Obituary: Life of Anne Truax paralleled women's movement

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2013 - 7:38 PM

During the 30 years she was at the U, she became the head of the Women's Center, helped found the Women's Studies Department and investigated sexual harassment cases.

Anne Truax

In one of Anne Truax's favorite family photos, she is sitting on the front steps of her Minneapolis home with her five preteen sons. It's a snapshot of a doting mother surrounded by her kids. But to some of her professional colleagues at the University of Minnesota, it may have been an image incongruous with Truax's reputation as a "radical feminist."

Feminist pioneer, yes, but radical, no, say those who knew her best. "She was not strident," said Arvonne Fraser, who shared leadership positions with Truax at the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL) in the 1970s and 1980s. "We were mothers of big families who had gone to work after having lots of kids."

Truax's strength was behind-the-scenes cajoling and persuading -- negotiating pay equity for female deans at the U, persuading the Reagan administration not to cut minimum Social Security benefits for older women, or shining a harsh light on sexual harassment and rape in collegiate sports, her colleagues said.

"She was the wise intermediary who knew how to get things done," said Kathleen Kelly of Stoughton, Wis., who was a student in Truax's women's studies class in the early 1970s.

Truax died Oct. 31 in Albuquerque, N.M., where she and her partner of 36 years, Judith Wanhala, had lived since 2001. She was 87.

At the time of Title IX, female athletes at the U were second-class citizens, Kelly said. They were holding bake sales to pay expenses for regionals, washing and re-using hand tape discarded by male gymnasts and holding swim practice after midnight, when they were allowed to use the pool. "It was a huge pattern of discrimination that Anne helped to expose," said Kelly, who was student body president in 1973-74.

Truax's career trajectory ran parallel to the ascent of the women's movement. During the 30 years she was at the U, she became the head of the Women's Center, helped found the Women's Studies Department and investigated sexual harassment cases.

Still, it would be difficult to point to a single crowning achievement in her career, said her son David of Hugo. "It was a daily slog to get people to do the right thing," he said.

David attended the U at a time when his mom was a rock star to many campus women. "Whenever I'd introduce myself to a woman, they would inevitably say how great my mom was and sometimes how she had saved their life," he said. "It was a great entree to say, 'Anne Truax is my mom.'"

She made sure that all of her sons were, as Roseanne Barr might say, "domestic gods," her sons said. One day she came home and announced that she would no longer do any household chores. "My brothers and I were to cook, clean, shop, change the sheets and sew on buttons," said son her John of New York City.

She taught them to cook and to cook well with the help of the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook, said David, adding, "She said that food should not be boring."

"My mother was a great administrator and a force for social change, but she was a better mom," said John.

David described her as a devoted mother who never expressed any regret at not having had a daughter. But when she had her first female grandchild, he said, Truax put out a banner on the front of her house that announced, "It's a baby woman!"

In addition to Wanhala and sons David and John, she is survived by three other sons, Tom of St. Paul, Steve of Roseville and Rick of Plymouth, and six grandchildren.

A memorial gathering will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Maroon and Gold Room at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633

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