Janet Lange

Interview by Erin-Mae McKeon

My grandmother describes herself as a hungry learner, and has identified as an academic enthusiast her entire life. Yet, it took her till her late thirties to finally begin her college education and later obtain her PhD in psychology. She grew up in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a small town where most women graduated college and immediately began families rather than further their education. My grandmother started out on a similar path by marrying at 21, to my grandpa who had continued on to his graduate program.


When she finally felt that she wanted to go back to school and further her studies, my grandfather was supportive of her decisions. She started school at the University of Iowa in 1964, while she was raising three elementary school children, and during the time when a conversation of the inclusion of women was stirring the nation. Although, my grandma in her own words, did not feel as though she was being an example of a ‘woman activist’, “I went to school purely because I just wanted to continue to answer the question ‘why?’ I did not feel influenced necessarily from the women's rights movement, maybe inspired, but it wasn’t what made the deciding factor on how I chose to go to school or not. I simply wanted to learn.”


“While I did make some scandalous decisions for the time. Like, instead of wearing dresses, I decided I wanted to wear a pantsuit, which I was definitely judged for by my male colleagues for. Some of them even called me things like ‘Womens libby’ or other negative nicknames. I just always felt more comfortable in pants.”


One moment that struck me the most during this discussion was during a talk about how her family reacted to her saying she was going back to school, “You know, my dad had the most male reaction. He started saying things and making excuses for why I shouldn’t go, ‘You're leaving me; What about Cliff’s job?’ I just said to him, ‘Dad, if I were your son, you’d be proud of me.’ That seemed to quiet him down quickly. Later he came around and liked that I was going to school.”


My grandmother has taught me consistently throughout my life that staying curious and dedicated to your education is essential to being a more whole person. Every single one of my friends and family who have had the beautiful opportunity of meeting her has always told me later that she is not only an inspiration for young women, but a great encouragement for students in general. She knows how to deliver the message of the importance of education because she knew how limited she was without it. -GGH


CONNECTIVITY CONTRIBUTORS REACTIONS

Dr. Lange’s story serves to remind every woman living in the 21st century, that it wasn’t very long ago when women were nearly forced to choose between an education and a family. Her decision to continue her education, and the way that it was more about the prospect of learning, instead of any kind of timely political statement serves to demonstrate how there is rebellion in a woman’s choice, above all else. It is worth noting that during this time, white women were (and still are) privileged in being able to attend universities without any major legal/political restrictions. As a Latinx, woman-aligned, first generation college student, I can empathize to the common female experience of being discouraged from attending school due to familial caretaking responsibilities and other gender roles. It’s definitely very striking that Dr. Lange stated that if she were a man, her father would be more proud of her for going to school. I love her strength in standing up for herself and her education simply because it’s something that she wanted for herself. It’s that personal choice and autonomy that makes every positive, fruitful choice a woman makes inherently revolutionary. One thing I love about Erin’s summary of Dr. Lange is that she “knows how to deliver the message on the importance of education, because she knew how limited she was without it.” It’s inspiring to see one woman use her story to persuade others to choose a path that at the time, was not commonplace for women. Overall, Dr. Lange is a deeply inspiring woman for her willingness to pursue her dreams despite the social expectations of the time.

- Nikki Myers

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