Founding feminists

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Ann Fitzgerald (seated) and Joan Straumanis at the Oct. 8 panel: “About a Decade – The Birth of Women’s Studies and Black Studies at Denison: How it Happened Here, In This Place, At That Time.” On this occasion, the two women were hailed as, respectively, the “Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein of the Women’s Studies program at Denison.”

When Joan Straumanis came to Denison as a philosophy professor in 1971, she was introduced at her first faculty meeting as a “real feminist hell raiser.”

“That marked me the whole first year,” she says. “It was necessary for me to either be that, or to disappoint.”

Whether you’d consider Straumanis a feminist hell raiser or not, one thing’s for sure: the woman got things done. During that fall of 1971, she immediately began to look around at the curricular programming in place for women—and there wasn’t much. Across the nation, formal women’s studies programs were almost unknown at that time, and the whole idea of feminism in academics was just getting its start.

So when Ann Fitzgerald joined the English faculty a year later, the pair teamed up with interested students to create a women’s studies program at Denison. It began as a grassroots effort, but eventually blossomed to become part of a path-breaking requirement at Denison that encouraged students to explore issues facing women and minorities—and influenced other colleges around the country.

This year, on Oct. 7, the women and men who helped to create the women’s studies program at Denison gathered with current faculty, staff, and students to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Among those who returned for the conference were Straumanis, who now directs a “science of learning” program at the National Science Foundation, and Fitzgerald, who teaches in the Graduate Program in American Studies at Trinity College, along with many women’s studies alumni and supporters.

The event was called “About a Decade: 1972-1984.” Throughout the three-day conference, attendees reminisced about the start of women’s studies at Denison and chatted frankly about the state of women students today, discussing topics such as sexual violence and harassment, and issues facing the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities.

Through panel discussions and workshops that focused on everything from student activism to the roles of women in business, science, and the arts, the past generation of women’s studies proponents encouraged current student activists to not sit by idly but to continue what started here nearly 40 years ago.

Check back, because there will be more about the start of women’s studies at Denison in the winter 2011 issue of Denison Magazine.

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1:44 PM October 19, 2011

UniversityCommunications wrote:

A server error has resulted in the loss of some recent comments on TheDEN. To remedy the situation, we are reposting the comment below in its entirety. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. –Ed.

Susan Lewis wrote:

One year later, October 15, 2011, rest in peace, Annie. You will be missed by so many, especially my sister, Peggy Gifford. So glad this duet was recorded for all to remember her.

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2:19 PM November 18, 2010

Chris wrote:

Very interesting article! Thank you! Loved reading it!

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10:33 AM October 27, 2010

Dr. Kennard B. Bork wrote:

The Century Project is in no way ‘pornographic.’ Rather, it is a striking visualization AND text commentary of women’s bodies and life-narratives. Frank Cordelle’s work is tasteful and illuminates human and societal issues in a powerful but not prurient way.

Ken B. Bork
Alumni Professor of Geology, Emeritus
At Denison since 1966

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10:26 AM October 27, 2010

Kristina Mead wrote:

Brad, have you actually seen the exhibit? These images are not pornographic. “The Century Project” is a highly-regarded, well-traveled exhibit of photographs of girls and women ranging from 0 to 94 years old. Yes, the subjects are nude, but the images are affirming, compassionate, supportive and non-judgmental rather than prurient. The girls and women seem to have chosen locations and poses that speak to their souls and to their individuality. Most photographs are accompanied by statements, essays, or poems in which the women share vignettes from their lives, challenges faced, and battles won. Many speak of their photographic session as a time when they could finally come to terms with issues of body image, mutilation, or sexual assault. Despite these difficult topics, the statements are affirming and positive: these women are survivors. This exhibit is a compassionate, open-armed look at a spectrum of bodies and experiences. We decided to bring The Century Project to Denison because we thought that it would spark necessary conversations about body image, eating disorders, sexual assault, and other topics. We hope that the photographs and essays and resultant conversations will lead more women to an acceptance and appreciation of their bodies, and provide men with an opportunity to better understand some of the body issues experienced by women. I am proud of Denison for hosting this exhibit.

Dr. Kristina Mead
Associate Professor of Biology and Director of Women’s Studies

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12:25 PM October 26, 2010

bRAD QUICKSALL wrote:

As a Denison alum I am shocked that my school would host The Century Project. There are other ways to bring up legitimate issues related to feminism that do not involved child pornography. Shame on Denison!
Brad Quicksall ’71

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