Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an interview with Ferris Olin on January 3, 2019, in Princeton, New Jersey with Kate Rizzi. Thank you so much for having me at your home to do this second interview session.
Ferris Olin: I am happy to do it.
KR: In your first session, we left off talking about your years at Douglass College. What did you do in the summertime when you were a student at Douglass?
FO: Well, I always worked. I don't remember which jobs I did during the summertime after freshman and sophomore year. [From] '68 to '69, which might have been around my junior year, I decided to take a summer school course. I took "German 101," eight weeks of "German I" and I aced it, which then the German Department insisted that I had to jump right into "German III" and read Bertolt Brecht in German, which was a disaster--but that's a separate matter. While I was at summer school, I believe I was a house chairwoman for the women staying in the dormitory on College Avenue. I met a lot of my future boyfriends during the next two years that I was there. I also organized a group of the women, because often, we'd be sitting outside or walking into the dormitory and the boys, men, would hoot at us and so forth. I remember buying a bunch of kazoos, and I gave them out. We sat, we women, and when men came by, we kazooed them, just to turn the tables and give them an experience of how it feels to be noticed and objectified. Truly, that was the case. [laughter]
KR: What was your graduation like from Douglass?
FO: That was interesting. It was a particularly unusual year for graduation, because it was the year after the students took over Old Queens. The Douglass graduation, I don't believe we wore caps and gowns. We wore black arm bands and carried yellow daffodils. We chose a woman, I think Sue Lester, who became a major television producer, to represent the class. The woman who spoke, if I can remember correctly, was an African woman, a representative from the United Nations. I don't remember much what she spoke about, but I remember it was very grey and humid and sticky and hot. My mother and my grandmother were in attendance, and after graduation, we drove to Philadelphia to go jewelry shopping. I don't know why we [had] never done that before. I bought myself an art deco locket with baby teeth impressions on the back. It had a diamond in it, which I didn't want because I'm really not into that, and also, what twenty-one-year-old wants diamonds? They do, but not me. I had a garnet put into it, which I still wear. My mother bought a beautiful yellow diamond ring, which nobody had yellow diamonds. Now, yellow diamond rings are ubiquitous, all the different colors now in the 21st century. So, she has this ring, which she still wears daily, and it will come to me so I can always remember my graduation whenever she has her GD, as she calls it, her great demise.
KR: When you were approaching graduation, what were your plans for the future?
FO: Before I approached graduation, I knew that I could not be self-supporting as an art history major. I looked into jobs, and I was being offered jobs as a New York art gallery assistant for about three thousand dollars a year, working six days a week. You had to look pretty and have particular outfits, which I didn't have that kind of apparel, and I expected that I'd be commuting from Trenton, where my parents lived. I couldn't live on three thousand.
In my senior year, I started taking graduate classes in the library school, so that I could see whether that was something I was interested in. It's possible that probably during some of the summers, I might have worked in libraries because I was thinking about that. I know I worked for the Library for the Blind and the Handicapped, which is now the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, in a former automobile dealership in Trenton. Anyway, so, I took two graduate classes and got both undergraduate and graduate credit for it. I then transitioned into full-time graduate school at Rutgers. By then, I was working at Trenton Public Library as a children's librarian, first in the Lalor Street Library, which was a library for blue-collar people, working class, and then I was moved to an East State Street branch, across from a bar in the most disadvantaged African American neighborhood, where the library was only open between three and five weekdays. I was in the children's library in that branch as well. I have stories about that, but it's up to you.
KR: What was that like?
FO: Well, both were interesting, because the library in Lalor Street had a director who was a drunkard, a man, and I worked with him. He didn't take advantage or anything like that, but it was part of my experience. Overall, [in] my work life, I was with people who were not your average Joe or Jane. Somebody had a nervous breakdown on a reference desk years later. I recognized immediately that he was [a drunkard]. Here was this guy who was getting drunk at lunchtime and so forth. I enjoyed the children's hour and working with people overall.
At the other branch, it was a two-story branch with the entrance to the children's room set upstairs at the outside, so people could walk into the second floor unbeknownst to the people who were on the first floor. All the people working in that branch were women. The bar across the street had a lot of homeless people and drunkards, so you never felt particularly safe. A couple of times we were robbed at knife point. The children who came were wonderful, but they came because they needed a warm place. The books were not applicable to those children. They didn't have any high-interest, low-vocabulary books. They had not bought books for probably two decades, so most of the books were about white people and not about the experiences, let's say, of some of the children coming in.
I went to talk to the library director at Trenton Public during the summertime, in part about that and also to talk about my future because I knew I was going to be graduating. I walked in, and her secretary wouldn't allow me to keep my appointment--I had made the appointment, but not to go into see her. Why? I was wearing sandals and no stockings, and apparently there was a rule that you had to wear stockings, which nobody told me, and I clearly would not have done anyway. So, I had to have a discussion with the secretary, who was precluding me from getting in and excluding me. The director came out, and I explained. So, she made a special dispensation, and I went in and spoke with her. I complained about everything, especially about the books not being appropriate, the fact that we were very insecure there with all women. There were no guards. What kind of services are we providing two hours a day? What about the rest of the population? The usual '60s bleeding heart, sort of woke kind of consciousness. Basically, she said to me, "We're going to be closing that down in a couple years. We don't want to invest, and so there's no acquisitions budget. There's nothing. We're just doing the status quo and treading water." Then, I asked her about my future. She said to me that she felt that I was too smart, and I couldn't fit into the system. Basically, she was doing me a favor. It's not that she didn't want to hire me. She knew I was good. She just thought that this was not a good match because she knew the future of that library. This would've been in the early '70s.
I finished graduate school, library school, in January of '72. I had several interviews for public library jobs because I thought I was going to be a public librarian, one of which did not go very well. It was in Rockland County, and the man who was the board director interviewed me. I asked about the salary. He said to me that he wasn't going to offer me the advertised salary, but he would offer me a lower salary, because, as far as he was concerned, I was a single woman and I didn't need the money, but if I had been a married man with a family, he would give him that money or better. During that interview, I said to him that I thanked him and told him he could remove my application from candidacy, because it was unlawful to think that way and we certainly would not have a good fit.
I subsequently did find a job in the largest public library in Spring Valley, New York, where I spent a couple of years. That was Finkelstein Memorial Library. I was a reference librarian and sort of a rabble-rouser because their library card application required the husband's signature or something like that, and I laid into the director about how it was 1972-'73 and women don't need their husband's permission to get a library card. We also had a difference of opinion. Some of our patrons were Hasidic Jews and you had to be careful about not touching the men because they didn't know whether you were "clean" or not and being respectful of the young women who were Hasidic mothers with six kids and another one on the way, trying to find books that were appropriate, when most of the books, which would mostly be Bobbsey Twins and things like that, most of the books, at that point, were about pregnancy and drugs and more contemporary issues and you couldn't really provide them with those.
I had a twelve-year-old standing in line one Saturday when I was at the reference desk. I was the only reference librarian. I was very busy. She jumped the line and said, "I'm a taxpayer. I demand better service." I tried to be as tactful as I could to say that I was only one person and these people are waiting in line, and of course she had to hear that from her parents. That, and a mother who came in and said, "My son is at college and he has to write a paper on whether we should be in Vietnam or not, so can you give me all the books for him. I need to write the paper." I had a hard time with that, because nobody did my papers for me. I said to her, "My job is to educate the students so they can be independent learners. If you write your son's paper or do the research, how is he going to learn?" This was the precursor to the helicopter mom, I'm sure. So, I went into the library director and asked him whether the extent our library service philosophy was that we do kids' homework because the high school parents also did that because, "Johnny has a baseball game and he can't do this work, so I'm just going to do it for him." He told me, "Yes, we had to do that." I knew at that point that it was time for me--and I was getting bored--to do something else. I began an art history master's program, commuting from Spring Valley during the gas crisis to New Brunswick, in between working full time, so I was a part-time graduate student until I left my job.
KR: I want to ask you about when you did your master's degree in library studies at Rutgers. You went from being a Douglass undergraduate to going to a different part of Rutgers University. What were your first impressions of being in a different part of Rutgers?
FO: Well, there wasn't any difference, because as an undergraduate art history student, I spent most of my time on the College Avenue Campus, the men's college. [At] Douglass, any student who wanted to take classes with the guys, basically, if a course was not already being taught at Douglass, you could get permission, and most of the art history courses were in Voorhees Hall. The Art History Department moved there right before I came on campus. There were a few art history classes taught in the Art Department at Douglass, mostly by either artists or adjuncts, but the more serious art history, more or less, was over [on College Avenue], and so I took all of my classes mostly at Rutgers College, where, during the time of the anti-war movement, students shut down classes. I think I talked about this before that every time there was an exam, an hourly, there was a bomb threat. At one point, we didn't know where we were going to have our tests, but we had to show up. When people took over Old Queens, the school decided that the faculty could give pass/fail grades rather than the A, B, C, D grades. So, that was a semester where that happened as well. [Editor's Note: In May 1970, students occupied Rutgers President Mason Gross' office in Old Queens to protest the invasion of Cambodia.]
The one thing that was a difference that I can talk about with the library school is that I was working. I was a working librarian full time, while taking classes part-time. As far as I remember, or maybe both. I found that the professors teaching library studies, many of them had never worked as librarians, and it's true in my experience in academia, many people who teach how to do something have not actually done it. There's a dichotomy. I decided that library school was basically busy work. It was not intellectual. The difference between Douglass and the library school was there was no intellectual content. I mean, it was, but I basically thought I was just doing the busy work to get my union card so I could be a librarian and that's how I rationalized it. There was one professor who had been the Pennsylvania State Librarian who taught one master's class, and he did some dissertation advising work. I remember his name, but I don't want to besmirch him. It's enough that I said who he'd been. He came in, and he was teaching. It was a night class. It was really boring. He was rehashing things. In the seventh week of class--and we're his only class that he's teaching--he said, "I just cannot figure out who you all are, so I'm bringing in a camera and I'm taking pictures of all of you and put your name so I know who you are." Well, this might be an age thing, I just don't know, but I took great affront to this man that in the seventh week of class, he still could not remember our names. We're all of fifteen people maybe, and so I refused to get my photograph taken. At the end of the class, my friend, who I sat next to, who had her picture taken, he, I think, mistook for me and he gave her a "C," whereas I got a "B" and it wasn't because of her work. It was because he was upset that I was the only person who refused to have their picture taken. I just thought it's his job to know who we are.
KR: Where was the library school at that time?
FO: Where it is now on College Avenue near the library, in that one building, so it was there and it was called the master's of library science. It was called library science, not library studies. The School of Library Science became the School of [Communication], Information and Library Studies, SCILS, and then it became SCI [School of Communication and Information]. I mean, it's evolved over time.
KR: You said that while you were working in Spring Valley that you started studying for your master's in art history.
KR: How did that opportunity come about?
FO: Well, I made it. I realized I was really bored answering the reference questions. I want to say that being on a reference desk is a great opportunity to learn to multitask, which women seem to do better than men apparently. Because you're sitting at a reference desk, you have work you have to do while you're a librarian, but you also have to wait for someone to interrupt you and each time it's a different question. The best way for me to deal with the people who came in, even if it was five kids from the same class at different times, was to pretend that I was a detective. It was detective work.
There were times in Spring Valley where drunks would call in because we had some regular telephone query-ers. We knew who these people were. We'd know their names. We knew their voices. There was one guy who always wanted to know the addresses of major actors and actresses, and so forth. There were lots of people who were at bars and they'd make a bet and they'd call and they're pretty drunk. One goes on and says, "I bet that the weather is going to be snowy tomorrow." The other guy comes on, "And I bet that it's going to rain." You have to tell them what the forecast is, and after a while, it's stupid in a way. Anyway, I got bored with the patrons and their demands and their privilege of paying taxes, and when some twelve-year-old says that to you, as I told you before, it tells you about the quality of the taxpayers and what they think they're entitled to.
I applied to graduate school for a master's, and I had to take the GREs, which was interesting because my GREs were the exact same scores as my SATs, which are terrible. Then, I went for an interview--and Martin Eidelberg was the chair of the graduate department at that point--so I go into interview [with] him and he says, "Why are you coming to graduate school?" I had already taken a class with him. I said, "Because we never studied women artists and artists of color. I'm really interested to know more." He said to me, "Oh, that's just a passing fad, like African American studies." I said to him, "You know fifty-one percent of the population cannot be considered a passing fad." Anyway, I did start graduate school. It was interesting to me, the next year, he offered a course on--his field was Northern European Renaissance, or Netherlandish Renaissance--he offered a course on women china painters in America. Although he [had thought] there were no women artists of note, he then offered a course. It turned out he was a doing an exhibition, so he had his students help him work on his research, which a lot of people do. It's a seminar or something like that.
KR: What was your course of study like for your master's in art history?
FO: It was all over the place, because in order to get a master's, you had to pass several exams. One was that you had to, at that point, pass either French or Italian and German. So, you had to do one language at that point. The Ph.D., you had to be able to do two, and it was for reading knowledge. Since I had French--and, oh, that's why I took German as an undergraduate because I knew I was going to need it for art history at some point during that summer, but I did not do German at that point for that test.
The master's exam was a day where they gave you about a hundred slides to identify, and you had to read across all the history of art history--but really it was of western art history--and know everything. Then, they'd give you essays. It's a smaller version of the Ph.D. exam. I spent a long time reading through survey books of Spanish art, of Netherlandish art, of British art, French art, and American art history from early period to contemporary times, because you didn't know what was going to happen, and I did pass. I did try to, in most of my courses, write papers on, at that point, gender, [about] women, if I could find something, but there was not yet the burgeoning of women's studies within art history. It was just beginning to start, so I didn't have a lot of scholarship to quote. I only had my ideas, and of course, that's not enough for professors. That was kind of interesting.
Because some of the people in my cohort did not take their language exams until after they did all their coursework, it became apparent that several would never get their masters, even though they spent all that time and money because they had no language skills. After that, my class, which was one of the first classes for master's classes--they only had started the graduate program in the early '70s, maybe '71, or '70, '71, '72, and my masters was dated '75--the Art History Department changed the rule. You had to take the language exam and pass it in the first semester of your coursework for a master's, which made more sense because to throw out people after they spent all that money and time because they could not pass a French exam or Italian exam or German is really a terrible thing to do. There were a couple of married guys who were there with their spouses, mostly just directly out of undergraduate school, who in the end had to go back and find another way, work or whatever it was.
I finished my degree and was looking for a job. Let's see, how did I do this? I decided I might be an art librarian. I went to the College Art Association Conference that year and the Art Libraries Society Conference. I interviewed for jobs. I had a wonderful interview with the director or maybe it was the college president of Oberlin. There was an art librarian job there, and the guy interviewed me. He liked me very much, but he told me he wouldn't offer me the job because he had four candidates with Ph.Ds. and why would he want to offer to an MLS only and an MA in art history. We had a long conversation, and he sort of mentored me.
I couldn't find a full-time job, so I took a job, as it happened, at Douglass at the Consortium for Educational Equity for the Training Institute for the Sex Desegregation of the Public Schools, run by Fran Kolb and Becky Lubetkin. It was a sex equity assistance program, federally funded. They were housed on the third floor of College Hall at Douglass. I was their librarian and my job was to put together a sample library of non-sexist, non-racist books, K to twelve, and then meet with educators, administrators and teachers at development days, teacher development days, and at conferences, develop bibliographies, talk to them about how they could incorporate these new books into their classroom. I spent about a year doing that. It was very interesting.
I had, by that point, already been involved, when I was living in Englewood, commuting both to Spring Valley and then to New Brunswick, been involved with Women's Rights in Tenafly, a group in Bergen County of women who were dealing with the public schools. I was the youngest person in the group. There were a lot of interesting women whom I met there, some of whom I subsequently met all over again later. That would've been in '72 to '75 or '76, I guess. Is that right? Yes.
Then, there was a job opening at Rutgers for an art librarian, and I interviewed for that. I had been working at the Finkelstein Library. I was offered the job. Rutgers offered me a job at the base salary, which was less than what I was making as a public librarian. Why? Because in academic libraries, academic libraries is a stream. Public libraries is something else. So, the library world, if you're a cataloguer, you're not a public librarian, and the twain shall never meet, apparently. I told the University Librarian that I would love the job, but I can't take a job that's three thousand dollars less than what I was making in a public library. We negotiated. It took a very long time, and finally I started work on April 1, 1976 in the libraries as an assistant professor-librarian.
KR: You talked about when you were doing your master's in art history, it was the beginning of scholarship of women's artists.
FO: Just, not even. In 1976, it was the first year that there was a major show. It was with Linda Nochlin and Ann Sutherland Harris. It was called Women Artists:  to 1950. It was an exhibition in LA that travelled. It was the first scholarship. In 1971, Linda Nochlin wrote her germinal--not seminal, although it's often used as seminal--germinal article, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" That was the beginning for scholarship in art history.
In around 1972, there were a group of women who were members of the College Art Association who banded together and put together something called the Women's Caucus for Art, which was supposed to be a subgroup of the College Art Association. At some point, in the early '70s, maybe '74-'75, I can't remember, the Women's Caucus for Art were divorced from the College Art Association, and they are still, to this day, operating separately from the College Art Association. That history is the history that's documented in an essay that I co-authored with Judy Brodsky and Mary Garrard, who's one of the first presidents of the Women's Caucus for Art. The first president was Ann Sutherland Harris, the art historian who, with Linda Nochlin, curated and wrote the Women Artists: 1550 to 1950. Mary might have been the second president; Judy Brodsky was the third president, the first artist. So, the three of us, for the centennial publication for the College Art Association, were assigned to write an essay about bylaws. Now, how could you make an essay about bylaws interesting? The way we did it is that Mary wrote the history of the Women's Caucus for Art and its divorce. Judy wrote about the early history of the CAA, the division between artists and art historians, which there always has been for some reason, as there is between cataloguers and public service librarians. It's stupid, bifurcated thinking, I think. I looked at diversity within the College Art Association, and we did that all in one chapter [entitled "Governance and Diversity" in CAA: The Hand, the Eye, and the Mind-One Hundred Years of the College Art Association, edited by Susan Ball and published by Rutgers Press in 2011]. If you need more details, I can give you that for information about this. Anyway, so, the Women's Caucus of Arts segregated out.
I did join the Women's Caucus for Art very early on. For a long time, while I was an art librarian, I was involved with ARLIS, the College Art Association and the Women's Caucus for Art. I often organized panels. I was involved with committees. I ran for president of ARLIS at one point. I was active there too because as an art librarian professional, and also for tenure, you have to be professionally active and scholarly. I wrote articles about scholarship and library science, art librarianship. College Art [Association events] I went to all the time, wherever it was, and it was all over the United States and Canada. I met a lot of people, so I was very professionally active. [Editor's Note: ARLIS is the Art Libraries Society of North America.]
It was a little bit difficult because the art library was a one-person library, a non-circulating library. When I came up for reappointment review, I was told I needed to be more professionally active, and I said, "If I didn't show up, the library would be closed." In fact, I often went to the library when I had a 101 fever, because there was no other person there. I tried to negotiate with the head of Alexander Library, who was my direct report, a way that somebody else could be either the substitute person if I couldn't get there or when I needed to go professionally to places. It took a long time to do that and then to get some staff in, because it's hard to run a research library and buy books and run a staff of work-study students and maybe a library assistant, do reference questions. Librarians have the same publish-or-perish issue that teaching faculty have, but there is a hierarchy. There was [a hierarchy]--I don't know if there still is, but I bet there is--at Rutgers. The research faculty are the crème de la crème. The teaching faculty are the real people, and then there are the librarians. Even so, the pay scale is different. Even though my salary was many times less than my colleagues at the same rank who were teaching, I worked twelve months a year, not ten months a year. While other faculty were off between Christmas or winter break or whatever, I had to work. During the summer, I had to work. If I took a vacation, that's when I had to do my research. I did a lot of research as a librarian. I helped publish books, and I actually was curating exhibitions on material culture in New Jersey women's history. I was doing a lot of different things. You had to do committee work. What I'm trying to say is people don't value who librarians are and what they do.
During that time period that I was the art librarian, which would've been from '76 to '85, it was a period of transition. There was a big talk about going to become a paperless society. [laughter] It has not yet transpired, but they said it was going to happen in the '80s. Computers were coming in. I remember databases for searching, which are so easy now, but when they came in, you had a modem thing where you had to take your phone and put it into the instrument so that it could [makes a ringing sound] to get to the modem. Each database had its own search protocol, so you had to remember them. You had to do this and this for this one, that and that for something else, and A and B for the third thing, and there were many of them.
Dealing in an art library, which is non-circulating, can be difficult because the faculty believe--it's in the same building as the Art History Department--that it's a departmental library, but there's also the studio department, which is not part, [and], at that point, had divorced from the Art History Department. Those faculty and students need materials, but it's non-circulating. You have the undergraduate and graduate students wanting the library. You have people from other University community departments coming in, and then you have the general public. You have people calling and saying, "I just bought this painting. Can you tell me how much this is valued?" They're calling me. I can't give them a value. I have to do research and see what that artist's last auction price was. I could do that as a reference question. [A faculty member of] the English Department was teaching a class, and he wanted to incorporate the visual, which was unusual at that point. Now, I think it's much more likely. There was a slide library that's part of the Art History Department, and they needed to borrow books to make slides--at that point, there were still slides, not PowerPoints and not digital--for the department. The museum was part of the building and the complex, and they too needed books.
There was one photocopier. There was at least one person--and there were many others--who would walk in, and their biorhythms just shut it down, every time they came in, the photocopier, and the only photocopier. [laughter] This one person, whom I knew to be a very high-anxiety person, and when I say every single time, every single time she came in, the photocopier broke down as she walked to it. I decided I had to circumvent this. I told her whenever she needed something, she should come to me directly, and I would then photocopy, which is what I did, in particular, because I could tell she'd get very upset. Not only did she get upset because she came from a distance to do it, everybody else would wait a week before the machine was fixed, and that's really hard to do. We also had University administrators who hid out in the Art Library because the Art Library was across from Old Queens, and the Alexander Library was several blocks up. I got to know a lot of people in charge of the technology and computer centers because they would come before their meetings or after and sit there. There were chemistry faculty members who came in because they had an interest in art. This is to say that a research library isn't, even though it's one dimensional in terms of it's an Art Library, it is a University library. I was told this library was a part of the University library system. This caused trouble because the Art History Department thought of it, and the students did as well, as their library. People did go up to the Alexander librarian and complain about me because I made decisions that was for the betterment of the whole, not for them, and they didn't like that very much.
I also had to keep up with courses. There sometimes would be new courses, so I had to make sure we had new books for research for the graduate students and to support the undergraduate students. There would be different courses. There were books that were titillating, so some of those books had to be put in a locked cage because somebody would want to look at them. There's nothing wrong with it. Art is provocative. For example, in the early '70s, there was a woman artist named Lynda Benglis who put an ad in Artforum in which she's nude. Her body is greased, her hair is slicked back and she's holding a dildo. It was posted with her peer's image of him as a biker guy, so it was about masculinity and femininity. It was an art statement. I realized that people were going to try to tear it out, so I had to be careful about those things. We had some Ph.Ds. or master's throughout the history of the Art Department, which meant art and art history, [who became notable artists]. Lucas Samaras, who's a major artist, did his degree at Rutgers, and we had his master's [of fine arts], MFA, under lock and key because somebody would want to take it because it's his early work and there's original photographs in it. What I'm trying to explain is the breadth of the kinds of things that kept me busy.
KR: Were you teaching classes also?
FO: I got the Art History Department to allow me to teach one day at the beginning, for each master's group coming in, because I wanted to teach about library research. I found that many of the students coming in were not prepared to do graduate work, and so I tried to orient them. The Art History Department, at that point, only saw people with Ph.Ds. as people capable of teaching. I got them to at least allow me with two master's to say that I am the expert on how to do research, and that's what I did during that time period.
KR: Where were you living at this time?
FO: I was living in Ringoes and commuting, and then I was living in Plainsboro. In 1980, I moved to Belle Mead. I bought a house. I was married. By the way, the director of Alexander Library called me in one day, after I had been a librarian there five years, he said, "I've just learned your married." I said, "I am." He said, "Well, why didn't you tell me?" I said, "You didn't ask." He said, "I'm so surprised. I think of you differently now." I said to him, "Well, what's different? Does my performance change any?" I don't know why he said that, but it was really amazing. Nobody asked me. I wasn't wearing a wedding band. I didn't wear wedding bands, and I didn't think much about it. I didn't go around saying, "I did so-and-so with my husband." I was isolated within the library, to have to go up to meet my colleagues for faculty meetings. The faculty, when I started, were [New Brunswick], Newark and Camden and law libraries and the medical libraries all together. Then, they separated at some point; they've come together. They separated with reorganization; the libraries were reorganized as well. Over the time that I was there, there was a lot of restructuring going on. There were political tensions within the libraries as well. Do you want me to talk about that?
FO: We had a library director who was wonderful, a lot of fun, non-traditional. He was a bookseller and was Dutch. His name was Henk Edelman, and he was the dean of the libraries. He made a lot of good decisions, but he didn't always have follow through. I think he was a little ADD [attention deficit disorder], but we didn't know about that. You'd sit in meetings, and he would fiddle with paperclips--you can't see this, but they're hand motions--and he's doing all kinds of things with his hands. He was a redhead. He was lots of fun, and I got his number very quickly. At that point, I had a good reputation amongst the library faculty. We talked with him, and it was clear that he didn't have people under him who could fill in his deficiencies, to follow up on what he promised. He promised the moon, and people got very upset after a while. I was one of four in a delegation to talk to him about the fact that there seemed to be coming a revolt. I wanted to have a discussion about what is strategic planning, how could we help him to succeed, but my colleagues had another idea, unbeknownst to me. In the end, I learned a lot. He pushed himself into a corner. We pushed ourselves into a corner. I was there, so I had to be a part of the quartet. It's like the shutdown between Trump and the Democrats, [referring to the government shutdown of 2018-2019]. It's exactly the same thing. I learned a lot about politics through all of this. [Editor's Note: Henk Edelman was the University Librarian from 1978 to 1985. In 1985, he became Professor within the Department of Library and Information Science. Since 2002, he is a Professor Emeritus.]
The tenured library faculty decided to have a vote of no confidence and write a letter to the then president, who was [Edward] Bloustein, to say that they did not support the dean of the libraries and they wanted everybody to sign. I was one of the people who refused to sign the letter, which meant that I was now on the blacklist for my colleagues whom I had worked with all along and I had done all kinds of things to help reorganize the library and so forth. They couldn't understand it. I tried to explain to them that I don't need to be among a number of people writing [this letter]. I disagreed with them because I liked this man. I worked well with him. I did special things with him, which they didn't get to do.
He selected me--here's a typical thing for me--he added another job onto my art librarian job. He told me to take the Friends of the Library, which had been moribund, and make a renaissance for them. Part of my job, in addition to all the other stuff, was that I would go up to the libraries, Alexander Library had a little office there, and I started public relations for the library. We had a campaign with a pin, "Ask Me." I wrote a weekly newsletter or maybe a monthly newsletter, "Books and Beyond," about what's going on in the libraries, University Libraries. We did a major event with the Japanese on the anniversary of the opening of Japan with the Griffis Collection in Special Collections. I dressed in a kimono. I got Japanese caterers, and I organized the party. Of course, that made him look good, and this was in addition to my art librarian job. It's like a full-time job right there. My colleagues didn't quite get it. Eventually, I did get tenure, in part because I did the extra work, I'm sure. My colleagues had a beef with him, because they just didn't like the way things were. I can understand it. I said to them I could write my own letter, and that was it. [Editor's Note: Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives holds the papers of William Elliot Griffis, a Rutgers alumnus who lived, taught and studied in Japan during the Meiji Restoration.]
In the meantime, this was during the time that the National Women's Studies Association was having its annual conference, and they had chosen Douglass as their [site]. It was going to be in the early summer, June [of 1984]. Mary Hartman was running Douglass. Mary and I were acquaintances. We worked together as colleagues, and she brought me in to ask how she could broker some kind of rapprochement. I told her the whole story, and I said, "I don't think it's going to work." What happened, in the end, is they sent the letter to Dr. Bloustein. What precipitated it also was that the library faculty had library directors, and, I guess, University administration, through Henk, decided that the library director should be pulled out of the bargaining unit and should not be on equal par with the rest of the library faculty. Nobody wanted them to be pulled out. Dr. Bloustein convened a presidential select committee to look at the libraries. By then, Henk had been given a sabbatical leave and ended up on the library school faculty when he came back. Somebody else was an interim and so forth and so on. I was on that presidential select committee with five other librarians, maybe four, and there are eight faculty administrators. As we met with them, it was very clear to me, and when we met with Dr. Bloustein, what the charge was, that he would get what he wanted. This was very clear. My colleagues did not see that. They were not very politically astute. Many of them had been at the University for many more years than I had been. No matter how much we strategized beforehand, as a group, we were in the minority to the rest. In the end, it turned out that the library directors were pulled out of the bargaining unit. The other part was that the University Administration wanted to make the dean of the libraries the vice president of IT [information technology] as it was going along. In the end, all of that happened. [Editor's Note: Mary Hartman served as the Dean of Douglass College from 1982 to 1994. Edward Bloustein held the post of Rutgers University President from 1971 until his death in 1989.]
At that point, I was already bored at the Art Library. I had done everything I could there. I helped develop a potential plan for change because we had run out of space. I don't know if you've ever seen it. The original Art Library was in the basement of Voorhees Hall. The ceilings were maybe six-foot-four, at best, and the book stacks went to there and it was very narrow book stacks. You had a large reading room. You had a small public service desk with my office in the way back, which meant that when I spoke on the phone, everybody could hear me. When I was a graduate student in art history, as a master's level, there was a library director, who used to be the director of the Alexander Library, but she was unseated, Susan Schwartzberg, and sent her to the Art Library. She was a very loquacious, extremely over-the-top loquacious, a loud woman. She would be at her desk, and she'd say, "Now, this is strictly confidential," like that, and everybody's ears picked up. I was very conscious, having been on the other side of the wall, to talk very softly, from my throat, rather than from my gut or something like that. I learned to modulate differently. It was kind of interesting. It was a facility that was not conducive to expansion as I was buying books, nor to privacy. There were like five library tables, maybe six long tables, and then a bank in the back beyond the stacks that had maybe eight to ten private carrels for graduate students, which they had to be assigned to with locked cages.
I had one clerk, who came from the main library, to help me for a while, an assistant who was very religious. She opened up the lockers of the graduate student carrels, which was really private, and found that one of the students was keeping her birth control pills there. She threw them out. I had to negotiate that she had violated this woman's property, which she didn't understand. She thought that, "This is abhorrent that this woman would have birth control." Things like this you don't even think about these happening.
I had a different library assistant, who came to me highly recommended, and it turned out her references were lying. They just wanted to get rid of her from within the library system. She came and she was very problematic and I think a little emotionally disturbed. She sat in the front part and I had my desk, my office, just behind. There was a front part, a tiny little desk and then my desk. In her section, she liked [photographs of men], beef cake, and she put up beef cake photos. I had to explain to her that this was an objectification of men the way women are [objectified]. She just didn't understand. She wasn't doing her job properly, and I had to write her up. It turned out that she had difficulty in other places as well, and, basically, she was dumped on my lap. I had to learn all about personnel issues that way.
KR: You were on the development committee for the Zimmerli Museum building.
KR: Can you talk about what went into that?
FO: It was an art gallery, and part of that art gallery is still attached to Zimmerli. When you walk into the Zimmerli, to the left is a room with American art and a second story, sort of dome like, that was the original art gallery. It was interesting because it was the first of many building committees I had been on, or program development of documents for new buildings or revised buildings. [Philip] Dennis Cait was the then director. I worked with him and a bunch of other people. I think they had already raised money. I don't remember much about the machinations but looking at the designs and talking about the future. [There] was also the issue that the building behind, which was where the visual arts department was located, had a swimming pool, which was covered over. There was some discussion about incorporating that and trying to deal with the terrible footprint that we had for Voorhees Hall and to expand out and then into the parking lot. I learned about that. I met colleagues from facilities, development and other things, interior design. [Editor's Note: The Rutgers University Art Gallery was founded in 1966. In 1983, the gallery was expanded and renamed the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in honor of the mother of Ralph and Alan Voorhees, the benefactors of the museum's expansion.]
That served me very well, because I was involved with at least two other major building renovations and designs, one of which was what is now the Institute for Women's Leadership building. I was the primary point person for that. The renovation of the Douglass Library, I was the head of the committee that developed the program document. It was called D21: Douglass Library for the 21st Century, and then the redesign of the main reading room, the Mabel Smith Douglass Room, and then what was supposed to be the [Margery Somers] Foster Center above.
Francoise Puniello, who was then director of the Douglass Library, wanted me around because she knew I had an eye. She and I were both art history graduate students for the master's level. I knew her as a friend that way and then we were friends all along, and then I worked under her, which can be kind of difficult negotiating, for her as well as for me, I'm sure. In fact, I know. We worked together on the interior design because she has one particular set of tastes and I have a more out-there taste. She figured that if we could agree, that would probably the best design. We selected the furniture. We created group learning experiences that looked like a dinette with what I called the Jetsons fabric, the whole thing. That early experience with the art museum really helped me and educated me to do it again and again. I didn't know that I was going to be doing it two other times, but it did [help].
KR: What was it like dealing with the facilities people? Who was in charge of facilities, at that point?
FO: I know Frank Wong [in Rutgers Planning, Development and Design] was involved], towards the end. There were some other people. I don't remember their names. I worked with the Interior Design Department. Since my mother and my mother-in-law both were interior decorators, I had two totally opposite points of view. One was Louis Quinze; the other was eclectic Rescue Mission. I understood about interior design as well. You had to think about the fire marshals. You had to think about where exits [were] and safety and, for the Zimmerli, exhibition space. How do you renovate that gallery and incorporate the former gallery into a larger building? What collections do you have? What collections might you get? Dennis [Cate] had lived in Japan during his upbringing, and so he was the one who had decided that the focus for the museum at one part would be French prints and Japonism. Then, he made a lot of connections with Japanese corporations in New Jersey that provided funding for galleries and golfing outings and fundraising things. That part, I do remember as well. Of course, then they got the Dodge Collection. [Editor's Note: The Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union was donated to the Zimmerli Art Museum in 1991.]
KR: You talked before about the beginning of the scholarship of women artists. What was going on at Rutgers with studying women artists? I think Joan Snyder started the Women Artists Series in the early 1970s.
FO: '71, right. I was not on Douglass campus then. I was really not much aware of that. However, while I was the art librarian, I was involved with the Women Artists Series. I interviewed a couple of artists who had been [chosen by the Women Artists Series] as programming. I don't remember that I was necessarily on the jury for it, but I was involved tangentially and then it became my primary job afterwards.
There were no women faculty in the visual arts department who were on a tenure track until the mid '70s, as far as I know. I knew some of the adjuncts, because they came to the library. Joan Marter, who became a member of the Art History Department and is a feminist scholar or scholar on women artists, I was already in the Art Library when she had her interview lecture. She was hired after I, and it was nice to have her there because I was already involved in those kind of issues, so I felt that she might be a colleague.
During the time that I did my master's level work, there were very few courses on women artists. When I took the class with Matthew Baigell on "20th Century American Art," I chose to write my paper on Florine Stettheimer. When I did my Ph.D. coursework, he taught the same class but he called it "1920s and '30s." It was basically the same class. I had asked him questions in my Ph.D. work in the course [because] he discussed Georgia O'Keeffe and the Harlem Renaissance in the last class that he taught. I couldn't understand this. There was so much that you could do. He was dismissive of older male artists. He said all mature artists just rehashed old things. I raised my hand and I said, "Are you talking about male artists, white male artists?" I said, "Because most women artists, their career trajectory is not the same life stages as male artists. Oftentimes, they're married and raising kids, and once the kids get to a certain age, then they start their careers." Well, we had lots of discussions. [Editor's Note: Florine Stettheimer was an American painter and designer who lived from 1871 to 1944.]
KR: That is interesting. Talk a little bit more about that.
FO: It was interesting to me that there wasn't a recognition that women artists had much contribution. You could talk about the noted Georgia O'Keeffe, but it would be in the last class shared with the black artists. Now, the Harlem Renaissance is a major time period in early 20th century art and literature and music for but to dismiss it as a twenty-minute discussion and not do much and the same with Georgia O'Keefe. There were many other woman artists of that time period, and it just didn't make any sense to me. It was very unequal, as far as I was concerned.
KR: Is it okay if we take a quick break?
KR: Okay, we are back on the record. How did you meet your husband?
FO: I met my ex-husband in the summer that I was taking "German I," there were two men I met. … I dated both of them a little bit and he was a man who was a Rutgers College student as was the other. One graduated before the other and his name is Mitchell Leon, Class of '70. … He was an English major who was working in factories at night to support himself, and he was a person who only dated one woman at a time. I dated lots of people. I was not going to be pinned down, and I had a history for having a lot of male friends. For me, I was very much more comfortable being friends with somebody than anything else, so I had to know them as a human being. That was my modus operandi.
You didn't ask me at all about the dating scene at Douglass, but I have a lot of stories about that too, not to name names. I was at Douglass from '66 to '70. It was a transition period. My freshman year, many of the upper-class women were wearing diamond rings. They were very happy to know that they were getting married. They imagined that the reason they went to Douglass was to get married. I was going to actually get an education. My mother never got a college education. My father didn't graduate from college, although both of them are very smart, or he was smart, she is still smart even at ninety-six and a half. I had no boyfriends when I was in high school at all. I did go to the senior prom, but that's another story. When I went to Rutgers, I met a lot of different men. Some of them wanted sex, because that's what was expected. I was in a lot of situations which made me very uncomfortable, but I stood my ground and did what I wanted to do or not. Basically, unlike a lot of the girls who were my friends who were dating and discussing their sex lives, I didn't have much to contribute because I wasn't really ready to give up my virginity or to have sex, more importantly. The Village Voice had an article. I was reading the Village Voice whenever I could, at that time. It's now had its demise. They had an article about the Virgin Liberation Front, which basically said if you don't want to screw, you don't have to screw, just because everybody says you should do it. It's sexual liberation and all that stuff. I thought, "Hey, somebody else thinks like me." There were many Saturday nights--I had dates all the time, so I usually took the weekends off from dating, which my friends couldn't understand because you should be dating on the weekends. I saw the guys. I needed to recharge. At some of those weekend gatherings, the girls would talk about penises and so forth. I did not have that much to contribute to that, let's put it that way.
I met my ex-husband in 1968. He was in the Glee Club, and we didn't date very much because I was busy dating other people. He left college after graduation with the Glee Club on their tour to Europe. When he was in Europe, he decided not to come back. He sold his ticket to somebody else, actually, to Daisy Breitenbach, who was subsequently the director of the Douglass Library, to one of her kids, I think. He hitchhiked around Europe and ended up in Israel living on kibbutz for a year. When he came back, he looked me up, and then we just got together.
KR: When did you marry?
KR: What do you remember about the formation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, that whole reorganization, when it happened in 1981?
FO: There was a reorganization, that's where the art history and visual arts department separated. That was when Douglass, when all of the departments centralized together. I think that's what it is. There was no School of Arts and Sciences. [Editor's Note: In 1981, the faculties of the federated undergraduate colleges at Rutgers-New Brunswick, Rutgers College, Douglass College, University College, Cook College and Livingston College, merged into a single entity, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). In 2006, the undergraduate colleges were consolidated into the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), while Douglass College became Douglass Residential College and Cook College became the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS).]
FO: It didn't come until the 2000s, that was with Barry Qualls' undergraduate transformation committee. This was a reorganization which created the great divide between the visual arts and art history, but centralized everything so that the Livingston Art Department and the Douglass Art Department and the Rutgers Art Department became one. Then, they had outposts, so they had some classes at Douglass and some at Livingston. There was one faculty member at Livingston who was an African American man, and I don't believe that the Art History Department took very kindly to him. He did not get tenure. There were never many people of color on the faculty. Billy Prichard was one; he was in the Art Department. He lasted for a while longer. I can't remember that man's name. He was very nice. There also was a Hispanic man, Raphael Ortiz, who ended up being one of the founders of El Museo de Barrio, but they didn't all get along. They did divide up that way. It made it difficult for the libraries. The libraries also reorganized, I think, around that time, and that's when the law schools' libraries separated and then Camden and Newark became separate entities. I may be wrong on that, because there were a couple reorganizations within the libraries. [Editor's Note: In 1969, Raphael Montanez Ortiz founded and served as the first director of El Museo de Barrio in New York City. He has taught at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts since 1972.]
KR: You mentioned before being on the presidential committee and that Mary Hartman was an acquaintance of yours.
FO: Yes, I had worked with her before.
KR: You mentioned this transition that took place in your career. Can you talk about how you transitioned from your time at the Art Library to what you did next as the executive officer of the Laurie New Jersey Chair and of the Institute for Research on Women?
FO: Sure. If you looked over my CV, you would see that every seven, eight, nine years, I seem to move on to another job at Rutgers. It's clear to me that I got bored very easily, and I didn't see myself as being in the same place in perpetuity until I retired. I have a lot of creativity and an insatiable curiosity, and I'm very interdisciplinary in my thinking. Being in academia, where everybody is in boxes depending on your discipline, was a little bit antithetical to who I am as a core person.
There was a job opening that was posted for a staff person to be part time, half time in each. What they did is they divided up, they made one line from two jobs. Each of those jobs was really a full-time job. It is another example of my doing multiple jobs in one fell swoop, like the art librarian director and the Friends of the Library. That has been my course of action and probably not a very good thing, even though I managed to juggle so many things. My friend, on my fiftieth birthday, wrote a poem, that there is an axiom that if a busy person is so busy, you can ask them something else and they'll probably do it and they juggle very well. Apparently, I do that; I hyper-focus. It's just who I am.
I interviewed for the job. I had an interest in women and gender studies all along, as you could probably tell, and I thought this might be an interesting thing. It would put me in a group of people who are scholars in this burgeoning field. I could make some impact and learn new skills and learn from other people because I like to learn from other people. I got the job. It was a staff job. It required me to take a leave of absence from the faculty in order to do the staff job, which subsequently became a problem, which we can talk about. You can ask me about that. I ended up working with Catharine Stimpson, who was then director of the IRW, the Institute for Research on Women, and Mary Hartman. The Laurie NJ Chair was under her aegis. It was brand new. I had, in '84-'85, applied to be one of the interdisciplinary scholarly participants in the Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women's Studies prior to my taking the job. I was very excited about the kind of interdisciplinary discourse I heard in the seminar, learning from people in a variety of fields, trying to create a language among the Tower of Babel of many disciplines, and talking about these contemporary issues, which, clearly, I had since elementary school been thinking about but couldn't put a name to. It's like Betty Friedan's, the problem that has no name, it was the same kind of thing. I was in heaven really. [Editor's Note: Catharine Stimpson is a feminist scholar who came to Rutgers in 1980 as an English professor and headed the Institute for Research on Women (IRW). Subsequently, she became the Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education. She left Rutgers for New York University and is Dean Emerita of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at NYU.]
There are a lot of stories. Cate, the first day I showed up, Cate isn't there, and the secretary's not there either. The IRW at that point was located on the third floor of College Hall, exactly where I was for the Training Institute for the Sex Desegregation of the Public Schools--which you didn't ask me about, well, I did [talk about it], more or less--which became the Consortium for Educational Equity, which subsequently reported to the IRW as it happened and I was involved with them yet again. I walk in, and nobody's there. I decide I might as well start looking through the files, because I need to know more about this history. I'm sitting there reading and waiting and waiting. Finally, Cate calls and says, "We have a grant deadline. We're submitting to [the] Rockefeller [Foundation]. It's the first time that Rutgers is submitting to Rockefeller, and I want you to work on this with me." [I said], "When is it due?" Either the end of the week or the following week. I said, "But there's no secretary. Where is the secretary?" Then, she says, "Oh, I got a call. She fell over the weekend and broke her elbows, so she can't come in." I said, "Okay, I'm going to call a temp agency immediately and get somebody in here who could help us get this grant out." I spent the first week or two of my job there trying to help get this grant out, which was to fund two scholars a year for three years who were Rockefeller Fellows in women's studies and gender studies, at Rutgers, to do research projects and finish books or whatever they were working on. I was to help Cate with the budget. I had to read through the text and revise it. We did it together, but she had done most of the work and her thinking. She had with--I can't remember whether it was--Beverly Guy Sheftall, but I think it is, had been commissioned by the Ford Foundation to look at women and gender studies, which was just called women's studies, women's studies programs throughout the United States and write a history of those programs. [Editor's Note: The IRW attained the Rockefeller Humanist-in Residence Fellowship during the time Ferris Olin served as executive officer (1985-1994).]
This is now spring of '85. Women's and gender studies at Douglass [had begun when] Elaine Showalter taught the first course on women and literature in the late '60s. I think I talked about it before; one of my classmates was in that class. Mary Hartman, when she came on, and Lois Banner, had already started with the Berkshire Conference, and she was interested in women and gender studies. [Editor's Note: Elaine Showalter is a feminist literary scholar who served on the faculty of Douglass College, before becoming a member of the faculty at Princeton University. Mary S. Hartman came to Douglass College in 1968 as a history professor. Hartman founded the Institute for Research on Women (then called Women's Studies Institute) in 1976 and went on to establish the consortium of the Institute for Women's Leadership. The IRW became formally organized in 1978. Hartman served as the Dean of Douglass College from 1982 to 1994. Lois Banner is a Professor Emerita of the University of South Carolina. With the American Historical Association excluding women from its membership, a group of women historians met and established the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in the 1930s. In 1973, Mary Hartman and Lois Banner organized the Berkshire Conference, the inaugural "Big Berks," at Douglass College.]
I knew Mary because in one of my other guises I was living in Ringoes and a member of the East Amwell Historical Society Bicentennial Project in 1976, and we were looking at history of various houses. Mary and Ed were renting a house on the border between Hopewell and Ringoes, and I had to go and interview them and then go look at the deeds, the history of the deeds, of the property. That was one of the things I did. When I say I'm interdisciplinary, I'm saying I'm not your traditional academic and I can't be ever. When people ask me, "What did you do?" If I say, "An academic," they want to know what I teach. What I tell people is that I was always an "academic entrepreneur," which meant I could do anything, which is what I did, all of these jobs.
Okay, we're back to the IRW. That was my first introduction to the IRW. I don't think that spring we had a Celebration of Our Work Conference, but Phyllis Mack, who had been previously the director, had organized this annual conference to celebrate people's research and activism in women's studies. For the years that I was there, I ran that conference, which is a whole other thing, which we can talk about, you can ask me about that in a minute.
Now, with the Laurie New Jersey Chair, it was only just instituted. So, my first job there, there was already someone there. It was the philosopher, Alison Jaggar. She had already been selected. She was running the seminar that I had been in, and she was going to stay a second year to run the next seminar. At that point, there hadn't yet been, I think, a celebration of the establishment of it. Mary charged me with organizing the party, the event, the press, the governor, the whole thing. You get the picture of the kinds of things I was doing, which is not like your traditional academic but I'm doing everything. Then, I also had to work with Alison to get applicants for the next seminar and then select them. We had to do that and organize that seminar. In addition, part of the charge for the Laurie New Jersey Chair was to give the public lecture, and that included not only at Rutgers but I also reached out into the New Jersey community to find other venues where we could bring the chair--not that they maybe wanted to do this, but in public schools or high schools or other places--to expand the knowledge and beyond the confines of Rutgers. As originally a public librarian, I believed that information was power, and all of my work at Rutgers throughout the time period had to do with disseminating as opposed to guarding the information, which is the antithesis to my librarian colleagues. I did a lot of work with bringing in collections to Special Collections, and I wanted people to know that here was all this information there that they could use, but they were guardians. It's the same kind of thing.
Over the course of the nine years or so that I was the head of the Laurie NJ Chair, there were many different occupants. I worked with all of them. I helped to select them. There were selection committees. I could talk about that, too. Among the people were Carol Gilligan, Paula Giddings--I have all of that stuff, and you can look it up--Jacqueline Pitanguy, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Charlotte Bunch and Svetlana Slapsak. I think she was the last one.
At the IRW, we also had every three years a new director. So, Cate came, and then she became the graduate dean. For one year, we had an interim director, who was Lourdes Beneria. Lourdes was on the faculty in the Economics Department, where they never had any women faculty members [who were] tenured faculty and she did not get tenure. She subsequently went to Cornell and has done major things in global feminism and economics. In fact, one of the Douglass students I know of ended up studying with her. I worked with Lourdes, but she was only just there. She and, I think, Cate did a conference, and they were publishing a book about it. Carol Smith, she had been acting dean when Mary went on sabbatical at Douglass, and then she came over to be the IRW director. She was six years there, and then Cora Kaplan came afterwards, both from the English Department. [Editor's Note: Carol Smith, a Professor Emerita of English, taught at Rutgers from 1959 to 2007. Cora Kaplan served as an English professor at Rutgers from 1988 to 1995, during which time she held the post of director of the Institute for Research on Women (1992 to 1995). Kaplan is Honorary Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London and Professor Emerita of English at Southampton University.]
KR: Who was the founding director?
FO: I think it was Mary, Mary Hartman.
KR: Do you know the story of how the IRW was founded?
FO: Well, what I know is that the women faculty, in the early '70s, in English and History predominantly, maybe in some of the others, were getting together to support each other, have brown-bag luncheons, interdisciplinary discussions and there was a talk about a women's center that was kind of a think tank. I think Mary headed that for a while, and then, I guess, Phyllis [Mack], another historian, came in and then Cate and then it went more to the English Department.
On the IRW side, we had foreign dignitaries who were brought in and I had to take them around and introduce them to women's studies. USIA [United States Information Agency] would call. We had a Mongolian scholar who was an assistant to members of Parliament in Mongolia. They were moving from a Communist government to free democracy. She was here for a year working in Eagleton, but her office was at the IRW. She was trying to learn what it meant to be in a democratic society and then going back to Mongolia--she left her child and her husband, because we used to talk about kids and stuff--she had a colleague who was in California and one in Sweden and they were all going to come back and inform the members of Parliament how to transition into democracy. We'd have people from Africa, Egypt, coming through. Nawal El Saadawi came through as a speaker. She was an Egyptian feminist doctor from that time period.
Cate knew a lot of people. Two things about Cate. I admire her a great deal. The first thing I learned is no matter whether someone e-mailed--and e-mail was just getting underway--or wrote a letter or called, she, within twenty-four hours, at least acknowledged them. She didn't always answer, but she'd acknowledge. That gave me insight about how to be a better administrator. She was a wonderful administrator that way. Even if you can't answer someone's question because you're busy with something else, you could respond, "Thanks for your message. I'm going to get back to you in about a week. I'm busy right now," as opposed to out there in cyber space, which a lot of people do. I thought that was great. I learned a lot about the development of women and gender studies. The other thing is Cate used to make fun of me. Why? Because I dressed artfully. She came in jeans and t-shirts. When she became the graduate dean, I had the laugh. Sometime during that time period, Ms. magazine ran a centerfold with her dressed up in a convertible, photographed in the Southwest, with an article about how to dress for success. [laughter] I remember this very well. She also had a wonderful way of speaking, which she used all the time. Her formula was, "Here's what I'm going to do in this talk and I'm going to talk about one, two, and three," and they would usually be alliterative. Then, she'd give the talk, and she'd modulate her voice. Sometimes, it was more emphatic, so you would have to listen. Turn this off for a second, please.
FO: I learned about how to be a successful public speaker. I learned about administration organization from her. Because I was hired as the executive officer to be the constant voice throughout many different changeovers, I knew the ins and outs of everything, budgets, grant writing, how to manage people. We had an annual lecture series on a theme. We'd work and select a faculty member. I'd work with them to get the speakers to set up the programs. The same with the Celebration of Our Work, which we called COW, a conference. I was doing all of that. I was answering press queries. The director was supposed to do this, but they were part time. They weren't there; I was there all the time, working with the secretary. We had visiting scholars. I'd have to find them housing. If they had children, I'd have to find schools, help get visas and so forth. So, I was a Jill-of-all-trades.
Then, in addition, at some point, we had to do the building program. The IRW was first located, when I was there, in College Hall. Then, we were moved to the basement of Voorhees Chapel, where I also had to work. We also put the offices of the Laurie NJ Chair there. So, I had an IRW office there and then an office for the Laurie NJ Chair, which was very small. I liked that it was so compact. I tried to separate two-and-half days each for those jobs; impossible. You could tell from what I've described for the IRW how full time that was. We didn't get a lot of funding from the University, maybe 20,000 [dollars], and a secretary and my salary, which was on leave from the libraries, and the director, who got, of course, release time, but it was twelve months--but not always there. We had to raise money with grant projects, of which we did a lot.
One of the major projects we did was the New Jersey Project: [Integrating the Scholarship on Gender, which was] integrating the new scholarship on gender, race, class and ethnicity. I drafted the original proposal, which was a half-a-million dollar proposal. What happened was Ed Goldberg, the Commissioner of Higher Education, came to Cate and us at Rutgers and said he'd like to make a statewide initiative to transform the curriculum and do faculty development in women's studies. He came to us because it was the IRW at Rutgers. Cate was on her way out to be the graduate dean. I convened some people, had some discussions; I drafted the proposal. Carol Smith came in as director. The proposal was that we would develop [this program], and I should say that all across the country there were faculty development projects in women's studies [but] never had there been a statewide project. This was a major thing with funding from a Department of Higher Education of a state, half-million dollars. We proposed a three-year project. We had a faculty coordinator for the project who was somebody from outside of Rutgers, who took a leave from their institution. We conceived that we would bring in teams of faculty in the social sciences and the humanities to come to a Summer Residential Institute for two weeks to modify and revise their syllabi for a course and to hear from scholars in various fields who have done this work or have their leading edge in women and gender studies, also programming as well.
They'd have to self-select at their institution, put together a proposal to come. At the same time, they cannot come unless the president at the top supports it, so it's a greenhouse model of administration. It's not that the president says, "I want you to do it." It's the faculty, and the president agrees. The president then has to give money to support this initiative, which meant that it could be for books for the libraries, maybe for brown-bag lunches, so that this team continues to meet to work after the Summer Institute, and/or talks to other faculty. The idea was to blossom, blossom, blossom.
We had ten or twelve teams, maybe eight to ten, I don't remember, of faculty who came from many of the institutions in New Jersey. I met a lot of faculty outside. I had to organize the Summer Residential Institute. Who are the people who should come? What are the projects these people have to do and on and on? Then, we also had a publication. Because I didn't have a Ph.D. in general, I was not allowed to put my name as project director, even though I conceived and drafted this grant proposal. That was the telling thing to tell me that I had to go back to school, which was my initiative to do so. I'm not saying we didn't work well together; I'm not saying that at all. I'm only saying that that was the impetus, because it was the handwriting on the wall to me that I had gone as far as I could in academia with two masters.
I did a lot of different projects at the IRW. I met with scholars from all over. I brought scholars in for the Thinking About Women series, which had a faculty member from Rutgers, like Josephine Diamond. [I would say], "I want to do a themed lectureship all year. We're going to bring in three speakers in the fall, two or three in the spring. We want them each to talk about this aspect of this theme." It's public lectures. They still do this. They do the same kind of thing. So, we did that, and I worked with faculty for that. There's all the logistics, all the budgets, raising money, getting partnerships from other departments in research centers. This is just encapsulating some of the things that I did.
With the Laurie NJ Chair, we had a selection committee, faculty committee, decide who's going to be the next occupant, negotiate how long they're going to be. Are they going to be here for one year, two years, one-and-a-half years? One seminar, two seminars? You only have to do one a year. Public lectures, what are their themes? Who are the people who are coming? We had to send out a call for applicants to participate. Students were allowed, a couple undergraduates, a couple graduate students. There were policymakers, activists and scholars from Washington to Boston who came weekly for these discussions.
When Carol Gilligan was selected, this is the time that she was away from Harvard while she was being considered for tenure. It was a great time. We were in the basement of Voorhees [Chapel]. Her first, I think, seminar was on female adolescent development. This was right after she wrote In a Different Voice. This is her claim to fame, her major germinal work at that time. I went up to Cambridge with a box of the applications and sat in her house with her and tried to decide who were going to be the people in the seminar, came back, informed everybody, organized a theme. She came down. I had to help her find housing, get her settled in, set up lectures throughout the state for her because she was a major person, got her involved with--there was a curriculum transformation project for high school teachers, which somebody named Emily--I can't remember her last name--in Madison, ran. I hooked them up, and she went and gave a talk at the Madison School District. She did another seminar--I can't remember the themes, but I have the themes upstairs, if you want them, because I have those notebooks that I talked about, from last time.
Each of the occupants had their own personalities. They were wonderful people to work with. Some were more problematic because of class and culture than others. The last person I worked with was Svetlana Slapsak. She came, and then I had to leave. Svetlana came from the former Yugoslavia. It was the XYZ country before it broke up to be Bosnia-Herzegovina, [Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Macedonia]. She is a classics scholar and a journalist who wrote against hate speech a long time ago. We're talking about in the '90s. She was jailed for her reporting and editorials. She came; I got her settled. I remember taking her to the supermarket so she could have food in the house and watching her eyes light up because she had come from a place where they didn't have such a supply of food. Well, I'm sure [they had] daily markets and stuff, but it had been under siege. I learned a lot.
With the Laurie NJ Chair, not only did the seminar have participants, it had money because it was funded by the State Lottery Commission and the Laurie Foundation. It's actually called the Blanche, Edith and Irving Laurie New Jersey Chair of Women's Studies. So, Blanche, Edith and Irving, the Laurie Foundation, funded the money, and that came from through Adelaide Zagoren, who was a Douglass graduate, who ran the Associate Alumnae of Douglass, and was involved with the Laurie Foundation. That was her family, so that's a Douglass tie. Hazel [Gluck], who was then head of the Lottery Commission, worked with Mary to get the funding from the state. It allowed for about seventy to 75,000 dollars to pay the Laurie New Jersey chairperson. That was considered full faculty, like full professor. There was funding for two junior scholars, meaning they weren't established. We also had to identify two people who would come in for the semester through those applicants. That meant there were two more scholars I had to find housing for, get them acclimated if they weren't in the area and make sure that they did what they needed to do, which they didn't always do. The same with the Laurie NJ Chair. Some people disappeared or didn't want to do more than what the stipulations were. So, trying to negotiate between a major figure and what they needed to do was kind of difficult at times depending on their personality. [Editor's Note: Adelaide Marcus Zagoren, who graduated from the New Jersey College for Women (NJC) in 1940 and headed several non-profit and philanthropic organizations, served as the executive director of the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College (AADC) from 1968 to 1994.]
Well, Charlotte [Bunch] came, and she ended up becoming a faculty member, and [along with] Mary then started the Center for Women's Global Leadership. That was one thing. When Paula came, the search committee narrowed it down not to three people but five, and they brought in five major feminists, one of whom was Betty Friedan. I, as a staff member to the faculty committee, was against having five people brought in. Not only is this a big thing, because they have to come, spend the day with them--they have to give a lecture; they have to meet the faculty and so forth--but these are major figures and you can't then say, "Well, we didn't choose you."
FO: It didn't make any sense, but that was an example of running amok a little bit. We had these people in, and Paula came. Paula was wonderful. I learned from Paula that as you're working on your work, if you're a major person and you're always being called upon to speak, you can charge outrageous amounts of money in hopes that you don't have to do it, and if someone is willing to pay the money, then you can give your talk. She had an agent, so I'm not talking out of turn here. I learned a lot of strategies from observing each of these women and their perspectives, certainly with Charlotte all the feminist strategies and so forth.
What's interesting about the Laurie NJ Chair, it was for a scholar and they didn't define scholar as Ph.D. Charlotte has a BA. Paula has a BA. Jacqueline Pitanguy was from Brazil. She probably had an undergraduate degree. We stretched it to be as inclusive as we could. We had Ph.Ds. too, but we wanted people of substance and experience and that's who we selected.
KR: You mentioned the junior scholars.
KR: Who were some of the junior scholars?
FO: Jessica Benjamin, who's gone on to be a major feminist theorist; she's in California. I don't want to mix them up with the Rockefeller Fellows.
FO: Carole Vance, who was big on pornography and feminism. I hope this is right, and I may be messing this up. Gloria Erlich. Now, Gloria Erlich is interesting story. Gloria Erlich is an independent scholar. Her husband was on the faculty at Rutgers in Newark. She lived in Princeton. She taught as an adjunct in the English Department when I was an undergraduate at Douglass. I was in her class, and I was going to minor in English. She pulled me aside to tell me that I couldn't possibly minor in English because I could not write English and I definitely was not going to be doing anything in that area. I, of course, remember this. She didn't remember me from Jane. When she came, I knew who she was. I was very nice about it, and then I reminded her. She didn't remember it at all, and I had a laugh that there are always preconceived ideas of who should be whatever. I mean, I had the same issue because of my SAT and GRE scores. I graduated third in my high school class of three hundred, four hundred students. I didn't get very good SAT scores. I couldn't get into any college except Douglass. I do not think that that is a way to decide who can succeed and who can't. They had no conception in the '60s about learning differences, learning styles or thinking differently or creatively. To this day, I think even public-school education is still that way, because I had to deal with that with my kids.
KR: How was it when Erlich was the junior scholar?
FO: She was fine. By that point, she had started the Research Forum here at Princeton, which still goes on, which is for people who want to do research but are independent scholars. They have a day where they all talk about their work, but they also probably all along share their information. In this area where there are a lot of academics with spouses who may have had but are no longer in academia or whatever, it was really a great organization to do.
There were many others; I'm sorry I don't remember. There was somebody who was from Switzerland, Jane Cottingham, with two kids, who was in a non-profit NGO called Isis [International], which is not what it now means, but it was Isis, a goddess. She was an activist; I remember her.
KR: Are there any other occupants of the Laurie Chair that really stand out in your mind?
FO: Each of them I could talk about; I just haven't. Do you want me to talk about them?
FO: Okay. Alison was very interesting because she was a preeminent philosopher from Colorado, and I believe during that time period, she got pregnant and she was in her forties. There was a whole issue about being an older mother. Now, either she got pregnant while there or right after. She was a wonderful person to work with, and I learned a lot because I never studied philosophy. Charlotte taught me all about international work, as did Jacqueline Pitanguy, whose claim to fame was that she was the first cabinet officer for women in the country of Brazil. She set up rape offices in police stations, so that women could report rape, including married women from their husbands, and be treated accordingly. She also was involved with the Ford Foundation population initiative, whatever that was, to talk about reproductive rights. She came with three kids, all of whom I have very fond memories of, because I had to find housing for them in a school district. I thought I found a really good place here at Princeton, but when the owners found out that two kids were adolescents, they said no. It's too bad because those kids were the most well-behaved kids. She told me [that] when they first came, they went to New York. Her son was like ten. There was a kid about fourteen and an eighteen year-old. She told them when they were in New York, if they ever get separated, to just go to the Empire State Building, which I thought was very smart. I was their great aunt, because I was sort of the guardian while here. She left her husband in Brazil while she was here. She was wonderful to work with. Paula was wonderful to work with. I learned a lot. While she was here, her book on Ida B. Wells finally came out, and they had the stamp, the first stamp for Ida B. Wells, so I got the whole thing for that. That was very nice. I loved working with her, too. Carol was wonderful. I've subsequently seen her, because she's written plays and I've been to some of those plays in New York. She moved from Harvard to NYU Law School, and I'm sure she's retired now.
Molara Ogundipe-Leslie is the mother of African women's literature. She's Nigerian. She came with her daughter, also Isis, who I got into Douglass College, so she could get a college education. I had to negotiate all that, too. It's not that she wasn't qualified, but it was the timing and everything else. Molara, we had some cultural differences. I did not understand what it meant to be Nigerian and how people operate. Sometimes, I must say, I didn't quite get this. I think Abena Busia was the chair of that committee and selected her. She was wonderfully terrific. I learned a lot and reading, but there were some social interactions that didn't work very well, including accusations of my racism, which were unfounded, and I don't know why. I had to go to Mary Hartman and say, "Look, this has happened. I want you to know because you may need to deal with this." Molara didn't always show up on time for the seminar, with everybody coming at ten o'clock and showing up at ten thirty or eleven. After the third or fourth week, I couldn't make excuses. I had to negotiate with her, and I'm sure she took offense because she saw me as her personal assistant. That had started before. She expected me to be a personal assistant, and I disabused her of it. It's just that kind stuff. Jacqueline, Svetlana, how many did I have? I think that's all of them. There are about six. I may have missed some. They were all wonderful. I learned a lot from every one of them, including Molara, not only about African women's literature and African literature in general, but about thinking more about cultural perspectives and class.
KR: Why do you think the Laurie NJ Chair is important?
FO: I think the Laurie New Jersey Chair--well, not New Jersey anymore because the lottery no longer funded it. It's been reconfigured into the Women's and Gender Studies Department and is now mostly undergraduate classes. I thought it was important during that time period because most people didn't know about women's studies. It provided a forum for people who were isolated in places where there was not support for research on women and gender studies, sexuality, people of color to get together and find support, talk to each other and be catalyzed to think differently about a research problem they were working on. It provided for collaborations, which wouldn't have happened otherwise. It was great prestige for the University to have it, a really great prestige. We were known nationally and internationally, for all the times that the USIA and other agencies would call me to say, "We want to bring scholars from abroad to meet with you all." It's because the IRW, the Laurie New Jersey Chair, the Women's Studies Department at that point, the Douglass Project for Women in Math, Science and Engineering. There was this whole constellation, which then became the consortium members of the IWL, Center for American Women and Politics. For example, the Mongolian scholar I mentioned before took seminars at the Eagleton Institute. She couldn't have done that if there weren't this interdisciplinary cohort of research centers. Now, Rutgers is getting rid of CBI, centers, bureaus and institutes, to have these centers provide an opportunity for people to meet and talk across borders.
KR: You mentioned Rutgers getting rid of CBIs.
FO: They've been wanting to do that. Under Phil Furmanski, there was a committee that recommended they get rid of them because a lot of them proliferated in the '80s and '90s and the people who started them were no longer at the University, but they're still there on the books or they're taking money or they don't want to allocate money to them and I think that's what's happening. That's been ongoing, as well.
Let me just say something about the Celebration of Our Work because that relates to your question about the importance. Celebration of Our Work was for high school students and teachers on up. We had panels of high school students. We had high school teachers. We had activists. We had lawyers. We had medical practitioners. We had scholars and graduate students who all came together for a day of conferencing sessions, panels. At one point, we had to do two days there were so many panels. We had a selection committee to decide; people put an application in. It was very important. A lot of the women and men who were working in that area--oh, Tim Diamond was a visiting scholar under Alison Jaggar. He was working on caregiving in nursing homes and other places. He was looking at class and race there. Things like that will pop up in my mind. Celebration of Our Work was a microcosm of what Rutgers provided for its Women and Gender Studies faculty, which was a forum for people to network, to exchange ideas, to feel not quite so isolated and vulnerable in areas where they were not supported. I think its very important for doing that, and I was sorry that it ended. One of the people who came to speak at the conference was Hillary Clinton when President Clinton was just former Governor Clinton. She was impressive. Ruth Mandel helped to bring her there as the keynote speaker. [Editor's Note: Ruth Mandel founded and directed the Center for American Women in Politics and has served as the director of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers since 1995.]
One of the things about being the executive officer, we were members of the National Council for Research on Women, as were some of the other members, as were CAWP, and there were two or three units from Rutgers who were members of the National Council for Research on Women, which has now evolved. I got to go to conferences with other administrators of other research centers relating to women and including organizations like the Girl Scouts and girls clubs, so that it was very interesting to get together with these people annually. Cate was chair of the board at some point. I learned a lot from, at one point, one of those meetings with all feminist theory, French feminist theory [being] the big thing in the late '80s, early '90s. The heads were in the social sciences as well the humanities. They asked Cate to explain in twenty-five words or less, more or less, how feminist theory and French feminist theory, all of that together, how that somehow related to practical policymaking, the social sciences, which she did very well. Even within feminism, there were very many different paths of thought, and sometimes there were divides.
What I'm telling you is that in all of my experiences, you had to find common ground because people had preconceived notions. They didn't see the application, or, as I said, "You're an academic librarian. You're a public librarian. You're a this. You're a that." Putting things in boxes does not in any way provide progress. I tried to find ways to form consensus. We didn't even get to my job after the IRW and so forth, which will [show] another version of the same story. It was surprising to me that people just didn't see. It was like C.P. Snow, the division between the sciences and the humanities. There's a gap always. You could look for the gap or you could find a way to make that gap smaller and I learned that through my work with the IRW and the Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women's Studies. [Editor's Note: C.P. Snow (1905-1980) was a chemist and novelist who wrote about the divide between scientists and the humanities.]
KR: I have a bunch of follow up questions about the IRW.
KR: You started talking about the buildings that the IRW was in, College Hall and then the basement of Voorhees Chapel.
FO: Then, they got money for a new building at 160 Ryders Lane. I was on the building committee. Actually, I think I was sort of in charge for the move and the negotiation. There was a building there. It took a while to negotiate. Do you mind turning it off? [Editor's Note: Dr. Olin is referring to the construction of the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett building at 162 Ryders Lane and the Center for Women's Programs building at 160 Ryders Lane.]
KR: Sure, I will pause.
KR: Okay, we are back on.
FO: The neighbors around that circle were very against having a building because they were afraid for parking and a lot of people coming in and out. There was a building there. We said that we would build on the footprint. We did. Just as it was almost finished, it burned down.
KR: This is on Ryders Lane.
KR: What happened?
FO: I think that the builders, there was wiring or something, I don't remember. Then, we built it again, and we moved in. People from the University came to see it, and they were very impressed. The facilities people, the administrators wanted to know why did we deserve such big space, and I was trying to explain to them that they should go down to Voorhees Chapel basement, where many of us had been. That building housed, let me see, am I saying this right? Am I in the wrong building? Because there are two buildings there.
FO: The first building is the building with the IRW and the Global Center. [Editor's Note: This is the Center for Women's Programs at 160 Ryders Lane.]
FO: The second building was the IWL, Women's and Gender Studies, and that's the …
KR: Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett building.
FO: Right. There were two buildings. One was built subsequently. My office was in the building that's the front building, and I moved there. I was the first one to work in the building; the IRW was upstairs. The Laurie NJ Chair was downstairs. We had offices for visiting scholars, and then we gave some of those offices to the Global Center, who needed extra office space. We had a library there. That would've been right; that was the first building, [the Center for Women's Programs at 160 Ryders Lane]. The people, the men, really couldn't understand why we [were] getting those buildings. Carol Gilligan talked about this, way back when, that the space appropriated speaks volumes for support. She came, and she was in the basement of Voorhees Chapel. She didn't like it very much. She talked about that in her public lectures, and I agree about representation. Sometimes, it's meaningful to have looks because then people understand and are aware of--I wouldn't say power status. So, that helped, because we were always in the women's studies community, all of these centers and stuff, trying to be seen and be recognized for our value.
KR: You talked before about the half million-dollar grant that funded the statewide program to integrate women's and gender studies into curriculum.
FO: Yes, it's the [New Jersey Project: Integrating the] Scholarship on Gender, Race, Class and Ethnicity.
KR: Talk about that and some of the accomplishments associated with that.
FO: Okay, well, it was so well-received. We had the commissioner write letters to the presidents. The presidents and their teams came together. We had a big conference to begin, and then each of the summers that we brought the faculty together, they went back and transformed the curriculum. Not only do they transform a course, they also deal with pedagogy, and in so doing, they themselves develop their own--you get stale after a while teaching the same class over and over. If there's new scholarship to incorporate, you have to rethink. It's not just adding in one thing. It's not adding in one segment on women or one segment on people of color. You have to reconfigure and rethink. We gave the people the opportunity to think about that and also to hear from scholars who either have done it before or are scholars in the field, which can then help them. It was so successful that after three or four years at Rutgers, it continued but it moved from Rutgers to William Paterson. Paula [Rothenberg] ran it for many years. She just died this past year from cancer. Paula was at William Paterson, and she developed it and extended it even beyond. So, it wasn't a one-time thing. Unfortunately, the Department of Higher Education under [Governor] Christie Todd Whitman was disbanded. [Editor's Note: Paula Rothenberg served as a professor of philosophy and women's and gender studies at William Paterson University for thirty-seven years, until her death in June 2018. The New Jersey Higher Education Restructuring Act of 1994 deregulated higher education in the state by abolishing the Department of Higher Education and creating the Presidents' Council and the Commission on Higher Education.]
KR: Why did it move from Rutgers to William Paterson?
FO: Well, Carol, that would have been the end of Carol's terms, [and] because we needed to move on to other projects and we also didn't want it to be a Rutgers-centered thing. We thought it should also be beyond that.
KR: What was the impact of the Whitman Administration's disbanding of the Department of Higher Education?
FO: The Department of Higher Education.
KR: What was the impact?
FO: What it impacted was that that was the major funding for that project, to one extent, but also many of the colleges decided they'd all be universities. So, Jersey City State became Jersey City University. Trenton State became the College of New Jersey. Montclair State became Montclair University. Glassboro State became Rowan University. It was a whole implication for the State of New Jersey in terms of higher education. Rider College became Rider University because they took over Westminster Choir College, as a conservatory. That meant you could get more funding and more donors. It provided a higher status. It meant that some of the initiatives that the Department of Higher Education provided for with funding, such as the New Jersey Project, went by the wayside. You can't continue it, unless you find private funding somewhere. I should say that I believe that Mary Hartman worked with Christie Todd Whitman about that.
KR: What was it like working with Mary Hartman?
FO: It was wonderful. I learned a lot from her, too, but it's kind of hard to have two bosses, each of whom have demands. While I was there, the National Association of Women Artists, one of whose members was a Douglass graduate, contacted Mary because they wanted to find a permanent place for the collection of work by women artists. Mary gave that to me, tasked that to me, and we brought in the NAWA--they're called--collection. We negotiated with the Zimmerli, and they have this collection, the NAWA collection of art, which they were supposed to then every other year mount an exhibit of the members collection. I negotiated with Leanna Mooney, who was then the President of NAWA. It was wonderful to do that. [In 1992, the Zimmerli Art Museum became the recipient of the National Association of Women Artists Collection.]
While I was in both places, the Women's Caucus for Art came to me and wanted to know whether they could deposit their records. So, I negotiated with them and into the libraries. Because I had experience and knew my colleagues around, I could help facilitate things that most people could not. So, I got the Women's Caucus for Art papers to Special Collections and University Archives. Subsequently--I'll jump ahead a little bit--the Women's Caucus for Art went through a number of different time periods and money wise. They came to me to ask whether they could have a national office housed at Rutgers. I can talk about that when I get to my other job. Also, because of that and the Women Artists Series, again, with the Foster Center, I was able to look at other collections and help to increase collections. These are unique materials, archival collections, of papers of women artists and records of women artist organizations, so that we have one of the foremost collections for people studying women's art and the women's art movement from the '60s on up. That became the Miriam Shapiro Archives on Women Artists. That's just a couple of the kinds of things that I was involved with that's pretty invisible, but it's there.
KR: You have used the word navigating. For many years, when you were executive officer of the Laurie Chair and the IRW, you were navigating the Rutgers bureaucracy.
KR: What are some of the highs and some of the lows of this?
FO: The highs, I met a lot of people who were not so bureaucratic who helped me find ways around things, like, for example, with the IRW, we published every year a booklet for the Celebration of Our Work, or we did something. Well, the rules in purchasing are that you have to put out for bids to get something if it's a certain limit. Trying to find a way to facilitate the publications is difficult. When you have a grant or submit a grant, to get through the grant process, with the grant's office, getting approval from them set and you get the grant. Setting up the budgets, the Rutgers budget system does not have the same categories as your funder, and trying to interface with that. That's bureaucracy.
There's also bureaucracy where you go to budget meetings in the provost's office and have to be accountable. Sometimes, you're well received, and sometimes you're not well received. Sometimes, the person in charge says, "Oh, we don't understand why you need that." I understand they have a larger worldview, but it's not necessarily so. I met with a lot of people in every level, from Old Queens on down. From facilities, because I knew a lot of the people who were on the ground, because I was running so many different types of programs, I could get things that other people couldn't because I wrote thank-you notes. I went and talked to people. I brought them donuts to thank them. I did everything I could, knowing that I was not going to be burning bridges, that I was going to also have to work with them again and again in some capacity. Being able to know who to call when something was happening. Running a conference, you work with parking, and all of a sudden, the parking lot, which the day before you confirmed, that you had reserved and would be open, doesn't happen. We were running a conference and the day before confirmed second or third time the order we had previously put in months ago for food, and the boxed lunches don't show up. Having the telephone number of somebody and knowing that you could call them is a very good thing.
KR: You mentioned interacting with the provosts. Who were the provosts when you were working?
FO: I don't remember all of them. John Salapatas I think is one. I remember going with Cate, sitting down for the IRW, again, reporting to different organizational structures and giving him the annual report and talking about why we needed money. I walked out of there. I said to Cate, I remember, it's the first time I've ever felt like a fair-haired girl. It just depends. Barbara Callaway was in the provost's office. She was great for facilitating things along the way, too. I remember--it may not have been John--somebody came when I was the art librarian and I was trying to make a case that we needed a new building or some extra space, and he had a formula and we had to fill out the formula. I said, "This formula does not really work." I couldn't get him to see. He was by-the-book numbers. You learn the good and the bad. Okay, that's terrible, but you learn how to negotiate those minds. It's like the Myers Briggs test; there are different types of people. Some people are very number-rule bound and others are very more creative. Either way you have to work with all these personality types and the bureaucracy and try to find a way to get to the goal that you really envision you need to do.
Not bureaucracy but related, when I went back to the libraries, which we'll talk about, I had to work out with techy people on using emerging technology to create new databases and websites. They already have a boilerplate. You just have to fit it in. This is the way they're doing things. I'm saying to them, "That may be the case behind the scenes for a website, but I know visually how it has to look. I also know how people are going to use it. Your boilerplate does not work in this instance. How can we make this happen?" and negotiating all of that, trying to talk to people who speak a techy language, which I do not understand, to say to them, "We have to take this and translate it to be user friendly. It has to be visually impactful." Most people who do coding and other things do not have a visual mindset for aesthetics. You don't want to go to a website and see gobbledygook. It needs to be inviting, and once you get to the website and you want to do searches, it has to be intuitive. Again, this goes back to the categorization of people. These are those people, but they don't understand how they interact.
Some of the administration of the University over the years was what I call the jigsaw puzzle approach. You know this piece, I know that piece, but we don't see the whole puzzle. If you cannot provide the whole picture, you'll never know how, you can't be invested in what the whole thing looks like and the mission. If you can't get people to agree on what the goal is, then you're always going to be fighting.
One of the projects I did during this whole time period--I did several projects in women's studies outside of the University--I got funding through NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] and Harvard to put together a team, which I did in Rocky Hill, New Jersey in the public library, to introduce women's studies to the community. It was called Women in the Community Project. There are only seven communities around the United States which were funded. We were the smallest and the only in the Northeast [that was] funded. It was a team of an academic librarian, a public librarian, a representative from a community organization, and a women's studies scholar. I got somebody from Rider as a women's studies scholar, the head of the Mary Jacobs Library--it was a public library and it was an academic library--and a woman who was involved with something in the community. We put together a proposal. We were funded. We were brought to Harvard for a week with teams from Memphis, from Ellensburg, Washington, from Boulder, Colorado, Charleston, West Virginia to learn about women's studies and programming. Now, this was insulting to me because I already knew about women's studies and I knew about programming. At some point, I got really pissed off at the people there, and I told them they were thinking that we didn't know anything, but they had selected us. We obviously knew how to do things. I learned a lot there. I was glad I was there. It was a wonderful program. We did two years of programming in Rocky Hill to introduce women's studies to the community. We had great programs from women in health. We brought in the people from Our Body, Ourselves Collective to talk. I put together an exhibit of antique medical instruments used for women. We did a thing on women and politics; we had Millicent Fenwick on the panel, along with maybe Ruth Mandel and a couple of others. I curated a big exhibit borrowing things from the Smithsonian on suffrage and women's right to vote. We did that for two years. It was really wonderful. [Editor's Note: Fashion editor, diplomat and politician Millicent Fenwick (1910-1992) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey's Fifth District from 1975 to 1983.]
From there--and this is my extraprofessional, but it relates to because it was always while I was at Rutgers--I was asked to organize the tricentennial for Middlesex County on women, using the Cornelius Lowe House, which is up on the Busch Campus next to the athletic field. I think it was Lynn Miller and I. She was my colleague in the libraries. [We] organized an exhibit called Women's Sphere [Celebrating 300 Years: Women in Middlesex County and New Jersey], which was taking that house and bringing in material culture about women's lives in New Jersey and especially Middlesex County over three hundred years. We also used undergraduate students in a seminar--we worked with the history department--to do research in various areas and we published a catalog and coauthored with those students' information. On the basis of that is how I got to get to the IRW and the Laurie New Jersey Chair. I already had, between the Training Institute for Sex Desegregation [of the Public Schools], on my knowledge of K to twelve materials and then doing those projects, I was known already, and then there was the New Jersey Project.
[In] 1984, I began participating in another project--also not a part of the University but related--called the Women's Project of New Jersey. This was a project other people started at a public library in Mendham. They wanted to publish a notable women of New Jersey book. So, they got together scholars from various universities in New Jersey to sit down and talk about what that would look like. I was the art scholar because they knew that I had already done research on New Jersey women artists. This was a project that I think embodies what women and gender studies can be. This project started in '84. It began with this book, which turned out to be a project on representative and extraordinary women in New Jersey's history from precolonial times to 1923, when Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment. The book is called Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. It was supported by Rutgers, Drew University and Jersey City State because we had representatives from there. We did the book. We put together, a subgroup of us, a travelling exhibition. We put together an archives, which was deposited at Special Collections. We published a hard copy, and then we did a second edition, paperback, to update it. Then, we decided we didn't want to do another book. Now that there was technology, we put together a website. I got funding, and at Rutgers, as part of my job with the, we're talking about '84, so I was at the IRW and then I went back to the libraries and what I'm going to be talking about next, I created the first state women's history website in the country. It's a collaborative. The author of Past and Promise is not our names, but the group Women's Project of New Jersey. None of our egos got in the way of this project. We became friends. We de-incorporated as a non-profit in 2004. Anyway, we still get together, even though we're no longer involved. The project is gone. We gave the website to the Alice Paul Foundation, which they're continuing. We developed curriculum for elementary school teachers on New Jersey women's history. All of this is a piece of my career that's related to everything else I was doing. It was another extraprofessional, but it relates to the knowledge I got through all of my work here and I just didn't want that to be lost. [Editor's Note: In 2007, WPNJ transferred the website to the Alice Paul Institute, Inc. The website is called New Jersey Women's History.]
KR: Yes, thank you.
FO: Let me just go back, one other thing. When we get to the other things I did, what you're going to see is systematically I was never in a full-time job. I was in three full-time jobs almost every time I was at Rutgers. So, the Art Library, art librarian, Friends of the Library. The Laurie Chair and IRW. Then, I go back to the libraries, and I'm supposed to establish a new research institute, curate the Women Artists Series and be a reference librarian. Then, on top of that, I added in cofounding the Institute for Women and Art, and I'm doing all of those jobs. It's like five full-time jobs. None of my other library colleagues did that. I'm doing that, and then I'm getting my Ph.D. in art history. That goes back to when you're busy, you still get to do things. You're smiling. This was partially my craziness and my passion. It is a passion, as you can tell, but I don't think the University realizes that they have members of the faculty and staff who go above and beyond. Maybe we're crazy. I think I once computed that I earned less an hour than the work-study students, because the last twenty years of my work career at Rutgers, I worked sixty to eighty hours a week. Truly, I did, but that's just my foolishness. Oh, I've stunned you into silence.
KR: What else stands out in your mind from your time at the IRW?
FO: The formation of the IWL, which wasn't called that. It was called the Women's Think Tank. Several things. So, the honchas, as I called them, the directors of the then whatever centers they were, so there was CAWP, women's studies program, now department, Douglass College, IRW. I'm trying to think; I don't think the other groups were started. We're sitting around talking, and each of the women were talking about, "I have a pain here. I'm always tired here. I'm getting sick here." I'm there as the executive officer, and I'm not the associate director. Other people have associate directors, but it's the same thing. I'm realizing that all of my feminist colleagues who are directors have a lot of ailments out of stress. That was something I thought of, except one, who did not really take her work home with her. That was an ah-hah moment for me. Sitting in those meetings, I learned a lot as we brainstormed about what we thought the think tank should be, which became the IWL. That was nice to be in those, to be included, and to brainstorm. [Editor's Note: The consortium of the Institute for Women's Leadership also includes the Center for Women's Global Leadership, the Center for Women and Work, the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities (originally called the Institute for Women and Art/IWA), the Office for the Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering and Mathematics, and the Center on Violence Against Women and Children.]
KR: Talk about the establishment of the IWL.
FO: Okay, I think that I was leaving that job as executive officer as the IWL was getting started. I remember when Lisa Hetfield came to be the advancement officer for Mary as dean of the college long ago, and Lisa and I had lunch together. I tried to tell her about the organization of the University's bureaucracy and the various personalities, and I said to her, "I'm not going to do anything that would prejudice you about people, but you need to know how this all intersects." She's now acting director at the IWL. The think tank evolved into the IWL. I think I was there only for the early part of it, and then I left.
I should say one thing about my leave of absence from the library. About three years into my leave of absence, Susan Cole, who was then vice president of the University, decided that I couldn't be on leave anymore. I had to give up my faculty line and tenure to do this job. Now, it did occur to me that any other person who was doing an administrative job on leave was required to give up their faculty line and tenure. I thought this was an abomination frankly and politics. Lucky for me, the women, the honchas, went to bat, and there was a big discussion. I was told that I could continue on. At some point, one of the reasons that I left that job was the funding for the Laurie New Jersey Chair did not suffice, and we stopped doing junior scholars. Then, it didn't suffice to even pay the secretary or my salary. At that point, Cora was still the director of IRW. I did not see a full line. I thought, "Okay, it's time for me to go back to the libraries." When I went back to the libraries, my colleagues in the library, some of them thought of me as very disloyal, and I heard a lot of rumbling and accusations during the time that I was doing this that I was not really a librarian. It's myopia in their point of view. I went back, and I was told that I would go to Douglass Library. They needed somebody to oversee the Women Artists Series. They needed another reference librarian. They envisioned, because of the burgeoning IWL and the centers around it, a center on women's leadership using new technologies, so I was supposed to create a new women's research center, which became the Foster Center. Those were my jobs.
KR: When you left the Laurie NJ Chair and the IRW, who took over as executive officer, or who was the staff when you left?
FO: Okay, when I left, the Laurie New Jersey Chair was reconfigured probably into women's studies. When I left, somehow they made a full line for an associate director of the IRW, and Beth Hutchinson came in as that person and now Sarah Tobias is in that line. It became a full-time position.
KR: I see. What has carried through to today at the IRW that was started under your tenure there?
FO: Well, the Thinking About Women series, but they may call it something else. They have an annual focused series [IRW Seminar] in bringing in scholars from all over. I think global visiting scholars, some [Global Scholars] come. Some are related to the Global Center, but we also had visiting scholars then. I think that our success in grant writing and bringing in funds; there were other grant projects along the way. I guess I was a rainmaker for the University because I think I tallied up that between donations in kind of papers, art work and then grants, I must have brought in about four million dollars to the University. Ask any librarian if they've ever done something like that. It's not valued, was not valued. I think the IRW, the interdisciplinary nature, we were always cutting edge, our topics were cutting edge, I think it continues to this day. Unfortunately, we're always still looking for money. The University still does not provide the money it should and always threatens to take it away. That's not my legacy. That was a topic for the think tank, why is it that we couldn't get the university communications to think of what we were doing as sexy? When we got the Rockefeller Fellowships at the IRW, there was never a press release sent out by the university communications. I tried and tried and tried to get them. When Joan Snyder, who founded the Women's Artist Series, became a MacArthur Genius, I tried to get them to use that as leverage for publicity and fundraising. Not possible. How is that? I think that those are important things. The Rockefeller, it was the first time the University ever got a Rockefeller grant. That should be something.
KR: Anything else you want to add about your time at the IRW?
FO: Not that I know of. I think my brain is probably more than addled enough.
KR: Yes, yes. [laughter] Let's pause for a second.
KR: We are back on the record. Can you tell me about when you got your graduate certificate in women's studies?
FO: When I drafted--but I didn't do the final draft--after I drafted the New Jersey Project grant proposal, it became clear to me that I needed to get a Ph.D. I looked around. Rutgers touted that it had an interdisciplinary Ph.D., which is what I really hoped to do. The history department said I'd have to get a master's in history before I could get a Ph.D. The sociology department, because there was something called visual sociology, said I'd have to get a master's in sociology. Well, I already had two masters, one in library science, which was not a contender for me to get a Ph.D. in library science, and the other was art history. Since it was impossible for me to get another interdisciplinary Ph.D., I had to decide on a discipline. So, I went back into the art history program.
It occurred to me that since I was doing all this work already in women and gender studies and the women studies program now had a graduate certificate--they hadn't yet gotten to a graduate degree or to be a department--I decided to capitalize on that and get a graduate certificate in women's studies. I took two classes with Alicia Ostriker in the English department, among them "Theories of Creativity," in which we looked at writings by theorists and writers, mostly literature, people writing literature, and see how they connected in reality, which was wonderful. I learned a lot from her. I used, I can't remember which of the Laurie NJ Chair seminars as another, or both, or two of them, one of my papers, maybe it was one of Carol Gilligan's, I don't remember. You didn't have to do a lot of credits, but I fulfilled all of them in a year. I was happy that Cate was still the graduate dean, because her signature, it's right upstairs in my office, is on that particular paper. That was in '87-'88.
I started to go back to graduate school for a Ph.D. in '87; I started doing the art history degree again. I was working full time and taking courses part time. Occasionally, I would take a class that met during the day, and then I'd make up for that along the way. People were very nice. I had a colleague who was also doing a Ph.D. in art history, who was in University administration. He did not report to anybody, which the president soon discovered four or five years after he had been doing his job. He got away with murder, and he did his Ph.D. full time while working full time. He did his job, but he did not have a direct supervisor. It's very funny. When he retired, the then president, who was Dick McCormick said, "I discovered that after all these years, this person has been here and doing all the wonderful jobs he's done and he does a wonderful job. He never reported to anybody. How did that happen?" [laughter]
I did my graduate certificate, because there was not a graduate department in women's studies, and clearly I had that interest. I went back and did the art history degree, and while I was doing the art history degree, I finished my coursework. I took a leave of absence to study for the Ph.D. qualifying exam, which was very difficult to study for, because its three days of writing and then it's a day of interrogation. I had an unfortunate experience in my Ph.D. qualifying exams. I'm not going to talk about the coursework much; it's okay. I had a chair. Three members of the committee were [telephone rings]. Turn that off.
KR: Okay, we are back on. You were talking about your qualifying exams for your Ph.D.
FO: Right. I had three PIIs [professor II] and a junior faculty member, who had recently come to the University that year. He was an architectural historian. I had already taken all of my classes. I was already studying for the exams. The first time I made an appointment to see him, the appointment was at four-thirty in the afternoon. That's when the office closes. I find when I go there, there are five other women waiting with four-thirty appointments for him. By the time he gets to me, it's six-thirty, and I have to pick up my kids in daycare. They were in daycare in two different places. I said to him, "I'm really sorry. I have to leave now." I didn't even get into, "This was ridiculous and dangerous, and we're all women." I said, "You may not know this about me, but I'm a parent as well as a faculty member, so can we reschedule?" So, we reschedule, and we rescheduled during a daytime period. He didn't like that, that I just left. I should've left earlier. So, I go in to see him that time, maybe like two o'clock, and as we're talking, he gets a phone call, he takes the phone call. He says to the person, "Oh, I'm just talking to a student." This is very unprofessional. He's young. He gets off the phone, and I said, "You know I've been sitting here a half-hour and I need to go, but I know nothing about you. How about if we meet again? I'll give you my CV and you give me your CV, so I know more about you." So, we meet again. He looks at me, and I said, "Oh, yes, I'm a tenured member of the faculty." He says to me, "You need to sit in on my classes." I said, "I will not be sitting in on your classes. I work full time. I've already taken all my classes for my Ph.D. You are on this committee just to test me." About a month or two later, he calls me at home, and he says to me, "I need a ride to the airport. Please take me to the airport." I said to him, "You know as the executive officer of the IRW, we bring in visiting scholars all the time. Let me give you the name and the number of the limousine service we use in New Brunswick." Then, I find out from other students that the only way he gets to the airports is he gets graduate students to take him and then he has conferences with them on the way. Then, I hear that he's gone to a meeting at Edison College with a female graduate student. I hear it through the grapevine, and they're saying, "We don't understand why he's doing this." I'm thinking, "Wait a minute, he's treating all these women like shit, including me."
I go into my dissertation qualifying exams. I spent three days writing. I've passed the writing. Now, the committee members each give me slides to identify. The first person comes; I do very well. Then, this junior faculty comes. He's interrogating and, I mean, with capital letters, me. For twenty minutes, he's showing me slides of the back door of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and he says to me, "Who did this building?" I can tell. [I said], "I can tell that it's an L.A. building because of the way it's designed. Therefore, its going to be in the 1920s, but I can't do more than that." "What is the occupation of the person who commissioned it?" I looked at him, and I said, "You've had me here on the table basically for twenty minutes. I've answered your questions to the best of my ability. I am not going to cry." Meanwhile, I'm watching the other members of the committee, a senior faculty member, who's turned into a fetal position while all of this is happening. He continues, and then he stops. Now, the committee chair did not stop him. She should have stopped him. By that point, I had two more people to ask me questions, and I was pretty well undone. I did the best I could, and they sent me outside to sit while they made their decision. It was an hour that I waited, and I thought for sure I had failed. It turned out that they, the three senior faculty, were having a big discussion with him about his behavior and treatment of me. He said to them, well, this is how it was done for him when he was at the University of Pennsylvania, and he figured he could do it to anybody. Nobody there had socialized him to tell him this is not the way they do it at Rutgers, and no one stopped him. They finally called me in. I passed. I thought I was going to upchuck. The chair said to me, "We've talked with him," and that's it.
Now, Catharine Stimpson was still dean of the Graduate School. I thought about whether I should go and report this, and then I realized that this would make the department look very bad and I still needed to get my Ph.D. I did not report it, but I did feel like I was raped intellectually and assaulted by this man. Three years later, he came up for tenure. The department asked me to write a letter against him. I told the department that they should do their own dirty work. Three senior members of the faculty witnessed. They were there, they saw, they could make testimony. If they didn't want him, they should've done something about it. It's their responsibility. I told them about the things that he had done to me that they didn't know and what he did to the other women, and I said, "You have a problem." About three days later, he calls. He calls me to apologize for his treatment of me from several years ago. I have to understand that he was having problems with his wife. I said to him, "I'm sorry, I can't accept your apology. It's three years too late, and if you're having problems with your wife, that does not give you license to abuse anybody else. I have nothing to say to you. I don't accept your apology"--I didn't want to say, "You're a little shit,"--and, "Good luck." He did not get tenure, and he was sent away. He was the worst representative as a faculty member.
I did hold the Art History Department culpable for not stopping him in that committee when he started down the wrong path and secondly for not socializing him, orienting him to his new department and the environment and so forth. That was my qualifying exam experience. Since I previously was in a class action suit, in which twelve lawyers from twelve different pharmaceutical companies deposed me, I had already been in that kind of situation before. It was not the first time, but it was exemplary of what can happen to people. I was a mature woman and a tenured member of the faculty, and this twerpy junior faculty member treats women this way. That's my graduate certificate and Ph.D.
KR: You were the Executive Officer of the Laurie Chair and the IRW for a long time, from '85 to '94. What was it like when you left and you were transitioning to a new position in the university?
FO: First of all, it was very nice. They gave me a wonderful farewell party and a beautiful "gold watch" because Cora, who was then the director, selected for me a gorgeous necklace that she knew I would like that was very artful and I thought that was very nice. I was so glad that people appreciated my efforts on behalf of both offices.
It was a little bit difficult to go to the libraries. I was going back to my colleagues. I was glad to be put on the Douglass campus. I was happy to be curating the Women Artists Series, which had a long history, and I was glad to be back with women artists. [I was] happy to be able to think about developing a new research center, not so happy to be a traditional librarian as well, but I had to retool. I spent time retooling and trying to negotiate between my new colleagues and the director, who happened to be a friend. So, that was hard for her, too, I think.
KR: You went back to having a faculty position, correct?
FO: Correct. There was a personal health crisis during that time period. I think the stress of doing everything that I was doing caused me to have a very rare disease, which required a brain surgery. I think I took a leave of absence. I asked to have a leave of absence to finish my dissertation, which the libraries did not allow me. I was already there. I had to take a leave because I had this brain surgery. I went back in '94, so I had this brain surgery before, while I was still at the IRW and the Laurie Chair. It took me a year and a half to feel well again. I took the fall off, as I could, because as a staff member, you could keep an amount of sick days. I had enough sick days to go through until then. Then, I went back to the libraries, and at some point, I wanted to finish my dissertation, which was in '98. I asked for a leave of absence, and they wouldn't give me a sabbatical to work on my dissertation. I finished it anyway.
Then, I went back, and I tried to figure out how to take all the new technologies, which had cropped up while I was over at the other place, and learn them and how I could make them into something for a new center and also identify archival collections to bring in that exemplify women's leadership in all the spheres. I was doing all of that and writing grant proposals to fund some of the projects. If you look at my CV, there are a lot of grants from NEA [National Endowment for the Arts], NEH, New Jersey State Council on the Humanities. That was the feast area of Rutgers when we had a lot of money in the budgets, and there were initiatives that allowed me to be entrepreneurial and get grants for different projects that included new technology.
For example, I decided to create a website called WILD, Women in Leadership Database. It was a database, and I mined the collections of departments and Special Collections, to look for examples of manuscripts and archival materials that related to women's leadership in all areas. There's that database that's out there, probably off somewhere in the outer space right now. Your oral histories from World War II were linked on there; people could click and listen, the women who were from Douglass. There was women in history. I found in Special Collections a letter, a handwritten letter, from Georgia O'Keeffe in a collection of a woman who was involved with the development of Pan-American relations. I looked all over for photographs, images, documents, oral histories, videotapes that could be used to show what you could do. That was one project.
I got another project where, as a demonstration project, I looked at the Social Science Research Council reports, and they do a general survey of countries. I took Poland, and I took all the data already there and I worked with my colleagues in the libraries and IT to create a website that would take that data that was applicable to women and women's lives and make it accessible and create pie charts and bar graphs, in addition to giving information so that students and scholars could use it. If you do that as a demonstration project, then you could do it for anything else of the same social science project. In that case, the issue was what is the thesaurus of terms, abortion, reproductive rights, alcoholism. What are the topics that relate to women, and what are the topics and how do you get to them? This is where I had issues with my IT guy, who had already developed his, I'll call it, boilerplate, form letter, "Here's the form. We just throw all of it in, and it does it." [I said], "But you can't because you have to have a thesaurus of terms." You have to customize; you can't just have something that you can always use. I did a lot of these kinds of projects. I got funding to update the Special Collections and University Archives directory of resources related to women, which hadn't been updated for more than ten years. I gave them money to do that. There are lots of different projects that I did.
KR: It sounds like your retooling as a librarian featured you embracing technology and what could be done in terms of digital information.
FO: Yes, at a time when most of my colleagues were afraid of it, and there were some librarians who wouldn't even use computers. It was a transitional period. I was in the forefront, which probably made me a pariah in many ways, but that was all in the guise in 2000 of founding the Margery Somers Foster Center. I'm sure I did other things with that, too. At the same time, I was also curating the Women Artists Series and sitting on the reference desk and doing everything that a traditional librarian would do as well.
KR: What are some of the highlights of curating the Women Artists Series?
FO: Well, I curated it from '95 to 2004 and from 2005 until 2012, more or less. The highlights are working with the artists, selecting them and working with them to present their artwork to the community. Among the highlights, Eve Sandler, an artist who lived in Newark, African American woman, who had no art supply stores in Newark. She used beauty supply stores, and she bought synthetic hair and acrylic fingernails and created sculptural installations, which we put in the [lobby gallery space]. The gallery space, as it is now configured at Douglass Library, was not that when I started there. It was you walked into the library, and immediately, the walls of the lobbies were where we installed the art and it went down into the entrance way with a circulation desk looking at walls. The director of the library's office was right across from the circulation desk, and that wall was also [part of the gallery], so you walked in [and could see the exhibit]. [Editor's Note: The Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series at the Mabel Smith Douglass Library is the oldest continuous exhibition space featuring women artists in the United States. Joan Snyder founded the Women Artists Series in 1971.]
The students were very upset with this installation of Eve's. I had a bunch of students come down to call me racist, again, and I asked them if they knew anything about the artist. No. Did they know anything about the artist? I thought this was a perfect opportunity to create a program. I called Eve and asked whether she could come to be on a program to talk about her work. I called Noliwe Rooks, who's at Princeton, who had just done a book for Rutgers Press on African American beauty and culture. I called Cheryl Clarke, who was on the staff and is a poet, African American, who had written about good hair and bad hair. I asked a colleague who was in Africana Studies to moderate the panel. I had a panel, and we had about 150 people in the library to hear about this. It was very clear, as they presented, to all of them that there was a generational divide, that the students who were upset knew nothing about the history of good hair and bad hair. Many of them were of African-American descent and that the history is not being taught that way in the public schools, for example, nor even here. Eve said that she was so taken with the comments people made at the program and we always have a comment book with our exhibits that they wrote to the artist. Sometimes, people, as rap music came in popularity, people wrote rap music, nasty things, racist and homophobic and sexist. You could see the evolution. She said she was going to make a performance piece out of it. Okay, that was one instance.
Another instance, we did a show, which was a group show, and we had a guest curator, Amy Sillman, who was a major international artist. She selected several artists, among them Kara Walker, who was not Kara Walker then, and she had a silhouette piece. Again, a group of African American students came to me and yelled at me, how could I put this thing up, this does not help with race relations. At that point, with Eve as well, I decided to make sure that for every exhibit, there would be a folder with the history of the artist and some articles about her work because we were not doing enough to educate people. The idea for the Women Artists Series initially was to introduce students to women artists, provide opportunity for the artist to exhibit, but also to show the students that they are role models and learn about contemporary art. Here we are doing contemporary art, but they don't know history and so forth. I told those students that they should read the articles and come back, and I explained to them that she was very controversial. Even Betye Saar, one of the older African American artists, who now has a show, by the way, at the New York Historical Society, took exception with Kara Walker's work as a young upstart and in the press berated her. There was a public fight between the older generation and the younger generation of African American artists. This is not the first time I told them some other stories historically that I knew, and they said they were very excited about her work now that they understood, could I get her here? I said, "I wish I could. It takes a lot of money. Please go to the dean, and if you can arrange that she has money, I will help set it up." They never came back. Those were two of many. [Editor's Note: "Betye Saar: Keepin' It Clean" is an exhibit on display at the New York Historical Society from November 2, 2018 to May 27, 2019.]
We had a show by Bailey Doogan, who was an artist who at that point was in her sixties. What she does is she blackens out a sheet of paper that's floor-to-ceiling length, so it's big. She etches out, from the darkness, an image, and it's always of people's bodies nude. There are these giant nudes, white coming out form the black. We have one of hers, which is a woman who's sort of floating in space with her legs spread and bent but she's nude. The thing that you see is her sexuality. A woman comes in with her nine-year-old son, sees it, writes a letter to the dean of the library saying, "Get this out of there. This is not appropriate for public places." That was one of many times that I was called on the carpet. Fortunately, for me, I always empaneled a group of professionals in the visual arts to select the artists who would be chosen for each year of work, not necessarily the work but the artist. Therefore, I did due diligence. Separately, the American Library Association has the guidelines for exhibits, and I did that as well. I had to draft a letter for the dean to go to the president about the exhibits, why we cannot censor and also to the person who complained. I did say that this was a college library, "It's a library for people eighteen and older in college. If you choose to bring your child and you don't want this child to see art work, then don't come into the library" I mean, it's not a public library. It's a college library.
We did a show, one of the first, of work by Clarissa Sligh. At that point, she was a photographer. She was documenting a woman transitioning to be a man. This would have been in the late '90s. Those photographs elicited a lot of complaint. Oh, by the way, Bailey Doogan's show included comments, "Get those lesbians off the walls." Now, there's nothing in this work that screams lesbian, bisexual, queer, sexuality, heterosexual, but I'm getting these comments, which I found very interesting because over time it said something. In this exhibit was also a video of Jake the woman, now Jake the man, talking about his experiences. The library staff were offended, so they decided not to turn it on when they're supposed to and they sort of censored it. Then, I had to go and talk to the library staff. These are not the high points, but these are the reactions to art. This is not atypical any place else. Now, we're in an era, during that time period, in Canada, they put fig leaves on all nude statues and paintings, temporarily because they passed a law that it was pornographic to have penises showing and breasts and things like that. This is just evocative of and representative of society at large is what I'm trying to say.
The highlights for me are the Fertile Crescent Project, the Guerrilla Girls exhibit, which, they're both in the 2000s and above. It was the first time that the Guerrilla Girls, which had divided into three groups and sued each other, came together, and had an exhibit. Fertile Crescent, which was the last exhibition project I did for the Women Artists Series and beyond, was a festival of fourteen exhibits, fifty-five programs, at Princeton, Rutgers, the Institute for Advanced Study, the public libraries of East Brunswick, New Brunswick and Princeton, the Arts Councils of Princeton and I think maybe someplace else in New Brunswick, to show women artists, women authors, women scholars, women musicians, women filmmakers, from the Middle East Diaspora, over the course of a six-month period. That's a highlight too, and that was my swan song, so to speak.
KR: What were some challenges that you faced when you were establishing the Margery Somers Foster Center?
FO: First of all, my colleagues, who didn't think that being a curator of the Women Artists Series was a librarian kind of task, also were not really supportive of new technology, many of them, not all. The major challenge was funding and support. It turned out after we named it, I discovered that Margery was not very well liked. Trying to raise money for a Margery Somers Foster Center was very difficult; it's true. Margery, we should remember, was the dean at Douglass when the discussions were whether Douglass would remain single sex or go the way of Rutgers College to be coed. She kept it single sex. She was an economist. She had a very interesting history, but she was very southern. During the time that I was there and she was the dean, we had to wear skirts on Sundays to dinner. We had to wear skirts to chapel, I think, as well. She was a very southern woman who had done a lot of interesting work. In fact, during World War II, she was in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. She was also in charge of the port at San Francisco during World War II. She was quite formidable. [Editor's Note: Margery Somers Foster served as the Dean of Douglass College from 1967 to 1975.]
I went up to her house in Francestown, New Hampshire and spent time with her, trying to cajole her to give me her papers and give us money, which she never did. The last time I saw her, she was on her way towards Alzheimer's. She had all these nice women from the community helping her twenty-four/seven. I think that the biggest challenge was getting funding, which we didn't really succeed in, for the center itself from donors from Rutgers alum and Douglass alums.
KR: What did you learn about fundraising over decades of doing it at different centers?
FO: I learned how to write grants, how to talk with program officers. I learned how to identify and cultivate donors. You could cold call. I learned to be comfortable cold calling people but also how to charm people. For example, when we needed extra funding for the Fertile Crescent Project, I would call people out of the blue from the Middle Eastern Diaspora and say, "I understand that you fund, blah, blah, blah. Would you be interested in supporting this and helping us publicize?" I called every place, Jewish, Muslim, Coptic, every organization. What I learned was when you do a project like that, you have to think out of the box; identify every student organization at Princeton and Rutgers that relates to the Middle Eastern Diaspora; identify every organization in the New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia area that relates to the Middle Eastern Diaspora. Then, contact all of those people, tell them what you're planning; ask them if they could help publicize whatever you're doing as an in kind contribution and support. Do they know people who would like to give money? Would they like to organize a program and have it part of the same thing? All of that I learned. I learned how to be accountable.
I learned, for example, through the IRW, when we applied for money for the reproductive rights and the laws in the 1990s, a project we did with the Newark Law School Women's Center [Women's Rights Litigation Clinic], that abortion and reproductive rights are the same things, but when you go to funders, know what verbiage works and what verbiage doesn't work. When we went to different places, we had to change the wording. In fundraising, I learned to look at every single opportunity, and that's why I call myself entrepreneurial. Even now I do it. [I would think], "Oh, there's a call for proposals on this topic. Does this relate, in any way, to something we want to do? Oh, let's go ahead and try this project and call them and see whether they're interested, and we'll develop something." Sometimes, we had a project and we were looking for funding. Sometimes, we were looking for funding and a project came to us based on the call for proposals. I think I learned to be active, not passive, when it comes to fundraising.
I also learned to do things and then tell people you do it, as opposed to ask whether you can do it. Within the libraries, it was run as a patriarchy-matriarchy, and things often didn't get done because people didn't want to admit being responsible for making decisions, which was very frustrating. After a while, I decided I would just do what I thought was right, and then if there was a problem, I'd have to deal with it.
KR: You mentioned when you were at the IRW doing the Project on Reproductive Rights Laws for the 1990s. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
FO: Oh, yes, that's another one. See, there are so many projects.
KR: Yes, right.
FO: Okay, so I worked with Nadine Taub, who was then the director. She succeeded Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the law school. [Editor's Note: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg taught at Rutgers Law School-Newark from 1963 to 1972, during which time she served as the faculty advisor for the Women's Law Rights Reporter, the first law journal to focus on women's rights. Nadine Taub founded the Women's Rights Litigation Clinic at the Rutgers Law School-Newark.]
What Nadine noticed was that the technologies in the early '90s were way advanced of what the laws were. You have cases such as Baby M, surrogate mothers and children, or you had Karen Quinlan, who is being kept alive even though she's basically brain dead, more or less. There's some disconnect here. We organized a conference--that is, the IRW with the law school--we brought in lawyers, activists, policymakers, practitioners to talk about it and put together a workbook for all of those people on how you deal with emerging technologies as it relates to reproductive rights, the abortion laws and some of the cases that have gone on in the last five years at that point and what might be going down the road. What are the issues if you have amniocentesis and you decide to abort? We had somebody on the organizing panel who [was] differently able-bodied, who provided another point of view than somebody else, let's say. We convened this big conference. There's a book [called Reproductive Laws for the 1990s]. I think Sherrill Cohen was the co-PI [co-principal investigator with Nadine Taub]. You could probably find the book at Rutgers in the libraries, big notebook and stuff. Again, we had to go to funders to get funding for it. That's how projects happened, and I was involved with many of those over the long haul, some of which are on my CV and some of which are not on my CV.
KR: What do you remember about the reorganization in 2006 when Douglass ceased to be a degree-granting institution?
FO: Okay, that actually coincided with the founding of the IWA. Like everything else in my positions at the University and elsewhere, I straddled many fences because I worked with so many people. I was a Douglass graduate. The Associate Alumnae of Douglass used me all the time because I was on the faculty and did the things I did. They'd ask me to be a guest speaker and host a fundraising event in the libraries, which I did every year on the one Sunday that I was free, so that alums could come and hear what we're doing in the Women Artists Series. The AADC helped to underwrite the Women Artists Series, and also they were trying to raise money for the Foster Center. I was active as an alum. Anyway, one top of that, I was a faculty member at Rutgers, so I knew what was going on, and I was involved in the libraries, which had its own thing. I was trying to bring together the oral history project at Douglass and so forth. When that happened, I was against it, but I also knew that it was a fait accompli. I went to a lot of meetings with Carmen and the Associate Alumnae and the IWL directors about how to save Douglass. I'm sorry that Carmen left. She's now the president of Oberlin. From being a dean, I knew that she would go on, and Douglass [has been] repositioned. [Editor's Note: Carmen Twillie Ambar has served as the president of Oberlin College since 2017. Ambar held the post of Dean of Douglass College from 2002 to 2008.]
While I was on the faculty of Rutgers and even now, I still, when I meet alums of Douglass, try to disabuse them of the fact that Douglass has disappeared. It's just different. The programs that we have for women's leadership through the IWL, [that] now Jackie [Litt] is doing as dean is also helpful, and STEM projects that she's done coming out of the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering are terrific. The quality of the students, at the time that I went to school, we were the crème de la crème. Most of us would've been admitted to Ivy League schools, if our parents would've allowed us to go outside of the state and to go away to school. Many of my peers in my Douglass class were accepted at other schools but couldn't afford to come. Douglass still remains a school for first-generation women. It's much more diverse now--and I give them a lot of credit for recruitment--than it was when I was in school. I remember it all. It continues in a way, which I'll explain in a minute.
I decided I had to be "Switzerland," because it was really difficult when I had opinions on both sides. Subsequently, the AADC and Douglass College also had a divorce. There was a big deal about that. I don't know all the machinations, but I know from the time of Linda Stamato being acting dean that the president had asked each subsequent dean to either bring into the fold or abolish--I don't think they could--the AADC because it operated independently of all the other alumni associations at Rutgers and they were doing the Foundation work, which is fundraising. The alumni associations centralized. We were talking about those other organizations. The AADC didn't go along with that. In the last crazy argument, there was a capital campaign recently, I'd say within the last eight years. Douglass raised forty-three million dollars, the alums, AADC did. That's a lot of money, which they had control over, but I think the University also wanted control over it. There was a lot going on, and there was a big fight, public rift, suit, and mediation. In the end, it was all figured out allegedly. I don't think it's working, from my experience personally. The AADC can only fundraise for its operation and programs. They cannot fundraise for students. Only Douglass College through the Rutgers Foundation can raise money. At some point before they had the mediation and divorce, they were doing parallel things in competition, which was very confusing.
I went to one fundraising event, where AADC was honoring its high-level donors at the student center. Jackie was supposed to be there. Jackie created a reception at her house separately. She came, she did her spiel sort of, and then she had the other. I didn't understand why there were two receptions, and I had to go to both of them. This was part and parcel of this pulling at who's going to be in control of the money of the alums. It's allegedly fixed and decided and now in its third operation year, or fourth, third probably, of the divide. It's not working from my perspective as an alum and a donor, and I don't want to go into it at this point. The personalities are still there. The donors are not being treated properly, and I'll put that on record.
KR: Over the years, what type of interaction did you have with the University presidents?
FO: I knew Mason Gross because he was out and about on campus all the time. I knew him as a student more than anything else. Dr. Bloustein, I was at his house a couple of times. I was on his committee. I did a lot of things under him but not so personally. I remember Ruth Ellen, going to their house for some dinners and things. Fran Lawrence came, and I didn't think too highly of him. I think he was pretty mediocre and problematic. [Editor's Note: Mason Gross served as the President of Rutgers University from 1959 to 1971. Edward Bloustein held the post of President of Rutgers from 1971 until his death in 1989. Francis Lawrence served as the President from 1990 to 2002.]
Then, Dick came, and I had some interactions with him. One of the things I always wanted to do, from the time I was at the IRW, was that I discovered HERS, Higher Educational Resources for Women. They have a summer seminar for women administrators and faculty to help them go up into University administration. I thought I would like to do that, since I was already doing all this administrative stuff anyway, only it wasn't in the guise of my jobs, but clearly I was doing the same things that deans and so forth [do]. In between all this, I'm teaching, too, by the way. You needed to be sponsored by your department or dean, and I knew that the libraries would not pay my way. They didn't see me as an administrator, even though they wanted me to do all this work. When I was with the IWA, I got the University to agree to sponsor me to go. I was accepted, and I went. It was, unfortunately, towards the end of my career at the University. I came back. I knew Dick because I worked with Suzanne Lebsock, who was his then wife, and Suzanne worked with the Women's Project of New Jersey. You see all the interconnections. I went to Dick, and I said, "I'm going to HERS, and I have to interview you." We had an appointment. I interviewed him. Then, when I finished, I was looking at my future, "Okay, I've done this and I've done this and I've been at Rutgers as a faculty member since 1976. What's next? What's opening up at the University where I might be able to be helpful and find another passion and contribute in some way?" I went to talk with him. From what he told me, I realized that I had done all that I can do at the University and that he didn't see me as did some of my feminist colleagues with whom I worked as someone who could be a leader per se. As someone once said to me, a long time ago, "Who's going to do the work?" Even among feminists, there's sometimes a lack of vision. I do not believe that I'm immodest when I'm saying that I've done quite a bit over a forty-year period and succeeded in providing lots of different educational opportunities, whether it's in art exhibits, conferences, programming, fundraising, seminar, websites, teaching--because I was teaching a lot of classes and so forth in different areas--whether it's library resources or Byrne Seminars. I did a lot of Byrne Seminars. Judy [Brodsky] and I developed the first digital courses in women and gender studies but also for visual arts. All of those, these are all new and entrepreneurial and different and contribute. Someone said to me, "Well, who's going to do the work?" and can't see the entire forest, there's not much you can really do.
KR: Tell me about the founding of the IWA.
FO: Okay, that's a really good story. Judy [Brodksy] and I, for years, had been proposing a center for women and art. There were committees, back in the '90s, University committees, and we would propose them, but it never happened. The thirty-fifth anniversary of the Women Artists Series was going to happen in 2005, so I wrote to all of the departments around all of the campuses, "What are you doing for women artists in 2005-2006? It's the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Women Artists Series. You in Camden, you in Newark, from a long time ago, have now developed courses and exhibits and programming. Let's see if we can do something together." I proposed a "Year of the Women." I talked to Judy. We agreed that's a good thing, and we'll do all campus. The IWA, by the way, with its founding, was always envisioned as a University-wide, not New Brunswick-campus wide, research institute. Anyway, we're talking about that.
Then, we get, in 2005, an email from a colleague, Ann Swartz, who's working with Judy Chicago, Arlene Raven and Susan Fisher Sterling. Judy Chicago considers herself the mother of feminist art. She's not, but she thinks she is. She is the artist who created the germinal work The Dinner Party, which people know about. Arlene Raven was an art critic. She helped to found the L.A. Women's Building. Susan Fisher Sterling was then the curator of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, soon to be the director. They knew that in 2007 the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum was going to open, and The Dinner Party was going to have a permanent home there. There would be a curator doing feminist art, thanks to Elizabeth Sackler. The National Museum of Women in the Arts was founded in '87, I think, and was going to have its own anniversary. The first feminist art program was created in '71-'72 in Southern California. They were having an anniversary. We were having an anniversary. They wanted to know what we were doing for women artists. They had already met once to think about reinvigorating feminist art with the year 2007 being the focus. I wrote back. Judy Chicago said, "Why don't we meet?" Separately from that, the Women's Caucus for Art, around the same time period, came to us and said, "We need an office," and I told you about that, "Do you think you can provide an office?" This is all around the founding [of the IWA].
Then, on top of that, all together, in the same six-month period, Joan Marter from the Art History Department comes to me and says that the Women's Art Journal, which is the preeminent scholarly journal on women's art, which was published by Elsa Honig Fine, she was retiring, and it was going to cease publication and Joan didn't want that to happen. Joan asked me whether I would edit it. I said no, I would co-edit it if she wanted to do that, and I agreed with her that it shouldn't [cease publication]. She said, "Well, I think I want bring it to Rutgers." Fine, we have all of that. [Editor's Note: Rutgers Board of Governors Professor Joan Marter and Margaret Barlow serve as the co-editors the Women's Art Journal.]
Then, you have the reorganization. You asked me what I thought about Douglass College and the colleges all becoming the School of Arts and Sciences. There was a presidential initiative that had to do with some kind of--because we did so many of these, I can't remember which one it was called--it was a call for proposals for funding to do something extraordinary at that particular time. Judy and I proposed to create the Institute for Women and Art. In the previous years, we had gotten some funding for doing some things. Only two proposals in the humanities were going to be funded, and we were one of them, the least amount sixty thousand dollars. We proposed this IWA.
We went to Isabel Nazario, to whom we reported as the soon-to-be Center of Women and Art. She was in the vice president's office. She was the vice president for--she has different titles over the time, and we told her what was going on. I said, "It seems to me we could look at this as individuals, or we could look at it in the macrolevel. Let us create an Institute for Women and Art." Judy and I made this proposal, "We have the Women's Caucus for Art, a national entity, whose papers I already brought here, wanting an office. Let's get them in office. Joan Marter in the Art History Department wants to bring this publication. I'm not sure I'm going to edit it, but she wants to bring this publication. On her behalf, let's go to Phil Furmanski and ask him if he could give us the office and bring them there. We know that we're going to have this new center because we got the sixty thousand dollars from the presidential initiative." We go to Phil. Now, I have bronchitis. I know I have bronchitis. I'm running a fever, but I go. It's Isabel, Judy and I. We make the case. He actually agrees; great. Now, we can figure out all the parts. We get a little bit of money for Joan for some support there. [Editor's Note: As of 2019, Isabel Nazario is the Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives.]
We go back. We get a call from Dick McCormick, "Given that Douglass is now going to be Douglass Residential College, I think it would be great if we establish an Institute for Women and Art." What I'm telling you is that we got the funding, but it hadn't exactly been announced. He sends out a letter in I think the late summertime announcing that he has established the Institute for Women and Art and he's asked us to be the directors. That's how it happened.
In the meantime, the Judy Chicago project, Judy [Brodsky] and I, in that summer of 2005, meet. We go to New Mexico. Judy had been in San Francisco, drove to New Mexico. I was planning to be in Santa Fe. We go to Belen, [where] Judy Chicago and her husband live, at Judy's request, Judy C.--[there are] Judy C. [and] Judy B.--to meet with her. We get out of the car, and the first thing Judy C. says to us is, "Who are you and why would I want to work with you?" I'm thinking, "Okay, I've known her a little bit before. This is not unlike her. Hey, go on the Internet. You invited us." She also asked us how we got Rutgers to be such a feminist institution. I don't know what we responded. Well, we have dinner. We meet the next day, and we spend the whole day in her studio, back and forth and back and forth. Out of that comes the Feminist Art Project, because it was clear that they wanted to do something nationally with all these pieces of the anniversaries, and really we thought we had an institutional affiliation because we already have the Women's Caucus for Art. We have the Women's Art Journal coming. We have the Institute for Women and Art coming. Let us create the Feminist Art Project as a collaborative, and we will institutionalize it at Rutgers and ask for some money to support a staff person to help with it.
The Institute for Women and Art begins with already a big agenda, sixty thousand dollars. We give some to Camden--they're going to mount an exhibit on women artists in two years--some to Newark for whatever they were doing. I think it was for exhibits and classes. Then, we have the rest to get this thing going, to do programming. The library says, "Okay, we will partner with you, but you take care of the Women Artists Series." Although it's in the libraries, we're in charge of it. That's another one of our portfolio. I have the Women Artists Series, now part of the IWA. I've got all this other stuff. I still had the Foster Center, and I'm still in the libraries. The IWA starts in the libraries as its place of residence.
Judy and I decided because of the Feminist Art Project, we wanted to jump the gun before the Sackler Center at the Brooklyn Museum opened. We decide we're going to do a major exhibit for the Women Artists Series called, "How American Women Artists Invented Post-Modernism, 1970 to '75," and we'll honor the feminist pioneers, many of whom were involved with the Women Artists Series all along anyway. We curate the show. We have it at Mason Gross Galleries, a big deal. We decide we're going to have a gala in January. The Brodsky Center helps to support it. The libraries support it. At that gala, Maryann Gaunt, the Dean of the Libraries, announces the establishment of the Miriam Shapiro Archives on Women Artists, part of the Foster Center portfolio. See how we can build on foundational things. All the people who are there, including the feminist pioneers, had not seen each other for years. We have a wonderful photo of all of them standing up in front of a Joan Snyder painting. We have somebody who's doing a film on feminist art history who comes and films the event. We have a catalog, and then the exhibit travels throughout New Jersey.
As part of the show, Judy and I decide that we need to bring in the honchas from the IWL member centers. Why? Because in all the years that I've worked with Mary Hartman and all those people and done what I've done and tried to make a case that women in art or women artists or feminist art and art history has leadership in it, it has been hard for them--it seemed to me--to wrap their minds around it. We invite them to come for a personalized tour of the exhibit. It's wonderful. They come, and I'm seeing the ah-hah, the ah-hah, the ah-hah. During that fall, we also bring in Faith Ringold, who had been there before and subsequently we had a show for her, and she gave a talk. I see Mary Hartman going, "Ah hah, ah hah, ah hah." I know now that they see that women and art, that art is, yes, it is about the aesthetics, but it's also about the content and that it's about leadership as well. Women, whether it's the Guerrilla Girls as activists, if you only think about activism and feminism, or it's about Linda Nochlin and her scholarly work, or even our own work as activists and scholars for all that we have done. We get support for the IWA to become a member of the IWL consortium. That's a really nutshell part, but it's not all.
Let me just say that part of this whole year of '87, the Museum of Modern Art got a donor named Sarah Peter, who gave them big bucks for a women art initiative. She told them she did not want them to buy new art. She wanted all of the department curators to meet regularly and talk about where the intersections are with women and art because you have the film people here, the design people here, painting here, works on paper. Then, the money was to fund them to do research, to finally put together a book about all the artists who are women who are in the collection, many of whom who have never been on the walls. So, she does that. That's another thing.
In January 2007, right before the February opening of the Sackler Center, the Museum of Modern Art hosts an international feminist art symposium, the first of its kind, bringing people from all over the world together to talk for two days. This is all part of all of these initiatives that we were trying to bring together to foment and infuse Geritol into feminist art. So, that was a germinal year, 2005, 2006, 2007, and it continues.
One of the things that I'm proud about with the Feminist Art Project and the IWA is that because Judy and I had both been officers on the board and officers of the College Art Association, we went to the College Art Association [and] we got them to be a partner of the Feminist Art Project. What did that mean? We talked them into allowing us to do programming during the annual conference on the Saturday, on feminist art only. We're now in our thirteenth or fourteenth year of doing it. We do a cutting edge theme. We have people from around the country, in the region, wherever the College Art Association conference is located. The scholars and artists develop the theme, bring in the speakers. We either do it on site at the conference and off site, and for years we did it off site. Why? Because politically, the College Art Association insists you pay to go to their conference. It's very expensive. Most people cannot afford to do it, certainly not a lot of artists, and if you're in New York or L.A. or Chicago or any place else, the local artists want to come, but they can't afford it. If we have off site, so we did the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle in New York. We did the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. We always found others. We got thousands of people coming in all day for these conferences to hear the speakers. It was wonderful. At some point, the College Art Association said, "Ah hah, they're getting a lot of people. Those are potential members. We're allowing them to do this. We want them. We want to institutionalize them." They have something called an affiliated society. We were never an affiliated society. Politically, Judy and I felt we needed be as independent as possible, and our overarching theme was not only cutting edge but access. Now, the Feminist Art Project is an affiliated society. They will get less time, but they're still doing similar things.
KR: What are some challenges that you faced when you were running the IWA?
FO: Well, there were internal challenges because I was doing that while I was juggling being a librarian. I came up for full professor during that time period. There were, luckily, not enough full professor librarians to be on my committee, so I was able to get two outside people, one from women and gender studies and one from art history, and as there were discussions--I'm not supposed to have known this--my librarian colleagues did not want to support me because I didn't write about all my work on the reference desk, or Ask a Librarian, electronic reference. It wasn't that I didn't do it; I didn't do it as much as they did. Well, it was a little bit hard. If I'm supposed to be on the reference desk nights and weekends and running all these other programs, to be doing all that--I'm only one person. I was not a traditional librarian, so there was lack of support from my colleagues in the libraries about the work I was doing. They just did not see it as information or whatever. I saw it as part of my duty in an educational institution. You don't have to be in a classroom. You could be in a library. You can use an art exhibit. You can use a program, a conference, anything, to do that.
Negotiating personalities of some of the artists we had to work with. The Women Artists Series was not all goody-goody and cotton candy. There were a lot of divas. Working with divas is very difficult. Those artist divas are representative of the intellectual academic divas that I had to work with. I learned a lot about how to negotiate with people, including some people with international reputations, many, or people who thought of themselves as just better than anybody else.
There were the challenges of dealing with colleagues outside the University. For example, the Women's Caucus for Art didn't know what their mission was if the Feminist Art Project took off as it did, and there's a committee on women in the arts in the College Art Association. Trying to make collaborations and not be competitive [was a challenge], even within the IWL. Sometimes people feel competition for funding, lack of resources, so that's always a challenge.
For me and all the things I did, I developed programming with the STEM faculty, a program called Thinking Creativity. I brought in women artists, and I paired them in a program with a STEM faculty member to talk about their research in sciences, their research and work in art, about creativity and about gender. Many of the STEM faculty didn't think about all of this stuff, but it is creativity. We did a program on water. We did a program on global warming. We did a program on cognition and things like that. People who don't normally talk to each other did. One of those artists and one those scientists have collaborated since, which I think is really interesting.
We did a program, Judy and I kept getting calls from--I did all the time; I still do--artists who are growing older, "What do I do with my body of work? What do I do with my papers? They're disorganized?" I spent a lot of time consulting as part of my job--it's not in my job description--with those artists. For example, with the "How American Women Artists Invented Post-Modernism" show, most of those pieces were courtesy of the artist. These are germinal works, really iconic works, for the history of art and the history of feminist art. Those works have not been sold. This is a problem for women artists. The Feminist Art Project was created to counter the erasure of women artists, make them visible. This is all part and parcel of the same thing. It has feminist art resources online, so people can find out where to get resources to teach classes or classes themselves.
We helped somebody who was written up in The New York Times who was then an undergraduate who became a graduate student at Rutgers by chance. We worked with her to mount her curriculum for "Feminist Art for Girls at Risk who are in Detention," and it was written up by The New York Times, her project, long before she came to us. We worked with MOCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] in Florida, Miami, to do that.
Challenges have to do with making collaborations across many organizations. The IWL wanted to do a project on the BMI, body mass index, with the medical schools, part of the whole thing because the medical schools are being brought in as the new president came in. They're trying to find coordinated effort, trying to make sure that people think about the visual arts as part of any topic.
Most recently, for example--and this illustrates my work--Judy and I just finished a book for the IWL in their Juncture Series. It's the third volume, Junctures in Women's Leadership: The Arts. The cover design for Rutgers University Press for the other two volumes was [makes a throwing up noise]. It's not even as exciting as this tablecloth. So, they're starting to make designs, and it's clear they don't understand what the book is about and they're not very inventive. Oh, they're going to have a drawing of the back of a head of a woman with long hair drawing a picture. No, we're not talking about that. We suggest to them that we have friends who are women artists and here's an example of work that we think would be great as a cover. We can get permission to use it. We do it, and they print the book. Everybody's like, "Oh, my God. What a cover!" Now, it turns out they're reprinting the first and second volume, and we say--we said all along--"If you would like some help, this is another way to promote women artists. We will help you identify artworks that would be perfect for each of the covers." The newly printed volume one and two now have covers by women artists. They're now coming out with [a] higher education [volume]. We just sent them some images. We have to do research sometimes--Judy did this one in particular--and they can decide and now you get permission and so forth.
When we did the book, the other two volumes had no images. They told us no images. I'm sorry, I'm not doing a work on women in the arts, meaning all the arts, visual and performing, and not have images. That makes no sense. Fortunately, we were able to renegotiate, and we promised them that we could get the pictures with permissions from the artists, which we did. That is illustrative of one of the major challenges all along, to keep people thinking about the visual arts and its application across all disciplines and how it relates. Years ago, when I was in the Art Library, Dick Quaintence, in the English Department, used to come in. He used to teach [a class about] English gardens and literature. He needed images. He came to the Art Library. That's exactly what I'm talking about. [laughter] I'm sure there are other challenges which I can think of as we're breaking and so forth, but there are a lot of challenges like that. Then, there's also jealousy because you're doing something on a grander scale than is traditionally considered what academics can do, and people in departments and other things get very upset about that.
KR: You mentioned the struggle for funding in the IWL between the different centers. What stands out in your mind about that?
FO: Well, okay, the University says, "If any department wants to apply to the Dodge Foundation for a project, you have to go through the University Foundation." Why is that? Because if eight departments all are applying, they're competing against each other. The same is true with the IWL. You're working on women, women's leadership, women and gender studies. There are not a lot of private and governmental funding sources that focus on women, children, men, sexuality, gender, and so you're always competing against them. I always look to partnerships rather than being adversarial.
KR: What are other highlights from your time at the IWA?
FO: Here's another highlight. I was talking about women artists who come and say they don't [know] what to do with their body of work and their papers. Judy and I decided--it was one of my ideas I guess, too--that artists' legacies is a big issue. We got funding from the State Council for the Arts to put together a conference for artists and their survivors to plan for and deal with what to do with an artist's body of work and their papers. We had a full-day conference, where we videotaped it. It's online. Rutgers Press had put out a book about this as well. It was very well attended. People came from Texas and Washington to it. I think it stands out because we got people to think about issues, about their legacy and also for mostly widows whose husbands were artists and they now have their body of work. How do they keep them alive? How do they distribute the work? Do they get rid of them? For me, the impetus was that in the late '80s, early '90s, there was a very famous woman sculptor who lived in New Jersey--I don't remember her name at the moment--who was very active during the WPA for public monuments all over New Jersey. When she died, her two sons thought of her as their mom, not as a professional artist, and, yes, they disappeared all the records, all the maquettes, and all the art, except for what they wanted, because she was just their mother. That is the erasure of women artists in the same way that people in history have not promoted women artists. It's the same kind of [thing]--it just happens. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to make sure to get artists, women and men, to think about organizing their papers. Know where your works are sold, so there's a record, and deposit it somewhere, so some scholar down the road will be able to find it. I know, in the '60s and '70s and '80s and early '90s, when I was working as a student in art history, all those different guises all those years, I could not find information about women artists in printed books or in articles or in archives.
One of the other projects, which I'm very proud of, [that] Judy and I did was a Getty-funded project through the IWA called WAAND, Women Artist Archives National Directory. We had a national advisory board and we created, using new technology, a database and directory that identifies all the archives where there are papers of women artists. If you're a curator and you're thinking about working on Lenore Fini, you can type in Lenore Fini and see that her papers are X or something like that.
That took a long time, and that was the first Getty-funded project Rutgers ever got. That's another wonderful project. I suppose if I looked at my CV, I would think about other things. They're not similar. They're never similar, but they have the same kernel behind them, which is how can we make sure that there are resources for students and for teachers as they study the history, the cultural landscape, the history of people's contributions to culture overall. It doesn't matter whether its women, whether it's people of color, whether it's Asians, it doesn't matter.
The fact [is] that in the period that I studied art history, art history was basically Western, Anglo-European. It was not stated as that. Only recently have there been courses on Asian, African and so forth. As an undergraduate, I studied African and Mesoamerican art. It was called primitive. Why? Not because of the people allegedly, but because of the economy. That was in the '60s. I'm still interested in it. I'm still interested in art of Indonesia. One of the reasons why travel abroad to places in the Southern Hemisphere is in part because I never learned about their cultures.
I had an ah-hah moment. I was in Dunhuang in China in the Mongolian Desert in the Uygur Republic. In 1999, I was at a conference called "Holding Up Half the Sky." It was the second conference for Chinese and American women to get together about women, and this is my entrepreneurship. I wanted to go to this conference. Two of my colleagues from the Women's Project [of New Jersey] went with me. I didn't talk about the Women's Project. I talked about the Women in the Community Project in that public library in Rocky Hill. One of them talked about the Women's Project, and the other one talked about a project which she created at Jersey City State with her students pen-paling to some students at a university in Turkey. We did the conference, and then we go on a post-conference extension travel. There's seven women travelling around. We're in Dunhuang. There's a major archaeological site, now well known, but hardly known then, still being refurbished called the Mogao Caves. These are caves where there are paintings and giants buddhas. It's a major Buddhist site. I didn't know about it. I'm looking at the art of this stuff from eons ago, and I'm saying, "Why do we call it the Dark Ages when it's not the Dark Ages for other cultures?"
I go to India and see all those wonderful temples and sculpture and other things, and I'm thinking, "I never studied this." Let's not think about art history as periods of art movements from the West. I did do a whole bunch of sessions at [the] College Art [Association] about changing the way we think about art history. Let's just take a century. Let's do the ninth century. What was the ninth century like in China, in India, in Korea, Japan, Africa, Indonesia, and Carolingian and Byzantine and all that other early Christian stuff. What about Native Americans and Inuits, you know, First Nations? Imagine if students got to understand world cultures in that way. Just imagine how [much] less prejudice [there] would be, how more open they are to what they consider "the other," which is not the other. It's just that same kind of thing.
KR: When did you retire?
FO: I retired in August of 2012. Let's put it this way, I didn't retire; I went off the payroll. The Fertile Crescent Project started in July of '12. They hired me as a consultant to follow the project and file reports into 2013. However, there were other projects I had started that needed to be seen to completion. Although I was no longer a consultant, I followed through--there was [the] Momentum project on women and art and technology. There are a couple of other exhibitions and other things. By 2015, all the things I had set in place were continuing and I, by the way, I believe when you leave a place, like when I left the IRW, I didn't then go back and put myself in and sort of butt in. I said, "You can call me if you need something. I'm happy to advise you in any way, give you history." Even this fall, I got a call from the IRW, "Can you tell us a little bit of …?" I have the institutional memory of sorts. My memory is not going to be this clear all the time, and I think people think I have a pretty good memory, but you know what I mean. I'm very happy that you're doing this because I know I have the institutional memory for many of these places. What was I talking about?
KR: You were talking about 2015.
FO: 2015, so, the people who succeeded me did all the work now that's on. Since that time, I am still professionally active. The book Judy and I just did, I have an article that just came out [about] Hand Papermaking. I've curated a number of other exhibits. I just curated the show for the Women Artists Series of Judy Brodsky, solo. She was a Lebowitz Fellow. That's another thing I'm proud of; I got money to fund a distinguished artist to have an exhibit within the Women Artists Series with an endowment. [Editor's Note: Judith K. Brodsky, Professor Emerita in the Department of Visual Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts, held the 2018-2019 Estelle Lebowitz Endowed Visiting Artist by the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities (CWAH).]
I continue [to work]. People don't think of me as retired. I don't see myself as retired. I don't know what retired means. I have colleagues who are academics who don't do anything in their field anymore, and that was their career or job and that's it. I know people who play bridge, golf and tennis. I don't do that. Judy Brodsky, who was retired and co-founder of the IWA, she was already ten years retired, and we're still doing all that stuff. She's fifteen years older than I. You can figure out what that is. We just finished this book. [She is] still going along. Her husband, who's ninety-five and a retired academic, Michael Curtis, has published thirty-six books, and he's still publishing every day on electronic journals, news accounts and opinion pieces about things going on. Some people do that; some people do the other.
I still haven't figured out what it means to be retired. I'm still forging my path and trying to define. I have, as far as I'm concerned, this book and the book tour, the exhibition catalog essay that I have to write for Judy's show, these are the last professional things I've committed to. I also did the article. I don't know what's going to happen next, whether someone will come to me, as sometimes happens, or I see something and I decide it. I have a research project with a box of materials waiting that I might want to do. As I told you before we went on the air, I get these ideas for short stories, poems, novels. What will I do with that? I don't know. Maybe I'm going to try, I hope. I always saw retirement as an R&D period. It means I fail. I try things and I fail. This is my time to try things. I did all this stuff. I didn't expect to keep doing it. I wanted to do new things. Let's turn it off for a minute.
KR: We are back on and recording. You were going to tell the story about your dissertation.
FO: I was looking for a dissertation topic. I decided that I wanted to do interdisciplinary art history research relating to women and gender, and I was thinking about something that was not specifically about a single artist. A lot of people write on a single artist and they're the expert on Judith Leyster. Somebody with a Rutgers Ph.D. has actually that dissertation and she is a Judith Leyster expert, but I didn't want that. [Editor's Note: Judith Leyster was a Dutch painter who lived from 1609 to 1660.]
I decided to look at women art collectors, and then I decided to work on America. I thought, "My generation were the post-World War II generation. I grew up as a student and adult in the '60s, the civil rights in the '50s, feminism, anti-war in the '60s, so let me see how the social upheavals of the second half of the twentieth century impacted what women did in terms of their collecting scope." It was very hard to find women collectors.
As it happens, one of my extra-professional projects, which I didn't talk about and which helped me to get tenure, was that a woman, who was an art collector, in the Plains area of Colorado, near the Nebraska border, got somehow a contract from a publisher to do a biographical dictionary of women artists born before 1900. She didn't know what to do about that because she wasn't a scholar. She lived nowhere near a library, so she came to the Art Libraries Society and asked for volunteers. It sounded like a great project for me. I liked women artists and I was interested and I was in history, and so I volunteered. There were three of us, and I did a lot of the research for her. We became acquaintances. We're not friends, but I knew her.
When I decided to do this dissertation, I contacted her and said, "Would you be part of my dissertation? Whom else do you know who collects art?" Now, I narrowed it down to mostly women collectors who collected art exclusively by women or art of the diaspora of Africa, Latin America, Asia. So, she introduced me to a woman in Iowa named Louise Noun, who now is part of a chapter of my new book. I interviewed her, and I interviewed this woman whose name was Chris Petteys. It occurred to me I should interview Mrs. Wilhelmina Holladay, the founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each of them had different personalities.
I went to interview Billie Holladay, as I called her, like the singer--and I'll talk about that in a minute--and I noticed I had three women who were all white. It didn't make sense to me in the 1990s, after all my work with women and gender and race and ethnicity and sexuality, not to have at least one woman of color, maybe two. I remembered a wonderful art historian, artist, curator, troublemaker, her name is Samella Lewis, who lives in LA, who is the first person to get a Ph.D. in art and art history, who also happens to be an African American woman, and she got it in 1951 at Ohio State, which was segregated then. She has a long history.
I interviewed all four of them. In the end, I only focused on Samella Lewis in LA and Louise Noun in Des Moines, because they had geography, it had race, Louise was Jewish and it had class and other things. Chris was not very forthcoming for a variety of reasons, but she collected art of women artists, mostly of the West, except that she had five self-portraits by Kathe Kollwitz, which is very unusual. [Editor's Note: Kathe Kollwitz was a German artist who lived from 1867 to 1945.]
Mrs. Holladay was also [not] very forthcoming. I had to come to her office. I didn't get to her Georgetown townhouse. I'm interviewing her in 1991, let's say, at a time when I had the Cushing's disease and I was not very well. I won't even discuss what happened. I was sitting there interviewing her, and this disease was such that my face swelled up and my cheeks blocked my vision because of this disease. I'm sitting there for a whole day, interviewing her. With all the other women, I sent copies of the transcripts of the interviews for them to check for factual [information], if there's any problem, glaring problem, and write it in and send me back. Mrs. Holladay, however, decided to rewrite the whole thing and sent it back to me, which clearly told me that it was going to be very difficult to work with her as a scholar. Also, because she's so formidable and she told me that Barbara Bush cut the ribbon at the opening, there was a whole bunch of stuff going on here. I knew a lot about her from my interview, and it was clear that she represented not what I was looking for, although tangential. I learned from doing those oral histories the problems or issues of working on a dissertation with people who are alive and are contemporary because you don't have as much say as you think you do. Of course, you have institutional research asking you for certification if you're doing [research on human subjects], in one way or the other. However, I'm very happy that both my interviews and chapter relating to Samella Lewis and Louise Noun are now published in this new book that just came out.
KR: How did you conduct the interviews? What was your recording device?
FO: I had a micro-cassette tape recorder. I did, like you, "I'm here on such and such a date. I'm doing a test." I had a list of the same questions for everybody with some variations on the theme. For Chris, I spent four days in Sterling, Colorado, where she lived. I spent three or four days in Iowa sleeping under [the works of] Louise Bourgeois and many other women artists in the collection of Louise Noun, who was an interesting woman in her own right. You can read the book and see what she's about. She was a feminist, and she was the oldest of them. I stayed in a motel, not a in a great area of LA, spent three or four days interviewing Samella Lewis. I spent only one afternoon with Mrs. Holladay. That's the only time she had for me.
KR: Did you transcribe them yourself?
FO: I think I got somebody else to transcribe, and then I listened and edited because the names that they were speaking were hard for them to understand or some of that. I think I did a first round with someone else transcribing.
KR: I want to ask you a question going back to your time at the IRW. Who were the other staff people there working? I do not mean the director; you went through that.
KR: Were there staff people?
FO: There was a secretary. The first one was Gloria Cohen. She retired. Rebecca Reynolds, who's the now the assistant dean at Douglass College for Bunting students, was one of my first hires. I think she was a secretary for the while, and she had just finished an M.F.A. [master's in fine arts] and was a published poet. After that was Arlene Nora, and I think I retired before she left. I think that's right.
KR: You have done so many things over the course of your career. What are you most proud of?
FO: I won't answer that exactly, but one of the things I want to say is that in the moment of each of these things, I never think about what it is--I talked about artist's legacies--I've never thought in terms of legacy and my legacy. What I have now learned, as I begin to reflect and especially since you've given me these questions over two sessions, is that there's no way to really describe all the different pots in which my fingers have stirred. I do know from experience, sadly, that some colleagues have erased some of the activities I've done to contribute to whatever they are currently in. It's politics, I'm sure, personality, I don't know.
When I was putting together my packet for full professor, to be considered, there was a way that someone could look at that and look at the zigs and the zags of the career direction and see nothing about it that was consistent but just these individual zigs and zags. I saw it as a piece of a whole, and as I discussed with you, I'm realizing that there was a consistency--no matter what bureaucratic organization I was in at Rutgers--a consistency of institutional activism that I never thought of myself as an activist until only recently, an activist scholar, creative-being. I think I would say I'm most proud of not one thing but the entire picture that seems to have evolved, as we've talked, in terms of vision that I don't think if someone asks me, my twenty-something self, when I graduated from Douglass, or even after my master's in library science, I would've thought that this is what I had done in my life. It's much more than I ever expected. All I knew is that I didn't want to be teaching. My mother said to me, "You have to be a teacher because in the Depression teachers always had a job," and I resisted, resisted, resisted. Instead I went into a feminized profession, librarianship, which makes no sense to me, but, clearly, it felt right for the personality that I had.
When I was twenty-eight and still in the libraries and thinking about administration, I spent a week at Rutgers Advanced Management Institute through labor relations. You spent a week, and I was with a bunch of corporate guys and one of my colleagues in the libraries. I had the idea that I wanted to be a leader, but I didn't know quite how to do it. I took the Myers-Briggs test and I turned out to be an INTP, which basically is one percent of the population. They said Einstein was an INTP. I am not an Einstein. I am not a genius. I was an introvert.
KR: What is INTP?
FO: Introverted, intuition, thinking and perceptive. When I went to HERS [Summer Leadership Program] when I was fifty-eight I guess, late in my career, I turned out to be an E for extrovert, not an introvert. I knew that somewhere in my forties I turned a corner from being the shy, invisible person, which I was, to trying to figure out where I was going to be and finding my voice. When I tell people who've only known me in the last decade or two that I'm an introvert, they laugh. [laughter] They all laugh. I am an introvert, but I'm the kind of introvert who can be comfortable with people and make conversation. I never thought that was going to be the case. I am also proud of the fact that I have good interpersonal skills. [laughter]
KR: I have reached the end of my questions.
KR: I want to ask you if there is anything that we have skipped over and that you would like to add to the record.
FO: There's an incident with the IRW. It's not an incident, but it's something that I think I was proud of in a way. While Cate was still director, there was a Douglass student, Jennifer Klot. Jennifer was a very assertive, interesting student. She played the sax. She, apparently, got under some people's skin, not mine, and she was very interested in international affairs. When the conference came for the Year of the Women--they were in Mexico City, they were in Oslo or Copenhagen, they were in, I think, Israel, they were in Nairobi--she organized the only young woman's panel and she got women from Colombia and other places to come. Her institutional affiliation was with the IRW, thanks to Cate, whom she called "The Goddess," and we worked with her to fundraise and send her there and then come back and report. She went on to Cornell to study with Lourdes Beneria, who was a former director of IRW, and work in NGOs [non-governmental organization]. I saw her a couple times afterwards. I'm just saying that the view was the famous Rutgers motto, "Local roots, global reach." I would say that is a model that I still ascribe to, and it turns out to be something we did in all the things I worked with.
KR: Is there anything else you want to add?
FO: No, but as I read the stuff and if I go back to my CV, I probably can think of other things, but you don't need all of this stuff. You have a picture of me, I think, and if I'm still alive and someone's reading this and they want to ask me questions, I'm always accessible. I do make myself accessible to people.
KR: Well, thank you so much for doing this oral history series.
FO: Thank you, Kate, for asking your questions and for helping me remember some institutional history, which needs to be recorded.
KR: Okay, we are back on the record. What was it like when you were at the IRW and being a working mom?
FO: I have two children I raised, both of whom were born in Korea and were adopted. My daughter came in '83 and I was still at the libraries. She was in daycare, while both my ex-husband and I were working. He was working freelance, because he hadn't found a job, and then he ended up working for a company and became the vice president. Our son came in the July of '85. I started at the IRW in May of '85. I had to tell Mary Hartman that I was accepting the job and I had an adoption in the works, but I had no clue when my child was coming. To my surprise, right after I joined the IRW, I got a call from the adoption agency that the child was coming, and he came on Memorial Day Weekend. I didn't even have a bed for him. He was almost two. Luckily, the day care facility took him in as well. For the first few months, he sat on my lap at the IRW. I always had toys because other people had children who came in, and there's nothing you could do about it.
The children ended up at the Douglass Daycare Developmental Center, which provides [childcare] up to kindergarten, during the time I was at the IRW. That was very helpful. We used to drive from Belle Mead there. I would tell them stories about a character, oh, Gerald McBoing-Boing, and Gerald McBoing-Boing was a character, I think, on television when I was growing up. I would tell them stories as we were coming and going.
One of the things Judy and I did when I was at the IRW with the New Jersey Project, one of the things we did was to apply for money through the State Department of Higher Education to revamp a course on modern art in the Visual Arts Department, which was a really interesting course called "Models of Persistence." We had students learn about twentieth century art through the lives of two older women artists, Bernarda Bryson Shahn and Minna Citron. Minna Citron turned ninety during that semester. Bernarda was already in her nineties. They interviewed those artists. They did research about them and about twentieth century art, and they presented their work and they did a television documentary on each and also helped to curate an exhibit. Then, at the end of the spring term, we held a conference for art educators in the state so they could replicate this. That's the model part. I remember having my daughter at that conference drawing away--not my son because he really couldn't sit still and that would not have been a good thing.
During the time that they were growing up, I was juggling working my crazy hours and getting home for them and making meals and getting everything together. My ex-husband, although freelancing, ended up finding a full-time job with a company where he was working more hours than I was and also traveling quite a bit. In the last ten years that we were married and while the kids were, I would say, seven and five or maybe eight and ten, but he was gone 280 nights a year each year, which meant basically I was solo-parenting for most of the time ostensibly, and juggling that was very difficult. At some point, we had some live-in help for a short time period, maybe three years, two different women, one of whom was a Jehovah's Witness, who was going to be homeless and had a child, and the child was in one of my kid's classes. So, I gave her housing in exchange for taking care of the kids, but she took them proselytizing and she was also a little bit emotionally disturbed. I won't even go into it. After a year and a half, I had to get rid of her. I just felt that this was not good. Then, we hired somebody else who was good for them for a while, a woman named Lisa, and it was so much trouble for me. It was like another work life to administer somebody else. I always had a menu and recipes all set up, so that she could follow that. They were supposed to take care of the kids after school, and then I'd come home and so forth and so on. It didn't really work out for me personally. I'm sure it was good for my ex-husband because it was one less thing he didn't do either.
It was difficult because the kids needed what they needed to do, and then when I decided to go back to school, the only time I could do my schoolwork was on weekends. Oftentimes my ex-husband was home taking care of the kids, their activities. So, I carved out time then. When we had some family vacations, they wanted to go skiing, I didn't ski. I went with them, and I worked on my dissertation while they were out in the weather. It was hard to balance all of that stuff, but I did.
Both of my kids were special needs kids. It was not the traditional thing where families had other comparable families socializing with them, with somebody who was never there most of the time and being very busy and kids who were out of the box. There were not parties on the weekends for the kids to go to or other families with kids of the same age who were playmates to socialize. So, it was pretty isolating all around. I did the best I could juggling. I would call it, not balancing, but juggling. It worked out pretty well.
KR: Were there other staff or faculty that had kids around on campus?
FO: You mean in their offices?
FO: There were people who occasionally brought in kids towards the end. Some people brought in their dogs. Barbara Balliet, for example, I think had a dog who she brought to the office all the time. [laughter] There were a number of faculty members who had kids around the same age who were also in Douglass daycare. One of the people I am still friendly with is Cheryl Wall, whose daughter Camara was the same age as my son Noah, and we were together. When Cheryl and I were both fifty, we each ended up going to Paris with our daughters, and, by happenstance, we were going to be there at the same time. So, we made a date, and Cheryl had never been on the Bateaux-Mouches [Seine River cruise], so I thought that would be a great thing. Anya was about fifteen or sixteen. Camara was fourteen, let's say, and Cheryl and I did a lunch cruise on the Bateaux-Mouches with them. I have a picture up in my office of that. I was at Camara's wedding, and I'm very pleased that the kids brought us together in that kind of way.
One of the things I did at the IRW that I'm also proud of is that Cheryl came to us and said she wanted to do a conference on black women's literature and theory. So, I worked with her and maybe Cheryl Clarke, but I know it was [Renee Larrier] from the French Department. There were four women of color and me working on this committee, and we brought Houston Baker and Skip Gates and Paule Marshall and many other people together. I learned a lot about African American women's literature through that. It peaked my interest more than the fact that when I was a librarian at Finkelstein, Toni Morrison was one of the people who used to come into the library because she lived in Nyack then and I knew her. She had just published, I think, The Bluest Eye, and I had already read it. It wasn't like working in the late '80s on Cheryl's conference was new to me; I was already reading in that area long before. I liked it that way.
One of the things that those women on that committee told me [is] that I would never be a sister because I was a white woman, I knew nothing about their experience, which is absolutely true. As I asked Samella Lewis, when I interviewed her, how she felt about white people teaching black studies. Samella was the founder of the African American Art Museum in LA. She is the founder of the International Review of African American Art and many other things. She brought Angela Davis to her day job at the LA County Museum of Art to try to introduce--and Jacob Lawrence--many African American luminaries to the curator. She found the museum curators to be very closed, so she kept bringing Angela because she knew that would make them upset. At nighttime, after she left her day job, she and the community picketed the museum because it had a big show on Cubism, but they never discussed African art and its influence on modern art at that time and they didn't show work by artists of color. Here she is, an employee during the day but picketing at night and a provocateur. I asked her, there was a big controversy about, "Can white people teach black studies?" Her answer was really interesting. She apparently knew Ben Shahn from New Jersey, Bernarda Bryson Shahn's husband, a well-known artist, and she couldn't tell me what he said, but what she said to me was, "If you have experienced oppression," then it seems to her, "that you could teach black studies, but if you've never understood and experienced oppression, there's no way you could." I loved her answer. I always thought that was the way to go, but some of my colleagues did not. To this day, I think that's true, even though I see them all the time. Renee Larrier is the other faculty member, and I don't think Deborah White was there, but I think Renee, Cheryl, Cheryl Clarke, and I have somebody else.
KR: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much.
FO: You're welcome.
-------------------------------------------END OF TRANSCRIPT--------------------------------------------
Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 1/23/2019
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 5/9/2019
Reviewed by Ferris Olin 7/6/2019
Reviewed by Zach Batista 8/12/2019