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UT Community Writes Women Back Into History

Published: March 25, 2010
Two-by-two they’ll come next week, mentor and mentee, to celebrate Women’s History Month at The University of Tampa.

“We wanted to make sure we’re doing our job teaching younger women about our history,” said Linda Devine, vice president of Operations and Planning, and leading lady behind this six-year program.

The annual Women’s History Month luncheon, this year on March 31 in Vaughn Center’s Crescent Club, encourages faculty and staff members to accompany students. It’s not just females though, said Devine, who is a longtime supporter of gender-specific initiatives. Men are just as encouraged to attend.

“Being a feminist isn’t a dirty word. It just means that you want women to have the same rights as men do,” said Devine, who served as UT’s first female director of student activities in 1983. “You want girls and boys to have a fair shake. You want their starting line to be the same. How they finish the race is up to them.”

Each year organizers of the luncheon tackle a topic like women and the environment, women’s history at the University, women and art, and this year’s topic: women’s unwritten role in history.

“After decades, maybe centuries, of being ignored by historians (mostly male) and others, women’s contributions to history, in the broadest sense, have at long last been recognized as essential to an accurate portrayal of the past,” said Dr. Constance Rynder, professor of history who teaches a Women in American History course at UT.

Rynder is featured in the luncheon’s program, along with Janice Law, director of the Academic Center for Excellence and lecturer in history; Dr. Judy Hayden, associate professor of English and writing and director of the Women Studies Program; and Susan Leisner, UT trustee, founder and past president of the Athena Society Inc., and member of the Hillsborough County Commission on the Status of Women.

One misconception about women in history that Rynder has noticed is the belief that “women’s work” was either home-based or charity-oriented, and so women lacked the capacity for militancy or direct action in the public arena. She cites three major contributions by women – in agricultural development, social reform and the development of new professions and occupations — to prove the point.

“In most early societies, women were the agriculturalists, men the hunters and defenders,” Rynder said. “Women learned to domesticate plants, thus greatly increasing the food supply. In some regions, they also discovered the medicinal uses for the wild plants they gathered.”

In terms of social reform, “women have spearheaded many campaigns for social justice, among them abolitionism, child protection, industrial safety, environmental safety and civil rights,” she said.

As for changes to the workforce, Rynder said that when blocked from male-dominated fields, women would get creative. “For example, women college graduates literally invented the field of social work. Women also pioneered a new multi-million dollar business: cosmetics.”

This year’s history month celebration includes an essay contest sponsored by the Diversity Fellowship, both a student organization and a branch of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement which promotes, appreciates and recognizes diversity on campus.

“This should be a learning experience,” Devine said. “I hope they walk away with a moment of awareness, realizing something that they didn’t know before. I hope that somewhere in that time there’s an ‘aha’ moment for each of them.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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