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Alberta Clipper: 6/27/18: "On Friendship and Maxine Kumin" by Alberta Arthurs

by Gayle Rocz

On June 27, 1693 the first women’s magazine was published in London. Titled Ladies’ Mercury, it was a spinoff of John Dunton’s The Athenian Mercury. This “magazine” filled one sheet front and back, and was mostly made up of an advice column aimed to attract both women and men. Admittedly, Ladies’ Mercury was no feminist crusade. It only lasted for about four issues and it was published by a man. However, it was the first time anyone thought that women might need or want a specialized publication.

Fast-forward 325 years to the first women’s march in Lincoln, NE on January 21, 2017. Thousands of people braved the 24° Fahrenheit weather in order to show their support for women’s rights. Since then, there has been a second women’s march held in Lincoln on June 8, 2018. Thankfully, a more welcoming temperature of about 70° Fahrenheit greeted the marchers this time around.

It might be an understatement to say that many things have changed for women between 1693 and 2018. From women being granted the right to vote in 1920 after decades of fighting, to the revival of the fight for gender equality during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, there have been many advancements for women. In the Winter 1997 edition of Prairie Schooner, Alberta Arthurs wrote about her experience as a female professor in the 1960s. Alberta and her friend, Maxine Kumin (Max for short), experienced gender inequality in the workplace, which is still a hotly-debated issue to this day. Here’s an excerpt from Alberta’s essay:

“We were teaching, she and I, and two or three other women, in the Tufts English Department. She had been recommended by John Holmes, the Tufts poet/professor, and I had edged and elbowed my way into the classroom from my administrative job at the university. We are there, with our Master’s degrees, teaching mostly part-time, mostly freshman English, mostly male students. We share offices in the attic of the English department, and we have no parking spaces or restrooms, no telephones, no help with the typing, although the men do. I remember that we were very grateful to be there at all, and the men felt very generous for allowing us to be there at all. That’s how I met Max.

There was nobody leading the way for women back then; in fact, we turned out to be the leaders, others lacking. Our expectations were domestic. We were credentialed by skirt lengths, car size, cooking skill. Even then, I was awed by Max. She was already publishing her poems and her children's books, despite the system. She was meeting regularly with a group of poets- John Holmes was their mentor-who inspired each other, dared each other, with critique and competition and comradeship. Probably her great gift for friendship stems from the inspiring that took place then and from the faith that her friend John had in her. Max in the early nineteen sixties was already a fierce and loving teacher, a fierce and loving friend, and perhaps the first woman I ever met who could be called a feminist.”

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter 1997), pp. 111-116

The Alberta Clipper is an occasional gust of history—brushing the dust off of a piece from our archives and situating it in the current events and local Nebraskan weather reports of days gone by. Explore the Alberta Clipper archives here.