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April 1998

It Happened Here
"Don't call me a girl."


NCAR archivist Diane Rabson sheds light on our institutional history in this bimonthly series.

One of my favorite archival collections is actually one of our smallest, at less than 1/2 cubic foot. (The familiar brown archive boxes hold just over one cubic foot.) Donated in 1989 by Peggy LeMone, now a senior scientist in MMM, the collection contains a series of publications and reprints amassed by the Council for NCAR Women (C4NW) from 1972 to 1974. Despite the modest size, the C4NW materials recall a significant period in recent history when American women renewed demands for equality.

The year 1972 was a time of tumult and great change in the United States. The highly unpopular war in Vietnam still raged. Peace demonstrations no longer ended peacefully. In the summer of that year, the Watergate burglars, with ties to Richard Nixon's re-election committee, were foiled and arrested, setting in motion a chain of events that would ultimately cost Nixon the presidency. On virtually all levels of American life--both collective and personal--the status quo was under review, if not outright attack.

The winds of change were also sweeping across NCAR. At the end of 1971, an executive order was issued in Washington requiring all federal contractors with 50 or more employees and contracts worth $50,000 or more to submit formal affirmative action programs by April 1972. A number of women's organizations operated in Boulder at the time, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Boulder Community Women's Center on Pearl Street, and the Department of Commerce Federal Women's Program. In July, the Boulder chapter of NOW called on the staff of NCAR's Personnel office to discuss ideas about extending employment and promotion opportunities to women.

In December, a Joint Evaluation Committee (JEC) convened by UCAR and NSF to respond to concerns about NCAR released a report that "severely criticized many aspects of NCAR's attitudes, management and organization," mandating an immediate response. Budget news for the next two fiscal years was equally grim.

In the midst of all this, the Council for NCAR Women was launched as a grassroots, "semi-formal" group, "for women, not of women." According to original members Peggy LeMone and writer Diane Johnson (now Diana Somerville, a columnist for the Boulder Daily Camera), C4NW sprang up, in part, because of specific NCAR policies and practices--including its antinepotism policy and a discernable pattern of hiring and promotion that favored men. One intriguing aspect of the group was its attempt to be as inclusive as possible: C4NW existed for switchboard operators and secretaries as well as scientific and technical staff, and outreach extended to those employed off the mesa in any of NCAR's four other Boulder locations. Men were also encouraged to participate, although they rarely showed up at meetings.

Senior scientist Peggy LeMone, shown here in a file photo from the 1970s, was one of the original members of the Council for NCAR Women (C4NW).

The activities of the council on behalf of women were well documented in the pages of Staff Notes over the next two years. A core group of at least ten people (and usually more) met weekly at noontime for lively sessions. In many cases, the discussions and shared information focused on the crucial feminist issues of the day: "universities without walls," career development, day care for children, self-defense skills, wage and pension inequities, job evaluation, job sharing, and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (the ERA was legislated in 1972, but was never ratified by a two-thirds majority of states). One guest speaker explained that, because of salary discrimination, "every woman who works for NCAR is working two days out of five free." A course in basic meteorology was developed to help support staff understand the technical aspect of NCAR's mission. As part of the JEC-mandated reorganization, Diane Johnson was appointed to serve on the Personnel Policies Committee. And in 1974, C4NW awarded its first scholarship to Gail Jones, a switchboard operator, for "study beyond the scope" of NCAR's educational assistance program.

No transcripts, unfortunately, exist of those lunchtime sessions. For the women who gathered, I imagine that C4NW inspired some feeling of hope and excitement for the future, and provided a sense of community in devotion to a common cause. The council ceased to meet in the late 1970s; certain of its functions appear to have been superseded by the formal affirmative action program at NCAR.

When researchers come to the Archives in 50 years, I hope they'll spend a little time reading about the second wave of feminism, alive and well at NCAR in 1972. •Diane Rabson


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