History and the people who make it: Madelyn Lockhart

Transcript edited by Adolfho Romero. This is an except from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program – 325UF collection series. 

Madelyn Lockhart was a researcher who worked on creating a more inclusive and diverse community in Gainesville. At the University of Florida, Dr. Lockhart served as Dean of the Graduate School, Dean of International Studies and Programs, Associate Dean, and Assistant Dean. She helped establish the Altrusa International organization in Gainesville. She passed away in 2015. Dr. Madelyn Lockhart [L] was interviewed by Paul Ortiz [O] on December 5, 2008.

O: Well, today we are with Dr. Madelyn Lockhart … You’re interested in talking about your early career at the University of Florida, and what the university was like.

L: Okay, I came here in the fall of 1958. I came because my husband had a job offer here at the University of Florida. I was finishing my PhD at Ohio State University. I had one child who was three years old and a baby.

I wasn’t terribly happy about coming to the UF or anywhere in the South because I’m a northerner and I’m a city girl. I had worked two years at the University of Kentucky and had experienced the prejudice they had against Blacks. I remember vividly the minute the bus crossed the Ohio River, from Ohio into Kentucky, you had to change your seat.

However, I was assured by people that Florida was different.

In the spring of 1960, [UF] asked me to create a research program as I had done in Kentucky and again in Ohio. So I agreed to come and work in the Bureau of Economic Research in the College of Business to do this research. They made it clear it would be a temporary appointment because I was a woman and a wife of a faculty member, which was against their rules, I guess. 

O: And yet UF told you they would not put you on the tenure track because you’re a woman?

L: And because I was the wife of a faculty member. As one of them said, this is like putting icing on a cake, you don’t really need it. That was the VP for Academic Affairs who wrote that to the chairman of the economics department. 

After four years of that, I went into the dean of the college and said “you either want me or you don’t want me. You better make it clear. I want a permanent position and the ability to go for the associate professor level, with tenure, or the ability to earn tenure.” He inquired up the line and the answer was no. So, I quit.

The two women for whom Ihave great respect: Ruth McKeown and Gladys Camerer. They suggested I apply for the job as director of the community action program in Alachua County. This was a program that was funded under President Johnson’s poverty program.

I had the degree, I had the experience, I had research experience as well as administrative experience. So I fit the bill. The leadership in the Black community was not at all happy with this. Their impression was a white woman, no way, is she going to do anything. Reverend Wright was up in arms. I asked him if I might meet with him because I wanted to assure him that I was not prejudiced, and  I was really interested in seeing some good done for the Black community, which I felt was very neglected in this town.

Now there were some that did some marches once in a while, but nobody was looking into the economic and social condition that the Blacks were in.

We had segregated schools; the Black schools had no playgrounds. Secondly, the poor people who had to ask for welfare had to get up the middle of a big auditorium and tell their story in front of all the people that were there in order to get the social services. The most embarrassing situation you could put anyone under. Third, There were no daycare programs for Black children except … The one in Gainesville only took two Black children.

Rather than just worrying about whether the people could go to a theatre or not, or a restaurant, or something else, which I agreed was disgusting to me – to keep people from doing those things, but they weren’t as important in everybody’s daily life.

O: Do you think that was because they did not see those economics issues to be priority?

L: They didn’t want to get their hands dirty to be very honest. That’s hard work. You have to fight the establishment and you have to go down into the Black community and work with Blacks. You can’t do it by standing outside and saying we’re going to do this for you. We need to have neighborhood canvases. We need people that will go into the neighborhoods and have meeting with the Black people that live in the neighborhoods and get their view on what kind of programs they’d like to see.

It’s also work for a lot of people who don’t want to associate with Blacks, and that was true with most of the faculty. I know because I had Blacks who came to visit me and was told in my neighborhood that that was not acceptable. 

O: You had thought or you were told by people that Gainesville was different …When did you first begin to suspect that that wasn’t the case?

L: In the grocery stores there were two different fountains, Black and white. I had never seen this in my life. Even in Kentucky I hadn’t seen it, at least not in Lexington. 

I often said to my husband that I wished the University had been placed in Ocala or someplace other than Gainesville because I found, well you couldn’t go outside of Gainesville to buy gas if you had a university sticker on your car. They wouldn’t sell you gas in the communities around here, because we were communists in their view. And if you happened to have a Black [person] in your car, you might get shot.

When I was director of the poverty program, the Klan moved in. And the Klan did exist in Alachua County. The sheriff tried hard to keep them out, but they were in all the surrounding counties, and they would move across that border and come into Alachua County anytime they could get away with it. They would disrupt any meeting of Blacks that occurred. Taking on my view in the way of dealing with this problem ­– that is, working with the Black community, was not very popular, I can assure you. The Black ministers began to see that this was really the way that we should go. So they began to accept me as the director because they finally decided I really did have their interests at heart.

And I did have cooperation of the county commission and particularly men like Sid Martin. A man from Hawthorne who had a very deep interest in some of the things I was doing for the Black community. I went one day and told him, “you know there are no playgrounds for the Black children in the Black schools.” And he said, “I never noticed that.” And I said, “well if you go to any one of the Black schools and look, you can see there is no playground equipment, no area that is set aside for a play ground.” He said, “well we’ve got to fix that.”

The very next morning, the county machines were clearing an area in back of one of the schools, and I went around to the businesses and got swings and slides and the kind of playground equipment that kids could use. We got a playground for that school. This made the Black community think, maybe this group can do something for us, and they started cooperating with me. 

We found that children were being badly treated in the jail when they really had psychiatric problems. But they were thrown into the jails because nobody knew what to do with them. I started a program with the help of one of the Black ministers. I would pick up these children and take them to Shands for testing and treatment.

O: Shands was not segregated by this point?

L: Oh they were segregated, but they were willing to take these boys in for testing. They had their own sections for Blacks; most of it was done over in Alachua General [Hospital], not over at Shands [Hospital]. 

But the biggest problem that I saw was the problem of daycare for Black children because, as I went out into the communities, what I found horrified me. Not only were they keeping older children out of school in order to take care of the babies when the mother worked. But they were tying babies to the bedstead and leaving them with a bottle and some milk or water at a reachable distance and leaving them there all day while they worked. That just horrified me to think of babies sitting there screaming all day for their mothers.

We would set up a nursery in the church for these children and a Vista volunteer would be in charge of running the nursery. But the mother who brought the child in would have to spend one day as part of the nursery group, and then she could have the rest of the week free. So her child would be taken care of … As a result of that, we started twenty daycare centers in this county in one six month period.

O: You came back in 1970. Do you think, Dr. Lockhart, finally the university says, okay we’ll give you a tenure track position, do you think that was part indicative of a larger change in climate at the university?

L: No, I think it changed

In 1973 … I spent six years as assistant dean of the graduate school, and then was sent to Africa in order to develop an African economics program with the African Studies Center.

Bob Bryan objected to my being called an associate dean, so he gave me the position of associate dean but made me take the title of assistant dean.

When he left, I applied for the dean’s position. The search committee did select me as their top candidate for the position but Bob Bryan, he just thought having a woman as graduate dean was too much.

O: But by then, this is the late [19]70s or early [19]80s right? There’s still no women in those …

L: The only woman we had in upper-level positions was the dean of nursing.

Because I was doing the job, and the faculty weren’t unhappy, they wanted me … He [Bob Bryan] said, “it was because President Marston wouldn’t allow him.” but I doubt that that was true. 

I became a favorite of the Black graduate students because I did not turn them down. And if they didn’t feel I was being fair, I would say, look get the group together. I have a plaque on my wall, which I’m very proud of, that I got from the Black Graduate Student Association in appreciation of my support of them. 

O: Did you see similar situations confronting female graduate students in the [19]80s?

L:The biggest problem with female graduate students was sexual harassment. We had serious situations; one Indian student was harassed so badly she committed suicide.

O: Also wondered about the situation with the female faculty in the [19]70s and [19]80s. What was their kind of academic situation? Were they still having to struggle?

L: Oh yes, very definitely., the Women’s Faculty Association was formed in the early 1980s to try and be a supportive group to the women faculty. They really needed it.

O: It sounds like the older attitudes, the discrimination there, is still the existence.

L: Yeah, not hiring women for fields, not promoting them as fast. Generally, not putting them into positions where they could make a difference. Look at the upper administration, are there any women up there? I don’t know of any offhand. 

See https://ufdc.ufl.edu/oral/results/?t=madelyn%20lockhart for links to two interviews with Madelyn Lockhart.

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program is committed to using critical historical inquiry and digital humanities production to encourage civic engagement and dialogue between the past, present and the future. To learn more about the program visit www.oral.history.ufl.edu.

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