Personal Reflections on Building a Women's Center in a Women's College, 1975

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Personal Reflections

on Building a Women’s Center

in a Women’s College Jane S. Gould

Looking back. two things seem remarkable: First. on a personal level, it seems remarkable that l had the opportu- nity to be an administrative officer at an influential institution of higher education in a role that allowed me to be com- pletely immersed in a major social revolution that touched on every aspect of women's lives. Second. despite the on- going tensions between the principles of feminism and those of the institution. we were able to build a solid women’s cen- ter which became an accepted feminist presence both on the Barnard-Columbia campus and in the larger community.

l vividly remember the first time l sensed the excitement which was to be part of so many Women’s Center programs. lt was a cold. bleak February Saturday in 1973. the occa- sion of the first Women's Center conference. “Women Learn from Women." The brainchild of a few feminist scho|ars— including Phyllis Chesler. Gerda Lerner. Florence Howe. Wendy Martin. and Catharine Stimpson—and sponsored by seven women's groups at colleges in the New York metropolitan area, it was a groundbreaking experience for all of us. Over 1,000 women, representing all ages and levels of education and the full range of the women's movement. streamed through the Barnard gates. many of them for the first time. Some brought children (there were more than thirty) and we ran our first daycare center. We spent the day considering such heady topics as Androgyny. Controlling our Bodies. Autonomy, Do Women Have a Separate Ex- perience in Education?. After Consciousness Raising. What?. and The Lesbian Experience in Education. lt seemed to me that the decision to bring together women of different back- grounds to discuss both academic and activist issues was a bold move that resulted in a marvelously stimulating dialogue and produced a vitality seldom before felt at Barnard. That conference initiated important connections between Barnard and women in the larger community. l felt a surge of pride in the months following the conference as. time and again. I heard at women's conferences throughout the metropoli- tan area “the recent Barnard women‘s conference" referred to as an important pioneer effort.

This feeling of excitement and pride in breaking significant new ground in both process and content, and in making con- nections among women who had heretofore been isolated from each other. has characterized all Women's Center pro- grams. Once we clearly understood the force of the women‘s movement and the new scholarship on women. it was not difficult to find scholars. artists, filmmakers, writers, and ac- tivists who were eager to share new knowledge and insights and join us in planning programs which would reflect this revolution in thinking about women. Programs like the Reid Lectureship, the series of monthly women’s issues lunch-

I would like to thank Christina Greene and Elizabeth K. Minnich for their thoughtful comments and helpful suggestions

eons. the film and video festival. and the Scholar and Fem- inist conference immediately took on a life of their own and became a permanent part of our annual calendar and that of the larger feminist community. It became very clear why many distinguished feminists in all fields—including some from abroad. such as Juliet Mitchell. Sheila Rowbotham. and Helene Cixous—were willing to participate in Women's Cen- ter programs even when the financial rewards and media at- tention were often small. &

But let me trace some of the threads in my own life. over the last two decades. that prepared me for my role in build- ing a women‘s center.

ln the early fifties, l was a white, middle-class college graduate with a few years of unfocused work experience. As a full-time homemaker with two small children. l shared a feeling of frustration and lack of direction with many other park-bench mothers with whom I spent hours. It seemed to us that virtually nothing was being done to help us prepare for any other career. In time, I realized that this as yet un- named field-—-helping adult. college-trained women find their way into the professional world—must be my own career.

l was lucky. As a Barnard graduate. I could call on a wise and sympathetic placement office director. Ruth Houghton With her help. l found a part-time job with a small member- ship organization in New York City that provided counsel- ing and placement for women college graduates. a job I held for eleven years. lnitially. the women we saw were young. recent college graduates, but this soon changed as increas- ing numbers of mature women sought help in returning to work and to school. I saw many of the myths and stereo- types about women's motivations and capabilities dissipate as married women with children achieved success both in jobs and in demanding graduate and professional programs These required skillful juggling of normal household and community responsibilities. lt was not unusual for a woman to tell me that she got up every morning at 4:30 to work quietly on her dissertation for two or three hours before her family arose, or that she made complicated child-care ar rangements so that she could travel two hours each way twice a week to take courses.

At that time, many of us accepted the prevailing middle- class view that a woman's highest goal was to marry and have children: Her first job was in the home. What was emerging as new was our belief that we could be doing more; that we were even entitled to some professional ful- fillment. But we still believed that. unless there was dire eco- nomic need, a job or school must be part time. certainly until the child-rearing years were over.

This view was reinforced. in the decade 1955-65. by the literature on continuing education for women and by statis-

Women's Studies Quarterly Xll.1 (Spring 1984)

"juggle . . .to handle or deal with usually ocvcnl things (no ob- ligations) at one time no u to satisfy often conpeting require- ments. i.c.. the responsibilities of family life and full-ti-e job-Jane S. GonId"—Webuer'a New Collegiate Dictionary. Ninth Edition.

tics from the U.S. Women's Bureau. Projections indicated that. for the foreseeable future. educated women would marry young; drop out of school or the labor force on the birth of their first child; and return to school or a job on a part-time basis when their last child started nursery school. This view was also reflected in the proliferation of innova- tive continuing education programs for women all over the country between 1960 and 1970. Most of these programs were part time. l was closely associated with the pioneer Seven College Vocational Workshops held at Barnard Col- lege from 1962-66. followed by the Barnard College Com- munity Service Workshops from 1966-68. lnterestingly _enough. these programs were open only to married women: they actually turned away women who had never been married.

In 1965. I became the director of Placement and Career Planning at Barnard. lt was a full~time job and although l hesitated briefly before taking on this responsibility. with two children still in school. l welcomed this new assignment. Hav- ing spent eleven years helping women who had been full- time homemakers find their way back to jobs which were usually beneath their capabilities, or to graduate or profes- sional programs which often represented a compromise in career goals. I was convinced that the key to successful em- ployment lay in developing appropriate career goals at the earliest possible time.

l knew, of course, that college-trained women still faced external limits: discrimination regarding kinds of jobs offered. wages, opportunities for advancement, and admission to graduate and professional programs and into the professions themselves. But I was encouraged by the change in climate. l noted, for example, the 1963 Report of the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with its inclusion of Title Vll, prohibiting discrimination based on sex. I assumed that Barnard women, given the College's high academic

 

standards and long. honored tradition of educating womvii would eagerly take advantage of these broadening horizum and develop appropriate career plans.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. l was disappointed in the internal limits many Barnard women, both students and recent alumnae, set for themselves. l was astonished to find that most of these highly intelligent, often talented young women were reluctant to think of themselves as indepen- dent. professional working people ready to make long~range plans. I was distressed at how fearful many were of consider- ing careers in the traditionally male fields of business, en- gineering, architecture, medicine, and law. I felt powerless as I saw seniors give up their own career plans for expedient jobs to support young husbands going to graduate school Even worse, there seemed to be nothing l could do to counter what I heard all too often: that a student was just looking for a job for a year or so; it didn't matter too much what the job was because she hoped to be getting married soon after that. As late as the fall of 1969, in a study of aspi- rations and sex-role expectations of the graduating class of 1970, I found that although most realized, in a general way. that work would be an important part of their lives, few had made definite career commitments. Many were ambivalent about their role as women and were unready to step outside what they considered to be the appropriate role of women.

Although I was deeply involved in changing the situation of women in professional employment and was committed to change for all working women, l was not part of the women's movement in those early years. l questioned some of the issues and strategies of groups like NOW, WITCH. and Red Stockings. Such organizations seemed to me to to- cus on tactics like picketing to protest the segregated “Help Wanted" ads in the New York Times. the “men only" policy of the Oak Room of the Plaza, and the Miss America con- test in Atlantic City. l still believed that education and legis- lation were the only correct paths for change and l was troubled by these tactics.

l began to see the tension between ideas and legislation. on the one hand. and between legislation and concrete changes, on the other. The statistical projections we had ac- cepted just a few years earlier as a basis for counseling were becoming obsolete by 1970: We saw many young women marrying later or not at all; divorcing, often with young chil- dren; and opting for full-time work and demanding full-time graduate and professional programs. As their lives changed. the stream of legislation, guidelines, Executive Orders. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions between 1965 and 1969, and much lip service to ending discrimination based on sex at high levels of business. education, and govern- ment, seemed to be both responsive to and supportive of their aspirations. In fact, I saw little change for women in em- ployment: They were still being offered the same low-level jobs. They were still asked whether they could type, even as they graduated from the Harvard Business School (to which they had so recently been admitted) and asked, upon appli- cation to medical school. how they planned to take care of their children. even though they were neither married nor engaged. They were still told they could not be promoted be- cause there were never any women in higher—level jobs; they were still paid less and told that they didn't need the money. as men did. Their inroads into the higher-paid jobs in management and the professions continued to be small. In

Women's Studies Quarterly Xll 1 (Spring 1054'

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ter Committee. the dean of the College at that time. refused to give his approval until the following sentence was inserted: “The Center welcomes the cooperation of all—men and women—who are in sympathy with its aims."

From the beginning. the Women‘s Center was an enigma to the College. On the one hand. Barnard pioneered in set- ting up a women's center and in providing an operating budget which increased each year (and I know of no other women's college that has done this). At the same time. the College. like others with "special provisions" for women. regarded the Center as marginal and not part of its central mission. The College's ongoing concern about its public im- age. and its homophobia. so characteristic of women's col- leges. have created tensions throughout the Centers exis- tence. ln addition, the College has demonstrated a distaste for emphasizing its commitment to women—except as stu- dents in a highly traditional curriculum—in any way that might offend segments of its constituencies. particularly con- tributors. These tensions have been exacerbated by the man- ner in which Barnard. like other academic institutions. has responded to the new conservative climate at the same time as feminists are insisting on making connections with what is happening to women in the larger political arena. Yet the College has undeniably made use of the Women's Center. on occasion. to demonstrate its commitment. open- mindedness. and good faith.

These contradictions between public posture and internal practice created an ambivalence that permeated the College community. lnitially, many faculty. administrators. and stu- dents shied away from the Center. confusing it with a stu- dent lesbian group on campus. Even after numerous articles and reports on the Women's Center and its activities ap- peared in College and community media. the questions. “Why a women's center at a women's college?" or "Why does a women‘s center need its own voice?" kept coming up like a regular refrain. lt is my guess that there are still many Barnard faculty who are tentative toward if not hostile to women's studies. and who do not encourage their students to do research on women.

Barnard provides important optimal components for the

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An official delegation of the People's Republic of China visit- ing the Women's Center.

 

education of women; a woman as its administrative head and a faculty and administration of more than fifty percent A women; small classes and a faculty committed to teaching and to teaching women. Yet. like its sister colleges. Barnard often seems locked into its history The deep-seated fear of being “lesser" than or “different" from a male college. or of being labeled a "lesbian school." are part of a heritage that is difficult to overcome As late as 1979. at the Centers "Arden House Conference on Special Programs for Women in Higher Education" held for seventy representatives of women's programs in the northeast. we could see that rem nants of these fears persisted among the prestigious womens colleges.

Recognizing and understanding this ambivalence and learning how to work with it have presented both a dilemma and a challenge. In the early days. we were often on the defensive. a position which demanded an excessive amount of time and energy. ln retrospect. I can see that this posi- tion also forced us to think through each issue carefully. de veloping firm convictions earlier perhaps than we otherwise would have. Knowing that name—calling and baiting have been used throughout history to discredit. frighten. and di vide women. we made a conscious and determined effort to keep this from happening to us. We stopped reacting and we worked even harder to be supportive of and sensitive to the needs and interests of lesbian and other minority groups. and we went to great lengths to include a diversity of women and women‘s thinking in all our programs. whether in a lec- ture on a “View of Women As Seen Through the Eyes of Christine de Pizan." a fifteenth-century woman of letters; in a film on Women of Wounded Knee: in a discussion of grass-roots organizing for battered women; in an analysis of the theological question "ls There a Feminist Understanding of Sin?" or in a workshop on “Perceptions of Black Women Writers " We learned that our programs must present per- spectives that are directly related to the new thinking about women and to the particular experience of women from different races. class backgrounds. and sexual preferences

ln this spirit. we created the Reid Lectureship ln 1975. with additional money from the Estate of Helen Rogers Reid. Barnard ‘O3. we designed a program to bring to Barnard each year one or. on occasion. two women who had distin- guished themselves in their own fields and had shown some commitment to other women We knew that it was impor- tant to invite women who might not be heard at Barnard un- der other circumstances. women from backgrounds tradition- ally underrepresented at Barnard. ln fact. as we learned from minority students about their need for more role models. we established a rule that at least half of these lecturers would be women of color

The full roster of Reid Lecturers reads: June Jordan and Alice Walker. Helen Rodriguez-Trias. Rhonda Copelon and Nancy Stearns, Ntozake Shange. Bella Abzug (the year she was fired from the Presidents Advisory Committee on Women). Bernice Reagon. Mirra Komarovsky (the year of the Womens Center 10th anniversary celebration) and Toni) Cade Bambara. The Lecturers were asked to share their per- sonal perceptions and experiences as women. as well as their professional experiences as feminists. both at a public lecture and informally with small groups of students. alumnae. faculty. staff. and community people over a period of a day and a half. lt became an outstanding annual event June Jor-

Women‘s Studies Quarterly Xll 1 (Spring 19843

spite of the tremendous legal push in this period, the gap be- tween the median earnings of men and of women continued to widen.

This national picture was brought home to me in 1970, when l made a survey of the Class of 1965 to learn what was happening to Barnard women five years after graduation. Of the sixty-eight percent who answered a one-time mailed questionnaire, many were working and/or going to gradu- ate or professional school. Their answers indicated a radical change in thinking from that of undergraduates: Many had experienced discrimination. Gone, for the most part, were the feelings of ambivalence about working, about entering traditionally male fields. Instead, I found bitterness over the difficulties encountered; determination to succeed and to work for whatever changes were necessary to secure equal- ity; and, sometimes, anger that college had not prepared them better for these realities.

l began to chafe at the limitations of my role as a career counselor. lf women were to make appropriate career choices, they must free themselves from their internal limits-from the myths and stereotypes they had been saddled with all their lives—and understand and be prepared for the external barriers they would confront in the world of work. l could see that isolated advances were token and that real. lasting change had to take place across a very broad front. l came to understand the need for a strong and diverse women’s movement, a movement that would address all aspects of the socialization of women and their responses to the tradition of patriarchy. To accomplish this was far beyond the capabilities of a career services office. We could do cer- tain specific things there to help women raise their aspira- tions. gain knowledge and some work experience, and. on occasion. even get good jobs; but raising their general con- sciousness had to come from other sources.

As l came to understand the breadth and scope of the women's movement, l found myself questioning the empha- sis of my own efforts. Although l believed deeply that women should have equality in choices and access to all jobs. simply ensuring that women would be equally represented in top levels of management and the professions would not change things for all women. l began to see that true equality required much more than getting women into good “male" jobs; and l realized that l did not want to spend the rest of my professional life helping women become bank presidents and corporate officers.

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ln the fall of 1970. l welcomed the opportunity to meet with others at Barnard who believed. as 1 did, that colleges should acknowledge the major social revolution for women that was taking place outside the classroom. We were a mixed group——administrators. faculty. students. and alum- nae—with different backgrounds and commitments. but with a shared conviction that Barnard should do more than it had always done. A “superior education" for women should of- fer more than admission to a still discriminatory, white-male tradition. We became an official task force, charged with con- sidering an appropriate plan of action. We met with mount- ing excitement throughout the academic year under the charismatic leadership of Catharine Stimpson, then an assis- tant professor of English at Barnard. After months of discus- sion, we produced a report which became the basis for the establishment of the Barnard College Women’s Center. For-

 

tuitously, two of the Task Force members were alumnae trustees. With their influence, the income from a bequest left to the College by Helen Rogers Reid. Class of 1903. became seed money to start the Women's Center.

The Center opened in the fall of 1971. lt was housed in a tiny room with a crumbling ceiling in the main old build- ing behind the campus gates and. that first year. Catharine Stimpson, with one-third released time and the help of an administrative assistant. served as director. We were still a dream: underfinanced. understaffed, and with inadequate space and no clear focus. The high point of that year was a spirited panel discussion entitled “ls There Male Chau- vinism at Columbia?" lt turned out to be an evening of high comedy: A packed audience listened to such reputable Columbia figures as George Frankel. Eli Ginzberg. Seymour Melman, and President William McGill, as they pontificated on an issue that they were obviously thinking about for the first time in their lives and. for the most part, without much understanding or conviction.

Within a few years, we enlarged our quarters. increased our staff to three full-time persons. and went from a budget of $16,000 to $125,000 in 1983. From 1975 on, about one- third of our budget came from outside gifts and grants. giv- ing us an important degree of independence.

The first few years were critical ones: We were determined to build a structure which would be a permanent part of the College and which would also assure us a fair degree of au- tonomy. We had no models. Much time and energy were spent conceptualizing, defining, and, most important for our long-term survival and real strength. building bridges to other segments of the College. l became the director in 1972. Simultaneously, a small committee (composed primarily of members of the original Task Force) was appointed to de- velop a charter for the Center.

The charter took one year and nine drafts to complete and to receive College approval: Again. the time and patience— and mix of institutional realism with conviction—did pay off. hard though they were to sustain. lt proved to be a flexible document. providing the underpinnings and general guide- lines for operation and. at the same time, rooting the Cen- ter firmly within the context of the College. (The Center was defined as an administrative office with a director who reports to the President of the College.) “The Center's underlying aim." as stated in the charter, is to insure “that women can live and work in dignity, autonomy and equality." The char- ter acknowledged that the Women's Center would be ex- pected to address the broad needs and aspirations of women and to serve as a physical and psychological meeting ground for women within and outside the academy. lt encouraged the sharing of knowledge and experience and the develop- ment of ties among diverse groups of women. ln addition. it encouraged the development of both academic and nonacademic programs and projects “which complement or coincide with Barnard’s distinctive academic strengths in women’s studies"—at a time when we had no women's studies program and but a handful of course offerings?

The Charter Committee struggled with the problem of how to give all constituencies a voice in setting policy. in the end. the Executive Committee was limited to members of the Bar- nard community: equal representation of students. faculty. administrators, and alumnae. lnitially, there was no mention of men in the charter; but the one man serving on the Char-

Women's Studies Quarterly Xll.1 (Spring 1984)

dan described the pain of being black at Barnard in the late fifties. Helen Rodriguez-Trias publicly defined. for the first time. the issue of sterilization abuse as it limits the lives of poor women. Rhonda Copelon and Nancy Stearns of the Center for Constitutional Rights described the historical role they played in the Supreme Court decision legalizing abor- tion. All of the Reid Lecturers added to our understanding of the commonalities and differences in women's lives.

My definition of feminism also insisted on linking feminism to social change and this. too. was reflected in Scholar and Feminist conferences. the Reid Lectureships. and a broad range of seminars. workshops. films. and lectures. Whenever possible. we looked at issues as they connected feminism with changing the larger society. whether in a talk by a Sal- vadorean woman on the situation of women in her tortured country. oppressed both by the Junta and by the macho men with whom they lived: a discussion of feminism. poli- tics. and nuclear disarmament in Britain by a young Labor Party candidate. or an analysis by Barbara Ehrenreich of the ways in which multinational companies exploit women in third-world countries.

Still. we always threaded our way through the area of ac- tivism with care. mindful that the Center was also an ad- ministrative office of Barnard College. The Center as such did not take public activist positions: We did not picket. dem- onstrate. lobby. or take a public stand on an issue affecting women although. as individuals. we have always felt free to do what we felt was necessary. There was one notable ex- ception. made with the full approval of President Jacquelyn Mattfeld: The Center chartered a bus and participated in the large ERA march in Washington in the summer of 1978.

But by no stretch of the imagination could the Women‘s Center be called neutral. or even representative of all women. We were. from the start. a strong advocate of women‘s rights. as borne out by our programs and by the advocacy role we took within the College. And although the Barnard administration was admittedly nervous about certain Women‘s Center programs. it was inconceivable that the College should attempt to regulate Center programs. as an- other prestigious. ivy-league college recently did. (When a pro-life group from within that college asked their women”s center to sponsor a program. and was refused. the college administration took the position that. since the funding for the women's center came from the student support services budget. the women's center was obliged to present all points of view on all issues.)

A program on “Women and the Arms Race.“ which the Women's Center recently sponsored in cooperation with the Catholic women’s group on campus. is an example of main- taining a consistent feminist position while working with di- verse groups. In the planning meetings. we learned that the Catholic women intended to include a session on “personal violence." meaning abortion. After serious consideration. we decided that it would be inappropriate for the Women's Cen- ter to invite discussion of an issue that was a basic tenet of the women’s movement at a conference on women and the arms race. We explained our position and suggested that there was sufficient interest in women and the arms race on the Barnard/Columbia campus to have two separate pro- grams successfully. lnterestingly enough. the group decided to forgo the issue of “personal violence." and we did the pro- gram together as originally planned.

The Women's Center must work within the constraints of the academy. but much of its vitality comes from a commit- ment to activism and to taking advocacy positions on inter- nal issues of importance to women at Barnard In addition to giving support to such student groups as Lesbian Activists at Barnard and the Barnard Abortion and Reproductive Rights Network. the Center works with activist groups. both on campus and in the community. providing background in- formation, finding speakers. and planning programs. When students came to us needing money for abortions. we set up a Women's Center Emergency Loan Fund. Acting on com-

plaints from students of incidents of sexual harassment and.

from faculty. of difficulties surrounding child—care leave. the Women's Center organized and worked on committees to develop guidelines and recommendations for College policy on these issues.

lt has always been difficult to assess the impact of the Women's Center on Barnard students; it may be true that. except for the small number of committed feminists. the Cen- ter does not immediately touch most students‘ lives. Students serve on Women's Center committees. participate in and at- tend Center programs. and use the resource collection in in- creasing numbers each year. Still. the majority of young women who come to a college like Barnard are intent on preparing for a demanding professional career; and they take their cues from their teachers and advisors. some of whom are hostile to or fearful of the women's movement. In addi- tion. they are grappling with what they perceive to be more immediate concerns: being away from home and family for the first time; acknowledging and exploring their sexuality; and learning how to set priorities at a college with high aca- demic standards. Their awareness of feminism often comes later.

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For this reason. we have always known that the most im- portant component in raising feminist consciousness at Bar- nard must be a women's studies program. Although Barnard had taken the lead in offering women's studies courses- and each year several were scattered in different departments—gaining acceptance of a program with a full- fledged major proved to be incredibly difficult. It took years of hard work. determination. and perseverance on the part of a few dedicated faculty and students to gain College ap- proval for a carefully thought—out. interdisciplinary program which would meet Barnard's standards of excellence. Women's Studies became an official program in 1978 and added a tenured chair (Nancy K. Miller) in 1980.

The achievement of the Women's Studies Program. now five years old and with a tenured chair. represents an impor- tant acknowledgment of the validity of feminism and the new scholarship on women. and has resulted in a greater aware- ness among students and faculty of feminist academic issues. An important byproduct has been the growing number of ar- ticulate undergraduate feminists who have begun to exert sig- nificant leadership at the College. The Women's Center and the Women's Studies Program cooperate on many levels and each is stronger for the existence of the other.

From the start. our strongest College support has come from alumnae, not just recent alumnae who have been touched by the second wave of feminism. but alumnae of all ages. from all parts of the country. The College regularly

Womens Studies Quarterly Xll:1 (Spring 1984)

The Barnard Women's Center in use.

receives many spontaneous demonstrations of approval from alumnae who express pleasure and pride that their college has created a women's center. This is often accompanied by financial support in the form of gifts to the Center. includ- ing several alumnae class gifts and two major annual in- dividual contributions from a member of the Class of 1928 and a member of the Class of 1933.

ln retrospect. we can see that our very existence in the early seventies tapped into a great reservoir of feminist energy. which in turn helped to shape our identity. ln a sense. it was like opening a floodgate. we were faced with an embarrassment of riches—ideas. proposals. and offers to help on a wide range of projects and services designed to fill unmet and emerging needs. Some of these became early Women‘s Center projects and were continued only until other groups and institutions with larger resources stepped in to fill the gap. This was true of several non-credit courses. two issues of a resource booklet on women's services called HELP. and an early interdisciplinary bibliography. Women's Work and Women's Studies. initiated by an alumna. Kirsten Grimstad. Done almost entirely by volunteers at a time when nothing like it existed. the bibliography was published by the Women's Center for three years. the last volume covering 1973 and 1974.

Other projects became an integral part of the Women's Center. Soon after receiving an announcement of the open- ing of the Center. Myra Josephs. Barnard ’28. appeared on our doorstep with a pile of articles which she had been col- lecting for the past few years. Little did we know that this would become one of our major permanent projects. With a Ph.D. in chemistry which she had never fully used, Ms. Josephs had spent a lifetime thinking about the condition of women. In her regular volunteer job of scanning over 200

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journals in the behavioral and social sciences for articles for the Institute of Rational Living. she began to see increasing numbers of articles on women She became excited by what she saw and started to collect this material

ln 1973. we offered this material to the Barnard Library to form the nucleus for a women's library. To our surprise. the director of the Library turned down the idea. saying that he could not see “starting a new library for every fad that came along." Besides. he explained. the Barnard Library al- ready had books on. by. and about women. We were dis mayed. but his refusal resulted in the Women's Centers de- velopment of its own collection.

We called it The Birdie Goldsmith Art Resource Collec- tion. in memory of Ms. Josephs's mother. an early feminist and suffragist. Ms. Josephs continued culling the literature and adding most of the significant articles on women from these journals until 1982 when she became ill and had to stop her work. ln addition. she provided financial support to maintain the Collection. Today the Collection is the size of a small. special library collection with some 6.000 print items books. articles. pamphlets. brochures. clippings. special is- sues of journals. and subscriptions to over seventy periodi- cals. Catalogued according to women's issues. it reflects the changes in the thinking of the women's movement over the past ten years. lt is used by scholars. researchers. journalists. and activists from all over the world.

We learned quickly that. as women‘s consciousness was being raised. no women's center could ignore the constant demand for individual referrals on a whole range of personal services—health. employment. therapy. and legal and other social services. Acknowledging the urgency of these needs. but that we had neither the time nor the staff to do referrals well. we sought a closer relationship with the Women's Counseling Project. a small group of volunteers who had been working solely in this area since 1917. With our help. the Project moved from a small basement office at Colum- bia to Barnard. in January 1978. and began a productive af- filiation with the Women's Center and Barnard which has proved to be an interesting feminist model of expansion Bar- nard provides space and other in-kind services. the Women's Center initially gave financial support and help in develop- ing proposals which brought in necessary outside funding. and throughout gave cooperation and support. The Project maintains its autonomy and its priorities; providing quality referral and peer-counseling services to women in the New York metropolitan area. Since the move to Barnard. the Pro- ject has flourished and has expanded its staff and services. it has become more professional and is now an independent. financially viable, not-for-profit organization. The ties be- tween the Project and the Women‘s Center remain close The Center has strengthened a service it could not provide itself.

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The single most important activity of the Women's Cen- ter has been the annual "Scholar and Feminist" conference Starting in 1974. these conferences have come to be viewed as a unique experience in feminist inquiry. raising questions which are on the cutting edge of the new scholarship on women. The conferences are interdisciplinary and recognize

the inextricable relationship between theory and practice. be- tween scholarship and activism.

Womeifs Studies Quarterly Xll 1 (Spring 1984}

The way in which these conferences have. from the be- ginning. been conceptualized and planned has been a key factor in their success. For each of the ten conferences held so far. the Women's Center staff worked over a period of months. with an academic coordinator and a planning com- mittee. Initially. the academic coordinator and planning com- mittee were Barnard people, but it became evident early on that we needed a much broader base to ensure a rich, multi- dimensioned conference. As a result. most of the confer- ences have been the product of a planning committee which has included members from outside Barnard. and the aca- demic coordinator has also sometimes come from the larger feminist community. From time to time. we have actually sought the participation of specific segments of the commu- nity to achieve the broad representation we felt we needed. More recently. we have sought out scholars and activists working in one particular area to contribute their expertise in developing the theme of a conference.

The first nine conferences were funded by the Helena Rubinstein Foundation; they were initially limited to 250 people. but as interest in the conference grew, the plenary sessions were transferred to larger quarters to accommodate as many as 700. The format of the morning plenary session and the large number (up to eighteen) of concurrent after- noon sessions made it possible for many of the leading fem- inist scholars and activists on the east coast and, on occa- sion. from other parts of the country to participate as speakers and workshop leaders. In general, we followed a policy of having different speakers and workshop leaders each year. In this way we avoided the “star” system, while also providing as many scholars and activists as possible an opportunity to present their work and ideas—often for the first time—in a supportive atmosphere. The conferences have stimulated a large number of publications. Women's Center pamphlets and books. and a stream of books and ar- ticles stemming from presentations prepared particularly for one of the conferences.

The conference themes have paralleled, with such a logi- cal progression. the growth, development and tensions in- herent in the new scholarship on women that. looking back. one can see a continuum which mirrors the issues that domi- nated feminist scholarship and the women’s movement over the past ten years.

The first five conferences reflected the explosive expres- sion of the women's movement in its universal reaction against patriarchal traditions, and stressed the connections and ties among all women. The search for commonalities of women's experience provided a unity of purpose and con- tributed to the emergence of women's studies as a new and important interdisciplinary field of scholarship. The first con- ference (1974) focused on the impact of feminism on the in- tellectual, professional, and personal lives of individual scho- lars. The second (“Toward New Criteria of Relevance." 1975) moved from the personal to a broader theoretical per- spective, examining the impact of feminism on the research process in general. A high point of this conference was the late Joan Kelly's classic paper, “History and the Social Re- lations of the Sexes," which introduced the notion of “perio- dization." Kelly postulated that the nodal periods in history, such as the Renaissance. had been so defined because they were moments of flowering for men, not for women, and she suggested a radically different kind of historical scholar-

 

ship based on the social relations of the sexes. Conference lll (“The Search For Origins," 1976) went a step further and focused on the search for the historical. cultural. and psycho- logical origins of women's oppression. Drawing on the per- spective of anthropology and history of religion. Rayna Rapp gave a broad historical overview and Elaine Pagels presented a brilliant case study of early gnosticism, which showed the ideological and political exclusion of women in the establish- ment of the early church. Conference lV (“Connecting The- ory. Practice and Values." 1977) explored the major con- tradictions between those conceptions of reality developed by feminist scholars and those accepted in traditional scholar- ship. Conference V (“Creating Feminist Works." 1978) looked at how individual feminists can break away from in- ternalized sexism in their work. In a morning panel. an art- ist, a writer, and a scholar—Harmony Hammond. Eve Mer- riam, and Nancy Miller—talked together about how they attempt to free themselves from biased scholarship and values and create a new vision. theory or concept: how they do their work.

As the women's movement matured and became more di- verse, and as feminist scholarship became more sophisti- cated, some basic concepts changed. Women's differences from men. originally seen as a source of oppression. were beginning to be viewed as a source of strength. Scholars and artists were moving away from the notion of “sameness" and toward an acknowledgment of “differences" among women. primarily differences of class, race, and sexual preference. The next five conferences reflected these developments. as well as the fundamental changes in the larger political scene. most notably the emergence of the New Right and the back- lash against women.

Conference VI (“The Future of Difference," 1979). draw- ing heavily on contemporary French feminist theories. ex- plored those structures which organize and determine our concepts of sexual identity and difference among women and between women and men. Conference Vll (“Class Race and Sex: Exploring Contradictions. Affirming Connec- tions." 1980) examined the way in which the primary insti- tutions of power divide women along the lines of class. race. and sexual preference. The success of this conference was in part due to the fact that the academic coordinator. Amy Swerdlow, actively recruited planning committee members from the larger community to insure solid representation from racial minorities and lesbian activists, Conference Vlll (“The Dynamics of Control.” 1981) continued this dialogue in the context of the current political climate, and looked at the institutions and ideologies which control women's lives. Conference lX (“Towards a Politics of Sexuality," 1982) was undoubtedly and even unwittingly the most controversial conference of all. It addressed women's right to sexual pleas- ure and women's sexual autonomy, acknowledging that sexuality is simultaneously a domain of restrictions. repres- sion. and danger. as well as of exploration, pleasure, and agency. Academic coordinator Carole Vance started out with this theme and attracted a planning committee of twenty-four scholars and activists, from within and outside Barnard. whose work was primarily on issues of sexuality. Conference X (“The Question of Technology,” 1983) focused on the way technological change affects women's lives and expec- tations as a beginning in the development of a feminist analy- sis. A chilling picture of the way in which the new technol-

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Women's Studies Quarterly Xll.l (Spring 1984)

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ogy exploits women was given by sociologist Maria Patricia Fernandez Kelly in an overview of post-industrial capitalism with its runaway shops and urban enterprise zone projects. primarily in third-world countries.

Nowhere were the tensions between feminism and the academy more evident than in every aspect of these annual academic conferences. In order to throw new light on the questions women scholars were now asking. all the tradi- tional givens in scholarship were being questioned. In addi- tion. the combination of theoretical and activist issues in the development of the conference themes. and the inclusion of activist workshops to inform and reinforce the theoretical is- sues. raised the hackles of some traditional academicians and likewise frustrated some activists as they tried to talk in an academic setting. Also intrinsic to the planning of the con- ference was the underlying. non—hierarchical group-planning process. .

As an administrative officer of the College. 1 saw my role as that of providing leadership and of being sure that the conferences maintained Barnard's commitment to excel- lence. l often walked a tightrope: lf l were to have the trust of the feminist community. which was vital to the success of our programs, l had to make it very clear that my role was not to control: yet the College made it equally clear. on several occasions, that l was responsible for everything that went on at the Women's Center. Should any conference or program evoke criticism from any important College constit- uency or be portrayed in the media in a way that did not meet the approval of the College, l was to be held fully ac- countable.

This. in effect. happened in the case of the “Diary" inci- dent at the 1982 conference on sexuality. The planning meetings had been so stimulating and so full of new mate- rial and insights that members felt it was more like a study group than a planning committee. The committee decided to share this material with the conference participants in a publication to be called “Diary of a Conference on Sexual- ity." The committee decided to include background informa- tion on the organization of the conference: excerpts from the minutes of the planning committee meetings; a full descrip- tion of each workshop. with suggested readings by workshop leaders; and a bibliography of readings used by the planning committee. The two artists on the committee assumed responsibility for producing the Diary, which would include

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Participate in a Scholar and the Feminist Conference.

some art work: contemporary and historical graphic mate rial on sexuality. The Diary was to be distributed on the day of the conference to each conference registrant

The Barnard administration saw the publication for the first time when it came off the press forty-eight hours before the conference. They regarded some of the graphics as so offen- sive and detrimental to Barnard that they removed the Di- ary from circulation. literally pulling copies from the registra tion packets. After negotiations. the College agreed to underwrite its reprinting. once all references to Barnard and to the Rubinstein Foundation (which had funded the first nine conferences) had been deleted. The revised Diary was mailed out to conference registrants several months after the conference.

The Diary incident—and the fear that the Rubinstein Foun- dation would withdraw its support (which it did). and the threat that the conference itself might be in jeopardy- provoked an outcry in the feminist community. ln the months following the conference. there was an outpouring of letters from scholars and activists who had come to one or more of the conferences or participated as speakers. work- shop leaders. or members of a planning committee. The let- ters stressed the importance and uniqueness of the confer- ences as a major arena for exchanging research and ideas. as a place where new ideas could be aired because the con- ferences were never fearful of controversy. lt was clear from the outraged response from feminist scholars that these con- ferences occupy a central place in the broader community and. in a sense. belong to all who have shown their support

these past ten years.

ln these abbreviated observations and reflections. l have highlighted our major achievements. While they are signifi- cant. they nevertheless fell short of our original dream for Barnard. We saw the Women‘s Center as an initial response to the challenge of the women's movement. to be followed by other necessary components (most of which still do not exist at Barnard). We hoped to have a women‘s studies pro- gram; a research institute. an oral history program. a women’s library and archive: a personal. educational. and vocational counseling center; and an adult education pro- gram for women. We hoped Barnard could be pointed to as a leader in the education of women. incorporating all the im- portant issues of the women's movement and the new scholarship on women.

We believed then. as l believe now. that the only way in which a single-sex women's college can survive and retain its vitality is by actively acknowledging the important femi- nist truths that have emerged over the past twenty years. The legacy of the struggle for women's education demands that we keep changing. that we go beyond providing the “same" education that we always have. The Women's Center was and is an effort to hold the doors open for change ln a sense. it is only a beginning.I

Jane S. Gould was a founding member 0/ the Barnard Col- lege Women's Center and its director from 1972 to June 1983. As a member of 0 Russell Sage Foundation Task Force for the Project on Women in Higher Education. she is currently looking at the role of women's centers through- out the country.

Womens Studies Quarterly Xll 1 (Spring 1984)

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