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Iowa’s ‘herstory’ and the women who mattered

BY KELLY L. JOHNSON - GUEST OPINION | MARCH 10, 2009 7:27 AM

A year and a half ago, I was accepted as a student member on the Council on the Status of Women.

At my first meeting up on the top floor of the Blank Honors Center, I found myself feeling slightly powerless surrounded by a group of austere professionals who knew more about the university and the women who were apart of it than I could have imagined. A sign-up sheet was spread around the room detailing committees that council members could join. While all sounded interesting and important, such as the committee on Diversity and Campus Climate or the Committee on Unwelcome Behavior, one committee stood out to me; the Herstory Committee. Not much was said about this committee, only that it currently kept the website up-to-date and that it was of vital importance in creating various campus report cards, analyzing everything from salary equity to sexual harassment on campus. Three names were added to the Herstory roster that meeting: Kelly Johnson, Renée Sueppel, and Diana Harris.

I sat on the first Herstory subcommittee meeting, contemplating our herstory. When I was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, I heard many stories about women alumni and was interested to know more. I thought of all the women who at some point in their life called the UI home; I wanted to know what amazing things they do today and wondered what they have done. If a campus sorority was able to provide such detailed information on their alumni, why couldn’t the rest of the university? What have UI women done? As soon as I voiced my thoughts, both Diana and Renée met me with shocked looks. After years of affiliation with the university, both had met incredible women who were artists, writers, lawyers, professors, athletes, nurses, and advocates. Yet, why weren’t the stories of these women made available for the rest of the university?

Our next three meetings, we all tried to come up with some way to document women’s history. We tossed around the idea of an interactive website timeline and a festival, ultimately pinpointing a women’s TV show as an effective way to document her story at the UI.

In April 2008, Herstory filmed its first episode of “Women at Iowa” with our guest, former head of women’s athletics Christine Grant. Through Grant, I witnessed veneration for sexual equality in sports, government, and life. I was engaged in Grant’s stories and realized that instead of hosting an interview, I was creating a place for herstory. This was not just Grant’s story, but our story, the story of women at Iowa. I am learned that the face of our campus, of the women here, would not have been the same if it weren’t for Grant, if it weren’t for any of the women at Iowa. Without these women, we would have a university Recreation Building without a women’s locker room and public restroom, we would not have the voices of women speaking out against bigotry, and we would not have the art created by women or the same education that we prize. As women, we need to share our collective stories-herstory, without it we will never fully comprehend who we are and how far we’ve come. That’s why, in this month of March, I will celebrate Women’s History Month with the Council on the Status of Women, the Iowa Women’s Archives, Associate Professor Leslie Schwalm, and Professor Linda Kerber today at 5 p.m. in the Iowa Women’s Archives (Main Library third floor).

We cannot afford to let our herstory be forgotten — thus, I’m asking the Iowa City community to collectively commemorate our history this month and join me today to celebrate women’s history.


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