The Heroines

Geraldine Hammond

is honored with a Brick from Carol Wolfe Konek.

When I returned to college to complete a degree I had interrupted for marriage and the birth of three children, I enrolled in a course in drama taught by Geraldine Hammond, a vibrant, engaging woman whose penetrating questions were complemented by her intense gaze. She carefully considered every answer posed by every student. Her consideration, her engagement in the pursuit of understanding rekindled the intellectual curiosity displaced in my life by romance and maternity. I was frightened and exhilarated in that class. Although I had yet to regain visibility, I did reacquire voice. I wrote a play, The Wake, which my brilliant teacher found worthy of an A. Her praise, her recognition, her simple intensity were essential to my pursuit of appreciation and understanding of literature, of aesthetics, of language.

Later, I came to understand that Geraldine Hammond was a legend in Fairmount College, having taught there since 1944. She had distinguished herself even before that as a student leader, as editor of Parnassus, by becoming the first woman on the Yell Squad, and by winning the Swett Prize. In 1947, she reflected on the plight of women faculty in an article published in the AAUP Journal. She recalls having been told that as a single woman, she should be paid less than her male colleagues because she could live at home with her parents.

The inequalities that exist between men and women in college teaching are well known to everyone and are easily put out of mind by everyone except the women themselves, especially the young women just entering the profession or still growing in it. It seems to me very strange that it is the academic, the enlightened world which clings with death, or dying, grip to the ancient (and modern Hitlerian) ideal of women's "place." Reasons advanced by our "best" minds for the continuation of this unequal treatment are probably the least intelligent and the least well-thought-out reasons which they are likely to advance for anything. What are these reasons? Are they based on fact, on wishes, on false concepts? Must they continue to operate?

Although her own leadership opportunities were curtailed by gender biases of her time, she became a discerning and vocal advocate for women's equity, opening doors for the women who followed her. I owe my survival at Wichita State University to her action. When I was a former graduate student and lecturer, applying for an instructorship, she dismissed the rule against hiring our own graduates, telling the steering committee that rule did not apply to "exceptional students." She continued to prop open doors for me and for other women, demonstrating to me the hardiness women needed to transform a patriarchal system of privilege into a more equitable and collegial community.

After her retirement in 1978, Geraldine Hammond contributed to Project DELTA, Design for Equity Leadership Training Attitudes, co-editing a leadership manual for women in higher education. Her contributions to the mission of Fairmount College, Wichita University and Wichita State University are commemorated in the Geraldine Hammond Scholarship and the Geraldine Hammond Visiting Professorship in Humanistic Studies. Professors who visit our campus are selected to convey the professional values her career demonstrated and which she defines:

Humanistic studies are those centered in human life and values rather than in various arbitrary, academic divisions, traditional disciplines, or in research and publication as such.

Being primarily concerned with the emotional and intellectual life of human beings, of the past and future as well as of the present, they cross established academic boundaries and seek to create new patterns of knowledge and understanding. They attempt to discover, explore, and reveal what ever has to do with life, especially those aspects hitherto hidden, buried, or simply ignored. Recent examples of the need for and importance of such explorations and revelation may be found in such areas as Minority Studies, Women's Studies, American Studies, Folklore, Gerontology and others, some not yet even imagined.

Excellent teaching, that is, sensitive, intelligent, responsive, student-centered teaching, is of paramount importance to truly humanistic studies.

When Geraldine Hammond retired from teaching to devote more time and energy to friendships and arts, craft and photography, dividing her time between Kansas and Colorado, she urged her colleagues to "Take care of the kids."

As one of the many students and colleagues who love and admire her, I have tried to follow her advice, keeping the student at the center of the academic enterprise and at the center of my respectful curiosity and engagement.

Submitted by Carol Wolfe Konek

September 12, 1998