In this interview recorded on the eve of the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, eight Brown University alumnae discuss the factors that led them to found the women’s liberation student group, Women of Brown United (WBU) in 1970. They detail campus life and group activism in the midst of the sexual revolution, ongoing Vietnam War and wider political and societal upheaval across the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Interviewees include Alison Conant ’72, Toby Emmerich Alary ’72, Jessica Murray ’73, Mimi Pichey ’72, Susan Rodgers ’72, Eileen Rudden ’72, Jenny Smith ’73 and Rachel Wyon ’73. They were interviewed by Amanda Knox, Pembroke Center Assistant Archivist.
The interviewees start by providing an overview of life when they arrived in 1968 at Pembroke College, the women’s college in Brown University—separate mens’ and women’s campuses, dining halls and administrations, more restrictive norms for women, expectations that women wear formal clothing. They describe the rapid transformation to a more relaxed and combined campus, including the first co-ed dorms at Brown.
They recall the development of the women’s movement at Brown, the impact of feminist consciousness raising as well as influence of the efforts to win the New (Open) Curriculum, the Black student walkout, the anti-Vietnam war movement and the 1970 student strike against the war. The group outlines Women of Brown United’s activities ranging from reproductive healthcare to equal admissions to feminist studies and childcare.
Interviewees detail the state of abortion rights and access to birth control at that time and tell the story of a Pembroke student who secretly traveled to Washington D.C. to obtain an abortion. They also describe the activities of the Rhode Island Coalition to Repeal Abortion Laws. They share stories of sexual violence on campus and how women reacted to these threats.
The group notes the absence of women role models at Brown and covers the development of a feminist studies program. They discuss the cultural activities carried out by Women of Brown United, including the founding of the Rhode Island Feminist Theatre (RIFT), with note of levity injected by a description of guerilla feminist activities.
The interview concludes with all of the participants reflecting on how their experience in WBU affected their later lives: their activism, approach to raising children, and careers.
See also: A History of Women of Brown United by Mimi Pichey