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The Pioneer Spirit

UCM alumna Marlene Mawson helped create opportunities for future generations of young women.

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By Mike Greife
Cover Story

It was a warm, summer morning in Lawrence, Kan., when Marlene Mawson recently got her first look at the new display of photographs that document the history of women's athletics at the University of Kansas. During a visit to Allen Field House and the Athletics Hall of Fame on the KU campus, she stopped by the women's athletics offices and was invited to view the display that lines the long hallway outside the offices.

For Mawson, a 1962 graduate of the University of Central Missouri, it didn't matter that much that the photo display honoring women's athletics came several years after the similar display for men's athletics in an adjacent hallway. What mattered was that it was there.

"This is wonderful. This is just great," Mawson said as she walked down the hallway, naming the players in the photos who played for her when she coached women's sports at KU in the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with the legendary women's athletics coaches who succeeded her. Among the photos was one of Mawson, taken earlier in her career at KU. It is the same photo that became part of the display in the KU Athletics Hall of Fame when she received that honor in 2009.

Mawson has been called the "Mother of KU Women's Athletics," a title she earned by taking on the task of establishing the program at KU in the late 1960s, before federal legislation assured equality in opportunity.

In 2008, KU named the "Marlene Mawson Woman Athlete of the Year" award in her honor, and the following year she was inducted into the Kansas University Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2012 she was recognized as the "KU Distinguished Pioneer Woman" by the KU Commission on the Status of Women and the Emily Taylor Women's Resource Center.

A native of Archie, Mo., Mawson and her twin sister graduated from UCM in 1962. The youngest of seven daughters, they heeded their father's advice to obtain a college degree. "My father always told us he wanted us to get a college education," Mawson said. "He said someone may cheat you out of your money, but they can never cheat you out of your education." Six of the seven Mawson sisters graduated from UCM, with the seventh earning her nursing degree from KU.

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