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The life of an AGELESS ACTIVIST A women's rights protester, a pioneering professor, a Peace Corps volunteer at age 65--Alice Rabson makes a difference page 3
Alice Rabson is one of Fredericksburg's local legends. She's helped shape Fredericksburg in the last 36 years. By Jessica Allen

 Rabson brings her faithful pet, Arthur, last month to the Unitarian Universalist Felowship's Blessing of the Animals service.
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Date published: 6/18/2005


In 1969, Rabson decided to teach undergraduate programs. She was working as a research and teaching associate at the Merrill-Palmer Institute and a graduate professor at Wayne State University, both in Detroit.

Her higher-ups wouldn't accommodate her request, so she quit. She applied to several universities and received many offers, but decided to go with then-Mary Washington College.

"This was the lowest salary and least prestigious place," she said. "But when I came here for an interview it was spring and it was so beautiful here."

Alice and Mary

Before Rabson accepted a professorship at Mary Washington, she asked to teach a class on ag- ing for the psychology department.

At the time, the department offered courses only on child development and adolescence, she said.

"That's not human development," she said. "You need to start at the very beginning and do the life cycle. They were very happy about that. It was a trend of the times and everybody teaches it now."

Roy Smith, who is a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington, started working there the year after Rabson began.

The core of today's psychology department was formed between 1968 and 1974, he said.

The department's eight professors--Rabson included--helped redefine the department, Smith said.

Rabson held seminars on psychology of women, human sexual response, personality and social psychology.

She and Elizabeth Clark, a former religion professor at the university, also pushed for a women's studies course, Smith said.

Mary Washington was an all-girls school at the time, but college officials allowed veterans to take classes with their GI Bill, and non-residential men were admitted to the college's summer sessions.

The school's female students weren't allowed to take classes at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville--Mary Washington was the women's division of the university.

Rabson was outraged.

"I was hearing a lot of complaints, and it was unfair," she said.

Rabson, who was on Virginia's ACLU board at the time, contacted the civil-liberties group. The organization filed a lawsuit against U.Va., contending sex discrimination by the university in connection with the denial of admission of four women who applied to the school's undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences.

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