History of Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies at the University of Maryland

The Women’s Studies Department and Program at the University of Maryland is one of the strongest and most dynamic in the nation and we have recognition from and working relationships with women’s and gender studies programs around the world. We have grown from 232 students in 3 courses in 1971 to over 1,366 students enrolled in Women’s Studies and LGBT courses in fall 2014. While retaining our emphasis on difference and power within the U.S. we have evolved to thinking and working more transnationally. As the field has developed so have we, growing from a focus specifically on women to a gendered approach with growing attention to masculinity.

How did we get here?

Over thirty years ago a group of women faculty came together to develop a plan for launching a women’s studies program at Maryland. Under the leadership of Virginia Beauchamp in the English Department, the Women’s Studies Program Planning Committee began discussions and in 1975 hired in Bernice Carroll from the University of Illinois on a one-year visiting appointment as interim director of Women’s Studies. Through the work of Carroll and the committee, in 1976 a Women’s Studies Program was approved, along with an undergraduate certificate in women’s studies and a position for a permanent director of the program.

Carol Pearson, then at the University of Colorado, was hired as the first director with a budget line in the Women’s Studies Program, a tenure home in American Studies, and her courses listed as AMST. Under Pearson’s leadership our fledgling program gained national visibility as she negotiated to bring both the National Women’s Studies Association and the journal, Feminist Studies, to the Maryland campus.

Claire Moses, the first faculty hired on a tenure-line in Women’s Studies, taught the first WMST-listed course at the University of Maryland. Her appointment included editor of Feminist Studies.

After Pearson stepped down as director, Jean Lipman-Blumen and Josephine Withers served in that capacity during a period in which the search for a new permanent director took place.

In these early years the Women’s Studies Program described itself as “interdisciplinary in nature,” with its goal as providing students “with a more adequate and realistic education than that which has ignored or distorted the role of women in society.”

In 1984, Evi Beck, then a professor of Comparative Literature, German, and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin, came to Maryland to direct the Women’s Studies Program.

With the appointment of Deborah Rosenfelt in 1990, the year-old Curriculum Transformation Project initially housed in the President’s Office became officially a unit of Women’s Studies.

In 1991, the Graduate Certificate Program in Women’s Studies was introduced.

Department and Program

Women’s Studies at Maryland for many years was a program not a department. Part of the advantage of being a program was that it was by definition and necessity a cross-campus project. Affiliate faculty served on the committees; in an annual retreat of the core and affiliate faculty the Program’s committees were constituted and the work planned for the year. This committee of the whole created an identity of women’s studies as belonging to the campus as a whole. An annual polyseminar, a series of lectures and research forums around a common theme over the course of the year, brought visiting scholars, artists, activists to give public presentations, visit classes, and meet with faculty and students in a range of ways.

The Program became a Department in 1994 and began awarding B.A. degrees. But to the extent possible we continue to speak of ourselves as both – Women’s Studies Department and Program – to recognize the importance of our affiliate faculty and to insist upon the importance of institutional frameworks such as women’s studies that intellectually and administratively reach beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries.

In 1999, we inaugurated a Ph.D. program, awarding our first degrees in Spring 2007.

In 2005 we began offering, jointly with the African American Studies Department, an undergraduate minor in Black Women’s Studies.

In 2008 we officially became home to the Beta Beta chapter of Iota, Iota, Iota (Triota), the women’s studies honor society.

In 2013 we became the new home of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Program which offers both an undergraduate minor and certificate. Originally approved in Spring 2002, with a rich history of its own, the LGBT Studies Program grew through the leadership of founding director, Dr. Marilee Lindemann, who was instrumental in the move of the program into Women’s Studies and the College of Arts and Humanities.

A distinguishing hallmark of Women’s Studies at Maryland is the number of faculty of color, in 2014 two-thirds of our core faculty. The department has been a key player in transforming the university to be a more diverse and equitable higher education climate.

The Curriculum Transformation Project (1989-2010)

The Curriculum Transformation Project at the University of Maryland College Park (1989-2010) was designed to assist faculty members from disciplines across campus and throughout Maryland’s public university system to integrate scholarship on women, gender, and other forms of diversity into their courses, and to develop inclusive pedagogies that acknowledge “difference” as a resource in the classroom. The Project’s central undertaking was its faculty summer institutes, which brought faculty together from a wide range of departments to discuss issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, and religion and to consider how best to incorporate them into specific classes. In its final years, the Project focused on “Visual Literacy and Diversity.”

From the mid-nineties on, the Curriculum Transformation Project also emphasized the importance of incorporating international perspectives into work in women’s and gender studies across the disciplines. This work was supported by a series of grants from The Ford Foundation, enabling exchanges of ideas and scholarship, and collaborative curriculum development, not only within Maryland but among women’s studies programs and faculty in eight institutions around the world: Bar Illan University (Israel), Central European University (Hungary), the University of the West Indies (Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago), Makerere University (Uganda), University of the Western Cape (South Africa), Ewha University (Korea), and Beijing University (as well as other universities; China).

The Project was originally housed in the Office of the President of the University of Maryland, eventually becoming a unit of the Department of Women’s Studies.

From 1990-2010 Deborah Rosenfelt, Professor, Women’s Studies was the Director of the Curriculum Transformation Project.