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Pioneer in her Field; Women's History Month feature Dr. Alice Bartee

Photo Credit: Missouri State University

This week, in our Women’s History Month series, we feature a Missouri State University professor who was a pioneer in her field as one of the first women ever to make full professor at the university. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has her story.

The legacy of Dr. Alice Bartee carries on as she was, and continues to be, a pioneer in the field of political science. She studied and pursued her degrees at a time when women were not readily accepted in the discipline. Dr. George Connor is the department head for Political Science at MSU.

“Political science today has very few women Ph.Ds, so she was a pioneer in our discipline. And I think she recognized her role as a mentor, especially for women. If you think about a woman going to law school in the late 1970s and early 1980s that was a rarity in itself. So Alice was preparing the students at MSU for their future careers in law,” Connor says.

Connor explains that Bartee was the first woman to receive the Liberty Bell Award from the Greene County Bar Association in 1992. He says that was just one of the many examples she set for women.

“She was one of the first women at MSU to become a full professor. And I think she was particularly sensitive to the challenges faced by professional women, and therefore served as a mentor and a model for women faculty and for attorneys. We tend to focus on Alice as the instructor, Alice as the advisor for pre-law students, and I think it was beyond that,” says Connor.

Bartee’s husband and co-author of one of her books, Dr. Wayne Bartee, says they had been married several years and had children before moving to Springfield when she first began teaching at MSU. He was very proud and supportive of his wife.

“She was very fortunate in that the department head at that time, Dr. Max Skidmore, was very open to employing women in the faculty and he encouraged her. She only had the MA [degree] when we moved here, and had halfway resigned herself to maybe that was as far as she would be able to go. But he encouraged her and said ‘you can find a place here, we will help you,’” Bartee says.

Bartee recalls his favorite story Alice told to her female students over the years. It was of a student she and her classmates in New York often saw while studying. The woman was nicknamed “Ruthless Ruthie,” known for being the top of her class. Bartee explains that at that time, during the late 1950s, “Ruthie” was not expected to be hired in any law firm because she was a woman. As Bartee explains, this “Ruthie” was none other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who later became a Supreme Court justice. Bartee says Alice used to tell to her students “if she could do it back then, you can do it now.”

Bartee explains that Alice did not intentionally set out to become a pioneer; it just happened.

“I think she came to it gradually. She was, of course, raised in the South with the notions that a southern lady learned how to set a table and learned certain social and etiquette things. And that was what a real lady was. But she got away from that quite early on when she went to Barnard College in New York. She met the girls up there who had professional ideas and weren’t content to think about just being qualified in the social graces,” says Bartee.

Dr. Alice Bartee was a professor at MSU for 35 years. She was instrumental in the university becoming the first undergraduate institution to establish a chapter of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity, typically reserved for law schools. She published three books that reflected her passion for civil rights, civil liberties and the law.

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.


Click here for a link to a previous story regarding the endowment for  Dr. Alice Bartee