Political Science professors reveal historical importance of women in promoting St. Louis’ desegregation

Political Science professors Anne Flaherty and Carly Hayden-Foster published an article “Gateway to Equality: desegregation and the American Association of University Women in St. Louis, Missouri.”

Archive used by Flaherty and Hayden-Foster for their publication “Gateway to Equality: desegregation and the American Association of University Women in St. Louis, Missouri.”

The article investigates the national desegregation efforts of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and its effects on its St. Louis branch during the ‘40s and ‘50s, according to Flaherty.

In 1946, the National Board of the AAUW adopted a policy of racial non-discrimination, and from 1949 allowed any woman with a degree into their local branches, according to Hayden-Foster.

“This was a significant step by the national organization to support racial equality in a tumultuous time,” Flaherty said.

According to Hayden-Foster, in St. Louis there were no legal barriers to desegregation as there were in the South.

“The segregation that went on in St. Louis was not legally mandated. It was the cultural social norm,” Hayden-Foster said.

The study exposes the assumption that organizations like AAUW would be automatically progressive and welcome desegregation, but Hayden-Foster said that was not the case.

“It took a committed group of women willing to really push forward social change,” Hayden-Foster said.

According to Flaherty, the research is important for understanding national and local dynamics of race relations.

“It is clear that the St. Louis region still has gross disparities for different racial groups, and this has profound effects on our community’s social, economic and political well being,” Flaherty said. “The past informs the present, so I certainly think that it is important to look at the past to understand how we got to where we are today…[and] to help understand the process and struggles related to desegregation in the St. Louis region.”

The article was published in “Women’s History Review,” an academic journal by Routledge on Aug. 21.

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