Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home Fall 2009 Philanthropy Counts Lilialyce Akers leaves $500,000 for women’s studies, autism programs

Lilialyce Akers leaves $500,000 for women’s studies, autism programs

Former UofL Board of Trustees member Sandy Metts Snowden remembers her close friend and mentor Lilialyce Akers as “a petite, soft spoken woman who was strong as nails and who never took ‘no’ for an answer.”

Lilialyce AkersFormer UofL Board of Trustees member Sandy Metts Snowden remembers her close friend and mentor Lilialyce Akers as “a petite, soft spoken woman who was strong as nails and who never took ‘no’ for an answer.”

“If you said you couldn’t do something, she’d ask why,” Snowden says. “Her motto was ‘just do it.’ A friend and former student of Lilialyce’s told me the first time she heard the term ‘steel magnolia’ she thought of Lilialyce.”

Akers taught sociology and women’s studies at UofL for more than 30 years. She was a prominent women’s advocate, public policy reformer and environmentalist for four decades. A portrait of Akers is on permanent display in the Kentucky Capitol in recognition of her work on behalf of Kentucky women.

When Akers died in June 2008 after a brief illness, she left a legacy of improving the lives of women throughout Kentucky, the nation and the world.

She also left a significant portion of her estate to support two programs at the University of Louisville. To date UofL has received $500,000.

Two-thirds of the gift creates an endowment named the Lilialyce Akers Scholarship Fund in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. Akers specified her gift “be used for the development and use in action-oriented programs to enhance the status of women at the University of Louisville and in the Louisville, Kentucky, community.”

Department chair Nancy Theriot says Akers was a believer in applied learning. “She was interested in having students out in the community, where they would get their hands dirty and know what’s going on in the world.”

Kentucky state representative Mary Lou Marzian 79N remembers Akers’ action-based teaching. When Marzian was a 22-year-old nursing student, Akers borrowed a UofL Athletics bus and took her entire class to the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas. More than 20,000 people attended the event. It was the first and only national women’s conference sponsored by the U.S. federal government.

“Going to Houston and seeing 20,000 women and men all with one purpose—to advance the cause of equality and justice—was incredible,” Marzian says.

To keep the “spirit of what Lilialyce envisioned,” Theriot says the department will consider various ways to offer scholarships for action-oriented research. One possibility is to have scholarships available for women’s and gender studies majors during their internship semester. The department requires all majors to spend 100 hours of volunteer work on a project in an organization serving the needs of women or dealing in some way with gender issues.

Many former students, friends and colleagues have also contributed to the endowment in honor of Akers.

The remaining third of Akers’ estate gift supports STAR (Systematic Treatment of Autism and Related Disorders), an intervention program developed for children with autism spectrum disorders. STAR is a program within the Weisskopf Child Evaluation Center, a division of the UofL School of Medicine.

Autism is an issue close to Snowden. To honor her friendship with Snowden, Akers left the money to STAR. Snowden is chair of the STAR advisory board. “Lilialyce knew autism was important to me, and she had met my grandson [who has autism],” says Snowden.

During her career, Akers helped advance women’s rights and environmental issues through her research, teaching and legislative efforts. She taught at Kentucky Southern College in Louisville and Morehead State University before being named an associate professor in sociology at UofL in the 1970s. She was named a director of UofL’s women’s studies department in 1978.

She was a representative for the United Nations Commission on Women and presented two seminars at the UN’s Third World Conference on Women in Kenya. She was active with the Kentucky ERA Alliance and participated in the national steering committee of the Women’s Political Caucus. She also attended the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, later known as the Earth Summit, and the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in China.

Akers served on several boards, including the League of Women Voters, and was president of the UN Association’s Kentucky division. Her numerous awards include the G. Gillian Rudd Vanguard Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Kentucky Women Remembered Award and the League of Women Voters Historical Honoree Award.

Document Actions
Personal tools