By Charol Shakeshaft
Education for women has come considerable lengths since the 19th century
when it was held that "all that a woman
needs to know is how to read the New Testament and to spin and weave for her
Nevertheless, women's educational
progress has not been made without considerable opposition; and always there has
been a set of educational rules, standards
and curricula for men and another for
women. However, one aspect of male and
female education has been consistently
identical, both men and women have
studied the male experience.
"Research on women is missing in
the disciplines; and because the systematic
scholarly study of women has not been fostered, there is no accurate presentation of
the female experience," said Catherine
Stimpson, a Barnard College professor who
edits Signs, a scholarly journal in the field
of women's studies.
"This absence of substantive information has undermined the accuracy of
generalizations about human culture derived from traditional scholarship," Stimpson emphasized.
In the last decade, however, some
women have become very vocal in asking
that a reasonable part of their education be
about women and that programs be designed to foster knowledge of women.
They have demanded majors and degrees
in the study of women and society.
It was out of these demands, eight
years ago, that women's studies as a discipline was born. Since then, women's
studies has been one of the fastest growing
areas in higher education.
Over 300 colleges and universities
offer in excess of 5500 courses in women's
studies. Of those, more than 100 colleges
and universities now offer majors or minors
in the field, at least 15 offer master's degrees and three have Ph.D. programs.
Although women's studies owes its
existence to the movement for the liberation of women, the feminist philosophy
upon which women's studies rests speaks
for interests beyond those of the second
"Women's studies, diverse as its components are, has shared a vision of a world
free not only from sexism but also from
racism, class bias, ageism, heterosexual bias
and all ideologies and institutions that have
consciously or unconsciously oppressed
and exploited some for the advantage of
others," said Dr. Barbara Hillyer Davis,
director of the Women's Studies Program
at the University of Oklahoma and treasurer of the National Women's Studies
Women's studies can include anything from the writings of Emily Dickinson
to oral histories of pioneer women in
Texas. Rape and abortion issues are discussed, and the studies also include such
subjects as the difficulties of operating
women's health clinics, efforts to make
women feel more comfortable with mathematics, and help with acquiring the skills
and confidence to compete for jobs as
"Women's studies is not confined to
higher education," said Florence Howe,
editor of the Women's Studies Newsletter
and a leader in the field.
"High school, junior high and elementary teachers throughout the country
are offering classes in women's studies and
integrating present curriculums with mini-
semesters on women's issues."
"Women's studies is an exciting discovery process," said Patricia Palmier,
Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University. "I
am continually uncovering information on
the female experience or on an historic
woman that has never before been officially recorded. History has overlooked
half of the human existence."
To give women's studies some national direction and coordination and to
unify and strengthen the programs, more
than 500 women met in San Francisco in
January and formed the National Women's
Studies Association (NWSA).
NWSA is a professional, academic
organization similar to the Modern Language Association, or the American Psychological Association, but with some im-
portant differences. The discipline is, of
course, women's studies, and the member-
ship draws upon a much larger base than
most professional organizations.
"The uniqueness of women's studies
has been its refusal to accept sterile divisions between academia and community,
between the growth of the mind and the
health of the body, between intellect and
passion, between the individual and her
society," said Howe.
And so the members of the NWSA
are not only staid full professors from
prestigious universities, but elementary and
secondary teachers, secretaries, staff members of community women's centers, students, women working in prisons and independent researchers
Besides providing a professional, academic organization for those teaching and
researching women's issues, the NWSA
has established a national communication
network through the Women's Studies
Newsletter, the journal for the association.
NWSA expects to encourage the
development of a network for distributing
information on women's studies and to cooperate closely with women's projects in
"Compared with the number of colleges and universities in the country, the
number of women's studies programs that
are recognized and budgeted is small,"
said Blanche Hersh, coordinator of women's studies at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
"But for every existing program,"
Professor Hersh continued, "there are 20
edging toward formation. One of the most
exciting things about the NWSA is that it
will accelerate the process."
Twelve regional women's studies
organizations were also begun and 10 are
publishing newsletters. For membership
information on the NWSA, write Barbara
Hillyer Davis, Treasurer, National Women's Studies Association, Women's Studies
Programs, University of Oklahoma, Nor-
man, Oklahoma 73069.
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PAGE 14 NOVEMBER 19, 1977 DAILY BREAKTHROUGH