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Staff Blog

Leading Hoosier Women in Wartime: How Kate Hevner Mueller Advised Collegiate Coeds for World War II

Karen Wood

Karen Wood, Green3’s staff historian, presented a paper at the inaugural Hoosier Women at Work Conference, hosted by the Indiana State Library and held in Indianapolis on March 26, 2016. Karen’s presentation was especially timely given the conversations taking place today about equal treatment for women in the workplace.  As a Women Owned Business, Green3 is proud to share an abbreviated summary of Karen’s presentation.

Kate Hevner Mueller

Kate Hevner Mueller

Karen Wood

Karen Wood

As dean of women at IU, from 1938 until 1946, Dr. Kate Hevner Mueller researched and wrote curricula for women before, during, and after the war; supervised the maintenance of women’s residence halls and sororities; led a support staff; chaired numerous committees; and assisted women students in establishing self-governing bodies on campus. Simultaneously, she was an assistant professor of Psychology and collaborated in the Aesthetics of Art with her husband. She was a busy woman!


In November of 1942, Mueller attended the “College Women and the War,” conference. Mueller later observed that she had “seldom spent two days with so much profit, both in concrete information and in stimulation to my own thinking on these problems.” Some of the observations from industrial executives and managers illuminated the uphill battle that women were fighting in working in the public sphere. One of the managers expressed that college women found it difficult to work with women of lower societal and intellectual status, and often fail in “executive and supervisory work” because they lack “emotional balance and stability.” One speaker admitted that he would prefer to have lesser-educated women run the production lines than a college girl because a “‘waitress or a beauty operator knows what it means to deliver to her employer an honest 8-hour day’s work. The college girl has never learned to assume that responsibility.’”


A couple of weeks later in the beginning of December, she wrote and published Indiana University’s Wartime Curricula for Women. Mueller included course programs for wartime careers such as personnel manager, production supervisor, x-ray technician, junior accountant, photographer, weather observer, junior meteorologist, cartographer, and junior business analyst. She stressed the “college-trained” mind and how the industries needed trained women to supervise the younger women without a college education. College women were the leaders in wartime society, bearing the responsibility of the war effort on their shoulders, which demanded “high intelligence and a wide educational background.” Soon after this wartime curriculum was distributed, Mueller was flooded with letters from university and even high school administrators from Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan requesting copies of her curriculum. In a letter to Herman B. Wells, President of Indiana University from 1938 until 1962 Mueller humbly acknowledged how popular her curriculum had become among higher education administrators.


After the war, Mueller took a poll on how the war impacted college life for women students. She found that women were doing more of the following: walking and hiking; knitting for themselves, not for soldiers; playing card games including bridge; going to the movies; reading books and magazines; studying because of the accelerated system; going to church; participating in extracurricular activities; and dating younger men. Women had become more self-reliant and resourceful, crafting leadership skills. Among the student organizations in 1945, all but one man was on the prom committee, and the president of student council and the student senior bodies were women. The student newspaper and yearbook were staffed with mostly women and the band, an all-male ensemble before the war, was evenly divided among the sexes. Amid the nationwide societal pressures of women becoming a housewife and homemaker a few years if not immediately after college, women at IU campus had become stronger individuals. Women were no longer seen as delicate and definitely not ignorant. They were well informed of current affairs and thought for themselves. The war had opened the eyes of young women, showing them that they were just as smart, strong, and resilient as the men in the workplace.


Mueller herself had been impacted by the war. During a tumultuous time that desperately needed female leadership, Mueller stepped up and took initiative, writing curriculum and documenting empirical studies of student personnel and guidance in higher education. The wartime curriculum that she had designed facilitated the ease and quickness of increasing the number of women who graduated from IU. Her research in the late 1940s led her to publish Educating Women for a Changing World in 1954, which predicted modern roles for women: that they would leave the household (thus sharing the household work with men) and work in the public sphere. Although she was no longer dean of women in 1946, she remained at IU, becoming a professor in higher education for the next twenty years and leaving a legacy of a woman who epitomized female empowerment, resilience, and strength.