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NWSA, A History: 1984 – Sixth National Conference

Saturday, April 25, 2020  
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Cover of the 1984 conference program book

6th National Conference | "Steering Our Course: Feminist Education in the '80s" | June 24-28, 1984 | Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Heading of the 1984 conference program book

Program Highlights

1984 was a very significant year of transformation for NWSA. The 1984 NWSA Annual Conference was the third of a series of four conferences with "Feminist Education" in their themes. This year's theme, "Steering Our Course: Feminist Education in the Eighties," had an added emphasis on the future prospects of an expanded and autonomous feminist education for scholars, students, community activists, artists, publishers, and all others dedicated to a feminist praxis in their lives. The need for such an expansion was best articulated by the NWSA 1984 Autonomous Institute coordinators, who called for a "critical reevaluation" of NWSA because "seven years after the NWSA was founded, a considerable portion of its actual and potential membership, including third world women of color, Jewish women, lesbians, students, physically disabled women, and poor and working-class white women, stills feels that its perspectives and concerns have not been adequately taken into account despite the long and sustained efforts of the Lesbian, Women of Color, and Student Caucuses."

A major question asked throughout the conference programming and sessions of previous conferences was whether the field would benefit more from autonomous women's studies programs or from integration – or, "mainstreaming" – of women's studies into established disciplines. What the Autonomous Institute coordinators and their supporters argued for was the continuance of a field focused on its constituency, maintaining that it was the mainstreaming of feminism that pushed more privileged feminists to leave behind the "third world women of color, Jewish women, lesbians, students, physically disabled women, and poor and working-class white women" who were still fighting for a seat at the table within NWSA, the field, and the movement.

The 1984 NWSA Autonomous Institute developed to highlight very strongly voices that have historically been suppressed in dominant feminist conversations and representations, including by a predominately white and middle class NWSA leadership. The ad hoc committee that formed to create this Institute – who made clear in the program that they themselves shared the identities they were seeking to highlight – organized a day of conference sessions toward this end, including:

  • "Women's Movements in Asia"
  • "Incarcerated Women"
  • "Women's Movement in Latin America and the Caribbean"
  • "Fighting Racism and Anti-Semitism"
  • "Issues of Survival Among Low-Income Women"
  • "Women's Movements in the Arab World"
  • "The Politics of Aging"
  • "Ableism and the Master Race: 'Nuke the Cripp'"
  • "Lesbians of Color-Issues of Survival"
  • "Women, the State, and Political Violence"

With more than just a call for representation, many of the Institute's sessions presented issues of transnational matters, systemic state violence, and imminent death and survival that were at the forefront of a feminist agenda for many invisibilized members of the feminist constituency.

This opening up of space for suppressed voices also translated over to the constituency groups. While the Community College, Lesbian, Pre K-12, Staff, and Student Caucuses continued on for a sixth year, the Third World Caucus was changed into the Women of Color Caucus, which still exists today. The Task Force on Discrimination and the Librarian's Task Force (now the Libraries and Archives Interest Group) met for their second year. While the Women's Centers/Services Centers Caucus (now the Women's Centers Committee) was the only new official constituency group, proposed caucuses for Jewish women and for poor and working-class women and a proposed task force on disabilities met as well. All three would go on to become official constituency groups in 1985.



List of YEAR program committee members


See the full program here

From the National Coordinator

With genuine pleasure, I welcome you to the Sixth Annual National Women's Studies Association Conference, "Steering Our Course: Feminist Education in the Eighties." This conference promises to be the best yet, due to the creative energy and dedication of Carol Virginia Pohli, Kathy Kleeman, the conference staff, and many volunteers. For all of us, I thank all of them.

I am happy to report again this year that NWSA is larger and stronger than ever. Our membership continues to grow and we have increased NWSA activities and extended services.

This conference itself presents several unique features that reflect the Association's continuing attempts to reach and serve untapped constituencies. The Conference Scholarship Program, aimed at increasing the ability of low-income women to participate, has been expanded. The Autonomous Institute, which will be featured on Tuesday, represents NWSA's effort to encourage feminist education in the community and to address more directly the concerns of multiply oppressed women. Special programming scheduled for Wednesday is intended to serve the needs of PreK-12 educators.

The forward-looking theme of this conference appropriately affirms the purposefulness of NWSA and women's studies. We assemble here to share scholarship and pedagogy, to experience feminist entertainment and artistry, to meet old friends and make new ones, but most important, to determine the best routes to a tomorrow that is free of patriarchal distortion and the artificial barriers of all types of prejudice.

Such a mission challenges us; however, working together makes it pleasurable as well as productive and empowering. Thank you for being part of it and of NWSA.

In sisterhood,
Virginia Cyrus
National Coordinator


From the NWSA '84 Conference Staff

Dear NWSA '84 Conference Participant,

Welcome to the Sixth Annual NWSA Conference, "Steering Our Course: Feminist Education in the '80s." Putting this event together has been a monumental task and an extraordinary experience for us, and we hope that you will share our excitement and pride in what NWSA and Douglass College have to offer for these five days.

The strength and scope of this year's program are testimony to the growth of NWSA. Over the years since the first NWSA conference in Lawrence, Kansas, the association has gained a national reputation as the voice of feminist education at all levels and in every setting. Each year, more and more people – scholars, students, community activists, entertainers, artists, publishers – take part in NWSA's conference because they recognize it as a forum for what is new and important in the growing field of women's studies.

For Douglass College and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, this conference is symbolic of the increasing importance of women's studies in our own institution and state. In planning the conference, we have been reminded repeatedly of the superb resources available here – especially the many faculty, administrators, students, and staff whose commitment to feminism and to scholarship about women has provided us with inspiration and personal support so many times this year.

There are, of course, many people in the university, in NWSA, and in this community to whom we owe much gratitude. Several of these volunteers and friends are listed here or elsewhere in this book, but it would be impossible to identify everyone who has helped or to thank adequately all the people who provided guidance, assistance, or encouragement. We hope that all of you know who you are and how much your contributions have meant to us.

Dean Mary Hartman was the person most responsible for bringing the conference to Douglass College, and she has been a tireless supporter of our efforts from the beginning. We admire and appreciate her leadership in making Douglass a nationally respected center of feminist education, and we thank her for all she has done to make this conference a source of pride for the college and for NWSA.

Virginia Cyrus has given so much to this conference, and to all of us, that no expression of mere thanks is adequate. Suffice it to say that she exemplifies feminism in action for us, and that NWSA '84 simply could not have happened without her invaluable contributions to almost every area of conference planning. We have also drawn on the good will and expertise of John Cyrus, who has not only tolerated our extraordinary demands on Virginia's time but has also bailed us out of computer crises on numerous occasions.

Our committee chairs, whose names are listed elsewhere in this book, have worked long and hard to make the conference happen, each one taking a share of the burden from us, thus lightening the load considerably. We have learned much from them, and we know that you will appreciate the marvelous results of their efforts throughout the conference. They, in turn, would no doubt insist that much of the credit goes to the many loyal and dedicated members of their respective committees, all of whom deserve our thanks and yours.

Dee Garrison took on tremendous responsibility as program committee chair, overseeing the process of assembling a full schedule of conference panels, workshops, and plenaries. She brought to the task great wisdom, scholarly sensibilities, and unfailing kindness. Despite her many other commitments, she was most generous with her time and attention to this essential task.

Two university offices in particular deserve special mention for their roles in planning the conference. The University Conference Center staff, and especially Charlotte Wright, have given us essential guidance and aid; they remain calm even when others might panic. The Office of University Publications has worked with us from the start creatively and helpfully; the quality of their work on our call for proposals, registration materials, and program book (as well as on all sorts of smaller projects) has been superb. To Peggy Christ and membe

rs of her staff, our heartfelt thanks. NWSA Coordinating Council and Steering Committee members have also given unstintingly of their time and energy to make our job easier. Each person to whom we have turned has responded with openness, sensitivity, and concern for the best interests of the Association and its programs, and that has been most helpful to us. Carol Combs in the National Office has been a cheerful and resourceful problem solver and friend for us whenever we have called upon her, going out of her way to answer our questions and respond to our needs.

Marlene Longenecker and Suzanne Hyers could easily have retired from their roles as conference planners after their spectacular success in 1983 at Ohio State University. Instead, they became our chief consultants, always available and always encouraging. They saved us from many potentially serious mistakes and served as living proof that conference planners survive. We hope to carry on this NWSA tradition by playing a similar role for our counterparts at the University of Washington.

Mirtha Quintanales and Juanita Ramos joined the planning process in the fall of 1983 faced with the challenge of coordinating the Autonomous Institute, working with their ad hoc advisory committee and with us to ensure the success of this new and important program. As we have worked together, our consciousnesses have been raised by our Institute colleagues, and we admire their dedication to aspects of feminist education that make a real difference in the lives of all women.

Carol Virginia Pohli deserves special thanks for her essential contributions as conference coordinator. Though she was unable to continue in that role, she left us in April with a strong foundation on which to complete the project to which she devoted her considerable energies and talents. We know that she cares immensely about NWSA and the conference, and we hope that she is pleased with the results of her work.

Finally, however, we would like to make a public declaration of hugs and gratitude to one another. In somewhat less than a year and under circumstances often less than ideal, we have learned much about ourselves, collectively and individually – as friends and feminists, colleagues and comrades, sorters of bulk mail, "generators" of memos, and passionate if occasionally conflicting believers in the causes and the visions upheld by this association. With love, wit, and sheer endurance, we have each endeavored in our various ways to "steer the course" of NWSA '84 toward a faithful and exciting embodiment of these visions. We thank one another, and we invite each of you to share in and to appreciate the fruits of this collective voyage.

In Sisterhood,
The Conference Staff
Barbara L. Christensen
Diane C. Dalton
Katherine E. Kleeman
Marilee Lindemann
Diane E. Marting
Judith A. Vonella


NWSA Coordinating Council

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.


1984 Coordinating Council Members 1984 Coordinating Council Members

See the rest of the history project here

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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.