THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Dr. Kathryn Clarenbach
“She forged the link between the emergent women’s movement and traditional women’s organizations.”
David Clarenbach Honors His Mother Kathryn Clarenbach at Alverno in 2012
Sr Joel and Sr Austin, you were two of my mother’s very best friends. As you know, my mother was on the board of directors here at Alverno College for a long time. And along with Catherine Conroy, I think you all had more fun than you conducted business. It was really an important part of my mother’s life and I’m here because I am a feminist. I did not have to be taught to be a feminist. I wasn’t indoctrinated, I wasn’t really thrown in. I was born a feminist. It was in my DNA. I probably know which chromosome it was.
I was raised in a little bit of an unusual family because both of my parents worked in the 50s and 60s as we were being raised in the family. My mother in fact was the primary breadwinner and it was my father who supported her and allowed her to do all of the amazing things that she did by making sure that there was dinner on the table, that we did our homework, that we went to bed on time. For the 50s and 60s, you didn’t find that very much in middle class – middle America. And that really I think is what rocked me and made me the feminist that I believe I am today.
The first jobs that my parents had after getting married, they were both selected to teach at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan. They were both given full time professor positions. My mother was paid exactly one half of what my father was being paid. She was the one that had the PhD not he, I think if for no other reason, other than that she was born in 1920, she entered the world just as suffrage became the law of the land. And the things that she was able to do in the early 1960s.
In 1962 my mother was tapped by the University of Wisconsin to start a very radical program for continuing education for women. For women – many middle-aged, who had given up their academic pursuits for family and child rearing. At that time, it was in some corners considered offensive to the husband and the breadwinner for a woman to want to pursue and have continuing education. But through the program at the University of Wisconsin in the early 60s, much of what is now commonplace was nurtured at that point.
In 1963 the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women that she chaired took really to the village square the kinds of changes that were being advocated at that very early stage in the modern feminist movement. And my mother was in that famous smoke filled back room in Washington D.C. in 1966 where Gene Boyer passed the hat, and everyone chipped in five dollars and my mother was selected as the first Chair of the Board of NOW.
So, I guess I can say that everything I am and everything I’ve done is based on my feminism and when I say that I don’t just mean women’s rights. To me feminism means human respect, equality, freedom, dignity, opportunities, social justice and peace. That’s what feminism means to me.