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Women'S Studies


Women's studies, as a concept and a site of learning, really began with the second wave of the women's movement in the late 1960s. But generations of work and information gathering preceded that time, particularly in the nineteenth-century penchant for writing stories of "great women" and gathering them in collections of "women worthies." A later, more democratic strain of the study of women was begun by the historian Mary Beard, who in her 1946 volume Woman as Force in History took a different tack. If one looks at "long history," one finds not "great women" only but everyday women, not women as victims but women who influenced their worlds, women who had agency, even within the confines of a limited sphere, within the private realm. Simone de Beauvoir wrote of women as "other" in The Second Sex (1953), while Betty Friedan analyzed "the problem that has no name," the malaise and victimization of middle-class women, in The Feminine Mystique (1963), and Helen Hacker compared women's position to that of minorities (1951). Yet all these important precursors did not initiate women's studies.

It took a combination of the civil rights movement, the New Left, the peace movement (especially the protests against the war in Vietnam), and the various open university movements in the 1960s to help women coalesce and organize themselves into the women's liberation movement. Many more women were attending colleges and universities, many women were participating in the radical youth movements of the 1960s, and many women students and faculty were leaders in the civil rights and antiwar movements. It was thus almost inevitable that women would begin to question their role in those movements if they always had to make the coffee, do the typing, and be available as sex objects. Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) famously said, "The only position of women in the movement is prone," infuriating many young women. The second wave of the women's movement began with hundreds of small consciousness-raising (CR) groups in many cities and towns; as women collectively started to understand and then study their situation, they initiated courses and classes on women's history, literature, and culture, first on a community, ad hoc basis but quickly moving to the college classroom. There were hundreds of women's studies courses offered at colleges and universities in the United States in the late 1960s, and by 1970 formal women's studies programs were launched, first at San Diego State University in California and then at Cornell University in New York. Every year after that saw an increase, from 276 programs in 1976 to 680 in 1999. Most of these programs offered minors, certificates, concentrations, or majors. A Campus Trends report for the American Council on Education in 1984 found that women's studies courses were offered at a majority of four-year colleges and universities and at 25 percent of community colleges; there are more now. Women's studies at the beginning of the twenty-first century enrolled the largest number of students of any interdisciplinary field. The Department of Education estimates that 12 percent of all undergraduate students in the United States have received credit for a women's studies course. But the growth in formal programs does not tell the whole story; many more students enroll in separate courses than choose to major or minor in the field.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Well-being to Jan Ɓukasiewicz BiographyWomen'S Studies - Definitions, Origins, Growth And Institutionalization, Research And Publication, Theories And Assumptions, Gerda Lerner