The History of the Status of Women Committee

The MU Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women (SWC) has been advocating on the behalf of campus women for more than 40 years.  The SWC was established in 1973 as a result of the persistence of Dr. Luverne Walton and other members of the A&S SWC, who demanded that administration take action on pervasive discrimination in the University on the basis of sex.  Nationwide, women were entering higher education in greater numbers, and yet many began to question whether they were being prepared for anything other than domestic life.  In 1971, the Women’s Equity Action League filed a suit of discriminatory policies on the basis of sex against 250 colleges and universities, including the University of Missouri.  Subsequently, Walton and others urged MU administration to examine discriminatory policies, stating “It’s no secret there has been discrimination.”

The women reached out to Chancellor Herbert W. Schooling multiple times over the course of several months, with little to no administration response.  In September 1973, however, Schooling wrote to the administrations of other Midwestern universities to inquire as to whether they had “appointed what might be considered a women’s advocacy officer” and, if so, what that might entail.  While the responses were mixed, they confirmed that issues pertaining to the status of women in higher education were worth examining.  On October 22, 1973, Chancellor Herbert W. Schooling established the first campus-wide committee to “assess the status of women” and to submit to the chancellor “recommendations as may be appropriate.”
 
The SWC immediately set to work on a preliminary report that would occupy them for the majority of their inaugural year, their efforts culminating in a 109-page report that found salary inequalities at every level employment, the clustering of women in low-ranking positions, and the absence of women in leadership positions.  While administration questioned some of the findings, the SWC succeeded in gaining the attention of the media and raising awareness of the unique challenges facing campus women.  Throughout the 1970s, the SWC would focus on the issue of salary equalization and establishing an advocacy office for women.  Per the recommendation of the committee, the first MU Women’s Center was established in the basement of Gentry Hall in 1975.

The SWC shifted its priorities as MU hired its first (and only) female Chancellor, Barbara Uehling, in 1978.  Over the next two decades, the committee became increasingly concerned with sexual harassment on campus, along with providing opportunities for activist women to network.   In the 2000s, two annual events were established that would not only promote the status of women on campus, but also bring them together in large numbers: the “Tribute to Women” and the “Women’s Health and Wellness Fair.” 

In 2011, the SWC conducted a “pulse check” survey of students, faculty and staff.  The survey results seemed to echo many of the concerns plaguing campus women in previous decades, particularly on issues of salary equalization, the number of women in leadership roles, and the overall campus climate for women.  While progress has been made, the prevalence of such issues over time speaks to the systemic nature of inequities on the basis of sex.  These issues will continue to shape the priorities of the SWC as it works to advance the status of women and provide a forum through which their voices can be heard.

As of February 2015