Pauline Bart: A pioneering researcher who made a difference for women and children

I met social scientist Pauline Bart out on the slow Farm. I was, at the time, in my mid 30s and working to study the roles in rural regions of women and children. In…

I met social scientist Pauline Bart out on the slow Farm. I was, at the time, in my mid 30s and working to study the roles in rural regions of women and children. In 1977, Bart visited one of my many rural offices in New Mexico, an area known for large numbers of women living with their children, some in substandard housing conditions. When I asked her if she was surprised by how many mothers would be working, she pointed at me and said, “This is one of the things you don’t understand. Unless you come down to a small town and ask the women, they wouldn’t know how many women are working.”

Her small town observations inspired me. She started mapping the divide between the rural and the metropolitan regions of American women, roughly divided along age lines. She followed the kinds of women working in different parts of the country. Bart began mapping working mothers by age, followed women with young children by age, and followed women with older children by age, even going so far as to list the more than 90 categories the traditional media used to categorize and classify women: working mothers, unmarried mothers, working parents, mothers with children who live apart from them, mothers who home school their children. She utilized the Internet to set up video conference with women in rural regions of the country, showing them her maps and asking them if they were surprised to see the way their work covered up their identities.

In the 1980s, Bart joined the faculty of the Center for Technology and Society at Arizona State University, then headed its Gender and Society Research Center. The center brought together international scholars and students to investigate technology’s impact on women’s political engagement, access to information, reproduction, and health outcomes. She taught a course on gender and technology together with Justin Goff, who would become the director of the center, and worked with multiple universities on a series of studies on the connections between the gender and ethnic equality, power, and entrepreneurship that formed the unifying theme of Goff’s research. She also worked to identify regional inequalities as they related to technology. She used her mapping skills to effectively understand the inequities that resulted from the deep divides and unresolved inequities between the coasts and the inland regions of the U.S.

Pauline Bart went to be with our maker in spite of the stresses, challenges, and uncertainties of old age and the movements she made in the world. You may have seen her regularly in those cheerful caravans making a difference in the lives of women and children by constructing homes in rural communities throughout the United States. These active lifestyles inspired me, I think, as it did others who participated in this pioneering initiative.

Pauline Bart loved equality and wanted it for everyone–right from the beginning of her life. I heard her say often that she was “a strong, very honest woman and that without that I couldn’t live the way I live.”

Her last words as she hung up were, “Marry me.” I think she meant a lifelong sense of sisterhood, a sense of human compassion for one another, and a deep desire to ensure that the next generation always inherited that sense of universality and fairness that she personally had grown up with. I hope we will remember her spirit and the real needs that she and her colleagues’ projects worked to address.

Pauline Bart died peacefully surrounded by her children on June 26. She is survived by her husband, Sidney Bart, who died in 2003, by her sisters Pamela Nest, Lynn Farnon, and Jean McFarlane, by her children: Bridget Bart, Carl Bart, Tina Bart-Baron, and Sheila Bart, by her grandchildren: Deanna Pontius, Michaela, and LeeJ Balletilus, and by her great-granddaughter, Mariah R. Sampson. She was preceded in death by her son, Joel Bart.

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