News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History – 1986 Eighth National Conference

Tuesday, April 28, 2020  
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Cover of the 1986 conference program book

8th National Conference | "Women Working for Change: Health, Cultures, and Societies" | June 11-15, 1986 | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Program Highlights

Drawing from a legacy since the "Connecting Groups" at the 1982 conference, the 1986 NWSA National conference was headlined by "Caucus Coalition Day – Forging Our Survival: Networks and Strategies for Change," a one-day program organized by "a group of women from a variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation backgrounds." The Caucus Coalition Committee worked with constituency group committees to collaboratively represent their interlocking identities through panels, workshops, and special events.

Before reviewing the programming, here are the constituency groups represented at the 1986 conference:

Student Caucus
Lesbian Caucus
Community College Caucus
Pre K-12 Caucus
Women of Color Caucus
Pogram Administrators Caucus
Jewish Women Caucus
Women's Centers/Services Caucus
Poor and Working Class Caucus

Task Forces
Discrimination Task Force
Feminist Scholarship Task Force
Librarians Task Force
Disability Task Force
Teacher Education/Education Crisis Task Force
Small Publisher Task Force
International Task Force
Second Half Task Force
Environmental Task Force

Rather than by individual constituency group, the day's sessions were organized by the conference's theme, "Women Working for Change: Health, Cultures, and Societies." Here are some examples:


  • "Reproductive Rights and Public Policy"
  • "Sexual Assault and Women of Color"
  • "Women with Abilities and Disabilities: Views on Employment, Policy, and Attitudes"
  • "AIDS and the Politics of Knowledge: A Roundtable"


  • "Indigenous and Land-Based Struggles"
  • "Canon Formation in Women's Studies: Questions of Loyalty and Representation"
  • "Bringing Global Feminism into Libraries"
  • "Women in Prison: Breaking the Silence Taboo"


  • "Socialist Feminism: In Theory and Action"
  • "Lesbian Projects and Issues: Private and Public Support"
  • "Black and Working Class Women in the Development of Women's Liberation Theory"
  • "Women and Struggle in Latin America: A Roundtable Discussion"

Caucus Coalition Day opened with the plenary, "Coalition Building: Strategies for the 1980s," and also included group dancing and singing theatrical performances, a cabaret event, and a delegate assembly.

See the full program here

From the National Coordinator

Dear NWSA Conference Participant:

A warm welcome to each of you who has chosen to be part of our Eighth Annual NWSA Conference, "Women Working for Change: Health, Cultures, & Societies." We are all indebted to our hosts, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who have invested nearly two years of planning in this event. Although any conference of this size relies on the collective efforts of dozens of people, I would like to single out three for their leadership, vision, and plain hard work: our 1986 conference co-coordinators, Paula Gray and Jeann Rice; and the Director of the Women's Studies Program at UIUC, Berenice Carroll.

The conference theme, "Women Working for Change," describes why women's studies came into existence in the first place and why we eventually formed a national association. As feminist educators, in whatever setting we might be, we have committed ourselves to transforming the world into a more just and humane place for Women. We do so principally by analysis, research, teaching, and organizing. In the three special focuses of the conference, women's health, new metaphors to live by, and alternative definitions of power in societies, we hope to articulate obstacles to change and devise strategies to move us closer to our feminist visions. We invite you to join us in that dialogue over the next four days and join with us in the next four decades as we seek to put our ideas into action.

One vehicle for implementing change is NWSA itself. If you are not yet a member, I hope you will consider becoming one. If you are already a member, I hope you will continue to shape our association. In 1986, NWSA has more members, more Women's Studies Programs, and more potential outreach than ever before. As we approach 1987 and our tenth anniversary as an association, let's keep building that institutional power base as an effective instrument for change.

As women, we know that the only hope for a civilized, peaceful future rests in changing current systems of power, systems in which women, people of color, the poor, and other "marginal" people have little say. As women, we are also used to working. NWSA hopes our 1986 conference will help us each discover how to work for change both individually and collectively.

In sisterhood,
Caryn McTighe Musil
National Coordinator

From the Conference Staff

Welcome to the Eighth Annual NWSA Conference, "Women Working for Change: Health, Cultures, and Societies." The strength and scope of our program, which includes a larger number of panels and workshops than ever before, attests to the continuing growth of NWSA and the field of women's studies. It is our sincere hope that the next five days will be as powerful and enduring a learning experience for you as the planning process has been for us.

The following pages include lists of individuals and groups who helped in a number of ways to make this conference possible. We extend our warmest personal thanks to all of them. We would like to acknowledge here some whose contributions have been particularly important to us.

The NWSA Coordinating Council – and especially every member of the Steering Committee – has given us essential guidance and inspiration over the past eighteen months, continually reassuring us that our efforts were appreciated even at times when nothing seemed to be going right. National Coordinator Caryn Musil and Administrative Coordinator Carol Combs have promptly supplied everything we needed from them, including hours of consultation and morale-boosting. The 1985 Conference Coordinators, Sydney Kaplan, Lexie Evans, and Jackie McClure, were invaluable resources who were willing to spend time sharing advice even while still immersed in their own conference preparations. Marlene Longenecker and Suzanne Hyers also provided much valuable advice from their experience of hosting the NWSA conference at Ohio State University.

We are profoundly grateful to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the widespread support and assistance provided by numerous units. We thank President Stanley O. Ikenberry for the encouragement of his warm welcome to the conference. We are deeply grateful to Chancellor Thomas E. Everhart for the generous financial support he has provided. We would like to thank also Associate Chancellor Paul S. Riegel, Associate Vice Chancellor Roger E. Martin, and Executive Assistant to the President David W. Olien, for their very helpful cooperation, advice, and assistance.

The conference would not have been possible without the early commitment of substantial support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dean William F. Prokasy has demonstrated in many ways his positive encouragement for the development of women's studies on this campus and his intellectual interest in feminist scholarship as a field of academic research and education. It was his generosity and readiness to extend the resources of the College to the conference preparations that enabled the Office of Women's Studies to undertake so massive a project. We are also most grateful to the many administrators and staff of the College who have provided us with essential guidance and assistance on a day-to-day basis, in particular, Assistant to the Dean David C. Shoemaker, Associate Dean James C. Schroeder, Administrative Aide Nancy McCowen, and Chief Clerk Brenda Polk.

Special thanks are gratefully offered also to Nina Baym, Director of the School of Humanities, for a generous grant of funds and for the inspiration she provides us by her distinguished example, both in feminist scholarship and academic leadership.

Many individuals on campus assisted us with the concrete details of conference preparation, and we have attempted to include them in our list of thanks, but three people in particular deserve special mention here. Jim Neils, Assistant Director of Conference Services, Trudy Gordon, Assistant to the Director of Space Utilization, and Robert Mindrum, Associate Director of the Illini Union, all worked closely with us, and gave many hours of advice, instruction, encouragement, and constructive criticism. Without their professional experience and invaluable assistance, our planning process would have been considerably more difficult.

We are very pleased to acknowledge also the support of the Festival of India, 1985-85, which has allocated travel funds for Indian participants and has designated the conference as an affiliated event. In this connection our thanks are due especially to the Smithsonian Institution and the Indo-U.S. Subcommission on Education and Culture. We are particularly grateful for the assistance provided by Maureen Liebl, Conferences Coordinator for the Festival of India.

Special thanks must also go to Ann Tyler of the College of Art and Design, who designed the graphics and layout for our stationery, Call for Proposals, and Conference Preview and Registration Materials, as well as donating hours of consultation on the Program Book. Her artistic talent and distinctive style are everywhere evident in our conference literature, and we were extremely fortunate to have her as a resource.

The conference staff is especially grateful to the Office of Women's Studies, for their patience and tolerance in sharing space, equipment, supplies, and telephone lines, as well as their direct contributions to the conference preparations. Sharon Kraus and Nancy DiBello, successively Assistant to the Director of OWS during the long period of intensive conference planning, carried out many important tasks for the conference in both paid and unpaid hours. Maureen Goggins, OWS secretary, gave us untold hours of clerical support and was particularly indispensable for her genious [sic] at maneuvering through the intricacies of the university's "red tape" and voucher system. We are also heavily indebted to the various student office workers, whose names have been included among the members of committees with which they worked, for their patient and good-humored labors in many a dull and unrewarding mailing or filing task.

The hardworking and devoted members of the NWSA '86 committees deserve our most profound gratitude for the many hours of work they gave, with little reward other than the memorable experience of struggle and conflict in a feminist project.

Finally, we would like to thank all of you, the many hundreds of women and men from across the country and around the world, who have made our efforts worthwhile by your presence and participation at NWSA '86. The conference now belongs to you, and we hope you will enjoy every minute of it!

In Sisterhood,
The Conference Staff
Berenice Carroll
Paula Gray
Jeann Rice
Sharon Kraus
Cheryl West
Sheryl Stahl
Maggie Malley

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.