EVA VOM BAUR HANSL: BRAIN-IDEAS VS LIFE-IDEAS
Bernita A. Bowen
EVA HANSL: A NOT SO ORDINARY WOMAN
There seems to have been little about Eva vom Baur Hansl
that was ordinary--except the situation in which she found
herself as an educated American woman in the first half of the
twentieth century. Born
of six daughters in a middle class family of German origins. She
graduated from Barnard in 1909 and began a career in journalism
writing for the New York Times, Sun, and Tribune. After
graduation from college, she was named a member of the Board of
Directors of the Intercollegiate Bureau of Occupations, which
some years later merged with the New York State Employment
Service. (Lobach, n.d.)
Around 1920, Eva married Raleigh Hansl and traded a full-
time career for motherhood and homemaking by 1924. Perhaps
societal restructuring during a time of suffragettes and a World
War coupled with a personal restructuring between college
graduation, journalism career, and motherhood brought Eva to a
point of conflict or dysjuncture. This point represented
uncharted territory for other women as well. Her letters,
writings, and speeches all seem to indicate she found herself
caught between the many shifting roles, ideologies, and attitudes
of a changing twentieth century.
Eva Hansl's written materials span a period of over fifty
years beginning with her 1909 journalism career. Their formats
varied from newspaper articles (1911-1916) to speeches, lectures,
and seminars given at
and 1939, and for numerous parents' and women's groups over
an even larger span of years.
Her attempts at educating covered many types of adults. Her
educational writings were not restricted to only lectures and
speeches, however. Hansl frequently wrote magazine articles for
Harper's, Ladies Home Journal, Coronet, acted as editor for the
fledgling Parents' Magazine, and published a study for the
Journal of the National Association Women Deans and Counselors
which traced careers and histories of women who dropped out of
jobs for a period of homemaking. (The Eva Hansl Collection, Box
1) This type of writing spanned a period of years from the early
1920s through 1962. It served to illuminate issues such as
women's multiple roles in American society and the conflicts
these roles raise socially and economically. An offshoot issue
resulted regarding the needs throughout society for part-time
study for academic credit.
Additionally, Eva Hansl published a book in 1949, Trends in
Part Time Employment of College Trained Women, which used her
vast collection of research for the purpose of suggesting "a
campaign for research and action necessary to produce changes in
our economy" with part-time employment for educated women seen as
the "vocational link between higher education and the family"
(Hansl, 1949, p.7). This was the first book written on part-time
work. It not only defined issues for women, and charted possible
conflicts or resolutions in diagram-like format, but also viewed
such subjects in relation to the larger society. The book
enlightens and informs through a balanced blend of theory and
data with implications for practice. Hansl ends by calling women
to a recognition of issues and a solidarity in acting on them.
She offers a specific plan for "Research, Propaganda, and Action"
on all fronts using resources at hand such as husbands,
education, local groups, counseling, and job placement
opportunities. (Hansl, 1949, pp.47-48)
In recognizing such problems for many women plus her own
situational and attitudinal conflicts, Hansl took the first step
in helping others. She has been described as wanting "the best
of all worlds for all women" (Lobach n.d., p.7). Whatever had
impact on the lives of women interested her, and she
energetically acted on that interest. She spent over fifty years
researching, writing, and travelling in order to meet what she
perceived as a need by educated American women for consciousness-
raising and change. Her resultant education of adults was aimed
at defining and recognizing these women as a political force,
economic factor, and unique social group with changing multiple
Her attempts at consciousness-raising and her dialogue for
change seem to have been based on two main approaches: research
and education, for and about women. Though her primary target
was the educated American female, her research and areas of
interest were more broadly defined as anything pertinent to the
lives of women.
Her method, then, was to explore and disseminate information
on all aspects of women's social, political, economic, and cultural
interactions in American life. In the area of research,
her methodology was affected by her constant collecting of
materials relative to women's interests and accomplishments.
This eventually became what is known as the "Perspective on Women
only formed a unique data base from which many women's groups,
universities, and government agencies borrowed material, but its
collection also served indirectly to publicize women's issues.
This, in turn, served to create a broad and efficient network
which one university guidance head and student personnel
administrator who knew Hansl described as "cross-fertilizing the
ideas of many people" (Lloyd-Jones, 1960, p.2).
In the area of education, her methodology was most directly
affected through lectures and speeches, the creation and
production of three noted radio series, and the publication of
the book which explored 1949 the "effect of discontinuity in
study and employment" for women who raise families. (Lobach,
Through this dual focused methodology Hansl was able to both
gather and disseminate information. In fact, until the end of
World War II she crossed the country several times for various
purposes. She used these opportunities to best advantage by
gathering data on women, interviewing educators and labor
relations personnel, and visiting war installations in
conjunction with her radio script work with the WPA, United
States Office of Education, and War Manpower Commission who
sponsored her. Always she was seeking and sharing information on
women's issues and interests.
The goals of her methodology were described by Hansl herself
in terms of finding a "point of intersection" for educated
women's best interests "where her family, her job, and her
community all meet" (Hansl, 1949, p.10). Potential critics of
her goals or objectives may fail to realize that though her
interests covered all women over a wide historical range and in
many economies and geographic locales, her main goal seems to
have been to choose one small segment--that segment in which she
saw herself located--in which to activate change. This seems a
prudent strategy. It allows for (a) a tighter focus on issues
and efficient use of energies, (b) suggests a greater potential
for success because of the former, and (c) gave Hansl, as
activator, the obvious advantages of having a personal stake and
an inside view of issues and avenues. In short, she lived the
life of the women she wished to study and aid.
Hansl did live a life that provided a personal state in
various advocacy activities. Specifically, the contextual givens
around which she based her activities were the following:
1. In the first half of the twentieth century, educated
dilemma was defined as recognition of the fact that women may
need to work, and certainly have the right to work, but have
difficulty doing this (economically and socially) if they also
must maintain the dual job or role of homemaker.
2. These women have this need and/or right because work in
our society is measured in terms of dollars and cents.
3. There are increasing opportunities for both women's
education and employment during this first half century, most due
to milestones such as suffrage and two world wars. Additionally,
1949 saw a period of high peacetime employment with a shortage of
technically and professionally trained workers available (college
4. Educated American women could and should be what Hansl
described as salvaged from waste to continue to contribute to
larger society and fulfill an obligation to improve the image of
and opportunities for all part-time workers. (Hansl, 1949, pp.
In short, Hansl acted as both prophet and "catalytic agent"
in setting and acting on goals. (Lloyd-Jones, 1960, p.1) She
was prophetic in suggesting that on the changing face of the
world it was probable that more and more educated American women,
and women in general, would need to work at some point in their
lives. Her research suggested economic changes and increased
human longevity as causes for this. (Hansl, 1949)
Hansl saw the value of her own work through its far reaching
potential benefits to larger society in important social,
political, and economic ways. She felt, then, that the study and
improvement of the modern woman's lot could be linked to benefits
for American society as a whole.
In terms of advocacy for dynamic social change, Hansl may be
viewed by today's eyes as fitting under any number of labeled
categories. These views intertwine with perceptions of her role
as an adult educator. Hansl's interests and activities in
contexts of sociology and education can be compared with current
. . . the key words are struggle and shaping. They
point to structural issues. Our problems are systemic
. . . Each aspect of the social process . . . serves to
affect the relationships within and among the others.
As a mode of production attempts to reproduce the
conditions of its own existence, "it" creates
antagonisms and contradictions in other spheres. As
groups of people struggle over issues of gender, race,
and class in each of these spheres, the entire social
process, including "the economy," is also affected.
(Apple, 1981, p.27)
Apple goes on to say that these struggles are not mere
abstractions or static concepts in some social process construct,
but rather they are real and intrinsic in our daily lives:
"People like us live them" (1981, p.27).
Here lies the strength and uniqueness of Eva Hansl as both a
strategist or agent-for-change and educator. In a letter to
Hansl, a reader of one of her articles published in Harper's in
1927 offers congratulations. She praises Hansl for not only
focusing on issues important to women, but for translating those
issues into language that is both clear and connected to the
realities of women's daily lives. The letter writer says that
Hansl dealt with the facts that "our brain-ideas often have to be
overthrown by our life-ideas" and that we all have our "crude
anticipations" of the social process but "Life smashes in!"
(MacNeille, 1927, p.3).
Through both her research and her personal involvement in
the issues, Hansl gained a unique capacity to work within the
system but to struggle with issues and shape some changes. What
is both honest and vital about Hansl's struggle and shaping, as
both educator and agent for change, is the fact that it reflects
her own journey through the social process.
Her issue-oriented focus varied somewhat as her own roles
and circumstances changed. For example, in 1923 she helped draft
a resolution for a convention of the American Association of
University Women in
. . . the avowed purpose of women's education is to
help the individual to develop her innate capacities
and orient herself in nature . . . develop her mind as
an instrument and to equip herself with knowledge . . .
(Hansl & Puffer-Howe, 1923, p.1)
Later, she slightly re-shaped her focus to include factors such
as motherhood and parenting for women, particularly educated
women who may feel even more duplicity of role.
Her continued journey through the social process within
which she found herself living, created more change and she
further re-shaped her focus in 1927. At this time she
participated in the report making of a study and discussion group
comprised of women specialists in sociology, vocations,
economics, child welfare, and psychology. The group's focus was
on "the total life situation of any mother" whose situation
caused her to find herself in "a variety of relationships"
including with a husband, children, community, work, and her own
personhood (Report on the Discussion Group on Mothers and Time,
Some twenty years later, her focus changed again to reflect
the circumstances of a post-war economy and the dilemma of the
woman who wants to or must "keep one hand in [the job market]
while she rocks the cradle with the other" (Hansl, 1949, p.27).
Rather than view this focus change as ideological
discrepancy or weakness, it may be seen as a strong point in
Hansl's perceptual activity. Her flexibility allowed her to
adapt both focus and strategy to ever-changing social, political,
economic, and cultural contexts of women's issues. Though her
focus allowed for flexibility, her energies were not scattered--
nor were her goals or the methods used to achieve the goals.
HER DUAL APPROACH
As stated earlier, Hansl's goal was to recognize and define
the educated American woman's struggle to find a "point of
intersection" in her multiple roles in American society, "to
discover her obstacles and how to remove them," and "to suggest a
campaign for research and action necessary to produce changes"
(Hansl, 1949, p.7).
To achieve the above, she chose a primarily dual approach:
research and education. Specifically, Hansl's dual approach--and
her achievements--can be exemplified most clearly by two of her
efforts. first, the ongoing collection of materials which she
gathered over years for the "Perspective on Women in the
Collection. In writing of Hansl's research collection, Lloyd-
Jones said this:
She has maintained files that fairly burst with clippings
and reports of all sorts. She has maintained a keen
interest in adult education, in the changing patterns
of women's lives, in vocational guidance, and deserves
a great deal of credit for the role that she has played
in stimulating people to work in these fields. (1960,
The Hansl collection contains a variety of reference
material, including personal letters, advertisements, long lists
of biographies and reference books about women which Hansl had
read and recorded, various brochures, booklets, pamphlets, and
advertisements--all pertinent to women in history, politics, the
home, and the work force. It is obvious that Hansl's interest
was intense. It is also obvious that the value of such a vast
and varied collection was not only in its serving as a data base
for Hansl and the others with whom she shared this information in
her lectures and speeches. The collection also served a role in
establishing a broad network through which Hansl not only sought
information, but shared information, encouraged exploration of
ideas and issues, and effectively publicized it all. Another
valuable side effect of the research collection was that Hansl
used it to create human linkages, to put people in touch with
people. In this regard, Lloyd-Jones recounts a story about
supervising a doctoral candidate who wanted to work in the field
of adult education, particularly with adult women. Lloyd-Jones
put the student in touch with Hansl, who put her in touch with a
project with the New York State Business and Professional Women's
Clubs. Hansl and the student shared collected data, and later
Hansl nominated the student for a fellowship grant from the
women's clubs. (Lloyd-Jones, 1960, p.1)
Hansl herself may have felt that one of the most valuable
aspects of her research was that it gave her materials of
substance with which to raise the consciousness of women and
American society--and with which to educate them. certainly this
value is indicated in what may be considered the highlights of
her informative and educational achievements--her written
materials and her role in the production of three noted radio
series about women.
Between 1939 and 1943 she combined what she had learned
through her research, networking, and writing to produce the
radio series. Though this achievement covered only about four
years of Hansl's lifetime, it represents a monumental effort
toward the recognition and definition of American women's roles
and abilities. Certainly, viewed within the context of American
life at that time, this undertaking must have been both
unprecedented and at least somewhat courageous.
The latter of the three series, called "Womanpower" and
produced between 1942 and 1943, was probably least educational in
the broader contexts of Hansl's usual interests and objectives.
Hansl was loaned to CBS by the
War Manpower Commission. Though her actual role with the
commission was in its Nutrition Division (another of her
interests), Hansl was asked to supervise this production due to
her knowledge of journalism, radio, and women's issues. Though
the program focused on women, it may be seen as limited in its
educational scope since it was described as "the only official
Government program to recruit women" (Lobach, n.d., p.4).
Hansl's two earlier radio series, however, may be viewed as
innovative and somewhat broader in educational scope. Though
these series were done in cooperation with the WPA and the United
States Office of Education, and there existed a war time purpose
of showing "the part women have played in the government" and
"how women have advanced in government from local to national,"
they appear to have been an effective vehicle for consciousness-
raising and education as well (Burke, 1940, p.1).
Some forty-seven scripts, including background research
files for them, were given to
in the Arents Research Library. An examination of these scripts
shows that though many of the scripts were actually written by
Jane Ashman (complete with directions and cues), much of the
research, script outlining, interviewing, publicity, and
promotion was accomplished by Hansl. Broadcast from May of 1939
through 1940 from Station WJZ and the Blue Network of NEC, the
half-hour shows were a stage for recognizing and defining women
as a political force, an economic factor, and a unique social
group with multiple roles throughout American history.
For the most part, the script formats were roughly the same:
(a) a narrated introduction of the particular episode's topic or
purpose, (b) a storyline which used actors to reveal past and
present attitudes and obstacles surrounding American women, and
(c) a speech by or interview with prominent figures of the day
regarding women's interests and abilities. What is extraordinary
about the scripts is the breadth of the topics they cover.
Included were such topics as the following: "Women as Teachers,"
"Women in Politics and Government," "Women Through Space and
Time," "Women Refugees," "Women and Laws," and "Women in
Agriculture," "Women and the Press," "Women The Providers." This
latter script illustrated the role of Juliet Corson and other
American women who studied nutrition for the poor and ways to
feed "the working man" in promoting good health. "Women as
Voters" and "Disabled Women" were the topics of other show
scripts, as well as "Women in Sports" and "Women in Business."
Each of these generated individual show scripts often done within
broader categories such as "Freedom of Education" or "Freedom of
Speech," reflecting both the times and the shows' sponsors.
The ingeniousness of the series' educational strategies
seems evident in their structure: they introduced issues,
illuminated attitudes, and produced well-known figures who
discussed the women's roles and frequently ignored
accomplishments. The first series actually demonstrated Hansl's
position, goals, and methodology. It proceeded as follows:
music, narrator announcing show title, and male and female actors
opened by talking in a "typical" conversation which reflected
attitudes such as the inferiority of women and how women should
be allowed no rights in government. The show then proceeded to
describe many notable and accomplished women throughout American
history, with periodic interjections of other dialogue. These
included a Depression Era dialogue between husband and wife
depicting the wife "going back to work" and the unemployed
husband's negative attitude, and a dramatized interview with
Amelia Earhart discussing her husband's support of her multiple
interests and roles. The show ended in what was then the
present, whereupon the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt closed the
episode actually speaking from the White House. Most of the
remainder of the series's scripts are structurally similar:
introduction of issues, exposure of dominant attitudes about
women and the obstacles facing them, with support for change or
action through linkages to prominent figures or respected
authorities at the show's close. (Ashman, 1939)
In viewing Eva vom Baur Hansl's research, writing, and
activities, there is not simple analysis that is possible. The
woman's broad view of women's issues and collection of materials
on them is astounding. Her attempts to educate both men and
women about women have been shown to be both energetic and
innovative. Her special focus on the category of educated
American women, in which she found herself, put her at the
forefront of research on and exploration of new issues and roles
for women in the rapidly changing twentieth century.
Perhaps in this light, Eva Hansl also may be seen as a kind
of prophet. Not in typically narrow terms as one who predicts
the future, although she did accurately predict many trends for
women's futures, but in some of the other possible definitions of
the word suggested by Ohliger (1987b). Perhaps, the simplest and
most apt definition of Hansl and her work is to be found in a
prophecy which is characterized by clearly seeing some essential
truth(s) and, as Ohliger described, depending on "choice, action,
and human spirit" for its completion--affirmative, and
"realistic" (Ohliger, 1987a, p.3).
Apple, M.W. (1981). Reproduction, contestation, and curriculum:
An essay in self-criticism. Interchange, 12 (2-3),
Ashman, J. (1939). Women in the making of America. (NBC, WJZ,
Burke, W.S. (1940). Memo
Gallant American Women Series (1940). The Eva Hansl
University, George Arents Research Library.
Hansl, E., & Puffer-Howe, M. (1923). Amendment to Resolution for
Hansl collection (Box
University, George Arents Research Library.
Hansl, E. (1949). Trends in part time employment of college
Lloyd-Jones, E. (1960). To whom it may concern (June 8). The
Eva Hansl collection
University, George Arents Research Library.
Lobach, K.S. (n.d.). New Yorker profile suggestion to editor.
The Eva Hansl collection
MacNeille, P.R. (1927). Letter of congratulations on Harper's
article. The Eva Hansl Collection
Ohliger, J. (1987a). If winter comes. (One World of Cultures
Series Wayland House,
Campus, February 27). Reprinted in ATE 600, Radical
Thinking in Adult Education.