Secure Legacy of Womens and Gender Studies at WVU

By Justice, Betty | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), May 18, 2017 | Go to article overview

Secure Legacy of Womens and Gender Studies at WVU


Justice, Betty, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


Harriet Lyon graduated from West Virginia University in 1891 with a bachelors degree, the first female to earn this status at WVU. However, at age 28, Harriet was still unable to participate in many processes of public life and her role in family/private life was severely restricted by law and custom. For example, Harriet could not vote, serve on a jury or choose to pursue most professions. Nor could she make decisions regarding her reproductive health, shield herself from certain violence or access tools of economic independence, such as credit. These limitations were based, not simply on her biological differences from her male classmates (her sex) but rather on her socially assigned role her gender.

Through the persistence of individual pioneers and collective action, women have broken many of the barriers Harriet experienced in late 19th-century America. Women have soldiered their way into virtually every aspect of public life and have largely gained autonomy and equality within family life. Indeed, women have leveled many of the barriers that were based purely on biology.

Today, women are Supreme Court justices and professional basketball players, coal miners and mining engineers, special-forces operatives and military generals, and Nobel laureate scientists and novelists. Women have served as the nations chief banker, diplomat and prosecutor. Little girls can realistically grow up believing they too might become president.

At the same time, there is an increased appreciation of the value of the work that occurs in the home and the family. Changing family structures have transformed understandings of which sex performs the functions of child-rearing and homemaking. Neither biology nor gender is destiny for girls or boys in the 21st century.

Yet, the individual success of millions of women does not mean that institutions have been transformed, and that history accurately reflects those accomplishments and articulates their meaning. …

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