Ann Smart, a long-time member of The League of Women Voters in Corvallis, relates her first-hand experience illuminating the changing role of women in the second half of the 20th century. Smart’s life reflects a trajectory that was unusual for women of her generation, steeped the Feminine Mystique that relegated women to the private domestic sphere, but that was becoming increasingly common among later baby boomers and that paved the way for the expansion of women’s educational and occupational opportunities in the twenty-first century.
Born in 1947 in Indiana, Smart grew up as an only child and in contrast to many women of her generation, 1960s and 70s, she always believed that education is one of the most important things in life; in 8th grade, she knew she’d go to college. Her parents, and especially her mother, did not support her goals, but she was lucky enough to have strong role models in her grandmother and aunt. Smart’s grandmother graduated from high school in 1915, a time when only a small proportion of Americans had that opportunity. After marrying and raising seven children, Smart’s grandmother divorced in 1940, a time when divorce was very controversial and when it was difficult for women – even well-educated women – to live independently. Smart’s grandmother thus entered the labor market and earned wages into her eighties, when she worked caring for an older woman. Her grandmother provided Smart with a model of independent womanhood and encouragement to pursue her education. Smart’s aunt, who worked as a nurse – one of the growing professional opportunities available to women in the postwar era, also inspired her to pursue education and career. With these strong female role models, Smart was able to see possibilities for herself in a time when American society discouraged independence for middle-class white women.
Despite her parent’s opposition (especially her mother’s), she pursued higher education and earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Education, Home-Economics and Biology from Ball State University and a PhD in Post-Secondary Education from Oregon State University. At a time when women were pushing to break into the professions, Smart worked for the Alaskan Extension Service.Smart describes some of the barriers she faced as a woman pursuing a professional career in the 1960s and 1970s. The Alaskan Extension Service paid her less than men in the same position and also tried to demote her in order to open her job for a man with fewer qualifications than she had. When she applied to become the Director of an Industrial Division, the job was denied to her because the company “could not see a woman in this job.” Upon relocating to Corvallis, Oregon when her husband secured a job there, she worked at Linn Benton Community College and eventually became the college’s president – the first female college president in Oregon.
Smart joined the League of Women Voters in 1974 at the age of 27. She had seen the national League’s televised presidential debate, read about the group, and thought it would be a good fit for her when she moved to Corvallis. Her work in the League has focused on her major interests such as housing, land use, voting rights, and education. Devoting significant time, talent, and energy to League work, Smart reflects a trend among many educated women of her generation who viewed their advantages as a responsibility to serve the community and build a better society. The League of Women Voters and women like Smart work not only for themselves but for future generations of women and men.
Jana Wurtenberg and Louisa Woodworth, HST 363, Oregon State University, Fall 2014