Skip to main content

Mary Ann (Mahoney) Lamanna

M.A. 1964

I arrived in Chapel Hill in the fall of 1959 after a year in France on a Fulbright. In my prior undergraduate years– at Washington University-St Louis– I was first an archaeology major, then a foreign languages major, and finally a political science major. Along the way I discovered that some of the scholars we were reading in political science were sociologists: Weber, Parsons, Merton, Lazarsfeld, but it was too late to change majors. In France my focus had been European Studies, in particular European Union. Was I prepared for graduate work in sociology? “Who is this Durkheim they keep talking about”, I asked one of my fellow students?

Despite the need to do some serious catching up, it seemed to go well. The graduate student cohort was a real community, supportive rather than competitive. In that era sociology was not usually taught in secondary schools, and many sociology grad students, like me, had not developed an interest in sociology until late in undergraduate studies or even later, coming to sociology from such fields as agricultural economics or a ministerial career.

I had an atypical student career so far as coursework and especially research experience was concerned, My area of interest was social psychology, and so my graduate experience was on the cusp of sociology and psychology. I developed a minor in psychology and was a member of John Thibaut’s research group. In sociology I was one of Ernie Campbell’s research assistants as he undertook quantitative social psychological research. I probably learned and retained more sociology from those experiences than from my courses.

I did particularly enjoy Rupert Vance’s theory course and Charles Bowerman’s family course. In fact, family became a second area of interest due to Bowerman’s interesting and prescient take on the future of the family. I admired Bowerman as a department chair for his efforts to encourage the admission and degree completion of women students, as well as to assist in their job searches. This was well before affirmative action policies emerged. I also remember Bowerman’s rather loud eruptions in the stat lab when frustrated by the counter-sorter, a rather primitive method of tallying IBM card data we all used back in the day.

Speaking of family, I became engaged and then married to a fellow graduate student, Dick Lamanna. I had intended to use my sociology in an overseas career with the U.N., U.S. Foreign Service, or USIA. That was now not practical. I was less interested in a purely academic career, which would have focused on social psychology.

I have to say that my experience in Thibaut’s research group had left me skeptical about the validity of experimental social psychology. As a theorist, Thibaut is marvelous, but I didn’t find the research paradigm convincing. I didn’t continue in the Ph.d. program, but worked for the Social Science Research Center until Dick finished his Ph.d. and we moved on to Notre Dame.

Oh yes, Larry Lamanna was born in May 1964, three weeks after my due date. That was lucky, as my thesis defense had taken place only a week or so earlier. I was relaxed, but the committee was terrified! Interestingly, the ob-gyn who delivered Larry was later a co-author on an ASR article, with Richard Udry of the UNC College of Public Health.

Those years were interesting ones to be in Chapel Hill. Dick and I participated in the Chapel Hill civil rights movement—street demonstrations three times weekly in an attempt to desegregate restaurants and shops along Franklin Street and in outlying areas. Desegregation was only accomplished by the federal Public Accommodations law passed in 1964, after we had left. The photos Dick took of the C.H. movement and of the March on Washington which he attended with other Chapel Hillians have been placed with the Southern History collection of the UNC library. John Ehle’s The Free Men tells the story of the local movement.

The Chapel Hill experience has been a lasting one, not only educationally, but in terms of professional and personal friendships. The nice thing about academic meetings is that one can encounter old friends and colleagues regularly. And some fellow students have turned up in my path—Al Williams and Harry Crockett (faculty), came to University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Bert Adams edited a series that included my book Emile Durkheim on the Family (I did manage to learn who Durkheim was). Glen Elder came to Omaha for several years at the Boys Town Research Center, and now his nephew Griff Elder is my colleague at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Presently at UNO I share a retiree office with Marc Rousseau, with whom I overlapped at Carolina; we began and are concluding our sociology careers together.

Now on with my post-Chapel Hill life and career. Dick and I left Chapel Hill in 1964 for South Bend. Notre Dame remained his career post until retirement. I had a small baby, Larry, but did teach part-time at St. Mary’s College across the road from Notre Dame. I also did some community work, managing one of the centers for a tutoring program that drew on Notre Dame students. The Neighborhood Study Help program continues to this day.– A friend and I also organized an after school and summer recreation program for children at a school in our neighborhood which had a mixed race lower and working class student body. When my second child, Valerie, turned four, I entered the Notre Dame Ph.d. program, obtaining my degree in 1977. Dick and I had divorced, but remain friends, not to mention co-parents.

I took a position at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, teaching in both my areas of interest: family and social psychology. UNO had the right balance for me between being research- as well as teaching- oriented, while not being so demanding for tenure that it would be difficult to be a good parent. It was and is an institution that is very transparent and fair in its promotion and tenure procedures as well as welcoming to women and GLBT faculty and staff. The Sociology and Anthropology department has been outstanding in the diversity of its faculty, inclusive of racial/ethnic minorities. Consequently, it has been an interesting department to work in. To be honest, I had not initially intended to stay at UNO, but quickly found that Omaha is a great place to live and that I had support at UNO for my research, both financially and in terms of being free to choose my own direction.

It was an era of academic interest in feminism and in racial/ethnic equality. I and my co-author Agnes Riedmann contracted with Wadsworth Publishing (now Cengage) to do a marriage and family textbook. It was one of the first family textbooks to incorporate research on the racial/ethnic diversity of families and to present a feminist perspective. We were able to move with the times as both families and family studies changed over the ensuing years. Our 12thedition was published in January 2014.

When I was teaching at Notre Dame as a doctoral student, I was asked to undertake a course in “Changing Sex Roles”. Both the department and some higher level administrators thought that such a course should be part of the curriculum. I continued teaching what would become women’s studies at UNO, and eventually led the development of a Women’s Studies program. I also served as chair of both the Midwest Sociological Society and ASA committees on the status of women.

Several topics that became research interests occurred as more or less by chance, as a result of opportunities that came my way, rather than being a planned research trajectory. Soon after the Roe v. Wade decision, the Notre Dame University leadership decided to explore the abortion issue by means of a conference including multiple disciplines and perspectives. I was hired to prepare a survey of the social science literature and that led to a series of papers and publications on a wide variety of reproductive issues. Involvement in an “Ethics of Transplantation” program at the University Nebraska Medical Center led to further publication on bioethical themes. An invitation to assist a group of criminal law professors with their data on the teaching of gender-related issues in criminal law courses led to several law journal publications. A chance conversation at a conference led to a joint project on “The Belton Women’s Commonwealth,” a women’s commune in nineteenth century Texas. And finally, a Notre Dame professor, knowing that I had a background in French, pointed me to Durkheim’s untranslated work on the family. Many years later that became Emile Durkheim on the Family(Sage 2002).

I retired in 2001, but have continued to present papers and write articles; an article on Durkheim is scheduled to appear in Durkheimian Studies in 2014. My efforts in the sociology of literature—“Novels of Terrorism” and “Proust as Sociologist” have resulted in conference presentations (including the International Sociological Association) but have not yet met with publication acceptance. Fun for me though, which in retirement is part of the point! I continue to work with graduate students, in the History, Criminal Justice, and Psychology departments as well as Sociology.

Having been part of “the lost generation” of sociologists in terms of the timing of my degree, I feel very fortunate to have been able to have a career I have found interesting and rewarding. And to have had wonderful colleagues. Chapel Hill is a very significant

Submitted June 2015