Department History

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Be sure to revisit this page to see updates as we document the exciting history of Women and Gender Studies at KU!

Milestones and Notable Events

From the very beginning, women have held leadership positions at KU, and were influential in the growth and development of the university.

1869: Elizabeth Perkins Leonard, a native of Quincy IL, is appointed the fifth faculty member of the new university. As Professor of Modern Languages (French and German), Painting and Art, she founds "Friends in Council," a women's organization dedicated to the cultural enrichment of its members, in 1871. The organization remained active until 2017.

1873: Flora E. Richardson becomes not only the first KU student to ever cross the stage to receive a diploma, but also also the first class valedictorian, delivering her Valedictory address, "The Uses of Superstition." Flora was an active and accomplished student at KU. She even created KU’s first entomological collection, a 140-specimen group including everything from cockroaches to walking sticks, as a pupil of Professor (and later Chancellor) Francis Huntington Snow. For more information about Flora Richardson's life, check out Lady First on the KU History website

1892: The Department of Sociology offers a course entitled "The Status of Women in the United States."

1956: Dr. Emily Taylor is appointed Dean of Women at KU, a post she will hold until 1974. During her tenure, she created the Women's Resource and Career Planning Center, which now bears her name as The Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity.

1960: Muriel Johnson, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Life, develops the first modern Women's Studies course at KU and, apparently, in the US: "Women in Contemporary Culture."

1965: Will Linkugel, Depatment of Communication Studies, introduces his course, "The Rhetoric of Women's Rights."

1970: The Associated Women Women Students (AWS) officially became the Kansas University Commission on the Status of Women with Suzanne Bocell as the first president. The Commission had two goals -- to inform university women of their status in society and to guide them in their struggle for change and betterment. 

Lawrence Gay Liberation Front is created. It receives official campus recognition in 1972. In 1981 it becomes the Gay and Lesbian Services of Kansas (GLSOK).

1971-72: Faculty and staff members of Committee W (for Women) of the American Association of University Professors begin meeting to discuss such issues as affirmative action, health care for women students, campus day-care, and women's studies.

1972, February 2: Robin Morgan delivers an address for the Minority Affairs Forum on radical feminism which serves as a catalyst for the February Sisters.

1972, February 4: Thirty women from faculty and staff, and four children occupy the East Asian Languages Building at 1332 Louisiana St. and issue demands for changes in KU policies affecting the lives of women and minorities at KU. Their original list of six demands included: an Affirmative Action Program; a free Day Care Center; the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs position be filled by a woman; an end to grossly unfair employment practices; an autonomous Department of Women’s Studies; and a Women’s Health Program. The women had taken this drastic action because the Administration had continually delayed action to establish an Affirmative Action Program, despite the fact that he US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare had ruled that all universities receiving federal funds were required to file a program of specific action to end discrimination against women. 

1972: Kristi Drach submits first student petition for an individualized Special Major in Women's Studies, which is accepted by the College Committee on Undergraduate Studies and Advising. About 25 students with Special Majors in Women's Studies graduate over the next four years. During this period, KU averages fifteen cross-listed Women's Studies courses per semester.

1972, November: College Assembly approves the first crosslisting of a course under the Women's Studies rubric, thus--indirectly and perhaps inadvertently--legitimating the existence of Women's Studies as a curricular area, and opening the way for the development of Women's Studies courses across the curriculum and the building of a program, which takes place over the next four years.

1972, Fall: Janet Sharistanian from the English Department is selected to be the first Coordinator of Women's Studies, serving until 1976.

1976, Fall: Shirley Harkess, Department of Sociology, becomes Coordinator of Women's Studies, serving until 1979.

1977, Spring: Introductory core course in Women's Studies is taught for the first time by Shirley Harkess and Janet Sharistanian: "Women in Literature and Society."

1977, June 17: Kansas Board of Regents approves a standard major in Women's Studies. Women's Studies is now officially a program at KU.

1979: Ford Foundation provides KU's Women's Studies Program with $100,000 grant for the Research Institute on Women, which functions until 1983, focusing on women's public lives. Janet Sharistanian directs the Institute, which includes a nine-week summer institute in 1980 that involves scholars and researchers from KU and across the nation. The results are published in two edited collections by Greenwood Press.

1979, March 28-31: KU Women's Studies hosts the National Convention of the Intercollegiate Association for Women's Studies. Notable attendees are Bell Abzug, Judy Collins, and Ntozake Shange.

1979, May 30 - June 3: KU's Women's Studies Program hosts the first National Women's Studies Association conference.



Leadership and Personnel

1980, September: Ann Schofield is hired as the first faculty member on a tenure line in Women's Studies.

1980, Fall: Marilyn Brady becomes the first GTA in Women's Studies.

1983, Fall: Karlyn Kohrs of the Communications Department becomes Director of Women's Studies, serving until 1986.

1986, Fall: Susan Noakes from the Department of French and Italian becomes Director of Women's Studies. She serves until 1988.

1988, August: Charlene Muehlenhard is hired as Assistan Professor with a joint appointment in Women's Studies and Psychology.

1988, Fall: Ann Schofield, Professor of Women's Studies and American Studies, becomes Director of Women's Studies, serving until 1991.

Notable Guests Sponsored by Women's Studies

1985, January 28: KU Women's Studies sponsors a public reading by author Meridel Le Sueur.

1985, November 18: Public lecture by Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships. Her talk was, " Bitches, Nice Ladies, and Other Angry Women."

1987, March 2: Public lecture by Ruth El-Saffar, " What Celestina Knew."

1987, March 26 - 27: Public lecture by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gruber, Authors of The Madwoman in theAttic. Their talk is called, "The Battle of the Sexes: The Man's Case." Co-sponsored by the English Department.

1987, April 28: Gayatri Spivak speaks on "Third World Women."

Series and Conferences

1986, Spring: Women's Studies launches the Drinks and Dialogues series, providing a platform for KU faculty and graduate students, as well as community members, to share their research on diverse feminist issues. The series continues through 1991.

1987 Spring: 15th Anniversary Celebration of the February Sisters, with potluck, speakers, food and music. This event becomes catalyst for an annual February Sisters Forum, which convenes to the present day.

1988 Feb - Mar: Women's Studies and Psychology Colloquium Series.

1988 April 4 - 7: Women's Studies sponsors an international conference, "Women and Work: A Comparative Perspective." Speakers include Alice H. Cook and Nancy Kassebaum.