The Woman Behind the Women's Center
Written by Ayanna Cash // Photos Courtesy of Mareyjoyce Green Women's Center
Showcasing the life that Mareyjoyce Green’s dedicated to others.
Extraordinary women are not uncommon throughout history. But women who have devoted their lives to researching, advancing and aiding other women are more of a rarity. Mareyjoyce Green is one example of those unique women who were committed to uplifting and supporting others. As Black History Month ends and Women’s History Month begins, Green was an exceptional Black woman who pioneered for women’s advocacy and social justice and remnants of her hard work can still be seen today.
Born on May 31, 1928, Green was the third of eight children born to Matthew and Preatha Bowie. Her obituary describes details of her personal life including her upbringing. Her childhood town didn’t even have a zip code so Green’s official place of birth was recorded as Yellowpine, Texas — a nearby location to her actual birthplace. Green’s sister Cora says while growing up, the siblings worked on the family’s farm “from sunup to sundown.” The family lived without running water or electricity.
Green graduated from high school at 15 and went on to attend Wiley College in Marshall, Texas where she became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She graduated with an undergraduate degree in Education and Sociology at age 19. In 1947, Green began working as a high school teacher but was quickly removed because teachers we required to be at least 21 and she was only 19 at the time. In response, Green began wearing her hair up to make herself appear older. This set the tone of Green’s life — when she was faced with a problem she was not deterred. Instead, she responded with a solution.
Green married Charles Green and the couple relocated to Cleveland, Ohio. Once here, Green joined Epworth-Euclid United Methodist Church, became parents to Janet and Wallace, and began her career as a dancer. She danced with the Karamu Dance Ensemble and gave dance lessons before returning to school. She earned a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) that focused on the sociology of poverty.
“Be sure to get an education while you’re getting your degree.”
Green went on to teach and create curriculum at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) and the Ashtabula branch of Kent State University. In 1962, Green began heading the Lakewood branch of the Ohio State University’s (OSU) Sociology Department. By 1966, she was overseeing the Sociology Department at Cleveland State University (CSU) — the first woman to ever do so. She also decided to teach modern dance when she discovered there were no dance classes offered at CSU. This ensured that a dance studio was built into the gym that was being constructed at the time. Her obituary says that when Green saw a need, she would fill it and move on. This mentality was consistent throughout her life.
Green proceeded to establish multiple influential programs in Women’s Studies which echoed her devotion to women’s rights and social issues. One such program was Push to Achievement, which offered citizens who were receiving public assistance the opportunity to earn college degrees in order to become self-sufficient. This program helped over 130 students earn bachelor’s degrees.
On top of that, Green served as a chair on Cleveland’s Women’s Equity Planning Project. This project included multiple organizations that aimed to assess the challenges women faced in the region and create policy reforms to tackle these issues. Green’s research provided groundbreaking information about women’s status in society and she worked hard to improve it. She earned the key to the city for her hard work on this project.
Furthermore, Green established the Women’s Comprehensive Program and directed it for 20 years. This program offered women in Corporate America a course that granted students the opportunity to shadow women in management or community leadership positions. The program also brought about the Women’s Studies major which was the first program in Northeast Ohio to offer Women’s Studies as a major.
The Women’s Comprehensive Program also sponsored and directed two esteemed oral history projects which are detailed on ClevelandMemory.org. One project was The Oral History of Ethnic Women, which consisted of a series of interviews with 29 eastern European women, many of whom remembered World War II or the Great Depression. Another was the Women of Fenn Project, which focused on women’s contributions to the foundation of Cleveland’s Fenn College and provided an understanding of what it was like to attend a private co-ed urban college during the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Green’s other accomplishments include serving as Interim Vice President for Minority Affairs and Community Relations, working as a member of the board of the Ohio Education Collaborative on women and children, taking part in the Ohio Women’s Policy and Research Commission, and being involved in Womensspace which eventually opened a shelter for homeless women and children.
All this hard work did not go unnoticed. On March 9, 2009, Green was recognized in the U.S. House of Representatives for her many civic accomplishments and contributions. She was even invited to the People’s Republic of China, West Germany and England where she took part in an Oxford University Roundtable. Upon her retirement in 2008, the Women’s Center on campus was rechristened as the MareyJoyce Green Women’s Center in her honor.
Green was dedicated to helping others on and off the clock. Her obituary recounts the time her sisters found “dozens of handwritten thank you notes attached to checks.” These checks were students making payments on loans that Green had given “from her own pocket.” Green never cashed any of the checks.
Even with all of Green’s achievements, she was an extremely humble and private person, to the point that her colleagues did not know much about her personal life and her family was in the dark about what she did while at work. She was constantly focused on helping others rather than showcasing herself. Information about Green and her life is scarce online but, upon her passing, the current director of the Mareyjoyce Green Women’s Center, Jillian Keller and Green’s children Wallace and Janet were able to come together and piece the two halves of Green’s life together. Despite this separation, Keller says that Green was fully devoted to both.
Along with being a hard-working professor and director, Green was an amazing mother. She emphasized the importance of education to her children and invested in experiences such as swimming lessons and theatre rather than material items. Her children grew to appreciate her strict parenting style, so much so that they have tried to implement it with their own children.
Sadly, Green passed away on September 13, 2019, at the age of 91. Despite her passing, her legacy continues to live on through the MareyJoyce Green Women’s Center. Now under the direction of Keller and located on the first floor of Berkman Hall in room 142, the Women’s Center offers uplifting support, services and resources to women who attend CSU. The center has continued to grow and evolve while remaining true to Green’s mission. Keller said the current logo of the center is “surprisingly similar” to the original logo created in the 1970s. Both logos feature leaves and symbolize growth. Green and Keller’s mission statements are also “incredibly similar.”
Keller feels affirmation that her philosophies are in line with those of Green. The path to success is unique for every woman. Green and Keller understood that and tailored the center to cater to each individual woman and their circumstances with the ultimate goal of success — whatever success may be for each particular woman.
Keller shared a phrase Green used often throughout her career: “Be sure to get an education while you’re getting your degree.” Green urged women to take advantage of all the opportunities offered to students beyond the classroom. Green understood that education was priceless and valuable information and experiences are offered to students outside of the classroom. Keller stands by this phrase and also encourages students to “get engaged, learn more and ask questions.”
Mareyjoyce Green was as selfless and hardworking as they come. From a childhood town without a zip code to heading multiple sociology departments, creating life changing and uplifting programs for women, founding a Women’s Center, and raising a beautiful family — Green has achieved plenty to be proud of. She achieved multiple lifetimes worth of accomplishments within her 91 years. She was extraordinary, to say the least. May the story of Green’s life act as an inspiration to other women and continue to ignite a passion for learning, growth, and success within them.