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Book celebrates women’s roles in IU history

In 1867, a 34-year-old woman from Salem, Indiana, petitioned the Indiana University Board of Trustees to admit women to the university, changing the course of history.

Sarah Parke Morrison became the first female undergraduate at IU, and her story is one of 15 shared in a new book from IU Press that celebrates the important, sometimes untold, role women have played in IU history.

Andrea Walton, associate professor in the IU School of Education in Bloomington, edited “Women at Indiana University.” IU Today spoke with her about the project.

What sparked ‘Women at Indiana University’?

I’ve always been really interested in and fascinated by universities. I love universities, what they stand for, their potential to serve and partner with their surrounding communities.

I came to IU in 1996 to teach a survey course on the history of U.S. higher education, and I’ve always been curious why IU wasn’t in the historical literature about women in higher education. I’ve always had that in the back of my mind, and the IU Bicentennial was a good opportunity to start a project telling those histories.

How is the book different from others that detail IU history?

Traditional histories of higher education tend to look at the administrative structure — the president, board of trustees. They are top down, which tends to eclipse the voices and experiences of women, people of color, nontraditional students and others.

The idea is to take a different angle of that history, starting with Sarah Parke Morrison — to look at that intersection of lives and institutional history.

How did you decide which women to feature in this project?

One of the great things was there was completely open terrain. It also made it a very daunting task.

A graduate student working in the president’s office combed through archives and flagged noteworthy women who did something important and pivotal in the university’s history. Then it became that puzzle of thinking about how we can have the broadest coverage of women at IU, so we decided to focus on the academic side.

I hope IU will be represented the next time someone does a synthesis of women in higher education. Our student affairs professionals, and Kate Hevner Mueller, were well known for what they were doing. We had women who worked to establish the first Latina sorority at IU, whose work was really extraordinary. There are stories that people on campus know of, but those outside of campus don’t.

This book is just the beginning of the story of women at IU, not the definitive history.

What do you hope people will take away from the book?

I hope they take away that there are a lot more stories to be told. I hope they get inspired to continue to study. But I also hope they take away something about history.

It’s important to look at what an institution has done well, but also to reflect on the less affirming aspects. There were things that the women of color at IU’s campuses experienced that we certainly hope to learn from. I think it’s productive to recognize all parts of history.