Valerie Mannis: A Connection to Women’s Studies and UW-Madison

Valerie Mannis

By Valerie S. Mannis, ’70, ’74, ’97

My UW-Madison Connection

I am currently connected to the University in a variety of ways. I have belonged to The Bascom Hill Society since 1988. I attend events connected to the Law School, the School of Letters and Science, the Greenfield Institute, the Jewish Studies Program, the Lubar Institute, the Institute on Aging and others.

My out-of-the-home careers started when I graduated in 1970 from UW-Madison with a Bachelor of Science majoring in Philosophy and English Literature. These are long-time interests and frame all my future work life: the inter-relationships of what it is to be a person coping with their social, political, environmental context.

I married young. Once our children were launched in school I returned to UW-Madison, finishing my undergraduate degree and entering law school graduating three years later in 1974. Following a year in the Legislative Council, I practiced law. Family issues were always an interest. I did divorce, estate planning, real estate and small business counseling. I worked on marital property reform. I followed this interest in family financial issues into banking and trust work.

My Women’s Studies Connection

In 1990 I worked for the Madison YWCA as a development officer helping to launch the Third Street single mothers project. Interviewing the first candidates entering this program designed to help low or no income single mothers often homeless brought my interest in women-focused families full circle. I had worked with high, middle, low and no income women with family responsibilities. I was in the midst of a period in which it seemed a lot of political rhetoric focused on blaming the “welfare mother” for all societies’ ills. I did not agree.

At this point I had been working as a lawyer since 1974. My daughters were living independently. My husband was engrossed in his medical practice. I decided to return to the University and follow my long established philosophic and academic-flavored interests. Now, however, the society around me had given rise to women’s studies, which I eagerly followed. My personal life included having one child with a serious birth defect and her odyssey growing up and coping with this. I had marched through the Civil Rights era even spending two years in Biloxi, Mississippi, with my small children and husband where he spent two years at Keesler Air Force Base, a captain (physician). Living in an environment so distant from my own upbringing during a time of great social upheaval was life changing as well.

I always loved the University from those first courses as a freshman coming to Madison from Green Bay and wondering if I could compete. Through all my courses and when I later took lectures on the campus or followed my daughters to classes they loved and wanted me to visit, I was always made to feel welcome. In business and professional clubs I flourished as a program chair because I would call on the UW faculty whenever I could. I felt their contributions were so rich and deep and their delivery generally so captivating. Returning to school was returning to a place I loved.

It was a particularly skillful University of Wisconsin counselor working with returning students that suggested I speak with Linda Thompson in this Child and Family Studies Program. A superb scholar who seemed to share my passion on women’s issues and their stories, I entered the program with her as my advisor. I was launched.

Years caught up with me. I taught public policy from a family perspective briefly in the department. By then we were spending winter months in the South. I wrote some large projects including a memoir and the experience of mothering. I continue to study and write. I treasure the interdisciplinary aspect of my research and study at SoHE. It encouraged and taught me how to strike out into new areas, to cross borders, to be comfortable being new to a set of ideas.

Staying Connected

I do stay connected to SoHE. Over the years I try to participate in as many events as I am invited to! I have a pretty good record on this. I feel privileged to live in such a culturally rich setting. The University of Wisconsin is a major pillar in Madison and Wisconsin’s universe and a particularly good place for a human ecologist.

I am indeed a human ecologist. The concept goes back to Aristotle and Plato, fellows I read (and loved) in my earliest semesters here. Today I would say it is the study of human collective interaction with the environment{s) lived in. Indeed, my dissertation, Single Mothers by Choice and The Larger Social Context, includes a picture of a mother and child in the center of circles within circles beginning with earliest influences such as family and reaching outward to social, political and conflicting cultural impact.


Articles by Valerie S. Mannis:

Single Mothers By Choice, Family Relations, Vol. 48, No. 2, April 1999.

The Adopting Single Mother: Four Portraits of American Women Adopting from China, Adoption Quarterly, Vol. 4(2) 2000.



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