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Women's Studies History

History of Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies at the University of Maryland

The Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland is home to one of the strongest and most dynamic women’s studies programs in the nation and we have recognition from and working relationships with women’s and gender studies programs around the world. We have grown from 232 students in three courses in 1971 to over 1,366 students enrolled in women’s studies and LGBT courses in Fall 2014. While retaining our emphasis on difference and power within the U.S. we have evolved to thinking and working more transnationally. We have developed with the field, growing from a focus specifically on women to a gendered approach with growing attention to masculinity.

How did we get here?

Over 30 years ago, a group of women faculty came together to develop a plan for launching a women’s studies program at Maryland. Under the leadership of Virginia Beauchamp in the Department of English, the Women’s Studies Program Planning Committee began discussions and in 1975 hired Bernice Carroll from the University of Illinois on a one-year visiting appointment as interim director of women’s studies. Through the work of Carroll and the committee, in 1976 a Women’s Studies Program was approved, along with an undergraduate certificate in women’s studies and a position for a permanent director of the program.

Carol Pearson, then at the University of Colorado, was hired as the first director with a budget line in the Women’s Studies Program, a tenure home in the Department of American Studies and her courses listed as AMST. Under Pearson’s leadership, our fledgling program gained national visibility as she negotiated to bring both the National Women’s Studies Association and the journal “Feminist Studies” to the University of Maryland, College Park, campus.

Claire Moses, the first faculty hired on a tenure-line in women’s studies, taught the first WMST-listed course at the University of Maryland. Her appointment included editor of “Feminist Studies.”

After Pearson stepped down as director, Jean Lipman-Blumen and Josephine Withers served in that capacity during the search for a new permanent director.

In these early years, the Women’s Studies Program described itself as “interdisciplinary in nature,” with its goal as providing students “with a more adequate and realistic education than that which has ignored or distorted the role of women in society.”

In 1984, Evi Beck, then a professor of comparative literature, German and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, came to Maryland to direct the Women’s Studies Program.

With the appointment of Deborah Rosenfelt in 1990, the year-old Curriculum Transformation Project initially housed in the President’s Office officially became a unit of women’s studies.

In 1991, the Graduate Certificate Program in Women’s Studies was introduced.

The PhD program was approved in 1999 and admitted its first cohort in 2000.

In 2005, the Department established a joint minor in Black Women’s Studies with the Department of African American Studies.

In 2013, the Department merged with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies (LGBT) Program and began to oversee an undergraduate certificate and minor in LGBTQ Studies.

In 2020, we changed our name to the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.