“The widening of woman’s sphere is to improve her lot. Let us do it, and if the world scoff, let it scoff – if it sneer, let it sneer….”
Lucy Stone, 1855
Arriving in Geneva in 1968, I brought with me a commitment to feminism and activism, an
uncompleted B.A., the insulting sobriquet “faculty wife” and my New York City attitude. Two years later I enrolled at William Smith as a part-time student, majoring in Studio Art and Women’s Studies. Women’s Studies? There was no such thing! But with the help and encouragement of Professor Bob Huff I created an independent study major that met all the requirements (except the swimming test, but that is another story). Of course, being so close to Seneca Falls was an added inspiration – “Resolved: That woman is man’s equal… and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.” (The First Woman’s Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, 1848)
Feminism in those days was a very different enterprise than it is today, often reviled, extremely in-your-face and always visible — for contemporary comparisons see Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. I vividly remember the day a group of us had an appointment with the college president to request/demand that he hire someone to teach women’s history, prepared to sit-in if he did not agree. He did. Women’s Studies was definitely on the move and the year after I graduated in 1973, there was a major, though not yet a department. It is easy to forget the energy and force of the movement in the 1970’s, even though it has been well documented. “There is something contagious about demanding freedom, especially where women, who comprise the oldest oppressed group on the face of the planet, are concerned .” (Robin Mogan, Sisterhood Is Powerful, , 1970).
I am still a committed feminist and activist but am saddened by the “politeness” of the current movement – sign a petition, make a contribution, don’t be confrontational, don’t speak out to loudly, and don’t actually use the word “feminism”. You do not have to risk anything. However, the very existence of Women’s Studies as an accepted major, the opportunity to take a course that fits within another major is a perhaps immeasurable contribution. To entwine two clichés, knowledge is power and sisterhood is powerful.
Class of 1973