“I’m mad.”…Feminist activist Maura McNiel

The DeGolyer Library has processed the working and research papers of pioneering feminist and women’s rights activist Maura McNiel known as “mother of the women’s liberation movement in Dallas”.

McNiel’s interest and activism had its roots at Southern Methodist University, when McNiel attended the Symposium on the Education of Women for Social and Political Leadership (now the annual Women’s Symposium), a conference initially organized by Emmie Baine SMU’s Dean of Women in 1966. After attending the Women’s Symposium at SMU, Maura McNiel, along with Judge Sarah T. Hughes organized a group called Women for Change (WFC) in May 1971. McNiel served as the first president. The group stressed women’s rights and opportunities and created task forces addressing the child care, counseling, education, employment, legal, and political concerns of women.

WFC held its official founders meeting on the SMU campus on October 15, 1971. At the opening meeting, Maura’s speech ended with an inspiring call to action.

“We are trying something new here today. Change will not be an episode in our lives, but life itself. It is not BEING but BECOMING. We need a new model of what it means to be a human being. But to be of value to anyone or society, we must first find our uniqueness and unity as women. And the time is now.”

Membership boomed in 1972 after noted feminist Gloria Steinem spoke to the group at SMU. She returned to SMU in 1974 at McNiel’s persistent urging to further boost and raise funds for Women for Change. Letters from McNiel’s papers reflect her frustration and determination in garnering Steinem’s support. In a letter dated October 15, 1973 she writes to Steinem,

“I’m mad. I hear that you’ve been at Channel 13 a couple of times this week and are appearing at Hockaday School on October 25!! I’ve call Vivian Castleberry to verify the information before I feel too totally flattened. What the hell…….can’t we even get a postcard? We look to our membership like liars. I feel discouraged. I’ve had a long life of going “back to the drawing board” but I don’t expect it from the women who really know what this most profound revolution is all about…..”

In 1975. WFC sponsored “The Politics of Public Education” conference at SMU, bringing attention to public education, which was traditionally considered a women’s issue, although women had little input in shaping the cultural and political values surrounding it.

The McNiel collection contains lists of her public relation engagements from 1971 – 1976 and reveal her regular involvement in various academic departments at SMU. She presented to the film and broadcast department about the lack of diversity and women’s stories, the clinical psychology department about attitudes toward women, the business school seminar about the women’s movement in relation to businessmen and the importance of affirmative action, and the annual management seminar for women executives about the status of the women’s movement.

Contact  degolyer@smu.edu for additional information or assistance with accessing the Maura McNiel papers and other collections from the Archives of Women of the Southwest.