Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gender Issues in "Ruth Brown"

Throughout the story of Ruth Brown, we see numerous females actively participating in community groups, the Library Board, and the self-designated citizen's committee whose purpose was to investigate allegations of "pro-communism" in the library. Most of these women were the wives of employees of the town's largest business, Phillips Petroleum, or their competition, Cities Service. While these women undoubtedly held influential positions on town committees, men always held the leadership positions and seem to have made the final decisions. Conservative groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), and Pro-America had members who were also part of decision-making in Bartlesville.

Ruth Brown was a member of the COPD (Committee on the Practice of Democracy), and, though other prominent women also were members, they seem to disappear when Brown is confronted with charges of pro-communism and attempting to integrate the library.

So, some questions to think about...Does what happened to Ruth Brown serve to perpetuate the stereotypical librarian (as opposed to her personally)? Thinking about the national state of library affairs at this time (loyalty oaths, etc.), does location have any bearing on her situation (i.e. what if she were a librarian in California)? Did female members of the various community groups (including the COPD, to which Brown belonged) do what they could to help her? Should they have done more? Was more female involvement in the decision to dismiss Brown even a possibility in a town run by a big oil business? What bearing does this case have on female librarians (and males, for that matter) today? Have gender roles changed enough in librarianship and in the composition of library boards?

7 comments:

SarahStumpf said...

I wish there was more photos of Ruth in the book, and while I admire the book, I think that the sepia toned photo of the mousey little old lady on the cover really hides the tough activist that she was.

Molly said...

I thought that one of the most interesting things about the Ruth Brown case is that in so many ways she really lives up to the stereotypical libarian mold. She chose a career over marriage and chose a career that was "appropriate" for women because of the "motherly" side of librarianship. Brown also lives up to the "motherly" sterotype, taking children under her wing and even adopting two young women. It is really interesting, therefore, that her civil rights activities are the only element that took her outside of the ideal female librarian "sphere" for the time.

I was also very surprised/bothered by the fact that she would have willingly signed a loyalty oath had the boared had an oath with them when they asked her. ALA claimed that part of the reason they couldn't help her very much was because they were still coming off an internal conflict on loyalty oaths. The ALA took a stance against loyalty oaths. Ruth did not. Ruth took a stance against segregation. ALA did not. I would have liked to know more about why Brown would be willing to sign a loyalty oath.

Eileen H. said...

"Did female members of the various community groups (including the COPD, to which Brown belonged) do what they could to help her? Should they have done more?"

Some women did stand by Brown and really helped her, Darlene Anderson Essary and Ida Rice come to mind. Many of the members of these other organizations did not speak out in support of Brown. I don't know that we can say that they should have done more because given the climate at the time, it likely would have taken tremendous courage to do so. This was a period where women were being told to return to the kitchen after having a taste of the working world during World War II. Also, given the fact that several of the women in COPD were connected to Phillips in some way, they probably did not want to jeopardize their or their husbands' jobs. Especially, since Robbins shows cases of people who were transferred to other cities because of their activism.

Katie K said...

Perhaps it's just me but I didn't think that Ruth Brown lived up to the image of the stereotypical librarian. Sure, she wasn't married and had a rather matronly demeanor but she was blunt and political and opionated. Robbins discussed that this was one of the underlying reasons why she was dismissed from her position. And I also think her actions after her dismissal were very unlike that of the stereotypical librarian. Instead of shrinking away and never trying to make waves ever again, she opened up a rental library in the very same town and then later moved on to be the librarian for another town.

ellen said...

Was more female involvement in the decision to dismiss Brown even a possibility in a town run by a big oil business?

In a somewhat negative way, there was a lot of female involvement in her dismissal. A self-designated committee of women with influential husbands became Brown’s primary opponents. On page 55-56 it talks about Mrs. Warren, wife of a Cities Service officer who "brandished the Nation as further evidence." Further evidence was needed when Brown's involvement in the Hull incident was not enough to indict her. The book goes on to list Warren's croonies--all female and all wives of influential men.

Sharon Stoneback said...

I just want to say that the fact that there were women both supporting and opposing Ruth Brown is very common in women's history, and even to the present day. As long as there have been women like Ruth Brown (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, Betty, Friedan, Gloria Steinem, etc.) who challenge the status quo and aspects of whatever is considered woman's proper role at the time , there have also been many women who have attacked them. As Greg mentioned in class, the irony is that these women are taking a public role to say that women shouldn't be in the public sphere. It was this hypocrisy of women such as the Bartlesville DAR and more current folks like Phyllis Schlafly that I personally can't understand.

SarahStumpf said...

I think that the variety of opinions in this thread really shows us that we need to better define this librarian stereotype if we want to judge people by it. Is it the look? The marital status and age? The demeanor or the political opinions that make one into the little old librarian of yore? Does Ruth have to fufill all the stereotypes? And why is this category of analysis important to us?