History

Dr. Emily R. Jensen
Professor Emerita of English
Founder and Coordinator of Women's Studies
1985-1992

1972 seems now to have been an exceptional year in the history of women's studies throughout the United States. As at so many institutions, it was in that year that I offered my first women's studies course at Lycoming College: Women and Literature. Although a medievalist by training, I was happy to respond to the many requests of our women students that a literature course be offered that focused on their interests as opposed to those required by the traditional canon. The course was innovative in content and methodology: in content, we examined pairs of works-one written by a male author and one by female author--that developed similar plots or themes, thereby exposing gender distinctions in the treatment of character, story line, prose style, and language. I still recall one section on an exam that asked students to identify an unfamiliar passage as male or female-authored and explain why. In terms of methodology, the course was innovative in being team-taught: my specialty was literature and the other person's specialty was sociology, so we conducted the class as a dialogue between us that solicited discussion from the students. The course proved to be a powerful beginning to the program we now have at Lycoming College.

My course has continued to be offered regularly on an alternate-year basis since that first time, focusing for the past several years on women writers, and others joined mine soon after. By 1980 we were offering Women and Literature, Sociology of Women, Psychology of Women, and Women in Art, all on a regular, alternate-year schedule. In 1981, I approached the History Department to asked them to put together a women's history course which they so did, co-taught by a European history professor and an American history professor. I felt very strongly that we needed the history component before we could justify an official women's studies minor.

In Fall 1982, I proposed the interdisciplinary minor--consisting of four of the five courses, plus an independent study resulting in an interdisciplinary thesis--to the Curriculum Committee. After three years of debate, the minor was finally approved in April 1985. It was one of the few minors at the College that required five courses and the only one that required an independent study with a substantial thesis, additions made to appease a curriculum committee made up of men who resisted any study of women as appropriate for an academic institution. It was only when I pointed out the 1984 PMLA Directory identified 450 women's studies programs in existence in 1983-84, programs that ranged from undergraduate minors to Ph.D. concentrations, that they finally began to consider the appropriateness of such a program at Lycoming.

Not surprisingly, although we had many students register for the individual course, few actually pursued the minor since its requirements were so stringent. However, we graduated our first women's studies major in 1992; working under the individual interdisciplinary major option, we put together four women's studies courses and two other courses geared for a pre-law student, two independent studies including feminist theory, and a legal internship in family law. This student went on to law school and subsequently returned to the area when she quickly made a name for herself as a family law attorney, working with one of the most reputable law firms in town.

Currently, women's studies exists at Lycoming College as an official program with a budget for international activities as well as guest speakers, and the possibility of a reading room with women's studies materials.

In addition to the five original courses, we offer WS 320: Issues in Women's Studies and Women in Politics to complete a core of seven courses offered on a regular basis. Other one-time offerings are encouraged as well, and we have supported Women in Developing Countries and Hispanic Women Writers. A minor now consists of WS 320 and four other courses. The major must still come under the rubric of an individual interdisciplinary major that would most likely require WS 320, four of the other core courses, and four courses that we assemble to best reflect the particular interests and future career education goals of the individual student.

Given the variety of practical applications of a major in women's studies, this approach is intelligent and were we to offer an official major in women's studies, the difference would be in title only.

1972 Milestones

  1. Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment; supporters of the amendment begin their campaign to secure the necessary ratification by thirty-eight states.
  2. The journal Feminist Studies is founded.
  3. The National Conference of Puerto Rican Women is organized to encourage equal participation of Puerto Rican women and other Latinas in political and economic life.
  4. The Center for Women Policy Studies is started in Washington, D.C.
  5. The U.S. Supreme Court decides in Eisenstadt v. Baird that unmarried people have the right to use contraceptives as part of privacy rights.
  6. Congress passes the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
  7. Rape crisis centers are founded in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Ann Arbor, Michigan
  8. The Ms. Foundation for Women is begun to help women organize and to change public attitudes toward women.
  9. Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits sexual discrimination in higher education institutions receiving public funds; among its other results, the legislation produces a large expansion in women's athletics.
  10. The National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) is started to help women pursue successful business careers
  11. Shirley Chisholm seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, and Texas feminist Frances Farenthold receives more than four hundred votes for the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention.