Madison Women’s Caucus

The development of the Faculty Women’s Caucus at Madison College marks the beginning of an attempt at a more progressive space for women faculty at the college, but its establishment at a time when many other colleges were beginning to go all the more further, with departments like Women’s Studies Programs, marks the relative “backwardness” of this southern campus in respect with the times.  However, with the establishment of the Caucus in 1973, Madison faculty women officially joined a movement of women workers that their sisters around the country were and would engage in during this decade, as most directly embodied in the push for the Equal Rights Amendment began in earnest the year before the Caucus was established.

Historians of Madison College are fortunate to have access to a comprehensive history of the first decade of the Madison Women’s Caucus, as compiled in “The History of the James Madison University Faculty Women’s Caucus, 1973-1984.”  This document gives a unique glimpse into the inner-workings and personal goals of the Caucus in ways that no other source can.  Written by the women most responsible for the success of the Caucus, including its first president, Rose Mary Rummel, this document is essential to understanding the existence of this organization.

Front Page of the History Compiled by the Women's Caucus, 1984

Front Page of the History Compiled by the Women’s Caucus, 1984

As Crystal Theodore writes in the first section of this history, the Women’s Caucus was created in direct response to the “inequities between women and men in Academe: salary, rank, promotion policies, and the like.” (Rummel, 1) Essentially, the Caucus was created to address the same concerns that were at the heart of second wave arguments for the ERA and other workplace-based causes prevalent in the feminist movement of the time.  For this reason, the Caucus cannot be fully separated from the feminist movement as a whole, because it reflects essentially the same values and arguments that were at the heart of contemporary feminist rhetoric regarding the situation of women in the workplace.  Furthermore, this document outlines the original goals of the Caucus, which were later changed in 1976.  The changes in the goals of the movement are very reflective of the development of the feminist movement itself over the course of the 70s.  The initial goals of the Caucus were as follows:

1) to encourage the administration to make more effective use of the abilities of women faculty members and women administrators

2) to promote opportunities for the advancement of faculty women and women administrators

3) to pool resources to aid search committees in finding qualified women for positions

4) to collect data to show that “what we think and feel is fact” (Rummel, 4-5)

Of note in this list of goals is that it is noticeably more modest than the eventual list of goals that the Caucus would develop and that it almost entirely focuses on reform from within the college, seemingly viewing Madison College as a self-contained unit, without ties to the struggles of working women throughout the country.  Over the course of the next few years, the scope of the Caucus would broaden, particularly in 1975, when the Caucus began what would become the annual Dominion Lecture Series, which focused on bringing a female speaker to Madison College, the first of which was Ruth H. Osborn, the Dean of Continuing Education for Women at George Washington University.  The reflect the broadening scope of the Caucus, the 1976 update of its goals showed a deeper commitment to the plight of working women as a whole, and a focus on change for the entire nation.  The updated goals were as follows:

1) a continuing endeavor to seek the appointment of women to college-wide committees and to positions as heads, deans, and vice-presidents

2) the presentation of the annual Dominion Lecture and the Outstanding Woman of Virgina Award, intended to honor two different women

3) the appointment of a representative to the Congress of Women’s Organizations

4) active support of ERA legislation

5) a breakfast in November honoring women members of the Board of Visitors

womensweek

This new set of goals, considerably ambitious than the original ones, includes a number of interesting points.  The most important goal here is, of course, the support of the ERA, which demonstrates that the Caucus had began to take an active role in feminist discourse and politics, as represented by its proclamation of an official stance on this heated issue.  Perhaps most important for its greater legacy at JMU, however, is the establishment of the annual Dominion Lecture, a tradition that has continued to this day and has recently featured such esteemed women as Susan J. Douglass and Joan C. Williams.  While the speakers for the Dominion Lectures of the 70s are given analysis in another article in this exhibit, Feminist Speakers on Campus, it is worth mentioning here that The Breeze suggests that these lectures were well-received by students at the time. The Caucus also sponsored “Womens’ Week” in 1975, but this event does not have as much of a lasting legacy.  Overall, the Dominion Lecture series is perhaps the Caucus’ most lasting legacy from this period, but the establishment of the Caucus would lead to many important developments in the future, including the establishment of the Women’s Studies Program in the 90s.

Works Cited:

Rummel, Rose Mary, et al. “The History of the James Madison University Faculty Women’s Caucus, 1973-1984.” 1984.

Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. Women’s voices, feminist visions: classic and contemporary readings. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2012.

Elmore, Cindy. “Caucus sponsors womens’ week.” The Breeze. 1979.