History of Women's and Gender Studies at Queen's

The idea of creating a Women’s Studies Program took root in the early 1980s when the Principal’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women at Queen’s established a Women’s Studies Sub-Committee chaired by Mary Maxwell in Sociology. One of the major objectives of this Sub-Committee was to investigate the feasibility of establishing an interdisciplinary women’s studies course. Both faculty and students served on this Sub-Committee and its work included presenting to the Principal a petition signed by 1000 supportive students, procuring an $8,000 grant from the Principal’s Development Fund, and corresponding with every Faculty and department in the University to solicit their support for and contributions to making this proposed interdisciplinary Women’s Studies course a reality.

The sticking point of course was not where to locate this course, the Faculty of Arts & Science being its logical home, but rather where to find the funding to pay the instructors. In the end, the first course, known as IDIS 200 - Introduction to Women’s Studies, was presented by two paid coordinators, Elizabeth Greene (English) and Katherine McKenna (History), and a roster of 16 professors who volunteered to give lectures, assign readings, grade essays and advise students. The faculty were drawn from Film (Lianne McLarty), Music (Bev Cavanagh), Philosophy (Lorraine Code), English (Susan Dick, Catherine Harland), Law (me, Bev Baines), History (Roberta Hamilton, Joan  Sherwood, Rosalie Stott), Nursing (Lynn Kirkwood, Rita Maloney, Sandra Rutenberg), Geography (Suzanne MacKenzie by then at Carleton), Sociology (Mary Maxwell), Psychology (Betty Solomon), and one community member, poet and filmmaker Bronwen Wallace.

Finally in the summer of 1985 one last committee – the Ad Hoc Semi-Spontaneous Committee on the Future of Women’s Studies at Queen’s – was formed with the purpose of designing and establishing a Special Field Concentration in Women’s Studies. The draft was prepared by Mary Morton (Sociology) and Mary Maxwell (Sociology). By October this Committee consisted of 32 women faculty from across the campus. Three of their number – Susan Dick (English), Joy Parr (History), and Marie Surridge (French) – met with the Dean and received his support for the Special Field Concentration proposal, including funding of a course release for the coordinator, one-third secretarial time and $500 to prepare the proposal. The proposal was presented to the Arts & Science Faculty Board November 8, 1985 by Susan, Joy, Marie and Bev Cavanaugh (Music); it was shepherded through the Curriculum Committee by Bev, Susan and Joy (with Marie there in spirit) and went back to the Arts & Science Faculty Board December 13, 1985 where it was presented by Joy, Marie, Susan, and Roberta Hamilton (History).

Despite some opposition, Women’s Studies carried the day; a packed Faculty Board approved the Special Field Concentration which began in the 1986-87 academic year under the able leadership of the first coordinator, Roberta Hamilton (Sociology). That year Katherine McKenna and Joan Sherwood (History) coordinated IDIS 200 with a roster of 18 faculty members still volunteering to teach on an overload basis: Drama (Tracy Davis), Law (myself, Sheila McIntyre), English (Susan Dick, Catherine Harland, Bronwen Wallace), Sociology (Roberta Hamilton, Mary Morton), Nursing (Lynn Kirkwood, Rita Maloney, Sandra Rutenberg), Film (Brenda Longfellow), History (Joy Parr), Classics (Lucia Nixon), Economics (Nancy Olewiler), Philosophy (Christine Overall), Psychology (Betty Solomon), and Religion (Pamela Young).

In 1988-89, the Special Field Concentration was augmented by Minor and Medial programs; and a new course, WMNS 100 - Introduction to Women’s Studies, was added to the curriculum and taught by Katherine McKenna. WMNS 200 was renamed Topics in Women’s Studies and continued to be taught by a roster of many volunteer faculty lecturers for at least a decade after its inauguration, including among its coordinators Haideh Moghissi (Political Studies), and then Karen Weisbaum.

1989 was a very important year because it was the first year that we awarded the first Kathleen A. Herman Prize, a prize that has been awarded annually since that time. Also in 1989 Joy Parr became the new coordinator of Women’s Studies. Joy regrets she cannot be here tonight but she asked that we recognize what a treasure Terrie Easter Sheen was, is, and will be to the Women’s Studies enterprise. Terrie joined Women’s Studies in 1986 and as Administrative Assistant to the Department over the intervening years has been an invaluable and irreplaceable source of support and encouragement to students, faculty, heads and staff.

In 1990 Mary Morton became the third coordinator of the Program and was instrumental in the addition of two fourth year courses – a special topics course and the Race, Class and Gender in Comparative Perspective course. In 1991 the members of the Women’s Studies Special Arts & Science Task Force were persuaded to regularize the Women’s Studies Program into an entity with base budget funding and its own faculty. In 1994 Audrey Kobayashi (Geography) became the first Director of the newly named Institute of Women’s Studies.

In 1999 Sue Hendler returned to become Director of the Institute of Women’s Studies and then in 2003 it’s first Head. Sue recognized that it was important for Women’s Studies to become a department within the Faculty of Arts and Science. She oversaw the growth of the Department in terms of courses and concentrators (we had by then added a Major degree program). In addition under Sue’s leadership the LGBT, now Sexual and Gender Diversity (SXGD), Certificate was created; she wrote the first draft proposal for a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies; and she navigated through the departments first Internal Academic Review.

The Department of Women’s Studies continues to grow. We now have four fulltime faculty, and four jointly-appointed faculty members. In addition we have one contract and thirty-four cross-appointed faculty. The 2009-10 academic year marks the beginning of graduate studies in the Department of Women’s Studies as the new M.A. program in Gender Studies begins in September. Women’s Studies has come a long way from its beginnings twenty years ago. In 2008-09 we have 120 concentrators, and in 2009 we had 11 Major and Medial BAH graduates.

Excerpts from speech made by Bev Baines, Head of the Department of Women's Studies on the occasion of the 20+ Anniversary of Women’s Studies, Agnes Etherington Art Gallery, March 6, 2008.