“The Open Forum on Women at Columbia meeting…”


Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature

Someone on the secretarial or administrative staff within Low Library had discovered there were these disparities, but in order to make a case they had to get some men to be willing to say this, which of course I was perfectly willing to do for Joan [Ferrante]. So they were able to threaten suit or whatever. As a result, for a number of years, Joan’s and my salaries were absolutely tied, which was itself unfair because at that point Joan was much more distinguished than I was. But that didn’t matter. As long as she couldn’t say she was being paid less she had no kick coming. Then came the ‘80s, we finally decided to do something.

We sat around the lunch table in the faculty house, where you could have lunch in those days, and talked about this. It was an unlikely group. Carolyn [Heilbrun] was involved. Joan was involved. Paul Dinter, the Catholic chaplain, was involved. Betty Jemmott wasn’t there, though she obviously would have been interested…We had the first meeting [in 1982], then we talked about having an all-day conference, which shrank to this [indicating a day-long open forum] by the end of the year. After that, it sort of burbled on a little bit, but then there was the Commission on the Status of Women, the University Senate got involved, and then eventually IRWAG [Institute for Research on Women and Gender], which came later. I’m sure Joan, who was much more involved in all that than I was, would have been able to give you a much better timeline than I.

I was always very interested in this from a purely political point of view. This was an injustice that had to be—as far as getting involved in the actual studies of it, I wasn’t qualified, and it wasn’t where my primary interest was. That was for other people to do. I’d go to IRWAG events, but I don’t think I ever belonged to it. I guess I still am on their mailing list, but I guess everybody’s on their mailing list. I never was fully involved. Carolyn, of course, was. For me, it was just a question of kind of a political enterprise that had to be attended to.

It was never just an English department thing. No, absolutely. The fact that Joan and Carolyn and I were all together in the English department—we never thought of it as departmental—first of all because the English department, we felt, would not be terribly sympathetic, it was not going to be fertile ground. We didn’t see it that way. We saw it as at least Arts and Sciences wide. My recollection—which may be very faulty again—was that we batted around all kinds of ideas. How can we bring pressure? We came up with this idea of a forum, I think, fairly quickly. Not this forum, this first meeting, Open Forum on Women at Columbia. We’d have to get that done. That was a good size—my recollection is about two hundred people showed up for that. Joan might be able to correct you on that. We did a good job, and again, you have to thank our graduate students, not just the three on this [Linda Berkeley, Sandra Prior, and Beth Langon], but some of the others who were willing to go around and put posters up and make sure people that knew about it. So people were interested, mostly women, to be sure, but some men.