Oral Histories

Interview of Helen Astin (2012)

UCLA professor of higher education and senior scholar at the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute.
Women's Activist Lives
UCLA and University of California History
Social Movements
UCLA Faculty
Women's Issues
Biographical Note:
UCLA professor of higher education and senior scholar at the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute.
Granholm, Kimberlee
Astin, Helen S.
Persons Present:
Astin and Granholm.
Place Conducted:
Astin’s office in Moore Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Kimberlee Granholm, M.A. candidate, Moving Image Archive Studies, UCLA; Graduate Research Assistant, Center for the Study of Women, UCLA.Granholm prepared for the interview by reviewing Astin’s published books, academic journal articles, journal interviews, and a previous oral history conducted by the Center for Oral History Research in 2003. Astin provided a resume and supporting career material for review; her involvements and affiliations were researched further by Granholm.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. Because funds were not available to transcribe all of the interviews in this series, the interviewee arranged to have the interview transcribed by a transcriber she located. Astin was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and make corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
7 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Women’s Activist Lives in Los Angeles is a series of interviews done by graduate research assistants under the auspices of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Women. The series addresses the diverse ways in which women’s social movement activities affected public policy and transformed civic institutions such as education, social services, and the art world in Los Angeles. Several of the oral histories also focus on individuals who were involved with the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives, which the Center for the Study of Women was involved in bringing to UCLA Library Special Collections at the time the oral histories were being done.
Born in Serres, Greece—Recollections of early childhood and influence of beauty—Childhood recreational activities include sports and playing dolls—Father changes her birth certificate so she can attend school earlier—Father’s awareness of possibility of war prompts family’s temporary relocation to middle Greece for protection--Father moves family to Athens—Effects of German occupation and war; famine and space deprivation—Moving to Salonika—Differences between Italian and German soldiers—Idyllic nature of first eight years in Serres—Vacations to islands as a child—Relationship with brother—Early influence of music and its importance in her life—Transitional months moving from Serres to Athens and reactions to war culture—Lack of fear during war primarily attributed to her mother’s loving, stoic behavior—Mother’s personality—Father’s personality--Father was more supportive of her, mother was more supportive of brother—Nature of relationship with brother—Mother later confesses she didn’t reinforce her daughter as much due to her ease of learning—Living situation in Salonika—Closeness with family/grandparents—Year and a half of schooling in Athens a positive experience—Constraints of war and occupation during WWII and the Greek Civil War—Schooling experience in Salonika erratic due to occupation—Parental approaches to education—Father’s side “the intellectuals,” mother’s side “the fighters”—Parents’ arranged marriage—Father supported her academically, mother supported her education in social graces—Parents promise that if she completes teacher’s college, she will be allowed to go overseas for continuation of education—Nature of parents’ relationship was limited due to war culture—Greek bravery and the surrounding feeling of community, heritage—Recollection of a Greek committing suicide in the Greek flag to prevent Germans from taking it—Witnessing lines of Jews—Witnessing the discrimination enacted by the Germans--Germans take father and brother from the house to jail them--Religious involvement--Minor conflicts with religious group for “acting out” with ideas of fashion--Childhood friendships--Attended an all-girl gymnasium--Connections to American products--Greek perception of America was positive--Chore expectations and family emphasis on academic success--Family's support and protection contributed to resilience later in life--High-achieving behavior in high school develops pride in heritage--Strengths in math and science--Father discourages interest in traditionally male subjects and occupations--Interest early on in an individual’s choice in career--Gender roles in Greek culture and family life--Gender roles and education expectations begin to change with her generation.
Opportunities for dating limited—Primary social activities in teenage years involve music, school, religious affiliation, and outings with parents—Male and female interactions at music conservatory versus the all-girls school—Flirtation with male teachers—Greek parents’ expectations for dating—Any sex education was taboo—Her aversion to arranged marriages—Lack of political memory due to naiveté of adolescence and fact that family discussions were more about survival than political issues—Confrontations with her parents over her involvement in religion—Beliefs and conservative expectations of the religious group she belonged to—Attempts to leave group—Parents’ insistence that she attend teacher’s college, despite her desire to attend university—Unchallenging curriculum of teacher’s college—Demographics of students who attended teacher’s college—Late adolescent goals were not career oriented but based in academia and pursuing knowledge—Interest in psychology and human behavior—Role models—Applying for school in America—Scholarship assistance from the Anglo-American-Hellenic Bureau of Education—Soliciting financial support by family members in New York--Parents left all tasks associated with migration up to her to facilitate independence—Leaving for America--Adventure, education, and the prospect of independence driving factors in deciding to leave Greece--Reactions to New York—Memories of her uncle, his financial generosity, his loving nature, his respect for education--Father’s family’s history and educational background--Uncle’s role as a substitute father figure—Experience of culture shock—Effects of stress and anxiety on her health during freshman year at Adelphi University--Methods of coping through repetition of learning contexts—Housemothers’ lack of understanding of her situation—First F in biology—Parental support--Success begins in second semester—Financing her university education—Hired as assistant by Dr. Disher, a child developmental psychologist—Positive experiences with citizens of New York—Second semester success in sociology, psychology, and anthropology classes—Social involvement: dating, nightclubs and tavernas with Greek friends—Difficulties in maintaining relationship with family in Greece—Saved money to visit Greece in 1955—Support group consisted of professors, aunt and uncle, and Greek student community—Professor from Athens advises her to remain in America as a product of Greece—Development of career goals in undergraduate years—Thesis on how women choose their life goals and the family’s role in shaping them—Graduated cum laude, elected to Academy of Distinction (alumna award)—Decision to apply to graduate school—Decides on Ohio University—Supportive nature of advisor in master’s program—Thesis research on acculturation of foreign students in U.S.—Advisor suggests she stay in U.S. for PhD—Decision to attend University of Maryland for PhD—Funding—Sexual awareness, dating, and love during undergraduate years—Social activities as an undergraduate--Graduate school acculturation—American friends and classmates—Limited number of women in the program and experience of sexism—Respect from male classmates--Decision not to return home to Greece—Introduction to husband after trip to Greece in 1955.
Begins doctoral work at University of Maryland—Two assistantships cover all expenses—Second woman in program to obtain PhD—Friendship begins with future husband Alexander “Sandy” Astin—1955 trip to Greece—Begins looking at job options—Engagement to Sandy--Family reaction to news—Relationship with Sandy’s parents—Her mother’s and Sandy’s mother’s contrasting views of gender roles—Only discrimination experienced at U of M was advisor’s lack of support in adding statistics as a second major—Dissertation involved measuring empathy through the therapeutic encounter—Married in February 1956—No questioning at the time of gender stereotypes—Move to Lexington, where husband worked for Public Health Office—Works for two years in hospital treatment for drug addicts who seek voluntary help—Travels to Greece with husband to meet her family—Hers and Sandy’s salaries—Characteristics of clients she worked with—Birth of first son—Move to Baltimore—Began part-time work—Contradiction of roles as professional woman and mother—Nanny’s influence encourages desire to always work—Move to Chicago—Gets job teaching at a college—Expectations of women during this time period: “the disease which has no name”—Flexible teaching job allowed her to meet expectations of her as a mother—Goal was employment more than a career—Few women PhDs in America at the time—Nature of relationship with Sandy--Gender-related roles with household tasks--Discriminatory male perception that Sandy was too accommodating and committed to family—Expectation that wife would move for husband’s career—Expectations in raising children: idea of discussing roles was not yet conscious—Wife’s professional role was secondary to motherhood; fatherhood was secondary to professional career for husband—Leaves Chicago in 1965 for Washington, D.C for Sandy to serve as Director of Research for American Council on Education—Denied teaching job in D.C. because told that studies show that lack of publications and gap of time since PhD means she will not be productive—Argues that all previous studies were conducted on men—Accepts research position with Commission on Human Resources for Higher Education—PhD dissertation accepted for publication—Disputes male commission members’ argument that there is no need to develop women’s talent because social capital from educated women is only transferred to children—Conducts a study that finds that highly educated women stay active in the work force—When AAAS sends letter of invitation to serve on commission, assumes the letter is for her husband—Writes with colleague about gender equity, employment and salary/promotions—Family relocates for Sandy’s fellowship at Stanford Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences—Writes The Woman Doctorate in America—Takes job as research associate with the Bureau of Social Science Research and begins receiving grants—Finding like-minded women in the late 1960s and developing an identity as a feminist—In 1969, a group of women start the Association of Women’s Psychology, march for changes in the American Psychological Association employment office, appoint a task force for women and begin to have services for women at the APA convention—Is asked to chair the task force on status of women in psychology in 1970—Task force insists upon a standing committee to examine women’s issues in psychology—In 1973, begins Women Quarterly; publishers won’t accept it, noting it as ephemeral—Sandy’s support for her work—Values instilled in children—Boss in D.C. allows her to work from home—Impact of mother on her own motherhood: teach by modeling, freedom of choice, lots of love, support and acceptance—Children’s awareness of current issues and of parents’ involvement as scholar activists—Sons’ personalities and careers.
Astin’s consciousness of inequities during the 1960s—Events of this time affecting women: 1963 Kennedy Commission on the Status of Women, The Feminine Mystique, Jessie Bernard’s Academic Women—Formation of National Organization for Women—Development of Astin’s research in the late 1960s and 1970s—Activist women develop caucuses within professional organizations—Move from D.C. to California—Full professor appointment—Contributes to Alice Rossi’s Academic Women on the Move—Discussion about whether using contributors’ full names will lead to dismissal—Two visible, accomplished men appointed to task force to assure credibility and visibility—President Johnson issues executive order that agencies receiving money from the federal government cannot discriminate due to race or sex—Bernice Sandler and Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), a group of women lawyers, sue 250 academic institutions for discrimination--Affirmative action in 1972—Astin’s appointment due to UCLA Chancellor’s ability to make “appointments of opportunity”—In 1971 Astin conducts research on women’s studies programs—Allen Bayer and Astin find salary inequities between men and women—National research beginning to empirically demonstrate discrimination—Awareness of women’s issues among younger scholars at UCLA—Graduate students write first proposal for women’s studies program at UCLA—David Saxon appoints Astin to head committee surveying importance of establishing a program—Offers for interviews from Wellesley (presidency), Barnard (to direct), Harvard (to direct Radcliff Institute)—Astin and her husband decide to consider career locations as a couple—Scripps recruits her to be a dean—Sandy and Lena both appointed at UCLA--Appointed to chair the Academic Affirmative Action Committee—Involvement with Association of Academic Women—Discussions about promotions and increases for women—Starting the Center for the Study of Women (CSW) at UCLA—Provost insists on proposal for center being scholarship driven rather than activist--Relationship with Carole Leland—Astin and Leland conduct national study funded by Ford Foundation to study three generations of women in the movement—Study results in book Women of Influence, Women of Vision—Appointed as associate provost of college with mandate to think creatively about undergraduate education--Change effected through protest—Teaches her first women studies course at Stanford, then at Brown—First course on women in higher education in graduate program taught at UCLA in 1974—Campus reactions to the establishment of the Women’s Studies Program—Close relationship between Women’s Studies Program and CSW--Promotion in department vs. promotion in CSW—Obtaining grants—Role as director of CSW—Interest in engaging the community—Help with fundraising from Beatrice Mandel (Director of UCLA Foundation) and Joan Palevsky (philanthropist)—Sponsorship of South American women’s group to confront women’s issues; conference on these issues with East L.A. community—Latina and Black community involved in project—Evolution of personal research: focus on status of women faculty—Major study on minorities in higher education—Monograph on Latinas—Grant for research in spirituality—Transition into retirement—Working with graduate students—Life in Los Angeles in the 1970s—Malibu home—Thoughts on motherhood—Became more of an outspoken feminist in marriage—Sandy’s role in chores—Teaching style and role as a mentor with students—Evacuates home in fire—Younger generation’s relationship to feminism—Dedication to make her granddaughters aware of feminist issues—Relationship with sons and granddaughter—Reflections on key values: drive to know and the need to serve, and the hope that these will continue in women in the future—Importance of friendship over the years—Balancing work with play—Future goals.