eventually became Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.)
When my assignment with Rep. Green ended, I worked on another temporary job as Dept. Director of the Women's Action Program at HEW, which examined the impact of HEW programs on women. From there I went to my present position in Sept. 1971. Since my current employer is an association of institutions, it was clear I could no longer file charges for WEAL, although I have continued my relationship to WEAL as a member of their Board.
You asked for some information about myself. I'm always somewhat amused to see myself referred to as "diminutive" and "peppery." The words appeared once in some interview and then were used again several times by reporters who would read the original clipping. At 5′3″ and of medium weight I hardly see myself as short--indeed when I was growing up it was the average height. It's no longer "average"; American women are growing taller, but I seem to have stopped growing some time earlier. I suspect that I may well have shocked some reporter(s) back then since I do not look like the expected stereotype of a women's activist. I'm "supposed" to be tall, big, muscular, unattractive, unfeminine, etc. Often as I travel to campuses, people are surprised at my height: "But you're so little" is a common greeting, and I suspect it's because of the stereotype accorded active women rather than any external shortness on my part.
As for the "peppery" connotation, my friends and colleagues are amused by that description as well, so I suppose it does not fit. What has stood me in good stead is that I'm quite good at being firm but not abrasive. I rarely, if ever, vent my anger in public meetings and I was sufficiently "socialized" to be pleasant, etc. so I think, if anything, I probably smile too much and am not as nasty as I sometimes would like to be.
As to my background, I grew up knowing nothing of feminism. My mother has always been an active and strong woman, and my father is certainly not patriarchal. As I look back I must have been quite conflicted about being bright and being female, fearing rejection from males who very often were not as bright as myself. Yet I loved school and the intellectual life. For many years I used to think of my brightness as either my "gifted curse" or my "cursed gift." It was only in the last few years as I became involved in women's issues that I learned to accept my mind for the gift that it truly is, and to no longer need to hide it, to pretend ignorance, etc. It was like an enormous weight had been lifted. Ann Scott, a feminist who recently died, had similar feelings. She once told me that all her life she had been fighting something but didn't know what it was until she became involved in women's issues. I knew exactly what she meant for that indeed is what it was like for me.[D]
As for how I became involved, I must have been interested in women's issues in some peripheral way because I had wanted at one point in the late sixties to do my thesis on career decisions by young women. (My advisor would not allow it; "research on women is not real research" is what he said.)
I had been teaching part-time at Maryland while getting my doctorate. Teaching was really a first love; I enjoyed it enormously and I think I did it well. After I completed the degree (1969) I continued to teach part-time. (In fact, I taught part-time simultaneously at another institution as well, teaching a total of 21 credits and earning less than $5,000.)
The Department expanded and there were to be seven new openings. I was hopeful, since some of the openings would go to new doctorates like myself and the Department had no rule or practice against hiring its own graduates. I thought my chances were good, and was quite crushed to learn that I was not even considered for an opening. I was quite close to some of my professors and went to one in dismay and asked why. He was truthful, and simply said, "Let's face it, you come on too strong for a woman." If he had merely said "too strong," I would have not been as hurt perhaps, but "too strong for a woman" had different implications. I went home in tears, convincing myself that it was true, that I never should have made
[p. 6]suggestions at staff meetings, that I never should have done or said any of the things that in retrospect are quite expected and usual for male colleagues, but somehow "inappropriate" for a woman.
My husband was supportive and far more observant than I was, and pointed out the discriminatory nature of what was going on.[E] It was disconcerting, and I was really not fully ready to believe that. I was "lucky" in that I had two more experiences in the next few weeks that made me take a hard look at what was happening. One occurred when I registered at a private employment agency: the interviewer, after looking at my resume said "Oh, you're not a professional, you're just a housewife who went back to school." The other experience occurred when I went for an interview for a research job which I obviously was qualified for. The head of the Project spent more than half of our interview saying he himself "had nothing against women but. . .", and telling me of all the difficulties he had whenever he had hired a woman.
So it was that three men, an honest professor, an interviewer and a prospective employer unwittingly "radicalized" me forever. They, along with my husband, insured that my eyes would never be closed again. I would now "notice" that there had never been a woman with tenure in my department, although a woman would be hired, stay for 2-3 years, move on and be replaced by another woman, who would go through the same cycle. I would "notice" that the male doctoral students in my department went on to good full-time jobs while the women students had no offers, or were only offered temporary and/or part-time jobs. I would remember, with new insights, the comments of my Advisor at Maryland that "women shouldn't be professionals." I would remember too that once I had been turned down for a prestigious scholarship (not based on need) because I was married, and the male it was given to "needed" it more than I did. (He was married too but that was an asset rather than a disadvantage for him as it was apparently for me.) I would remember too being turned down for admission to a midwest graduate school after I had received my master's with honors from another institution. I was told I had not enough research experience, despite the fact that I had several research courses, and had been a research fellow the previous year. The head of the department who felt I did not have enough research experience then promptly hired me for his own research assistant.
What had happened to me has happened to many women: we simply did not ascribe any pattern to experiences such as these I have mentioned. It is only in retrospect that we see them for what they were: a pattern of experiences based on overt and subtle discrimination.
With the active support of my husband I became most interested in discrimination. This was the time that I joined WEAL and began exploring ways of dealing with discrimination. When I began to plan the first charge, I knew it would be the end of my academic career as a teacher. I was still teaching part-time at Maryland, but it was clear too that if I came on "too strong for a woman" I would never be "good enough" for an academic career. In that sense there was little to "give up;" I certainly had no sense of sacrifice.
When the first charge was filed, I made no attempt to conceal my involvement, even though I did not sign the first charge. (Incidentally, I never considered filing against Maryland on my own behalf; the charge was a class action, claiming a pattern of discrimination.) I remember the head of the department telling me that although there wasn't any discrimination at Maryland, he knew it existed at other schools. (I hear this often; the discrimination is always at the next institution.)
Another member of the faculty asked me why I filed, and why couldn't I "be a lady" about the whole thing. I responded rather angrily, "I've been a ‘lady’ for over 40 years and where has it gotten me?" I would never care about being "lady-like" again.
I hope that in your research you have discovered that there never was a bra-burning, and that the women's movement rebirth antedates Betty Friedan's book. In the late 50's, women began to press on the government. (More and more middle class married women were entering the labor force, which made a difference.) President Kennedy at the instigation of tradional women's groups and at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt appointed the first federal commission on women. Their reports influenced many other women (and men). Their recommendation to set up state commissions on the status of women was implemented in almost all of the states. These commissions brought together women into new informal and formal networks which laid the ground work for the development of NOW and later WEAL, as well as deepening the feminist interest of the more traditional women's groups.
I hope that this answers your questions. (I'm sure it is more than you probably wanted to know.) If there is any other information you need, do let me know and I will try to provide it.
I am enclosing some materials which may be of additional help, as well as some of the material prepared by our Project.
With all good wishes for your book.
D. Ann Scott was a professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo,
who was elected to the board of the National Organization for Women at its first national
convention in 1970. She later served as NOW's vice-president for legislation and worked
to support academic women pursuing sex discrimination complaints against their
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