May 1, 2004

Contact: Lynn Bretz, University Relations, (785) 864-8866.

Emily Taylor, mentor and advocate for women's rights at KU, dies at 89

A memorial service for Emily Taylor will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 16, in the Lied Center at the University of Kansas. A reception will follow the service in the lobby of the Lied Center. For more information, contact Kathy Rose-Mockry, Emily Taylor Resource Center, (785) 864-3552,

LAWRENCE -- Emily Taylor, a leader in the women's rights movement for three decades at the University of Kansas, died today in Lawrence. She was 89.

Many women who knew Taylor as KU's dean of women from 1956 to 1975 regarded her as a mentor who devoted her life to changing the perception of women in society, as well as helping them to explore the opportunities available to them in academics and professional careers.

"I knew her at a time when there was certainly a lot of energy regarding social issues," said Priscilla Reckling, a 1971 KU graduate who is program director in the office of grants and research at the KU School of Nursing. "I think for many of us, she stimulated our thinking about what was possible in the world and what we could contribute to the world."

As a student at KU in the '70s, Kathryn Vratil said Taylor knew the potential that she and other young women possessed.

"Without Emily Taylor, I would not have had the idea let alone the courage to attend law school at a time when less than 10 percent of the students were women," said Vratil, now the U.S. District Court judge in Kansas City, Kan. "She challenged generations of KU students to re-think what we thought we knew about the responsibilities and opportunities for women in American society."

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Taylor's contributions to KU would be long remembered.

"Emily Taylor's conviction, drive and enthusiasm for the cause of equal rights among women and minorities left an incredible legacy at KU and the nation," Hemenway said. "At a time when the opportunities for women were very limited, Emily fought to give them the same opportunities, both academic and professionally, as the men.

"Emily has influenced the lives of countless numbers of students in the course of her life. Her death is a profound loss for the KU family, and we express our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. She will be missed."

Marlesa Roney, vice provost for student success at KU, remembers a story Taylor often told of attending a national conference with some students in the late '60s while serving as KU's dean of women. It was lunchtime, and the women and men were standing in line waiting to be served food.

"They started pulling the men out of the line and seating them in the dining room first," Roney said. "Emily asked what was going on, they told her the men needed to eat first because they needed to go back to work. Emily insisted the women be served at the same time as the men.

"It's those kinds of examples that helped me to understand the courage and energy that she had to create change and the impact she had on people."

M. Emily Taylor was born the second of three daughters in 1915 on a cotton and pecan plantation in southeastern Alabama. Taylor moved as a child with her family to DeGraff, Ohio, her father's home state.

In a story in the Kansas City Star in April 1988, Taylor said there was always the assumption that she would go to college and do well in an era when most women married early and had children.

"There were two people out of my high school class of 30 who went to college," Taylor said. "I was one of the two. But you have to know that only about 5 percent of the population went to college in the 1930s."

Taylor earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Ohio State University. While earning her education doctorate from Indiana University, she began her career as an English teacher and counselor at Deer Park High School in Cincinnati, eventually serving as chairman of the English department. She would become a counselor at IU and eventually go on to advise women at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Northern Montana College in Harve, Montana, and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

As KU's dean of women, Taylor developed the Women's Resource and Career Planning Center that in 1974 was renamed in her honor. She also founded the country's first university student commission on the status of women and, for four years, produced and moderated a radio program, "A Feminist Perspective." She was instrumental in creating Nunemaker Center, Hashinger Hall for fine arts students and other co-educational residence halls and minority-affairs programs.

In 1974, Taylor left KU to become director of the Office of Women in Higher Education of the American Council of Education in Washington. As director, she established a network of programs in every state, identified woman who were ready for administrative posts and developed a panel of established leaders who would act as their advisers.

Taylor served as president of the National Association of Commissioners for Women and on the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women for both Kansas and Maryland. She was named to the KU Women's Hall of Fame in 1971.


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