While the United States of America did not elect its first woman president this week, there is a lot to be said about the progress women have made over the past 50 years. Change-making women have fought their way to the top of their industries, crafts and society. A change-making woman herself, University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor Emeritus Blanche M. Touhill, did not want those achievements to go unnoticed in the annals of history.
So she started documenting the lives and experiences of change-making women in St. Louis. So far, she’s interviewed over 200 women — and the list is growing ever longer (as evidenced by this Twitter thread).
She’s done so in partnership with the State Historical Society of Missouri, which is cataloguing her interviews online here. They’re also catalogued in print and made viewable to the public.
“I wanted to leave a record just as Bruce Catton read the letters of the Civil War soldiers and I read the letters of the women who settled Kansas; I want some scholar in some future time to read all these letters and figure out how change occurred and what they did to make American society better,” Touhill said.
Touhill, who broke through many barriers while expanding the reach of the university as chancellor, became the first woman to be named St. Louis’ “Citizen of the Year” in 1997. On Thursday, she joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh to discuss what she has learned through the interviews:
Touhill does interviews, using a seven question rubric, on two days a week on Tuesday and Friday and has sought to interview women from several different ages and backgrounds. She relies on grant funding to do the interviews, mostly from women’s organizations, and that is where many of her initial interviews sprang from.
She’s interviewed people like Maxine Clark, Frances Levine, Susan Block and Frankie Freeman. But the invitation is open. If you’re interested in being interviewed, call the State Historical Society at 314-516-5119 and ask for “Josie.”
There are two big themes that have emerged out of her interviews so far. Women who went on to lead and achieve had encouragement from their home and encouragement from outside the home. That’s a lesson we should take to heart today, Touhill said.
“I was born in the ‘30s and I remember a world when I went to school, all of the workers were men: the policemen, the postmen, the bus driver. The teachers were women, but men were principals. Even the movie house, a woman might take your ticket but the inside was filled with men as workers. I lived through WWII, saw women go to work in WWII who had stayed home and been housewives. When I was going to college, there were only a few jobs outside of the home women aspired to: librarians, teachers, housewives.
“And today, I sit with women who run the Missouri Historical Society, who were vice presidents of Southwestern Bell and AT&T, run Laclede Gas. I sit on boards that run big organizations with other women. It is a change I feel very deeply. I’m sure other women don’t recognize the progression of those steps.”
What: Maryville University Presents "A Conversation with Blanche M. Touhill"
When: Monday, November 14 at 10:00 a.m.
Where: Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63112
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.