Telling Her Age: Women's Studies Turns 30
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
October 3, 2007
The very first women’s studies program in the country was established
in 1970 at San Diego State University. UNH wasn’t far behind.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the university’s program,
launched in 1977 as an undergraduate minor. Back then, only 20 percent
of the faculty involved had tenure and most of those who did were from
the English department.
“UNH had one of the earlier programs in the country. It’s
very nice to know that we were on the cutting edge,” says Marla Brettschneider,
a political science professor and the women’s studies coordinator.
The structure of the program has changed during the years in response
to varying needs as well as trends in women’s studies around the
country, Brettschneider says. In the beginning, a team-taught introductory
course was offered (WS 401, introduction to women’s studies) along
with courses that spanned at least two colleges. There was also a strong
The Outreach Nursing Home Project, for example, featured a film and discussion
series at the Parrott Avenue Nursing Home in Portsmouth and the Eventide
Home in Exeter. Professor Sharon Oja and the women’s studies math
anxiety committee received a grant from the Elliot Fund to develop a course
for the “math anxious.”
In 1979, Catharine Stimpson, an outside consultant and founding editor
of SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, recommended the move
to a full-time, tenure-track path for the program’s coordinator.
Catharine Adamsky was hired as the result of a national search.
Then, in 1986, a second full-time, tenure-track position was added and
Barbara White became the coordinator. She and Adamsky taught and took turns
coordinating the program for the next two terms.
“This was an ideal arrangement,” Brettschneider says. “Women’s
studies has always tried to navigate and meet many different expectations.”
Brettschneider notes that the demand for the course of study came on the
heels of the second wave of the feminist movement when only a small amount
of women were in the academy and doing the work. It was, she says, a historical
“Universities have these grand images of openness, truth and tolerance.
It’s not just about truth. The biases of society find their way into
the halls of academia,” Brettschneider says. “The very absence
of the experience of women’s lives and contributions—half of
the population was not being represented not only among faculty positions
but in terms of the content of our studies and teaching in a university.”
UNH’s women’s studies major was approved in 1991 after an
extensive external review of the existing program. While there had been
students graduating with a women’s studies degree before then through
a self-designed major, the first students to earn an actual women’s
studies degree graduated in 1993.
When COLA Dean Marilyn Hoskin came on board in 1995, she saw the anticipated
retirement of the two coordinators as an opportunity to create four joint
positions and to bring in more of the social sciences.
An overview the current program describes it as the “interdisciplinary,
scholarly investigation of the rich variety of women’s lives,” past
and present, in this country and around the world.
Today, UNH’s women’s studies program has more women students
as well as faculty. And women faculty members are taking on new roles,
moving into leadership positions around campus, chairing departments outside
of women’s studies, heading up committees, etc.
“I’m really proud not only of where we came from but who we
are right now; of what the program offers as colleagues and to the students,” Brettschneider
says. “We have a great bunch of faculty doing really interesting
gender-related research. Having more women and women's studies faculty
on campus is a marker of growth and success. They’re still setting
a growth course.”