35th Anniversary of the Wisconsin Women's Studies Conference and the UW-Madison Department of Gender and Women's Studies
The 2010-2011 academic year marks the 35th anniversary of the Wisconsin Women’s Studies Conference well as the 35th anniversary of the founding of the UW-Madison’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies (then called the UW-Madison Women’s Studies Program).
Help us celebrate our shared history on Friday, March 25th at 5:30. There will be a late afternoon reception celebrating the shared 35th anniversaries. All conference participants are invited to the reception which will be held in the new facilities of the UW-Madison Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, at 3321 Sterling Hall, 475 N. Charter Street. Find a map to Sterling Hall on our annual conference webpage.
The first Wisconsin Women’s Studies Conference took place April 29-May 2, 1976 in Lowell Hall on the UW-Madison campus. For that first Wisconsin Women’s Studies Conference almost all UW System campuses, UW-Extension, and UW Central Administration were represented on the program as well as a range of private colleges and presenters from state universities in Iowa and Minnesota.
That first conference was specifically dedicated to the two goals: 1) The development of statewide Women’s Studies data bank/library holdings and the definition of library core resources in Women’s Studies each degree granting institution should be expected to have; and 2) to present a range of problem-solving working sessions “which concentrate on the most pressing concerns confronting Women’s Studies planners in a time of fiscal stringency.”
The program from that first conference shows librarians leading the way with participation from UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and Northwestern University. (How appropriate that the 35th Anniversary Conference includes a panel [Saturday, Session 8] entitled: From the Stacks to the Streets, discussing how important it is that librarians still are on the frontlines of democratic society, championing equal access to information).
Familiar sounding sessions were offered on: curriculum and issues involved with interdisciplinary teaching; program structure, funding, development and the challenges of staffing courses; and, of course, focusing on student experiences in Women’s Studies. If you look at the 1976 conference program you will see familiar names. You can find the programs for most of the last 35 Wisconsin Women’s Studies Conferences here.
Women’s Studies in the University of Wisconsin System
Women’s Studies has a long history in the UW System. By the early 1970’s women’s studies courses were being offered on close to half of the UW System campuses in response to the national call from women to see themselves in university curriculums and other cultural institutions. By 1973 the Board of Regents where interested in the establishment of interdisciplinary programs like Afro American Studies. They established a Taskforce on Women’s Studies to examine the need and feasibility of developing Women’s Studies Programs on all System campuses. The Task Force’s 1974 report recommended that each UW institution establish a women’s studies program, with interdisciplinary an interdisciplinary major, minor, and/or certificate. The Taskforce further recommended that each program have a ‘full-time’ coordinator, something we have yet to achieve.
The BOR 1974 Taskforce report also recommended the creation of a position for a Systemwide librarian who could act as a resource for information and scholarship. In 1977 that recommendation was realized with the position of the UW System Women’s Studies Librarian. In 2011 the publications of the UW System Women’s Studies Librarian’s Office and its on-line presence is internationally recognized as among the best resources for academic feminism and women’s studies research.
Many women’s studies programs were established after the Taskforce report was distributed to the campuses, including the UW-Madison Women’s Studies Program. Approved in 1975 the program was open for business in the 1975-76 academic year 35 years ago. More history of the program can be found here.
By the late 80’s, with Women’s Studies programs and departments on every University of Wisconsin campus, an informal network of women’s studies administrators had emerged as a source of information and support. Their semi-annual meetings brought people together to share experiences and develop collaborative projects. Responding to an opportunity to formalize the network, the group applied for a UW System Center for Excellence designation. The Center for Excellence project was abandoned by UWS but the proposal became the foundation of the vision for the UW System Women’s Studies Consortium (WSC) as a System level office to support collaborative efforts toward the growth, development, visibility of Women’s Studies in the UW System. In 1989 the UW System Women’s Studies Consortium was established with Jacquelyn Ross, founder of the UW-Platteville Women’s Studies Program, as its director. She would lead the WSC for its first decade.
A publication of the Women’s Studies Consortium, Transforming Women's Education traces the history of women's studies in the University of Wisconsin System. Drawing on oral histories and archival records, it follows this history from the earliest arguments over women's admission to the university through their acceptance as students on equal terms with men, to the mid-twentieth-century development of special programs for mature women students, and finally, to the development in the 1970s of the new field of women's studies. For more history of Women’s Studies in the University of Wisconsin check out Transforming Women's Education: The History of Women's Studies in the University of Wisconsin System, A Collaborative Project of the University of Wisconsin System Women's Studies Consortium.