(HOST) For Women’s History Month, commentator Kathy Wendling remembers Lenore McNeer, who blazed trails in human services and women’s rights in Vermont.
(WENDLING) When Lenore McNeer came to Vermont from Chicago in the middle of the 20th century she had already earned two college degrees: a BA in Sociology and a Master’s degree. Later, in 1975, she received her doctorate in Human Services and Mental Health from the University of Massachusetts. Three degrees for a woman whose immediate family had never earned any.
With her husband Mason McNeer and their two sons, she settled in Montpelier. Mason taught at Norwich University and ultimately, Lenore joined the staff at Vermont College where she served as an Assistant Professor and Director of Community Services. In the meantime, she was employed as a psychiatric social worker for the State Department of Mental Health.
But her story doesn’t end there. Lenore was destined to become one of the most effective advocates for the cause of women’s rights in the state of Vermont during the 1970s. From 1970-72 she chaired the 16-member Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women while remaining an active supporter of the National Equal Rights Amendment.
In 1976 she was named chair of an even larger board: a 36-member planning committee for the International Women’s Year celebration. Under her leadership, committee members planned a Vermont Women’s Town Meeting in February of 1977 that proved to be the first in the nation.
Imagine the consternation when a huge snowstorm hit on that very date! However, the determination to attend overcame the weather obstacle. Buses picked up women from all around Vermont, delivering them to the meeting hall on the Vermont College campus. Others drove from all corners of the state – more than a thousand in all! Women of all ages, from nursing mothers with their babies to grandmothers, filled every chair, even sitting on the floor when the chairs ran out. The event was deemed a huge sendoff for the national celebration of International Women’s Year.
Lenore was elected to represent Vermont at the Houston International Women’s Year conference later that year where she served as a floor manager.
After that, Lenore went on to major activities in a newly formed professional group: the National Organization of Human Services Education. Then, she organized a regional off-shoot: the New England Chapter of the national organization. It’s little wonder that after her death in June of 1981, the national society named an award for her. Each year, “The Lenore McNeer award” goes to a recipient “who has made a distinctive contribution to the field of human services as a practitioner or as an educator.”
This is Kathy Wendling of Pomfret.
Kathy Wendling is a writer, historian and columnist for the Vermont Standard in Woodstock.