30 years of sisterly study at Penn


This year marks the 30th anniversary of women’s studies at Penn. Not coincidentally, the campus Women’s Center is also celebrating its 30th year. Separately and together they are sponsoring a yearlong series of programs—lectures, seminars and conferences that highlight the enormous influence the women’s movement has had.

The Women’s Studies Program kicks off its anniversary events today with a lecture, “The Long Road to the Fast Track,” at 5 p.m. in Houston Hall’s Bodek Lounge by Claudia Goldin, the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard. “Goldin will look at how different generations have confronted the conflict between family and career,” said Janice Madden, director of the Women’s Studies Program, “beginning at the turn of the 20th century.”

On December 3, “Title IX: Gender Equality and Athletics at Penn” will be the topic for a panel discussion co-sponsored by both women’s organizations. In the spring, Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago, a leading philosopher and ethicist whose most recent book, “Women and Human Development,” calls for a new kind of feminism that is truly international, will speak.

Both the creation of a women’s studies interdisciplinary program in the School of Arts and Sciences and the founding of the Women’s Center were catalyzed by sit-ins organized by faculty, staff and students in response to a series of rapes of nursing students in 1973.

“The national women’s movement grew around critical women’s issues like rape, domestic violence and equal pay,” said Demie Kurz, permanent co-director of the Women’s Studies Program. “At the same time, people in different professions—lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses, members of trade unions, academics—started to look at their own workplaces.”

Thirty years later women’s perspectives have grown. “Now, women of color and non-western women are challenging, in a creative way some of the assumptions that the women who started this movement make,” says Kurz. “ It is very exciting to see it transform our understanding.”

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Originally published on October 30, 2003