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The '70s: Wichita Women Change the World

By Diane Wahto
Profile | February 20, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. - During the 1960s, while male activists were out in the streets protesting the war, the draft, the CIA, Dow Chemical, or what have you, their female counterparts often complained that they were left behind to brew the coffee and tidy up the meeting rooms. By the beginning of the decade that started Jan. 1, 1970, however, the ferment that had started to percolate in the '60s erupted into a movement that eventually became a feminist tsunami of marches, political appointments, laws, and legal decisions that changed forever the lives of women and the men who lived and worked with them.

The feminist movement, often called The Second Wave, spread across the country and around the world. Women sought equality in the workplace, in education, in their relationships, and even in men-only bars. In New York City, feminists demonstrated to liberate the men's bar in the New York's Biltmore Hotel. McSorley's, a 116-year old New York bar admitted its first woman patron on Aug. 10 after Mayor John Lindsay signed a bill prohibiting sexual discrimination in public places, making New York the first major city to have such a law.

While media concentrated on the sensational, the marches and demonstrations taking place in big cities, the feminist revolution made its way to Wichita. Now forty years later, Myrne Roe, Wichita writer, poet, and former Wichita Eagle editorial staff member, is gathering stories from some 70 Wichita women who were the core of a local women's movement that is still alive in the metro area.

Roe gathered pictures, news stories, and other artifacts from the 1970s, and contacted the women she wanted to write their stories for her book. Among the women who will submit their stories are many who are still active in 2010 and who defined the political, professional, legal, athletic, literary, artistic, and academic landscape in Wichita for years.

"Sarah Bagby, Bonnie Bing, Elma Broadfoot, Mary Ellen Conlee, Elvira Crocker, Brenda Gray, Linda Gebert, Carol Konek, Jo An Pottorff, Betty Richards, Novelene Ross, Anita Skeen, Donna Sweet, Dorothy Walters, Colleen Kelly Johnston, and Margalee Wright are just a few of those contributing to the book," Roe said.

"Subjects range from the beginning of the Wichita State Department of Women's Studies and enhancing the opportunities for employment to finding the money to fund women's athletics and fighting for justice in cases of rape. The book is also about a significant period in this community when several organizations came into being to help women, most of which still exist. It has its humorous articles (the argument over women wearing pants in the office), as well as serious commentaries on the hardships gender discrimination placed on women at that time,' she said.

Publication date for the yet untitled anthology has yet to be announced. Roe's last book, Under Hope's Roof, a compilation of interviews with homeless people in Wichita, gave a face to those who persevere against the adversity of homelessness. Sales of that book supported InterFaith Ministries Housing and Homeless Services. The current anthology will give voice to the heroic women who fought for all women's rights in this area.


2 Comments

Can't wait until the book comes out! Let us know so we can read it!


This is tremendous. I can't wait to read this book. Wichita history is often neglected in the history of our state. People like Craig Miner and people like you are helping others to learn more.
I have enjoyed learning more about the African-American Civil Rights movement in Wichita (Chet Lewis, etc) and I look forward to this as well.


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