Faculty at the University of Rhode Island began teaching courses focusing on the lives, experiences, and culture of women in the early 1970s. Our first course, “Women and Society,” was taught during the spring 1972 semester. Enrollment was to be limited to 50 students, but 200 arrived at the first class meeting. All were invited to join the course. Professors Judith Anderson and Sharon Strom coordinated the course and 20 faculty members served as teachers, visiting lecturers, or panelists.
By 1978, a variety of departments had developed offerings and core courses in Gender and Women’s Studies were approved. The first major graduated in 1979, and the degree was formally approved by the Board of Governors in 1980. Since these beginnings, the program expanded rapidly; today, there are a total of 65 courses which have been approved for majors and minors from Gender and Women’s Studies, 16 departments, and five colleges. The core staff of the program includes a director; a full-time, tenure-track faculty member who holds the Carlson Endowed Chair in Gender and Women’s Studies; a graduate assistant; and a part-time time office manager. An additional 18 faculty members from 11 departments hold joint appointments in Gender and Women’s Studies under terms defined in the University Manual and approved by their departments, deans, and the Provost. This appointment commits them to teach one core GWS course every three years in addition to other program responsibilities. Twenty-seven other faculty from 11 departments affiliate with the program and offer courses in their own disciplines approved for GWS majors or minors, or engage in research related to Gender and Women’s Studies. Five faculty hold adjunct appointments and offer courses in their areas of expertise. Four faculty hold emerita/us status. We have approximately 30 majors and a number of declared minors.
Gender and Women’s Studies has received a number of gifts which have strengthened our program and benefited our students. In 1980, a colleague and benefactor established the Fredrika Wild Schweers Memorial Lecture in Women’s Health. This endowment supports a lecture every April on some aspect of women’s health. In 1984, the same benefactor established the “Mother” Jones scholarship for needy majors and minors. This fund was later increased by the benefactor’s mother, who left money in her will to expand the work that her daughter had begun. In 1994, we became the beneficiary of a one million dollar endowment set up by Eleanor Carlson in 1988 to insure that our program would continue and expand. This endowment provided $750,000 for an endowed chair in Gender and Women’s Studies; $225,000 for scholarships for single mothers with dependent children; $15,000 for an endowed lecture; and $10,000 for library purchases. Additional moneys were left in her will, some for the chair and some for scholarships for majors. The Program established a new award, the Eleanor M. Carlson Trust Scholarship, which is given annually to one or two GWS students for academic excellence, community or campus service, and financial need.
The Program made a commitment to broaden the curriculum to include the physical and natural sciences by selecting a faculty member with a Ph.D. in Genetics to occupy the Carlson Endowed Chair. We view this as an essential step as we move into the 21st century to educate the second generation of Gender and Women’s Studies graduates. The URI Gender and Women’s Studies Program was one of ten programs selected nationally to participate in the Women’s Studies, Science and Engineering Curriculum Project, funded by the National Science Foundation through the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The goal of the project is to make science more attractive to women by expanding the content of science curricula in higher education. The project aims to build connections between science, engineering and women’s studies by incorporating the new scholarship in gender studies into undergraduate science, engineering and math courses. In addition, Gender and Women’s Studies courses will begin to include more science content. The project aims to graduate more women with science and engineering degrees and more scientific literate women with Gender and Women’s Studies degrees.
Every semester the program averages about 570 students enrolled in courses with a WMS designation (and, about 700 students are enrolled in cross-listed courses offered by other departments).
We sponsor two endowed lectures each year, the Carlson lecture in the Fall semester, and the Fredrika Wild Schweers lecture on Women and Health in the Spring. In addition, we sponsor the Dana Shugar Colloquium that invites new faculty at URI to talk about their areas of interest.