Marian Nelson
1939 - Present

Profile By: Christopher Shavlik

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Part Two Teaching and Transforming Omaha University History

Marian Purrier Nelson moved to Omaha in March 1964 and began working on her master’s degree in history at Omaha University (OU). She also was hired as a teaching assistant, the only woman in the pool of ten. In 1966, Marian was offered an adjunct position at OU to teach a night course each semester on Ancient History—history of the Near East and Greece and history of Rome. In the summer of 1967, after Marian had earned her master’s degree, a position opened when a member of the history department faculty left. Dr. Stanley Trickett, who was Chair of the Department of History, offered Marian a full-time job. Although Marian was elated with the opportunity, there was a problem. According to Marian, “If you became pregnant while working, in most cases you were not allowed to continue in your job as there was no such thing as maternity leave” (Interview Nov. 16). Marian had to tell Dr. Trickett about her pregnancy when he offered her the job. Trickett admonished her to not tell anyone about her pregnancy until he could clear it with administration. She obliged his request, becoming not only the only woman in the history department, but also one of the first women at OU to actively teach throughout her pregnancy. In fact, Marian taught on the day her daughter, Danielle, was born. She returned to teaching full-time the following summer.

During this time, OU was undergoing a major transformation, one that would change the landscape of Nebraska’s higher education forever. In 1967, the OU-NU merge was taking place. Over the years, OU had increasing financial costs due to a rapidly growing student body. To combat rising costs, the Board of Regents of OU decided they could best curb costs by pooling resources with Nebraska University in a merger (Thompson). Dr. Stanley Trickett urged Marian to pursue her PhD because he was concerned that a current OU faculty member could not begin PhD work after the merger. Heeding his advice, Marian began her PhD at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL). She took advantage of tuition remission, which covered her course expenses with the exception of book and transportation costs.

In 1968, two more women were hired into the history department—Nan Britt and Jacqueline Saint John. Both Britt and Saint John were all but dissertation (ABD) in their educational progress. Marian remembers that she, along with Nan Britt, broke a hallowed tradition one day. Instead of coming to work in skirts, they came in pantsuits. To draw attention to her trouser rebellion, she wore a red pantsuit. From that point on, Marian wore pants when she taught.  It was not until JoAnne Carrigan joined the department in 1970 that there was a woman with a PhD in the history department.  According to Marian, Carrigan would later help start women’s history courses at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) (Interview Nov. 16).

 

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Part Three Gender Justice

Between raising her newborn daughter, teaching history at the university, and pursuing her PhD in Lincoln, Marian had little time to get involved with politics during the OU-NU merger. However, she soon made time for activism after encountering numerous challenges as a female faculty member. First, despite her hard work, women were simply not paid the same as men. According to a Gateway article in 1989, the wage gap between men and women in the Arts and Sciences was approximately $1,889 (“Salary Differences”). Secondly, she decided it was time to have another baby and was subsequently pregnant while working on her dissertation. One of the graduate committee members, who shall remain unnamed, walked over to her one day and patted her tummy before saying, “I thought you were serious about this” (Interview Nov. 30). Marian was shocked. She later talked