The Department of Sociology will start its Centennial Celebration by honoring three pioneering women in sociology: former WSU Sociology professors Lois DeFleur, Sandra Ball-Rokeach, and Marilyn Ihinger-Tallman, each of whom joined the Sociology department in the 1970s. These inspiring sociologists explore their knowledge and experiences in a forthcoming book, We Few, We Academic Sisters: How We Persevered and Excelled in Higher Education, to be published by Washington State University Press in September 2023. The department looks forward to honoring these three influential sociologists at a celebration on the Pullman campus in the fall of 2023.
The editors of Sociology News were thrilled to catch up with Marilyn Ihinger-Tallman before the Centennial Celebration officially starts in August 2023. Marilyn joined WSU in 1975, where she conducted research on the sociology of the family. She also served as department chair for eight years (1988-1996) and retired as an emeritus professor in 1999 after spending her entire career at WSU Pullman. Below, we chat about the upcoming book, and Marilyn shares some memories of her time at WSU.
Tom: Please tell us a little bit about what it was like when you arrived at WSU?
Marilyn: Well, I came in 1975, ABD. In those days, the department did not bring assistant professors in to interview, so Charlie Bowerman, the chair of the department at the time, offered me the job over the phone. It was thanks to Gary Lee, who went on to Bowling Green in Ohio and was a colleague in graduate school at the University of Minnesota. I think he put my name forward, and it went from there. I was very happy to receive the offer for a tenure-track position in a department that was well known for its family area. It was a big thrill, but I was just starting my dissertation. I came and brought three kids with me, as the other two were in college by that time.
It was hard at the beginning because, of course, all the students think you’re a professor and “Dr.,” and it took me a year to become fully “Doctor.” I officially finished the dissertation in December 1976, but the degree was granted in 1977.
Lois DeFleur and Sandra (Sandy) Ball-Rokeach were at WSU. We were first three women in Sociology, and that’s what the book project is about, our years together at WSU in Sociology.
Tom: What was the department like in the mid-seventies?
Marilyn: It was the height of what universities can be at that time. I was so lucky to come in when academia was highly valued. There was money and they were hiring. It was just spectacular to tell the truth. I also felt lucky to come to a department where there were several other faculty studying family. I quickly became friends with Lois and Sandy, and then, of course, one by one, they left to go to on to other things, but by that time I think Amy Wharton was hired.
It was a very typical medium-size department. It was thriving; we got lots of research grants and had lots of money. It was a really a good time to be in the University.
Tom: You started at WSU and stayed.
Marilyn: That’s right. I became a full professor I think the same year that I became chair, I think it was 1988. My whole career was at WSU, and I feel very identified with it. I mean, really, that’s my home.
Tom: How did you become chair?
Marilyn: Well, I had been a regular faculty member for about 13 years, and I was ready for a change. My spouse, Irv (Tallman), and I were both in the department and it didn’t make sense to go on the market to look for another job. I was happy at WSU. I was approached by a couple of people about the opportunity to be chair. And I thought, “Yeah, I’m ready for something different.”
People in my day, anyway, used to say how horrible it was being chair of the department, and they would get out as soon as they could. To tell you the truth, I liked the job. It was problem solving. It was facilitating the faculty. It was looking out for their interests and building up the department. Our department was very special. It was really a good time to be chair, and I liked it. So, after four years, they said, “You want to do it again?” I said, “Sure.” I was chair for eight years, or two terms.
Tom: Are there any specific memories you have?
Marilyn: I didn’t work with a lot of graduate students, but I remember Masako Ishii-Kuntz was one. She got a job at my alma mater, the University of California Riverside, and was on their faculty for many years.
Mostly my memories are from when I was chair and the kinds of things I tried to do while I was chair. Otherwise, it was really pretty routine.
Tom: What can you tell us about your book project?
Marilyn: The book started during the COVID-19 pandemic. Betty Winfield, who is the editor of the book, was in the WSU communications department at the time when the three of us were in the Sociology department. She was acquainted with Lois because Lois was dean (of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences) at the time. They instituted the Edward Murrow Symposium, and then Betty and Lois wrote or edited a book on the talks that were given at that symposium. Lois met Betty, and then Betty became friendly with Sandra and me. There were not a lot of women on the faculty in those days. During the pandemic, Betty thought she needed something to do, so she called us and said, “You three were the first women sociologists at WSU. That’s pretty special. Why don’t we write a book about your experiences?”
Each one of us has a set of chapters, and she wanted us to go all the way back to find out the roots of sociology in our past. We wrote about our childhood, our growing up, our teenage years, our undergraduate years, graduate years, and then coming to WSU, and how we got here.
Tom: Can you tell us about your hopes for the book, as it moves forward?
Marilyn: My life has been so fortunate from day one; our timing for this book was just again so perfect. It turns out that next year is the 100th anniversary of the Department of Sociology, and lo and behold, here comes our book. It’s going to be released at the end of September and I just got word from the press that they would like to fly us all up (to Pullman) and have us give a symposium to launch the book. Isn’t that wonderful?
Sadie: With this great opportunity with the book to reflect on your life and your immensely successful career, have you garnered any insights or advice that you could share with graduate students today or with someone like me who is just beginning their career?
Marilyn: They wanted us to end each section in the book with a word of advice for current young people that may be coming into sociology. We were all of a mind, and especially me, that what young people are facing these days is just not the same as when I was in graduate school. So, my advice can’t be directed to where you’re going or what young people today might need to do to prepare better, because I don’t know that. All I can say is love what you’re doing, work hard, believe in yourself, and have confidence in yourself. Even if at times you don’t, you can fake it, because that’s just the way life is!