As the University of Michigan's Academic Women's Caucus was preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Jean L. King, then 75, wrote a lengthy letter to Kate Soper, the university's assistant provost, to capture her memories of the circumstances surrounding the complaint she filed against the University of Michigan in 1970. King noted, "Unfortunately this episode has never been written up by anybody who was involved or accurately by anyone else and we are approaching 30 years since it happened." While King publicly reflected on this episode on many occasions in her life, this is probably the most detailed account she provided. It captures some of her feisty spirit, as well as her antagonism toward the university's top male administrators, particularly University President Robben W. Fleming. At the same time, she acknowledges that "the last 30 years are a blur," and some of the details she provides are not precisely correct.
King sent a copy of the letter to Beth Reed, a professor of women's studies at the University of Michigan, about a week later, noting, "I would like to find somebody to do some research on this complaint and its results-—it might make a master's thesis, if such things still exist." King told Reed she had corrected one fact in the original version; this letter appears to be the corrected version. Six months later, King also sent a copy of the letter to Francis Blouin, director of the University's Bentley Historical Library, on the 30th anniversary of the filing of the original complaint. King later donated all of her personal papers to the library.
Jean Ledwith King, Attorney at Law and Counselor
12 December 1999
255 East Liberty, Suite 289
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
FAX (734) 332-1042
Ms. Kate Soper
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
The Academic Women's Caucus is doing a 25-year anniversary video and I will be talking on it briefly this week about the complaint to HEW in 1970 against the University of Michigan for sex discrimination. It seems like a good time to write down what I remember to get ready for that interview.
Unfortunately this episode has never been written up by anybody who was involved or accurately by anyone else and we are approaching 30 years since it happened. Some of it I remember vividly because it absorbed most of my life at the time (although the Women's Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party which we had just founded and which I chaired also absorbed a lot of my energy). I was working at that time for the Michigan Crime Commission in Lansing and about to take the Michigan bar exam in February 1970. In June 1970 I started a job as a referee at the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court.
In January Nixon[A] was nominating the first of two lousy candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court which we were trying to fight through the U.S. Senate, particularly through Senator Phil Hart's office. I assembled in my living room at 3134 Sunnywood (where we still live) my friend Ruth Schelkun[B] (who had talked me through law school) and 10 or so women members of the U-M staff and faculty. We decided to call ourselves FOCUS on Equal Employment for Women and our first project was to support Joanne Gardner of Pittsburgh who planned to travel to Washington and chain herself to a chair in the Senate hearings opposing the nomination of Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court because of a ruling he made as a judge on the Fourth Circuit.[C]
These included Marge Brazer[D], Gertrude Drouyor of the Bentley[E], and a woman faculty member from fisheries (all now dead as is Ruth Schelkun), Libby Douvan[F], and others whose names I can't recall now. I am sure I have a list somewhere,
In April 1970 I attended a feminist meeting in New York City (at the founding of Professional Women's Caucus) when I heard Bernice (Bunny) Sandler talk about her discovery of a footnote in Executive Order 11246 (no. ?) prohibiting sex discrimination by Federal contractors.[G] It had been signed by President Johnson on September 13, 1968.[H] Bunny had been or was still a lecturer/instructor at the University of Maryland in the psychology department and was paid abysmally (maybe there was also a promotion claim). University faculty was not then covered by Title VII (and were not covered until an amendment to Title VII which passed in 1972), nor by the Equal Pay Act and there was absolutely no law that would permit a claim of sex discrimination by female college faculty. Bunny saw the possibilities of using this footnote in the Executive Order where women were discriminated against by a college or university. I thought this was very exciting and thought somebody at the University of Michigan should use it. The University at that time had $65 million dollars in Federal contracts. I brought the idea back to CEW[I]--from which nothing happened. [At that time I didn't realize the importance of an inside/outside strategy. People inside can't afford to complain or actively pursue complaints--at least they couldn't at that time, and frequently even now--or they will lose their jobs.]
So I asked the organization I founded, FOCUS (I can't remember how--don't remember if there was another meeting), if the members wanted to file a complaint under the Executive Order of sex discrimination against the University of Michigan. I am sure every member was asked her views because their names all appeared later in an article in the Detroit Free Press written by Helen Fogel and I wouldn't have done that without making sure each one approved of our filing the administrative complaint under the FOCUS name.[J]
In April and May we (I think Mary Yourd and me, consulting occasionally with Libby Douvan) worked on gathering statistics about the aspects of employment and student status in order to draft a complaint. We developed some theories about how students as well as employees should be covered by the Executive Order, but of course they didn't wash. Eventually that issue turned up as the 37 words of Title IX which Bunny added to the Higher Education Acts of 1972 when she was an assistant to Congresswoman Edith Green.
Kathy Shortridge (don't remember how we found her) had in the spring of 1970 interviewed the chief admissions officer of the U-M, at least for LSA,[K] and she still has her reporter's notebook in which his words are recorded. Something like--we admit 55% men to LS&A and 45% women to prevent an "overbalance" (his word) of women students. This was without regard to the applicant's qualification. No sign from him that he thought this was unfair--it was not at that time illegal.[L] At this time at Western Michigan University, I later learned, women applicants had to have a B+ high school average to be admitted whereas men only had to have a B average. This was probably true in some measure for most of the publicly supported
[p. 3]universities and colleges in the state and maybe even of the nation. I got a letter from at least one father whose daughter (with outstanding credentials) had not been admitted to the U-M's LS&A because of this quota.[M] There were generations of women forced to go to less prestigious public colleges because of quotas that limited their admission regardless of qualifications. Take about affirmative action for males!
Nancy Cantor applied to U-M for admission as an undergraduate in 1970 and was not admitted. Likewise, she later applied for entrance into U-M graduate school and was not admitted. Many years later I took great delight in her appointment as Provost of the University of Michigan.[N]
Our administrative complaint (it was never a lawsuit) was supposed to be filed, as we understood it, with the U.S. Department of Labor and was mailed on May 27, 1970, to the U.S. Secretary of Labor. The news of it was also covered by reporter Helen Fogel of the Detroit Free Press (she now works for the Detroit News). The coordination of our filing and newspaper publicity was deliberate on our part.
In our complaint about the University we cited the lack of women faculty (including none in the law school and, as I recall, none in the medical school), the low salaries of women faculty, the failure to hire and to promote women faculty (as I recall, there were only 5 women full professors in the whole university at that time, and the improvement on that statistic was very slow), the lecturer ghetto for women faculty, the discrimination against women in graduate school (as I recall there were no women graduate students in math and I know there were no women faculty in math and that is only one program), the lack of scholarship, grant, and other financial support for women students, the very low rates of admission for women to professional schools (law and medicine), the lack of gynecological services at Health Service, the lack of varsity sports for women students and the otherwise very weak athletic program for women, students, the low salaries for women staff from janitors to administrative assistants including women employees at the U-M Hospital (many U-M women staff were on food stamps and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them still are). There were other areas too which I can't at this moment recall.
We may have complained about student organizations which excluded women, including honor societies--but that may have come later. We probably complained about counselling (both by faculty and by the University's counseling services)--women students steered to sex-stereotyped jobs and sex-stereotyped graduate training. We probaby also complained about the lack of women administrators at the U, the lack of women deans, department heads, the lack of
[p. 4]their representation on important University committees. We may have complained about the total lack of women cheerleaders and women in the band. The last 30 years are a blur and I have worked on all the items in this paragraph plus a lot more, but I don't specifically remember if they were in the original complaint of May 27, 1970.[O]
After we filed the complaint with the Secretary of Labor, then, on Bunny's advice, we immediately wrote to every Michigan Congressperson (there were 19 at the time plus two Senators) asking him (there was one "her," Martha Griffiths) to contact the U.S. Secretary of Labor about our complaint. Mary Yourd (wife of Ken Yourd, U-M law school administrator) wrote the letters to the Republican congressmen and signed them and I wrote the letters to the Democratic congresspeople and signed them. Both of us were somewhat known in our political parties.
Then a new Secretary of Labor was named (one of the two, I forget which, was George Schultz) so we wrote another 21 letters to Michigan congresspeople asking them to contact the new Secretary on our account.[P] It was then decided within the Department of Labor that our complaint should be dealt with by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, & Labor, so we wrote another 21 letters to Michigan members of Congress to ask them to write to the Secretary of HEW. THEN a new Secretary of HEW was named, so we wrote another 21 letters.[Q]
A letter from a Congressperson to a Federal administrator is called a "Congressional" and gets special attention. Thus there may have been before the beginning of August 1970 as many as 84 Congressionals inspired by us loose in the system. We gradually began to sense that there were a lot of women in Congressional staff jobs (mostly low level, none administrative assistants, mostly anonymous) that were rooting for us. Some of them able to sign their bosses' names. They could at least sometimes put our letters on top of their bosses' piles of mail. Anyway then and especially later we felt a lot of support coming unspoken and unwritten through the air from the direction of Washington, D.C.
It turned out that the head of Region V office of HEW in Chicago was a real Mensch. His name was John Hogdon (?).[R] In August 1970, to our surprise and delight, he sent an investigator from Chicago to talk to Mary and me about our complaint. (This was like the speed of light in initiating the investigation of a Federal administrative complaint.) We met the investigator and two young women assistants (one named Esther Lardent who is still active on the civil rights scene) in their suite on the second floor of the Holiday Inn West in Ann Arbor. The two women didn't do anything or say anything but wiggled their behinds a little on their chairs or a sofa as they listened to the discussion in a way and at times so we could see they were sympathetic.
The investigator was something else. He was used to investigating race discrimination on a factory floor and when Mary and I tried to explain the grapevine system of hiring faculty at a university he didn't understand at all. He concluded after talking to us for about two hours that there was no substance to our complaint and told that to Helen Fogel of the Detroit Free Press who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. She printed it.[S]
I complained to John in Chicago about this investigator and he was replaced by Don Scott of the Chicago Region V office of HEW. Scott was much more understanding of our complaints about academia. Chicago began to investigate our claims. Fleming's response to Chicago's request for information was to stonewall for two months. Finally Chicago realized they were were not going to get the data they needed from the University of Michigan so they acted. Biermann, formerly of OFCCP,[T] now retired from Federal employment, investigated the U-M. He was until recently been active in employment seminars across the nation.
The stand-off was broken on October 16 when a Federal contract which the U-M had applied for and expected was held up. We found this out through a phone call from Congressman [Gary?] Brown's office (Brown was a Republican representing the Congressional district which then contained Kalamazoo).[U] They told us that a contract had been withheld from the U-M. This was a sample of what women in Congressional staffs were doing for us. But Congressman Brown's office didn't know what contract was being withheld. We told the Michigan Daily about the withheld contract and they went to work to find out what contract that was.
It was not a happy discovery. We were very glad that the Feds were acting but sad that the contract was for birth control services in Nepal.[V] I am sure the choice was not deliberate (but in our bad moments we were afraid it was). The positive view was that it was probably the first U-M contract that came past after Chicago concluded that Fleming was not going to cooperate with the investigation. Fleming refused to respond to queries, withheld information, and generally interfered with the investigation. Skipping for a moment to mid-December 1970, we found out then that $15 million dollars in Federal contracts were being withheld (or just about to be withheld) from the University of Michigan. That information came to me on a phone call from Muriel Ferris, a high-level aide to Senator Philip Hart. Ms. Ferris is retired, living in Maryland.[W]
I can just imagine what was going on in the administration offices that fall as contracts continued to be withheld from October 16 to mid-December with the deans calling the President about their faculty complaining about not getting Federal money. Finally in January 1971 Fleming settled with Chicago--we, of course, played no role in the settlement. It was entirely negotiated between HEW and the U-M. One feature was the appointment of a Commission on Women (which we
[p. 6]wouldn't have asked for--a typical adminstrative stall) and 100 faculty women had their salaries doubled (that was more like the immediate action we wanted but we wanted it immediately on all fronts). Libby Douvan's salary as a full (?) professor went from $14,000 to more than $30,000 per year.[X]
Even doubled these salaries were still low. Besides Libby Douvan, another beneficiary was journalism teacher Marian Marzolf. I think Anne Larimore in Geography got a pay raise. Mary Alice Shulman of Economics thinks her pay was raised at that time. Helen Crafton, also of Economics, may also have received that raise. Another possibility is Lorraine Nadelman of Psychology.[Y]
During this process Robben Fleming said (in print) that women faculty were paid what they were "worth in the market place" and that our efforts could be characterized as trying to produce "C+ brain surgeons" (that's in print, too).[Z] He was perhaps one of the most famous and skillful labor negotiators in the United States at that time but he found that his regular methods didn't work against the Federal government--at least not at that time. On information and belief, Fleming's own assistant Barbara Newell at the U-M was reportedly paid $5,000 less per year than similarly situated men in the administration and as our complaint progressed she finally saw herself in our complaint. She complained internally about her own salary and got more pay. I wrote an op-ed piece in the Michigan Daily contrasting President Fleming with a former U-M President Angell (who was supportive of women students) which I am sure I still have a copy of somewhere. This carried pictures of both men and was probably printed in the spring of 1971.
At the present time a college or university (or presumably any other Federal contractor), if complained against under the Executive Order applicable to Federal contractors, would have a right to a hearing before a contract was withheld but that wasn't the practice in 1970. As soon as he could, Fleming organized other university heads across the nation to oppose this use of the Executive Order against them by HEW.[AA] There was a lot of resentment that an agency which was supposed to be a friend to education was being used against educational institutions. University attorneys, no doubt sparked by our own U-M attorneys, organized a nationwide meeting of the attorneys of other universities to teach them how to fend off HEW.
The Michigan complaint was thoroughly covered in The Chronicle for Higher Education which I kept informed (especially Cheryl Fields who is still there as an editor and who wrote the original story on our complaint), so many more of these complaints were filed across the country.[BB] Bunny was filing many herself but not with the documentation we assembled for the U-M. Women faculty were desparate for a remedy to the massive sex discrimination in higher education. Here at home I gave much time and support to those who filed against MSU[CC] (their leader was my now good friend Vicki Neiberg)[DD] and a lesser level of help to those who filed against Wayne
[p. 7]State and Western. I had many queries from Northern, Central, Delta, and other colleges in and out of Michigan.[EE]
Our administrative complaint against sex discrimination at the University of Michigan was the first successful attack on sex discrimination in a university in the nation and publicity about it in the Chronicle gave women faculty across the U.S. a lot of hope.
We did not neglect University staff, including clerks, secretaries, janitors, etc. in our complaint.
Jean Ledwith King
C. On February 3, 1970, Jo-Ann E. Gardner, an experimental psychologist at the
University of Pittsburgh, attempted to testify at the Supreme Court confirmation hearings
of U.S. Circuit Judge G. Harrold Carswell. Gardner was permitted to submit a statement
on behalf of a coalition of groups identified as Focus on Equal Employment for Women;
it opposed Carswell's nomination because of his vote in October 1969 to deny a
rehearing of a case, Phillips v. Martin-Marietta, that had upheld the company's right to
deny a woman employment because she had preschool-aged children. The case was the
first to reach the Supreme Court that involved a sex discrimination complaint under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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G. As recounted by Sandler in Documents 3 and 4, Sandler discovered a footnote in a
report that cited Executive Order 11375, which had amended Executive Order 11246.
The prohibition on sex discrimination by federal contractors was not a footnote to the
earlier Executive Order.
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J. If King provided Fogel with the names, the reporter did not use them in the article she
wrote about the filing of the complaint ("U-M Charged with Bias Against Women,"
Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1970, p. 1C).
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L. In Shortridge's article, George R. Anderson, dean of freshman-sophomore counseling
and a member of the all-male admissions committee, referenced the 55:45 ratio of males
to females in the freshman class and said, "Well, I didn't know the balance was
manipulated." Others provided justification for maintaining this ratio.
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M. King's personal papers at the Bentley Historical Library include correspondence with
Seymour L. Murphy of Saginaw, Michigan, who wrote FOCUS immediately after it filed
its complaint. Murphy contended that his daughters, Carol and Anne, had been
discriminated against earlier that spring when they were refused admission to the
university. King masked Murphy's name in her copy of his original letter, but attached it
to her typewritten response, in March 1971, when she advised him of the challenges
FOCUS had encountered in getting HEW to address discrimination in graduate school
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N. Nancy Cantor received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence University in 1974 and a Ph.D.
from Stanford University in 1978. She served as provost of the University of Michigan
from 1997 to 2001, when she became chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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O. The original complaint (Document 7) ran only two pages. Many more specifics were
later provided to HEW investigators. Other issues, such as the lack of women
cheerleaders or band members, emerged later on.
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Q. Robert Finch served as HEW secretary until June 23, 1970. He was succeeded by
Elliot L. Richardson, who became the focus of lobbying by U-M and other university
administrators to persuade the department to retreat.
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S. Clifford Minton, identified in press reports as chief of HEW's regional contract
compliance division, led the original investigation. An August 17, 1970 story in the
Detroit Free Press reported that Minton "said he had great respect for the sincerity of the
FOCUS members, but that the complaints were not specific enough to give the
compliance team much material to work with."
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W. In mid-December 1970, Ferris wrote King that she had determined that HEW was
holding up 12 contracts that were under $1 million each and another with the Atomic
Energy Commission for $1.62 million. Press reports in early 1971 said a total of $7.5
million worth of contracts were withheld.
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Y. Marion T. Marzolf retired in 1995 as a professor of journalism and communication.
Ann Larimore was a member of the geography faculty and the first woman elected to the
executive board of the University's Rackham Graduate School. Her oral history is
Document 37. Mary Alice Shulman and Helen Crafton were faculty members of the
Economics Department. Lorraine Nadelman retired in 1993 as an associate professor of
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Z. In an August 30, 1970 article in the Ann Arbor News, "U-M Fleming's Guardedly
Optimistic About New Year," Fleming said, "It is clear statistically that in professional
fields the personnel is overwhelmingly male, and that is the preference of the
marketplace. The question arises whether in a supposedly free economy, market
preference should have any weight?" In a Detroit News article (Document 41), an
unidentified University administrator was quoted as saying, "If HEW is really serious
about enforcing that [affirmative action] requirement, it would be disastrous. You can
imagine the havoc it would wreak in the Department of Surgery, for instance."
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BB. Among the in-depth articles that Cheryl Fields wrote was "Federal Probes into Sex
Discrimination Provoke Controversy," which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher
Education on March 22, 1971.
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DD. In the early 1970s, Vicki Neiberg organized the Alliance to End Sex Discrimination
at Michigan State University, and later helped organize and negotiate the first contract for
the university's clerical/technical workers. She was inducted into the Michigan Women's
Hall of Fame in 2008.
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