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The Politics of Women's Studies
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FLORENCE HOWE co-founded The Feminist Press in 1970. She became closely involved with the women's movement after her participation in the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s. A founding mother of the women's studies movement during the 1970s and 1980s, she served as a professor of English at Goucher College and the College at Old Westbury, SUNY.

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The Politics of Women's Studies

Testimony from Thirty Founding Mothers
Florence Howe

Edited by Florence Howe

In the patriarchal halls of 1970s academe, women who spoke their minds risked their careers. Yet intrepid women—students, faculty, administrators, members of the community—persisted in collaborating to form women's studies. In doing so, they created a movement that altered curricula and teaching styles, and shifted paradigms and content across disciplines.

These original essays by "founding mothers" feature a diversity of voices: young graduate students or new Ph.D's just beginning to teach and untenured; tenured professors in search of ways to improve their students' capacities to learn; older, veteran academics at last witnessing change; and even a few administrators. During the early years, they taught at more than 30 campuses, many changing jobs several times. Some taught at private institutions such as Spelman College and Cornell University, while the majority taught at large state universities such as Berkeley, Michigan, Kentucky, Arizona, and the City University of New York. In all of these programs, founders grappled not only with issues of gender, but with those of class, race, and sexuality, in a decade infused with political unrest and questioning, when civil rights and anti-war activism, as well as feminism, shaped academic worlds.

In engaging political memoir, these essays chronicle the exhilaration of building a new kind of institution, of constructing a new curriculum and unearthing a new body of knowledge. They also give voice to the pain of successive defeats in the face of sexist attitudes and structures. Few of these trailblazers were welcomed as agents of change, fewer still applauded for their work. Yet their stories remain both inspiring and instructive. While each of these women's narratives has a life of its own, collectively, they tell an even more powerful story.

The Politics of Women's Studies preserves an essential history that is in danger of sinking into obscurity, combating the amnesia afflicting many of those teaching and studying about women today.

"Now let us praise the famous and not-so-famous academic-activists who founded women's studies as a vital discipline within the humanities and higher education! A marvelous series of individual accounts by pioneering feminists captures and exhilaration of past achievements, of future challenges."

—Susan D. Gubar, Indiana University, author of Critical Condition: Feminism at the Turn of the Century

"These narratives clearly reveal clarity of purpose and superb organizational skills, punctuated by flashes of humor, as women's studies' founding mothers devised and implemented subversive and creative means to their transformational ends. How fortunate the world of feminist research and teaching is to have this first-hand testimony and reflection on the origins of women's studies, even as it moves into a new century."

—Toni A. H. McNaron, University of Minnesota, co-editor of The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century and author of Poisoned Ivy: Lesbian and Gay Academics Confronting Homophobia and I Dwell in Possibility

The Politics of Women’s Studies is an extraordinary collection that takes me back to the 1970s and the struggle to find a place for black women in the curriculum, to the excitement of the 1977 founding convention of the National Women’s Studies Association where I stood in arms with the emerging women of color caucus, and to the heady days of the 1980s—and the birthing of But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women Studies and SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women.”

—Patricia Bell-Scott, University of Georgia, editor of Flat-footed Truths: Telling Black Women’s Lives

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