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Rockford College professors unveil new book

Wednesday, September 01, 2010  
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By Elizabeth Davies
Posted Sep 01, 2010 @ 07:00 AM
Last update Sep 02, 2010 @ 09:25 AM

To some, the ladies studying at Rockford College during World War II might have seemed rather ordinary.

But a new book, penned by three of the school’s current-day professors, makes the case that these women actually were paving the way for a national women’s liberation movement that, decades later, would change the face of America.

"There was an emphasis on the idea that, if you are a woman being educated, you needed to use that education to make for a better world,” said Catherine Forslund, a Rockford College history professor and co-author of the book, "We Are a College at War: Women Working for Victory in World War II.”

"No one really talks about what kind of power that gives women,” she added. "We can look at the World War II time period and see especially these college-educated women as a variety of early women’s liberation. Many of these women went on to become major ... women’s rights advocates."

Forslund’s mother was one of those women. She attended college during the war and, once it was over, took the knowledge she gained to bring a new level of professionalism to the organizations that women in the 1950s were commonly involved with, such as the PTA.

Forslund joined forces with English professor Mary Weaks-Baxter and psychology professor Christine Bruun to write the 192-page book. It started 15 years ago simply as an article that Bruun wrote for a Rockford College newsletter about then-college President Mary Ashby Cheek.

"I was really interested in this,” Bruun said. "When I started meeting some of the women from this period, they kept opening up with more and more information. Then Mary said, ‘I think there’s a bigger story here.’ ”

So the women began digging. They interviewed alumni and read newspaper clippings from that era. They were surprised to see how much ink Rockford College got from the national press at that time.

"The college was catapulted into an international focus,” Bruun said. "These are amazing examples of what women did. This is a perfect little microcosm example of what women did all across the country.”

While some women were working in factories to help with the war effort, many of Rockford College’s scholars were politically active. The American Student Union, a powerful national organization at the time, had a strong contingent of Rockford College members. Students would send books to servicemen overseas in an effort to preserve Western culture and were known to knit socks for soldiers during class. They hosted debates and were vocal in their anti-war sentiments before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

"They really felt that getting an education was their way of contributing to the war,” Bruun said.

Over time, Forslund joined with Bruun and Weaks-Baxter to complete the book. As a historian, she "brought glue to the whole project,” Bruun said. Forslund put the experiences of the Rockford College women in a national context, and showed how they laid the groundwork for generations to come.

"These women weren’t expected to go back into the home in the same role as before,” Forslund explained. "They could be a homemaker, but they worked to improve their communities or better society as a whole. The legacy of those college women remained.”

This story appeared at on September 1, 2010.    

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