Not long after Lillian Whitehouse Lyle began serving as Whitworth’s dean of women and associate dean of students, in 1965, she became a champion for women throughout the Northwest by raising awareness of women’s issues and changing roles in society.
Lyle served as advisor to Whitworth’s Associated Women Students, a group that held discussion panels and brought prominent speakers such as Gloria Steinem and Maria Von Trapp to campus. It was with this group that she proposed a Women in Society class and developed it into an official college course in 1970. “We started from scratch…. There were no resources, no books,” she said. The groundbreaking class explored topics including the history of women in the Bible and the media’s portrayal of women, and laid the foundation for Whitworth’s current Women’s & Gender Studies Program.
During her 25-year tenure at Whitworth, Lyle also pioneered Women in Transition, an on-campus seminar program that addressed gender bias, planning for the future, and goal-setting, which was very successful and highly attended by women throughout the Northwest. “I hoped the seminars would give women an understanding of their role in society and help them realize they are not second-class citizens,” she said. “It was important for them to discover they had skills and potential.” The program continued through the 1980s and inspired similar programs at colleges and universities in Washington and Idaho.
Lyle’s pioneering spirit created a ripple effect that helped make women’s studies an integral part of higher education. In fall 2004, two years after her death, then-President Bill Robinson described her as a “statuesque woman who left a long, rich shadow in every way.” Students who took the Women in Society class, homemakers who participated in the Women in Transition seminars, and faculty members who looked to her for guidance are quick to credit her with changing their lives and shaping Whitworth’s future.