News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History – 1985 Seventh National Conference

Monday, April 27, 2020  
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Cover of the 1985 conference program book

7th National Conference | "Creating Choices Through Feminist Education" | June 19-23, 1985 | University of Washington | Seattle, WA

Program Highlights

In "Creating Choices through Feminist Education," the 7th Annual NWSA Conference continued the previous year's debates on autonomous feminist scholarship and integrating feminist scholarship into existing curricula. In engaging those questions, the conference seemed to focus on coalition-building, notable through their plenaries: "Work, Race, and Class: Making the Links in Theory and Practice" and "Common Causes: Uncommon Coalitions." In the years prior to the 1985 conference, there was increasing participation among the members in the conference programming. As a possible result of the 1982 conference's "Connecting Groups" project, more caucuses and task forces were created over the last three years. This meant members shared more representation and participation throughout the conference. Below are the caucuses and task forces that were represented at the conference and their sponsored session(s), if any.

Student Caucus* – "Teaching, Learning & Power: Relationships Between Women's Studies Students and Faculty"
Lesbian Caucus*
Community College Caucus* – "The Maricopa Project: Community College Women...'Leaders for the 80's'"
Pre K-12
Women of Color (Third World Caucus 1984)*

New in 1983
Task Force on Discrimination
Pogram Administrators Caucus*
Librarians Task Force* – "Librarians as Censors: Or Where Have All the Women Gone"

New in 1984
Jewish Women Caucus*
Women's Centers/Services Caucus*
Disability Task Force*
Poor and Working Class Caucus

New in 1985
Teacher Education Task Force
"Educational Crisis" Task Force
Small Publisher Task Force
International Task Force* – "Women's Studies Internationally: Political Implications" and "Women's Studies Across Cultures"

* indicates groups still in place today

From the Autonomous Institute to the WOMANetwork

As a follow-up to the 1984 conference's insurgent Autonomous Institute – which invoked identity politics' emphasis on centering the perspectives of marginalized peoples – the WOMANNetwork formed to organize another slate of sessions to correct historic underrepresentation and misrepresentation of marginalized people, especially women of color, women with disabilities, poor and working class women, and lesbians, within NWSA, the field, and the movement. Their opening session, "From the Autonomous Institute to the WOMANetwork," was an introspective approach to moving forward:

"Members of this year's Women Outside Mainstream Academia Networks will discuss the history of the A.I. [Autonomous Institute] Network, their experience this year in organizing Network workshops, and what is needed to continue this work. Was the A.I. necessary and have the conditions that made it necessary changed? Strategies for building a strong feminist NWSA will be discussed in a workshop that is a must for anyone working on the 1986 conference."

Organizing 51 of the 244 sessions, the WOMANNetwork's programming included:

  • "Feminist Transformations of Jewish and Lesbian Identity: Making Meaning of Our Self-Namings"
  • "Women Writers of Color: Specific Problems and Unique Strengths"
  • "Concentration Camps: Japanese American Women and the Community"
  • "The Role of Women in the Current Struggle for Justice in El Salvador and Nicaragua"
  • "Prostitution Consciousness: Implications for Feminist Education and Activism"
  • "Dykes, Cons, Native Americans and Methodists: CoalitIon BuildIng on a Death Penalty Case"
  • "Alcoholism in the Lesbian Community"
  • "Issues in Women's Health Care: Barriers to Access and Informed Consent for Non-English Speaking Asian Women"
  • "Palestinian Women"
  • "Coalition Building: learning from Seattle's Anti-Apartheid Strength"
  • "La Chicana – A History of Rebellion"

In addition to this institute-turned-network, the 1985 conference hosted a two-day "Institute on Integrating Women's Studies into the Curriculum," organized by the Western States Project on Women in the Curriculum. Both the Project and the Institute were dedicated to integrating women's studies scholarship into traditional curricula. The institute's sessions included:

  • "Incorporating Feminist Content Into Traditional Courses: How the Revised Syllabus Looks"
  • "Warming Up the Chilly Classroom: Resources and Strategies for Counteracting Sexism"
  • "Curriculum Integration: Institutional Models In the Southwest"

See the full program here

From the National Coordinator

Dear NWSA Conference Participant: We are happy to welcome you to the Seventh Annual National Women's Studies Association Conference. This year's conference, "Creating Choices Through Feminist Education," promises to inspire and challenge us individually and as an Association. NWSA is especially indebted to Sydney Kaplan, Lexie Evans, Jackie McClure, Bettylou Valentine, and the other hard-working staff and volunteers at the University of Washington who have made it possible for us to be here together now.

The conference title is particularly appropriate since NWSA is about creating choices. Our very existence can be traced to women of vision who sought to create what had never been before, a national association whose modest goal was to transform the world through feminist education. Whether in the classroom or the community, in scholarship or workshop, in the work place or in families, NWSA members are broadening the practical options as well as the imagined possibilities in people's lives. To create that world of choice, we have drawn on the collective energy of our membership.

For those of you NWSA members who have participated in those transforming efforts, we are grateful. For those of you attending our conference for the first time but who are not yet NWSA members, we hope you will consider adding your talents to our Association. We are as influential as our membership is strong; as representative as we are broad-based; as transformative as we are visionary.

In 1985, NWSA is the largest it has ever been in its history and there are more women's studies programs than ever. Our future is filled with choices. We hope this Conference and your presence here will help guide us towards a future wise in its choices and liberating in its effect.

In sisterhood,

Caryn McTighe Musil
National Coordinator

From the Program Coordinators

We extend our warmest personal welcome on behalf of the conference coordinators, the Women Studies Program, and the many women who have worked with us in preparation for your arrival. It is our sincere hope that your experience at the conference will be rewarding and enjoyable in every way. In addition to the many committee members, whose names are listed elsewhere, we wish to take the opportunity to mention here a few people who do not appear on committee lists, or whose work has been so extensive that they defy categories.

Beverly Wessel double-handedly typed the entire program book and endless other conference correspondence, in addition to her full-time position as Women Studies [sic] secretary.

Leslie Wright contributed hours of aesthetic and technical advice on the call for proposals, the registration forms and the program book.

Robin Early brought organizational talents to dozens of projects.

Sue-Ellen Jacobs and Leroy Searle provided all of the technical skills for use and maintenance of the Kaypro 10.

Nancy Slater provided the conference with a wealth of program participants as well as volunteer staff through her great networking skills.

Linda Bierds contributed expertise in the areas of printing, promotion, publicity and grant-writing.

Kristin Boughton-Morin cheerfully performed every task assigned.

We were aided by the financial support of the Graduate School which granted Jackie McClure a research assistantship to cover her salary as a Conference Coordinator.

The College of Arts and Sciences provided two work-study positions which greatly facilitated the smooth running of our offices. Tess Shellenbarger and Anastasia Sandstrom enthusiastically worked on the day-to-day often extremely tiresome tasks required to organize the conference.

The staff of Conference Management, and especially Ruth Olson, have given us essential guidance and advice in the planning and facilitation of all conference activities.

Our individual efforts have been encouraged and supported by the assistance of various women all over the country. The NWSA Steering Committee, the Coordinating Council, the National Coordinator and former Conference Coordinators have given help and advice that have made our job much easier and have helped us to consistently feel that we are a part of a much larger effort.

Thanks a bunch and have a good time,

Lexie Evans
Sydney Kaplan
Jackie McClure
Bettylou Valentine

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.

YEAR Coordinating Council Members

YEAR 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.