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 and history.
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.