The Move from Office to Center, 1980-1995
On May 30th, 1980 the Center for Women’s Studies came into existence through the College of Humanities. That very same year, the university hired Marlene Longenecker to be the Center Director in September of 1980. She held this position until 1986. However, in those six years, the Women’s Studies program grew exponentially year after year. Longenecker recalls her early experiences at OSU as Director in the windowless basement of Derby Hall in the aforementioned defunct online 2004 archive, to an unfinished office room in Dulles Hall. She also shares that at the beginning of her time as Director there were only two majors and fifty students enrolled in WS courses. However, with the Center’s new status, influence, and advertisements, enrollment quadrupled every year (one year it was sextupled!). With increased enrollment came an upgrade to the number of faculty members needed to accommodate the ever-rising numbers of students and student interests.
Early in Longenecker’s Directorship, she hired Dr. Judith Mayne, a scholar with expertise in film, French film, and Women in film. These varied focuses of individual Women’s Studies courses began to diversify and cover a myriad of topics not traditionally associated with gender studies. Another notable hire includes Dr. Verta Taylor who brought Women’s Studies to Sociology and vice-versa.
Although more and more women were joining the University and becoming associated with Women’s Studies, there was still a gender disparity in leadership at OSU. Longenecker shared that the College of Humanities was only run by men, save for two women named Phyllis Newman and Marilyn Waldman. However, the Center found support in Dean Dieter Haenicke and, once more, the Center for Black Studies. The mutualistic relationship between Women’s Studies and Black Studies was apparent in the beginning stages of WS as just an ad hoc committee. That said, seeing continued support between each program speaks to the importance of not only multidisciplinarity but race as a crucial component of Women’s Studies.
Furthermore, Longenecker shares that in 1981 the Center for Women’s Studies attended the National Women’s Studies Association’s (NWSA) meeting at Storrs, Connecticut. The theme of the convention was “Women Respond to Racism.” Dr. Longenecker stated that the speakers and topics of this event “made [the faculty] aware of [their] own whiteness.” As a result, the entire Center got together and worked on changing every course’s curriculum to address issues of race alongside gender. While also adding a requirement to address race, the Intro course was split into two. The two Intro courses that were developed were WS 201 and 202. 201 was an introductory course with a humanities focus, while 202 was rooted in social sciences.
This breakthrough also made way for future expansions in the curriculum to devote time to both class and sexuality over the next decade or so.
Following the 1981 NWSA conference, The Ohio State University promised to host the 1983 NWSA conference. This event put OSU’s Women’s Studies program on the map across the globe and rescued NWSA from bankruptcy with how well the event was sponsored and attended. Over two thousand feminists were in attendance, including the important feminist voices of Catherina MacKinnon, Gloria Anzaldúa, Mary Margaret Fonow, and Susan Hartmann.
Despite various budget cuts and faculty losses by the University, OSU’s Center for Women’s Studies was becoming a blueprint for starting and structuring Gender Studies programs in the United States. There was always an emphasis on student involvement in feminist studies. For example, The Center emphasized teaching and research by implementing the Robin Wiehm Award for Outstanding Writing Reward for undergraduate students in 1984. Almost forty years later, I would become a recipient of this very award in 2022!
Along with this, in 1984 OSU hosted the “Women’s Voices” poetry event which brought feminist students and scholars for a four-night series. Remarkably, May Sarton, Margaret Atwood, and Nikki Giovanni spoke at this event and read their cherished and beloved works to the around 1800 feminists in attendance. Furthermore, during the same year, the Center for Women’s Studies celebrated its 10th anniversary, bringing Martha Teichner, Letty Pogrebin, and the legendary Maya Angelou as guests. Such events and accolades continued to add to the credibility of OSU’s Women’s Studies Program.
However, it was not all smooth sailing. Along with the groundbreaking NSWA meeting that changed the program’s curriculum, the major, minor, and required courses were all updated to address race even when the focus was not on race. At the time, only two courses featured black women explicitly, but course syllabi were required to incorporate race and ethnicity in combination with gender differences. With the new changes, the Center had to requalify their BER courses through the University. However, on February 23, 1983, the College of Arts and Sciences (ASC) Curriculum Committee denied the intro course 201 BER status. The board determined that the course exhibited a strong anti-male bias and pinpointed a controversial syllabus written by Sheila E. Davis.
One Lantern article, “Claims of 'anti-mal' syllabus disputed,” tells this tumultuous tale. It states that a male music professor named Alexander E. Maine, who sat on the ASC Curriculum Committee, complained that the syllabus was “sensationalistic, short of factual content, and hostile towards men” one Lantern article reported. Another complaint Maine had was that the course relied too heavily on personal experience and feelings. Finally, he questioned the validity of the field by accusing Davis of making up a fake word. The word in question was actually a very real and recognized scholarly term used by feminists, “heterosexism.”
Apparently, all the Center needed to do was revise the syllabus to gain BER status for the three courses it proposed for the incoming Fall semester (201, 202, and 215). In response to all of the pushback against feminism on campus, Marlene Longenecker defended the syllabus as not actually different from the other sections of the course. She implies that this is a bureaucratic and technical way to suppress Women’s Studies. While the program challenged the patriarchal institution of the university, there were still many fail safes put in place to uphold and maintain male supremacy on campus.
Thankfully, the courses were all granted BER status on the second submission of class 201’s syllabi in May of the same year. Dr. Verta Taylor argued that the misconceptions and inherent sexism present in the ASC Curriculum Committee’s rationalization of their rejection of BER status was clear evidence that this course needs to be advocated for. Once more, it becomes evident that while OSU’s Women’s Studies program was becoming respected and trusted by feminists far and wide, at home, they were still fighting to be understood and granted dignity.
Although this issue was a small speed bump, this ephemeral struggle highlighted important pillars of Women’s Studies that the program refused to waiver or compromise. The Center defended its usage of emotional testimony and personal experience, as embracing the personal and reflecting on one’s own positionality are two exercises central to feminist praxis. Even further, a couple of Lantern articles were written by students in defense of the Center in an attempt to convince the ASC to reevaluate their decision. And, although the controversy brought about heated debate, it made more visible the growing presence of feminism at OSU to students and faculty members alike.
Despite some pushback on the content taught in the WS Introductory courses, the pedagogical prowess of the faculty was being celebrated. Dr. Longenecker was awarded two teaching awards for Distinguished Teaching. She is praised for the dialogue and discussion-based classroom she fosters. She states that a lecture course is passive, so seeing feminist teaching styles not only recognized but praised was huge. Especially when the content and lifestyle of feminism were being rejected and underappreciated by many at the university.
(Click the picture to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript!)
In 1986, Dr. Susan Hartmann began her role as Director Chair of the Center for Women’s Studies with Mary Margaret Fonow as second in command as assistant director. By the end of the 1980s, the Women’s Studies faculty had doubled with professors who specialized in women’s health, African American women’s literature and history, Latina American feminism, and women and economic development.
Dr. Susan Hartmann was working at the University of Missouri-St. Louis before working at OSU. She was actually reached out to by Dr. Leila Rupp about applying as Center Director. Thanks to my interview with Dr. Hartmann, I was able to ask her more about her time at OSU. She shared with me that a Center cannot appoint tenured faculty members, so at this time in Women’s Studies history at OSU every faculty member was jointly appointed with a different Department on campus. Dr. Hartmann came to OSU with full rank and tenure through the History Department.
This, as we spoke, led to Women’s Studies' continued multi-disciplinary approach to Women’s Studies and academia broadly. WS was intentionally multi-disciplinary, but its Center status also limited it. Hence, it relied on multi-disciplinarity to stay afloat, make connections with other Departments, and hire jointly appointed faculty members. She shares that Black Studies, History, English, and Sociology were a few Colleges that were particularly supportive of Women’s Studies. However, she emphasizes that the sciences were extremely skeptical of gender and feminist studies, so their best entryway into the sciences was through the College of Nursing, a predominantly woman student and faculty-base. Nonetheless, Women’s Studies was slowly spreading to all spaces at the University.
Despite a lingering resentment and mistrust of Women’s Studies by the Sciences, Dean Michael Riley was extremely supportive of the Center while Dr. Hartmann was the Director. She shares that “he just you know seemed to give us almost everything that we asked for…[we] thought Dean Riley was kind of like well–if we're going to have a women's studies program it's got to be really good. We want it to be as good as Michigan's was.” Even the rivalry between OSU and Michigan crosses paths with the Women’s Studies Program’s history!
However, despite early support from the Dean, there was consistent pushback by conservative voices on campus within the faculty and student base. For example, in 1986 a very controversial article was created by Lisa Ann Leland and her distrust and distaste for Women’s Studies. Leland pretended to be interested in Women’s Studies and sat in on a course. She then proceeded to generalize the students and teachers as women who don’t shave and hate men. She found it absurd that patriarchy could affect every aspect of our lives and made fun of the scholarship. Her opinion piece was published by The Lantern, which has largely been in support of the program until now.
Dr. Hartmann personally contacted The Lantern about Leland’s deception and misrepresentation of feminism, defending the Center, its faculty and students, and scholarship. Furthermore, a graduate student named Jeane Pebbles wrote her own article to The Lantern criticizing the newsletter for publishing and condoning her behavior. At one moment, we have an example of a female student in opposition to Women’s Studies and another female student in strong support of it. It should be noted that at the time there was a recurring problem of Republicans sneaking into Women’s studies courses and calling feminists dangerous and absurd radicals. However, this story depicts the polarizing divide occurring on campus showing mixed support for feminism spreading into OSU’s classrooms, as well as the politics involved on either side of the debate.
In regards to diversity, Dr. Hartmann expresses that the program could have done better. She states that diversity was only really viewed as black and white. That said, Dr. Hartmann intentionally made hires to grant African American women the ability to teach Women’s Studies courses and gain greater representation on campus. She states that sexuality and lesbian perspectives were also focuses of the program, but that the Center could have done a lot more to uplift Latina women, international women, and persons with disabilities.
However, following in Longenecker’s footsteps, the Center and Dr. Hartmann did make moves to encourage and foster diversity. In one proposal, Dr. Hartmann called for Affirmative Action hires to search for black, Hispanic, and Asian professors. Not only for them to be able to teach courses on relevant subject matters to make the program more robust and diverse, but to help change the landscape of the university itself. Being such a predominantly white institution for so long that has historically ignored and undervalued marginalized individuals, we are seeing how Women’s Studies was at the forefront of expanding and diversifying which voices and knowledges deserve to be studied.
Another crucial contribution Dr. Hartmann and the entire Center were able to achieve in the late 80s was influencing the entire University’s General Education (GE) curriculum. She shared with me that the University was reworking the GE curriculum, along with Black Studies and some other Departments, the Center for Women’s Studies lead the advocacy for a Diversity requirement for all students. From here on out, every OSU student was destined to receive a more holistic and diverse education. This decision also was self-serving to the Women’s Studies program because the Center’s courses could fulfill this Diversity requirement. Enrollment numbers continued to rise and rise. Furthermore, OSU still has GE requirements that emphasize diverse experiences, so this is yet another example in which Women’s Studies has pushed and evolved the University as an Institution.
Furthermore, in 1990, a new course was designed to focus on difference instead of universal suffering among women. Mary Margaret Fonow spoke in a Lantern article about this new direction that pays more attention to the unique challenges minority women face, especially how race and class affect lesbian experiences. Nuanced social issues such as lesbian motherhood, sexuality, race, culture, health issues, and gender were all discussed. Women’s Studies has always asked the tough questions and paid attention to social difference, but these moves in the late 80s and early 90s all speak to the growing emphasis placed on intersectionality.
Switching gears, in 1988 the Center was able to create and publish an innovative interdisciplinary journal, the NWSA Journal, edited by Mary Jo Wagner. To Dr. Hartmann’s knowledge, it was one of the first of its kind. The NWSA co-sponsored the periodical and OSU remained its editorial home until 1991. Such a contribution is not only important to the OSU community, but it served as a way for feminist scholarship to be published and proliferated to the rest of the globe.
The Center also sought ways to strengthen its relationship with the larger Columbus feminist community and its needs. And so, they started a downtown lecture Luncheon series in 1989. Dr. Hartmann shared with me that these luncheons connected the program with local feminist organizations and women-owned businesses. The Center was able to fundraise and raise awareness for local projects and businesses, meanwhile, receiving funding from those interested in supporting the Women’s Studies program.
Along with this, the program tried its best to listen to its students and accommodate their wishes. However, Dr. Hartmann explained to me that the students were overwhelmingly supportive and appreciative of the program because it was already miraculous that OSU had such a decorated and prestigious Women’s Studies Program.
Various Covers of "Feminisms"
On the other hand, in 1988 The Sojourner and Library Review newsletters converged and became the new periodical named Feminisms. This same year, the Elizabeth D. Gee Fund for Research on Women was established. This fund chose five to ten projects each year to receive funding, greatly helping and incentivizing post-graduate studies in the Women’s Studies field. Such a move even helped secure the Masters of Arts program, which the Center officially received On Nov 16, 1990, when the Ohio Board of Regents granted OSU the certification and green light for the new graduate program.
Once this program was able to begin, Mary Margaret Fonow greatly emphasized training for graduate teaching and research fellowships. And so, the graduate program became characterized by MA students teaching introductory courses and writing and publishing theses. In many ways, this is the strategy the modern-day Women’s Studies Graduate Program follows. The very program I will be entering this Fall as a graduate teaching assistant.
Another monumental accomplishment Dr. Hartmann was able to achieve was relocating the Center for Women’s Studies to the Oval in University Hall, the heart of the University. This move provided the Women’s Studies faculty greater comfort in a proper workspace with a beautiful view, but it also offered greater visibility to the program. Every single OSU student walks across the Oval and passes University Hall, catching wind of the Women’s Studies Program with or without seeking it out. Furthermore, this move is also a visual indicator of the University’s newfound and continued embrace of Women's Studies.
Throughout all of this, the Center slowly worked on a case for its own Departmental status. However, in many ways, the program benefited greatly from its Center status granting them strong and long-lasting relationships with various other Departments and programs. The Women’s Studies program was becoming evermore difficult to ignore or discount. So, when Dr. Hartmann passed the torch to Dr. Sally Kitch, the program’s primary interest became obtaining Department status.