Women’s Studies at Barnard College:
Alive and Well and Living in New York
Coordinator of Experimental College
Women's Studies Newsletter, March 1978
It may seem somewhat confusing to be reading an article in 1978 on the new Women’s Studies Program at Barnard College. After all, people say, haven’t you had Women’s Studies there for years? The answer is, well, yes and no. Of course there have been Women’s Studies courses at Barnard for many years. Annette Baxter’s History of American Women was one of the earliest courses in the country, first taught in the fall of 1966. Similarly, Catharine Stimpson introduced a course on Images of Women in Literature in the spring of 1971. The Barnard Women’s Center was begun in 1971, and the Scholar and the Feminist Conference it sponsors was first held in 1973. But it was only in May, 1977 that the Barnard College faculty voted to establish a major in Women’s Studies,
for students who wish to explore the basic questions raised by the new scholarship on women. Some of the issues touched upon in this field are: sex roles, sex differences, and the concepts of femininity and masculinity; the roles of women in culture and society, past and present, and their implications for the roles of men; questions about the distribution of power, work and resources in the public and private domains; and the symbolic and religious place of feminine and masculine imagery.
The Women’s Studies Coordinating Committee was originally established as an ad hoc sub committee of the Committee on Instruction, the curriculum committee for the college. This committee met regularly over a period of three years, beginning in 1974, to design a Women’s Studies program, and to prepare the ground for its acceptance by the faculty as a whole. The committee collected information on Women’s Studies programs at other campuses – their structure (organizational and academic), and their content; it looked at other programs at Barnard, to see what elements of our program could resemble those of other programs and departments, as well as what elements would necessarily be unique to Women’s Studies; and it held a series of “hearings” with individual faculty members from a wide range of disciplines, to discuss their knowledge of Women’s Studies, their attitudes toward the field, and their views of the place of Women’s Studies in the Barnard curriculum.
In 1976, a Women’s Studies “page” was introduced into the Barnard catalog for the first time, listing the courses offered by the several departments, but noting that these were merely electives, and did not constitute any kind of a program. Finally, in 1977, encouraged in part by the establishment of the National Women’s Studies Association that year, and by the sustained interest of students and faculty alike in Women’s Studies, the Committee proposed a full major to the Barnard Committee on Instruction. The proposal was approved by the faculty, as noted above, in May 1977.
The academic year 1977 78 is thus the first year of existence for the new major, and it is too early to draw any conclusions about how the program is faring. But the structure of the program and its mode of operation are pretty much in place, and can be described in a preliminary way.
In general, the program that the Coordinating Committee designed follows the model of the other interdisciplinary programs at Barnard such as American Studies. That is, the program itself offers a series of four “core” courses, taken by all majors. In the junior year, a student takes the Junior Readings and the Colloquium in Women’s Studies (in the fall, and spring, respectively; these courses are described in detail, below). Then as a senior, she takes two semesters of a senior research seminar and writes a senior thesis. The rest of the courses in Women’s Studies are offered through other departments and programs.
Students design a major in one of two areas – either history/humanities or social science – although a student may also put together an individual major around a particular interest or theme (for example, Women and Health). The major requires a total of 14 courses (on the high side for Barnard major fields, which vary from a requirement of eight to 16 courses), and it includes a concentration of five courses outside of Women’s Studies within a department discipline such as anthropology, history, or psychology. Students may also avail themselves of other options open at Barnard – joint, double, or special majors – so as to create their own combinations of Women’s Studies with other majors. This is not automatic, but is done by means of petition to the relevant committee and in consultation with the departments concerned.
The junior readings course is made up of “classics,” either major writings in the history of feminist theory or important representations of female experience. The reading list includes works by Mary Wollstonecraft, Friedrich Engels, John Stuart Mill, Virginia Woolf, Zora Neale Hurston, Simone de Beauvoir, Mirra Komarovsky, and Betty Friedan, among others. (The list will, of course, vary from year to year, depending on the preferences of the individual instructor.)
The colloquium is designed to give students an overview of the “state of the art” in Women’s Studies. The students will thus become aware of contemporary research issues and debates in a variety of disciplines, and will be thus prepared to choose a research topic of their own for the senior thesis. The colloquium this year, which I am teaching, has been looking at the current feminist critique of family history, and at the reproductive cycle as a research issue. This year’s speakers are: Mary B. Parlee and Catharine R. Stimpson (Barnard), Nancy K. Miller (Columbia), Gaye Tuchman (Queens), Rayna Rapp (The New School for Social Research), Renate Bridenthal (Brooklyn), and Kathryn K. Sklar (UCLA). The colloquium lectures are open to the public. In addition, the students meet for discussion periods with the instructor. We hope to be able to rotate the teaching of the core courses, so that everyone in the Women’s Studies program will have the opportunity to teach them (and modify them) in the coming years.
One special feature of the Women’s Studies Program is that, as part of the major, a student may carry out an independent project through the Experimental College, a program that emphasizes experiential learning under faculty sponsorship and supervision. A student may thus develop an internship in an area of direct and practical relevance to her major, by working at the New York City Commission on the Status of Women, the District Office of Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, or in the press office of City Council President Carol Bellamy (to cite some current examples).
The Women’s Studies Program is supervised by the Women’s Studies Committee, drawn from people concerned with Women’s Studies in the several departments and programs at Barnard and Columbia, and is chaired by Lila Braine, Professor of Psychology and Chair of Psychology Department. The committee, which includes students and representatives from the Women’s Center, is a policy making group for the program. A listing of the courses for next year (see below)* reveals some of the richness and diversity of the offering, as well as some of its limitations. We have a relatively small group of courses, compared to some of the larger and older programs elsewhere; and we are concerned about a lack of “coverage” in some crucial fields, although one can of course view this, more optimistically, as room for future growth. In this respect, the program is just beginning to encourage the introduction of Women’s Studies courses in fields where these are now lacking, and in some cases we have had interested and even enthusiastic responses about possible future courses.
Obviously the new program at Barnard confronts many of the classic problems of Women’s Studies programs nationwide. The offering at present depends in large part on the good will and commitment of other departments and programs for the continued availability of our courses. Funding for the program is at a minimal level, and is not likely to increase rapidly at a time of stringent academic budgeting. Students, for their part, show an intense interest in the courses of the program. Yet some are hesitant to major in Women’s Studies, because of pressures, internal or parental: can you make a living doing Women’s Studies?
On the other hand, there are some benefits to establishing a program at this relatively late date. One is that the legitimacy of Women’s Studies as an important area for research and teaching is somewhat less in question than in the pioneering days of 1969 and 1970. The Barnard program was not given a time limit by the faculty, nor was it required to schedule an evaluation, internal or external, to determine its permanency in the curriculum. And the Women’s Studies program finds itself in a very lively context. Barnard is the place where Signs is edited; where the Scholar and the Feminist Conference takes place annually; where the Women’s Center, directed by Jane S. Gould, with its large resource collection and its myriad activities – speakers, meetings, publications – and the Women’s Counseling Project, a referral center for women, create networks that increasingly connect us to the women’s community on and off campus. We hope that, over the coming years, we will be able to report that the Women’s Studies Program at Barnard will be, as it is now, alive and well, and even flourishing in New York.
* Courses for the coming academic year, as of this writing, are (in addition to the core courses):
Annette Baxter, History of Women in America
Bettina Berch, History of Women’s Work
Daisy Dwyer, Sex Roles in Cross Cultural Perspective; Seminar on Sex Roles
Hester Eisenstein, Contemporary Feminist Thought
Tatiana Greene, 20th Century Women Writers
Carlyn Heilbrun and Nancy K. Miller, Studies in the French and English Novel: The Heroine’s Text
Mirra Komarovsky, Female and Male: A Sociological Perspective
Jackie Leavitt, The Built Environment: Sex Roles and Social Policy
Cynthia Lloyd, Sex Discrimination and the Division of Labor
Mary B. Parlee, Seminar on Psychology and Women
Abraham Rosman, Colloquium on Current Anthropological Theory: Male and Female in Cultural Analysis
Susan R. Sacks, Child Rearing: A Survey of Alternative Practices
Ann Sheffield, Women in Antiquity
Catharine R. Stimpson, Sex, Gender and the City: The New York Example
Suzanne K. Wemple, The History of Women in the Middle Ages Studies