Thursday, March 01, 2001

Women's historic role ill-taught

UC center leader offers perspective

        From authors to activists, women have played a vital role in American history.

        That role goes far beyond what most people learn in high school history classes, said Lisa Hogeland, acting director of the University of Cincinnati's Center for Women's Studies.

        Many notable women will be recognized around the Tristate in the coming weeks, as National Women's History Month kicks off today.

        Ms. Hogeland, 41, author of Feminism and its Fictions (University of Pennsylvania Press; 1998), has been an English professor at UC for 11 years, specializing in American women writers.

        The mission of UC's Center for Women's Studies is to promote teaching, research and scholarship about women and gender-related issues. Enquirer reporter Lori Hayes interviewed Ms. Hogeland on Wednesday for her assessment of women's history.

    Women's studies have been a part of Tristate colleges and universities since the 1970s. Five Greater Cincinnati colleges and universities offer courses and programs on the subject:
    • The University of Cincinnati founded its Center for Women's Studies in 1974. It offers undergraduate and graduate certificates and a master's degree. UC is also the first university in the country to offer a women's studies joint degree with its College of Law. For information on Women's History Month activities, go to studies/
    • Miami University's Women's Studies program began in 1972. Students can pursue an undergraduate minor or major, and the program offers a graduate concentration. For information on this month's activities, go to studies/
    • Northern Kentucky University began offering Women's Studies in 1978. The program provides an undergraduate minor. For information on this month's activities, go to
    • Cincinnati's College of Mount St. Joseph started offering a bachelor's degree in women's studies in 1986. Since 1998, the college has offered only a minor in the subject.
    • Xavier University began offering an undergraduate minor on Women and Minorities Studies in 1988.
        Question: Why do we celebrate Women's History Month?

        Answer: The National Women's History Project (Web site makes the argument — and I think they're right — that when young women and girls see what women have accomplished in the past, it gives them a new sense of possibilities for their own future. I've seen that happen with my students. By giving them a richer sense of what women have done, they do see new possibilities for themselves.

        We wouldn't have to have a Women's History Month if women's history were more thoroughly integrated into the rest of the curriculum, which is simply not the case.

        Q: Do you think women's history is adequately addressed in high school history classes?

        A: No, not at all. It's better than it used to be. There's certainly more coverage of women's history now than there was when I was in high school. And it probably is the case that there are teachers who do a fine job of bringing this material in, whether it's in Women's History Month or in the curriculum in general. But it's almost certainly a volunteer effort.

        Q: Are there big areas that are still not addressed?

        A: Women writers don't get enough coverage, especially the women writers of the past. Women artists in art classes don't get very much coverage. And, of course, women scientists are often left out of the picture altogether, which is very discouraging for girls not to see that women have a past in science and technology and inventions and engineering.

        Women have done all that. Not in the same numbers as men, of course, but there's been some very high-achieving and very interesting women who have done that work.

        Q: Do you have any favorite figures in women's history who aren't well known?

        A: Susanna Rowson wrote the novel that we think of as the first American best seller. It's called Charlotte Temple, and it was published in America in 1794. It was a melodramatic little story about a girl who was seduced by a handsome British soldier and carted off to America, the New World, and then abandoned and died in childbirth, which is what all 18th-century novels are about in some way.

        But Mrs. Rowson was the daughter of a Tory. They were deported after the Revolutionary War. Her father was not very successful in his business. She married a husband who was not able to make much of a living, so she became the support of her entire extended family by writing the novel.

        Then she came back to the United States and worked in a Philadelphia theater, where she not only was an actress, but wrote plays. When she retired from the theater, she opened a school for girls and wrote the textbooks, too.

This year's focus cites six women

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