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The influence of Utah women can't be judged by counting how many serve as elected officials or business leaders, says sociologist Marie Cornwall.
As she interviewed 32 Utah women for a new archive at the University of Utah, "I began to realize how central they were to creating change in all sorts of areas," Cornwall said.
"It wasn't like they wanted to be CEOs and couldn't make it," she said. "They were doing all these new things in our communities that we just take for granted now."
Cornwall will speak about her work Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the U.'s J. Willard Marriott Library in the Gould Auditorium. Her free public lecture, "20th Century Women as Mothers of Invention," will explore how women have helped Utah manage social change.
Cornwall recently retired from Brigham Young University, where she was director of the Women's Research Institute from 1989 to 1993. She held the Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in the College of Social Work at the U. in 1993-94.
She now serves on the advisory board of the Aileen H. Clyde 20th Century Women's Legacy Archive, founded at the Marriott Library in 2014. It holds oral histories, journals, photographs, manuscripts and papers from women who became prominent and those the archive calls the "quiet women," those who contributed out of the public eye.
But she also interviewed women who created programs for community sports and cultural arts, helped develop the role of clinical nurse specialists and advocated for counselors to work in elementary and junior high schools.
Utah has recently been branded the worst state for women based on income inequality, leadership roles in government and other factors. It has the nation's largest gap in college graduation rates between men and women.
More Utah women need to invest in degrees and run for office, Cornwall agrees.
But she adds: "For me the rest of the story is ... just because you don't see them in some of these more formal ways of counting doesn't mean women aren't doing things. ... I want to build an image for the generation of women we have now of what we do in Utah."
Cornwall also is encouraging women to donate their papers, and plans to interview more women. "This story is going to be lost," she said, "unless we retrieve it."