Rossi addresses women’s issues at luncheon

April West

Thursday, Jan. 18 Mary Ann Rossi spoke at a gender studies luncheon titled “Women’s Rights Movement in the Appleton Area and the Current Situation” in Downer Commons’ Barber Room.
Rossi spoke of her attempt to become a doctor while in college, but instead was encouraged to go into nursing or become a medical receptionist.
Women’s college at the time was just about becoming wives and achieving husbands, she said. Only five women in her class went on to get PhDs.
After graduating from Lawrence, Rossi was assured a teaching job at the university. While working here she worked part-time teaching several classes as well as working on several committees.
Rossi said that after 11 years of working at Lawrence she and six other women were not asked back due to supposed budget cuts. The majority of these women, Rossi said, were wives of Lawrence faculty. It was at this point that Rossi realized that “injustice is never so clear and blatant as when it happens to you.”
Many of the women that were let go from Lawrence as well as a few others formed the Little Women’s Group. The women got together in one another’s homes and discussed the situation, soon realizing that they all had a lot of the same complaints.
Rossi stated, “We didn’t accomplish much in our meetings, but it always made us feel better.”
The Little Women’s Group decided to start small and began giving talks in high schools and petitioning for the removal of offensive movies depicting women in only domestic roles.
“There are things that are not right in society, and if some of our actions may seem like were attacking molehills rather than mountains, it’s because if we smooth out those molehills it will all get a little bit better,” Rossi explained.
The main motto of their consciousness-raising group was simply, “Don’t separate us.”
The group organized “Alice Doesn’t Day,” where women didn’t do their normal daily tasks, like making coffee or doing errands.
Accompanying Alice Doesn’t Day there was a march through downtown Appleton. Many working women at the time were told that if they went to the march they needn’t bother coming back to work.
Today in Appleton groups are very discouraged. There is still no equal pay for equal work, and it is still considered battery if you harm a stranger but not a spouse.
The Equal Rights Amendment still needs to be passed in three more states, giving women equal rights under the U.S. Constitution.
However, the Wisconsin Women’s Network is still going strong.
“No matter how trivial an injustice is, it must be attended to,” Rossi concluded.
Rossi has been extremely influential in the Appleton women’s movement for the past five decades. She also co-founded the Appleton chapter of the National Organization for Women in 1973, as well as the Wisconsin Women’s Network.
She taught for 11 years at Lawrence University as well as Ball State University.
Most recently, Rossi was featured in the book “Feminists Who Changed America (1963-1975).” She was also interviewed by Newsweek about the women’s movement in Appleton area.