News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History: 1983 – Fifth National Conference

Friday, April 24, 2020  
Share |
Cover of the 1983 conference program book

5th National Conference | "Feminist Education: Quality and Equality" | June 26-30, 1983 | Ohio State University | Columbus, OH

Heading of the 1983 conference program book

Program Highlights

The fifth NWSA Annual Conference led conversations on "Feminist Education: Quality and Equality." In the previous year's program, conference coordinators articulated that this fifth conference would emphasize "the relationship between quality and equality, furthering our conviction that quality education depends upon equal access for women and girls to all educational opportunities." Not far from the 1982 conference's theme of "Feminist Connections through Education," this conference theme focused again on building relationships and connections between communities and academia. Through discussions on equity, pedagogy, methods, and methodology, conference presenters acknowledged the necessary contradictions of being both a feminist and an academic and how those contradictions can be generative for the field and for the movement with sessions like:

  • "The Impact of Academic Feminists on the Non-academic Community"
  • "Women's Studies: Academic Ghetto or Resource for Social Change?"
  • "Friends of Women's Studies: An Approach to Community Organizing"
  • "Women Activists, Women Theorists"
  • "Classroom/Community Connections: Two Links that Empower"
  • "Building Feminist Communities on Campus"
  • "The Politics of Gaining Institutional Support: Mainstreaming the Feminist Curriculum"
  • "Is Your Data a Person? A Feminist Methodology and the Social Sciences"
  • "Keeping the Feminist Curriculum Feminist: Strategies for Maintaining Quality and Generating Support"

Just as well, many of the sessions also focused on correcting historic inaccessibility of education to systemically marginalized groups:

  • "Working Class Women in Academia: A Workshop"
  • "Math EQUALS Connections: Approaches to Promoting Math and Science Participation for Female and Black and Hispanic Students – A Workshop"
  • "An Educative Approach to Eliminating Sexism from Social Science Research: The Guidelines for Nonsexist Research in Psychology"
  • "Dancing Through the Minefield: Discrimination Against Women's Studies Personnel and Feminist Scholars"
  • "Survival Strategies for Feminists in Academe: A Panel Discussion and Workshop"
  • "The Retention of Women Faculty in Higher Education: Problems and Potential Solutions"

1983 was also the first year that the Association was able to offer financial assistance for some attendees who could not afford conference expenses. As you'll see in her letter below, the NWSA National Coordinator named this new service as a response to the overwhelming fundraising support that the membership organized the year before. This financial assistance set a precedent, and paved the way, for the current travel grants, conference registration scholarships, Activist Scholarship, and our other awards and prizes. The Association also released the Everywoman's Guide to Colleges and Universities. Published by The Feminist Press, this project sought "to define and identify 'healthy educational environments' for women." You can find the 1981 questionnaire that researchers sent to every college and university president in the U.S. here.

Also new this year was Women's Voices, billed as "a major series of poetry/fiction readings by some of the most talented contemporary women writers, including readings from Cherríe Moraga, June Jordan, E.M. Broner, Paule Marshall, Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood, Nikki Giovanni, and May Sarton. The 1983 conference continued the integration of art exhibits, poetry readings, theatrical performances, musical and dance concerts, and athletic recreation.

List of 1983 steering committee members

Constituency Groups

After four years, the 1983 NWSA annual conference experienced its first switch-up in constituency groups. Prior to this year, the six original caucuses – the Community College, Lesbian, Student, Staff, Pre K-12, and Third World Caucuses – continued as the only official NWSA constituency groups. In 1983, the Staff Caucus became the Program Administrators' Caucus. (It will later go on to become the current Program Administration and Development Committee.) The Association also initiated three new task forces in 1983: the Task Forces on Discrimination and Curriculum Integration and the Librarian's Task Force. The program adds that, in affiliation with the Task Force on Curriculum Integration, the Task Force on Discrimination was "charged with determining ways in which the Association can most effectively be of help to academic women who are victims of sex discrimination in employment policies and practices." As was practice, each caucus and task force sponsored sessions relevant to their constituency, including:

  • Task Force on Discrimination – "Dancing Through the Minefield: Discrimination Against Women's Studies Personnel and Feminist Scholars"
  • Task Force on Curriculum – "Radical Visions and Reforms: Strategies for Moving Toward Transformation of the Curriculum and the University"
  • Librarian's Task Force – "The Librarian's Role as Educator in Women's Studies"
  • Program Administrators' Caucus – "Whatever Happened to Autonomous Women's Studies?" (this question further materializes as the Autonomous Women's Institute at the 1984 conference) and "Classroom/Community Connections: Two Links that Empower"
  • Third World Caucus – "Words and Means: Third World Women Writers and Publishing" and "Issues Concerning Arab Feminists"
  • Pre K-12 Caucus – "Models for Feminist Curriculum Development: PreK/12" and "Storytelling as a Medium for Nonsexist Education: A Workshop"
  • Lesbian Caucus – "American Lesbian Communities 1940-1970"
  • Community College Caucus – "Feminist Education in the Community College"
  • Student Caucus – "Surviving the University as a Feminist Student"

See the full program here

From the National Coordinator

It is a pleasure to greet you on behalf of the National Women's Studies Association and to welcome you to the Fifth National NWSA Conference.

The NWSA Constitution stipulates that our annual meeting "serve as an educational and inspirational force in and of itself." As you browse through this Program Book, I am sure you will agree that the array of speakers, workshops, readings, concerts, films, and other activities is indeed educational and inspirational. No less stimulating than the formal program is the opportunity to meet one another, to make connections and share our many interests and concerns with other feminist students and educators from this country and around the world. We are indebted to Marlene Longenecker, Suzanne Hyers, and the scores of volunteers whose creative energies and plain hard work have made this gathering possible.

The NWSA Constitution also requires that while we are assembled, we, through the Delegate Assembly, "set the priorities of the Association for the future." For several years, the Delegate Assembly has faced a future dimmed by financial problems. The Steering Committee and I believe, however, that NWSA is passing safely through these economic straits, due primarily to the spontaneous contributions of many members throughout the country. These volunteer efforts have not simply accomplished particular tasks. This direct involvement has had the additional benefit of strengthening NWSA as a grassroots organization and increasing our collective dedication to the advancement of feminist education at all levels and in every setting.

These efforts have energized the Association and increased the range of services and activities we can undertake. NWSA now provides more direct services to members, including a membership directory, our own newsletter, reduced-rate subscriptions to feminist journals, and a scholarship competition. This year for the first time we are able to provide financial support for some women who could not afford to pay conference expenses, a program we expect to expand for future conferences. As long as volunteers from every constituency continue to propose, shape and implement further activities, we will build an ever healthier, ever stronger Association.

NWSA is "an educational and inspirational force"; it is positioned to set priorities for the future. Thank you for being here to share these days together in a rich and rewarding celebration of the energy, productivity, and vitality of feminist education and of NWSA.

In sisterhood,
Virginia Cyrus
National Coordinator

From the Program Coordinators

Welcome to the Fifth Annual NWSA Convention, Feminist Education: Quality and Equality. If you learn even half as much or connect nearly as powerfully with one another during these five days as we at OSU have over the past two years of planning and organizing this event, our efforts will have been more than worth it. The exact moment we committed ourselves to hosting the 1983 Convention is now lost in history, but it happened sometime during the 1981 Convention at the University of Connecticut; from that moment, we have envisioned it as an opportunity to further the advancement of the Association, Women's Studies, and feminism generally through broad-based, grassroots support and participation and through collective dialogue on all of the issues that concern us most as feminist educators. The opportunity to achieve that vision has been provided primarily by the membership itself – all of you who sent us an overwhelming number of proposals for sessions, papers, workshops, and panels from which we have selected those that appear in the following pages. Our own special contribution is to be found in three things of which we are especially proud: the planning and organization of the four plenary sessions on issues of global importance to the theme of the Convention; the creation of our remarkable poetry/fiction series, Women's Voices; and, for the first time in the Association's history, the creation of a special scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to those who could not otherwise afford to come. Though we could not raise nearly as much money as we would have liked to help those who need it, we have been able to provide substantial assistance to nearly one hundred women, and we have established a strong base from which we hope this fund can grow in future years.

The strength and diversity of the program speaks for itself: feminist education, from pre-school through graduate school and beyond, in the community and in the academy, is flourishing and growing in sophistication and variety so quickly that the annual conference can only begin to keep us up to date on the latest developments and to serve as a stimulus for the further research, reflection, and education you all will accomplish after you leave Columbus (to re-convene, of course, next year at Douglass College).

The following pages contain the names of a lot of people who, in various ways, made this convention possible. We know that such lists carry only minimal impact for those who do not know and have not worked with these people, that they often seem just a ritualized thank you. But our appreciation to all of them runs deep, and from those lists, we want especially here to single out a few individuals, in bold type and with a very special appreciation as persons without whom none of this would have been possible.

Thanks, first, to Diether Haenicke, former Dean of the College of Humanities and now Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at OSU, who first provided Marlene and Suzanne's release-time, the money for staff support, and the intellectual encouragement to pursue our original bid to the Association to host the 1983 conference. To Michael Curran, Acting Dean of the College of Humanities, and especially to three members of the Dean's staff, Phyllis Newman, Assistant to the Dean, E. Garrison (Garry) Walters, Assistant Dean, and Connie Dantuono, Administrative Assistant, we owe a great debt (no pun intended) for continuing fiscal support, strategic advice, emergency morale-building, and for helping to keep the Center for Women's Studies running while we missed virtually every routine administrative deadline this year.

Carol Combs, NWSA Office Manager, and all of the members of the NWSA Steering Committee. most especially Virginia Cyrus, have promptly supplied us with everything we needed and have, to our continuing amazement, managed to convince us at every moment that things were going beautifully when we were quite sure that nothing was going anywhere – or, that everything was headed straight for chaos. Florence Howe and Shirley Frank and the members of The Feminist Press staff were of invaluable help in setting impossible deadlines to make sure that we did the impossible and in printing the preliminary conference program in the Spring issue of the Women's Studies Quarterly.

Everyone on the staff of the Center for Women's Studies helped produce the Convention in important ways, and you will find their names listed elsewhere in the Program. But Willa Young, Graduate Research Associate in Women's Studies assigned to the conference, assisted all three of us with virtually everything and had what we all agree was one of the most difficult and frustrating jobs of all: scheduling all the meetings for some twenty committees made up of very busy people.

Nancy Essex, with constant good sense and the remarkable capacity to meet every deadline with exactly the information we needed, has, along with the members of the Columbus Women's Music Union, taken primary responsibility for producing Monday night's concert, along with dozens of other arrangements for cultural events and entertainment. The conception and coordination of the Art Exhibit is the result of the brilliant and efficient work of Stephanie Blackwood who, with the help of the staff of the OSU Galleries, has done a superb job; her organizational skills are the envy of us all, and we can assure you that she helped us a great deal more than we helped her. Lisa Holstein and Cheryl Pentella have lent us tremendous (and tremendously efficient) expertise in an area in which we were pretty thoroughly ignorant – press releases and press arrangements – making it possible for us to have unprecedented media coverage and representation at this conference.

The talents of Lynn Fauss are everywhere evident, from the design of the original Call for Papers and the registration form to the monumental task of seeing this Program Book through its entire design and printing process; we could not have survived these last few weeks especially without her very hard work. Bob lden, whose computer software (and hardware) simultaneously drove us crazy and made life bearable, did his best to demystify our terror of technology, and we shall be forever in his debt for long hours of work and patient instruction, advice, and trouble-shooting. Vivian Schaefer, who designed the Women's Voice's brochure and coordinated all the equipment needs, also managed to blend our midnight madness into more creative uses of mental energy. And last but by no means least: Kelly McCormick, who was always there whenever we needed her, and whose wit, wisdom, and practicality saved us from making numerous mistakes. Kelly did everything on volunteer time, and she increased our efficiency beyond measure.

Everyone listed on the following pages helped a lot, but these people were invaluable and deserve everyone's appreciation.

Finally, for a last profound understatement: Marlene thanks Suzanne and Phyllis; Suzanne thanks Marlene and Phyllis; and Phyllis thanks Marlene and Suzanne. None of us could have done it without the other two. We shall never forget this time together in real sisterhood.

We hope you all enjoy it!
Phyllis Gorman
Suzanne Hyers
Marlene Longenecker

NWSA Coordinating Council & Steering Committee

Before there was a Governing Council, NWSA was led by the Coordinating Council. Below are the first council members, as well as the NWSA staff team. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

1983 Coordinating Council Members

See the rest of the history project here

Have any pictures, stories, or fun facts from past conferences? Let us know! Email us at

If you'd like to help us keep making NWSA history, consider donating!


NWSA Program Archives

banner image of

About the Writer

Victoria Agunod is the office assistant at the National Women's Studies Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member in the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program at DePaul University. Victoria received their BA and MA in Women's and Gender Studies at DePaul. They first attended NWSA in 2018 and presented their research on university students organizing for racial justice against the new alt-right galvanized by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They joined the NWSA team the following year. Their teaching emphases are on women of color feminisms, racial justice movements and organizing, and neoliberal rhetorical and cultural influences.

Please note: The information compiled in this project comes from the archived conference programs at the University of Maryland, College Park.