The creation of the women's studies major
By Kojo Asiedu
In the midst of the social rebellion at the height of the women's
liberation movement at the University in the early 1970s, a group of
students decided they were missing a key part of their education.
They wanted a discourse on the female experience.
A small group of female volunteers led an experimental women's
studies course in the fall of 1972. But the University canceled the
course after a semester because women's studies wasn't recognized as
an academic subject at the time.
This cancellation set off the student body. Led by the Committee on
Women's Issues, which had previously focused its efforts on
addressing the University's hiring polices, students circulated
petitions and submitted a proposal to the LSA executive committee to
reinstate the course.
The efforts succeeded, and the University decided to bring back the course.
In 1973, the official women's studies program was introduced to the
University as an interdisciplinary unit within LSA and did not yet
have a recognized major. It would be another two years before the
program would officially become as a major.
Initially, the major only had four courses: "Women in Victorian
Literature," "Women and the Law," "Psychology of Women" and
Psychological Aspects of Fertility." These pilot courses were
designed to explore common myths about women, women's status in
society and the social expectations for women.
Women's studies concentrators fulfilled the rest of their graduation
requirements by taking courses in other departments such as English
The program also offered mini-courses and gave students opportunities
to volunteer at women's prisons, local women's hospital wards and
women's crisis centers.
The creation of the major was three years behind San Diego State
University, which is credited with the oldest women's studies
department, but the University's program also preceded similar
programs, including ones at Yale University and the University of
California at Berkeley.
The program has come a long way since those four basic classes.
According to the program's website, women's studies goals now focus
on providing concentrators with an understanding of women, gender and
sexuality. Teaching now emphasizes the effect of feminist thought and
studies across multiple disciplines. Women's studies majors explore
the relationship between feminism and multicultural issues, as well
as the global reach of feminist ideals.
Built up from a single class, the program now offers both graduate
and undergraduate programs at the University.