Archives of Women in Science and Engineering
Special Collections Department - Archives of Women in Science and Engineering - Oral History Project
MS 379: Oral History Collection
Verona D. Burton
Interview transcript, 1997
VB: In fact, there had never been a law in Minnesota that you couldn't hire a wife. It was an unwritten law and the man that was giving me so much trouble, that academic vice president, had come from the Dakotas and North Dakota was very, very conservative. After they kept me on as a wife off campus, they did hire wives on campus and in the days when the fourth year gave tenure, they would hire the wife full time for three years, then half time for a year, which in their interpretation broke the tenure. Then hire them for three years full and then half time for a year. So it was not until I had raised that whole issue and got the whole thing out, and of course society had changed, too, and by that time they had over forty couples on the faculty. So that times have changed and they just—after I had established my tenure, then the other wives got theirs.
[end of side 2, tape 1]
TZB: Okay, go ahead.
VB: Looking back on the '70s, the most exciting part of career, because when I had been a wife, I was an unwanted creature on campus, and by the time I was in the '70s, then here was the faculty electing me as the president. By that time the faculty was, I would say, about 500 or so and a majority of white males, people who might have, I could understand a feeling of resentment. But one of the things that gave me a great deal of—well, one of my major activities. I ought to back up a bit.
When I started in as a full time faculty member, I brought with it my interest in research and my orientation toward botany, and it was in that period that I wrote a paper that was published in The American Journal of Botany." I was continuing that career that my Iowa thesis advisor had started me on, but then when I became a wife, there was not even a desk provided for me when I was teaching off campus and my husband had the smallest office in the biology department, but he requested that a second desk be put in there so that I'd have a place to keep things. Then there happened at that time that I was going off campus with all this chemistry teaching that they had hired a man in chemistry who had been part of the Atomic Energy Project. North Minnesota, you know, has a lot of Polish people and he did everything he could to help me do a good because when I studied chemistry, the definition of an atom was "the indestructible unit of matter." Now I'm teaching a course in which I'm talking about atomic energy and the destruction of the atom and the research that had taken place during World War II. He gave me the tutoring and the background that I needed to do the job in a satisfactory manner. So I could get the materials that I needed for my night classes off campus, and I traveled as much as 150 miles in one direction, and I'd teach from six to ten o'clock at night and then drive back home.
Well, actually, you know, discrimination has its good sides, too. I don't want people to think I just have one focus. Because of discrimination, for fifteen years I did that night teaching and it was in that fifteen year period, 1959 to be exact, I had a one and only child. So when John grew up, mother was around when the sun was shining, but when the sun was gone, father was in charge. You know, children always get sick at night and son John would never come and shake me, "Mom, I'm sick." I remember this one night, I sort of just peeked. He came to the door and he came around the bed, walked down around the foot of the bed, came around to the other side and said, "Dad, I'm sick." [laughs] So it has its positive side.
TZB: In a way it was flex time before it even started.
VB: That's right. So it did have that advantage in raising a family, but you see I was completely out of the laboratory world and it was not really until I had established my position in the campus in the mid '60s that I was back teaching with a lab facility and it happened that in the early '70s, when we moved into a new science building, then I had a research lab. But it was in that time, '71-73 I had the Compliance Commission, '73-75 the Compliance officer, '75-79 I was the union president. I did not have the time to do any research and so I had used my research lab for some of the teaching aspects, but I wasn't doing research.
TZB: Publishing or things like that.
VB: That's right, and so when they needed space my lab was the first one they took. So that it really got me off in another direction.