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Widowed Services Program/Displaced Homemaker Center and Widowed Services Program records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UA 006

Scope and Contents

The Widowed Services Program and Displaced Homemaker Center/Widowed Services Program Records is primarily composed of materials relating to the two phases of the program. The collection consists of photographs, press releases, program proposals, newspaper articles, correspondence, media presentation files, various papers relating to program administration, legislative and funding grant materials, publications, workshop and conference papers, materials from presentations by or courses Hazel Foss taught, miscellaneous items, and materials relating to various organizations (the Center for Gerontology, national and regional displaced homemaker networks, and the Older Women's League [OWL]). While the series relating specifically to the program are fairly thorough, containing materials relating to most aspects of the program, other series are not as complete. For example, the files pertaining to the conference/speaker sponsorship materials are sometimes incomplete; a file may contain only a note indicating that the conference or event took place. When a file is primarily empty, the deficiency is noted in the finding aid.

The collection is arranged according to Hazel Foss's initial organizational scheme. Series I consists of materials relating only to the Widowed Services Program (phase one of the program). Series II consists of materials relating to the Displaced Homemaker Center/Widowed Services Program (phase two of the program). Series III-VII consist of materials relating to both phases of the program. Series VIII is composed materials relating to conferences/community presentations that Hazel Foss participated in during both phases of the program. Series IX is composed of materials relating to the Center for Gerontology. Series X is composed of materials relating to courses offered and course presentations by Hazel Foss. Series XI is composed of materials relating to national and regional displaced homemaker networks. Series XII contains materials relating to the Older Women's League (OWL); Series XIII is biographical materials about Hazel Foss; Series XIV is artifacts; Series XV is miscellaneous; Series XVI is video recordings; Series XVII is Audio recordings; and, finally, Series XVIII is photographs.


  • 1973-1991


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Hazel Foss is best known for her work in the Displaced Homemaker movement. Because she had been a traditional homemaker her work was infused with the understanding that can only come from personal experience. In her early life, she had worked as a secretary, married, given birth to twin girls, and pursued the life of a particularly active homemaker. While her life could be divided into two distinctive phases, her domestic life and public work are inextricably linked. Indeed, her work in women's services simply would not have been possible without her early family and domestic lives.

The impact of childhood on adult life is universally acknowledged, but Hazel Foss's upbringing is a near prototype of the nuclear family—a model that clearly influenced her decisions as a young woman. She was born on March 6, 1924 to Halvor and Gina Marie Mortenson. Foss was born in Fairdale, North Dakota and grew up in Fairdale, North Dakota, a tiny, agricultural town rich in Scandinavian and Germanic ancestry. Although her hometown was fairly minute, Foss's family was not. She was one of seven children and part of a tight-knit family that appreciated close family relationships. In fact, even though her family cherished hopes of relocating to the West Coast, they chose to stay in North Dakota so that Halvor Mortenson could look after his elderly mother. Unlike so many people today, Mortenson believed that it was his responsibility to care for his mother in her old age, and he valued his mother's needs enough to remain next to her side until she passed away in 1939. Her father's compassionate concern for his elderly mother, which Hazel witnessed at a young age, no doubt influenced Hazel Foss's later work with the elderly community.

One year after her grandmother died, Foss's family finally decided to move to the West Coast. The entire family relocated to Spokane, Washington, where one of Foss's brothers was living with his family. While some of her siblings were grown and already pursuing their own adult lives, Foss was sixteen at the time of the move and just entering young womanhood. Unfortunately, the move was shortly followed by a family tragedy. Only nine months after settling in Spokane, Foss's mother was killed in a car accident. While the move was so quickly followed by misfortune, it also opened new doors for the young Foss, which her mother had been hoping for all along. She "viewed the move to the West Coast as a means of giving her children more educational opportunities than were readily available in North Dakota," Foss says. In Spokane, Foss was able to enroll in a special business program at her high school, and she was selected for a part-time secretarial position in a brokerage office during her senior year. Because Foss was the only secretary in the office, she was able to sharpen her skills in typing, shorthand, taking dictation, and other office duties that would prove useful to her later.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Foss pursued secretarial work, and worked two full time positions before concluding that "being a secretary was not enough of a challenge." As she pondered what to do with the rest of her life, Foss made the choice to attend college. "In those years," she says, "women were either a nurse, teacher, or a secretary." Her experience as a secretary had proved ultimately limiting and she had no interest in nursing. The decision was simple. "I decided I would become a teacher." However, Foss's stint at university would prove short lived. After moving to Seattle with her family in 1943, Foss enrolled at Seattle Pacific College (now Seattle Pacific University). Because her sister already attended the college and the campus was within walking distance of her family home, the school seemed like an obvious choice. However, after taking two terms of general courses, Foss realized that she could not reconcile her personal beliefs with some of the college's religious affiliations. She withdrew from the college, intending to return to work and save enough money to enroll in a state school. With this goal in mind, Hazel Foss landed a secretarial position at the Dobeckum Company, a job that she would keep until her marriage several years later.

The year 1947 presented another transition for Foss, but this change was perhaps the most significant: it was the year that Foss became a wife. She married Lyle Foss, a young man who was part of her social group in Seattle. He worked as a sales representative for Procter & Gamble Company, and because of his work, the couple relocated to Portland, Oregon, where they established a family life together. Hazel Foss settled into her role as a wife, with the addition of twin daughters in 1950. In 1952, the family relocated to Eugene, Oregon. With two growing children, Foss threw herself into a variety of domestic commitments and activities, stating that "In the role of wife and mother, I did all the things a good wife and mother did in those days." This meant, "staying home and participating in my daughters' activities, volunteering in organizations and joining organizations from which I might benefit, such as the Toastmistress Club." On occasion, Foss enrolled in courses at the local university, but was unable to finish her college degree because her primary commitment was to her husband and children.

Hazel Foss's domestic life continued undisturbed for many years. However, like many housewives of her generation, Hazel Foss's entrance into middle age was fraught with difficulties, particularly because tragedy entered her life once again. Her husband died instantly in a car crash in 1967, propelling Foss into a state of grief and instigating a full-fledged identity crisis. While she had spent four years as the executive director of the Lane County Council on Alcoholism (a volunteer position she continued until 1973), her husband's death marked the end of her most significant role: her identity as a wife and homemaker. Suddenly, Foss became the sole provider of her twin daughters, forcing her to face the looming question, "Who am I?" and reassess the kind of lifestyle she wanted.

Only a year after becoming a widow, Foss recognized her need for guidance, and she attended a career analysis workshop at the University of Oregon. The workshop was designed to help older women both discover their calling and provide them with practical tools for pursuing their new direction. The workshop proved to be life altering for Foss, and it was pivotal in sending her back to academia. She enrolled in the University of Oregon, matriculating alongside her daughters, and pursued her first Bachelor of Arts degree in community services and public affairs. Foss continued her studies into graduate school, finishing with a Master of Arts in counseling in 1974.

It was during the six years Foss spent studying at the University of Oregon that she became interested in the problems of widowhood. After writing a term paper on the subject in 1971, Hazel was encouraged by faculty to pursue her "new direction," which was focused on widowed services. Because she was a widow herself, the subject was pertinent for Foss, and she recognized that widows often slipped through the cracks because there were not enough resources available to help them cope with their grief and establish a new life alone. Hoping to remedy this problem, Foss launched the Widowed Services Program in 1975, which found its home on the University of Oregon campus. The program was sponsored by the university's Center for Gerontology and was primarily funded through local resources.

Two years later, Foss's focus broadened to include a wider community of women: displaced homemakers. In fact, Hazel Foss is best known for her work in the Displaced Homemaker movement, a branch of feminism that focused on domestic women who (either because of death, divorce, or other circumstances) became displaced members of society. By definition, a displaced homemaker is a person (traditionally a woman) who relies on another person's income (usually a spouse's) because their primary work is performed in the home. While the Displaced Homemaker movement was relatively unheard of in the early 1970s, Hazel Foss was one of the first to recognize this group of women and the unique challenges that they faced. While the concept is foreign to modern women, displaced homemakers were often unable to function in society once they lost their husband or provider of family income. The reasons were varied. For some women, the loss was more debilitating because they had never performed tasks as basic as balancing their checkbooks. Others struggled to find a career that recognized the skills they had developed in the home. Foss, however, understood that displaced homemakers were quality individuals who had often developed a plethora of abilities, and later statistics supported this idea by showing that displaced homemakers were competent employees and were usually more dedicated to their jobs than other workers. The difficulty for many women, however, was learning how to market their skills.

Foss's dedication to the Displaced Homemaker movement was an attempt to remedy the pertinent problems displaced homemakers faced. Because of the Widowed Services Program, Foss was already an established name in women's services and had been elected Lane County's Woman of the Year in 1975. She joined forces with Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields of the National Alliance for Displaced Homemakers and State Representative Nancie Fadeley of the Oregon House of Representatives to begin the Oregon State displaced homemaker advocacy movement in 1976-1977. Oregon State Legislature passed the Displaced Homemaker Bill, allotting federal funding for a pilot project, making it possible for Hazel Foss to expand the Widowed Services Program into a second phase: the Displaced Homemaker Center/ Widowed Services Program. The program was the first of its kind in Oregon and the third to be established nationally, offering aid to approximately 460 people in the first two years.

The Displaced Homemaker/ Widowed Services Program stemmed directly from Foss's belief that marginalized women needed to rediscover their place in society. Having experienced the trauma that widowhood brings, Foss brought both personal knowledge and academic understanding to the task. The organization aimed to recognize the often-overlooked community of widows and displaced homemakers and aid them in gaining the confidence and skills necessary to face a spectrum of challenges, ranging from basic life skills to launching a first career. The services intended to promote the emotional and physical well being of displaced women and included career workshops, health classes, professional training, and both group and individual counseling. One of the most frequently held workshops was "Self-Exploration and Life Planning" (SELP), which was offered every month. While the program primarily aided women, the services were also open to men who became widowers and displaced homemakers.

While the life of the Displaced Homemaker Center/Widowed Services lasted only six years, Foss's work from that period was not limited to the program. She was also heavily involved in national and regional displaced homemaker networks and a variety of other related activities until the early 1980s. Beginning in 1975, Hazel started giving presentations to classes at the University of Oregon, and only a year later she began teaching courses on grief, widowhood and displaced homemakers. It wasn't long before her audience expanded to include other institutions in Oregon. She participated in both national conferences, workshops and media presentations (both on television and the radio). Like other leaders in the National Displaced Homemaker Network, Hazel Foss was also involved in the Older Women's League (OWL); she functioned as an organizer and chairperson, served as an official delegate at conferences, and hosted meetings in her home.

In the late 1980s, Hazel Foss's focus shifted, and she turned her psychiatric training towards becoming a mental health counselor. Her interest in this branch of psychology had developed over time as she observed the grieving patterns of widows she worked with in the Displaced Homemaker Center/ Widowed Services Program. "Over the years I had pondered," she says, "why did some women get well and why were some women unable to recover from the trauma they experienced regardless of the help they received? I found the answer in a new approach to psychology that advanced the latest discoveries about the source of mental health and human psychological functioning. The basic premise is that mental health is within all human beings and everyone has the potential to access and function from this innate health." After taking part in the internship Psychology of Mind at the Advanced Human Studies Institute in Coral Gables, Florida, Foss joined psychiatrist William Pettit in his practice in Bradenton, Florida. She worked there for five years before moving back to the Northwest.

Over the years, Foss continued to educate herself, receiving special training in areas such as Alzheimer's disease, the aging process and intergenerational family therapy. She remains a licensed counselor in the state of Washington and maintains her National Board Certification for Certified Counselors. She also continues to attend conferences in her field.

Foss is currently living in Edmonds, Washington, where she lives an active life pursuing musical interests, reading, following the stock market and golfing. She is a woman with vast energies and a deep appreciation for community. But most of all, she is a woman who is "prepared to maintain [her] own status in the world regardless of sex or age and live a life of fulfillment."


8.5 linear feet (23 containers)

Language of Materials



The Widowed Services Program/Displaced Homemaker Center and Widowed Services Program was established at the University of Oregon by Hazel Foss in the mid-1970s to help new widows and displaced homemakers develop skills to enter the workforce. The collection contains office files, grant records, publicity and media materials, publications, videotapes and audiotapes, and photographs.


Collection is organized into the following series: Series I: Widowed Services ProgramSeries II: Displaced Homemaker Center/Widowed Services ProgramSeries III: Funding GrantsSeries IV: LegislationSeries V: Conference and Speaker SponsorshipSeries VI: Media PresentationsSeries VII: PublicationsSeries VIII: Conference/Community PresentationsSeries IX: Center for GerontologySeries X: Courses Offered and Course Presentations by Hazel FossSeries XI: National and Regional Displaced Homemaker NetworksSeries XII: Older Women's League (OWL)Series XIII: Hazel Foss Biographical MaterialSeries XIV: ArtifactsSeries XV: MiscellaneousSeries XVI: Video RecordingsSeries XVII: Audio RecordingsSeries XVIII: Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Hazel Foss in 2007.

Separated Materials

Photographs in this collection are stored separately under call number PH293.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Aimée LaBounty.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Widowed Services Program/Displaced Homemaker Center and Widowed Services Program Records
Complete Description
Finding aid prepared by Aimée LaBounty
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA