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NWSA, A History 1990 – 12th National Conference

Friday, May 1, 2020  
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Cover of the 1990 conference program book

12th National Conference | "Leadership and Power: Women's Alliances for Social Change" | June 20-24, 1990 | The University of Akron | Akron, Ohio

Program Highlights

The 12th Annual NWSA National Conference in 1990 opened a new decade of self-reflection for NWSA and its membership. NWSA went on to take a break from the regularly planned national conference in 1991. Instead, leaders chose to host a different kind of gathering for thinking through internal issues and also rewrote the organization's constitution over the next three years. Appropriately, the location of the 1990 conference held a significant connection to the fraught history of feminism and the historical legacies of Black feminisms and Black women's fight for freedom. 139 years earlier, Akron, Ohio hosted the Women's Rights Convention, where Sojourner Truth, a mother, former slave, and human rights advocate, delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, as she interrupted the white-centric discussions of women's issues that excluded and dismissed the experiences and realities of Black women. To honor that legacy, below are sessions from the conference that spoke to the interventions and contemporary methodologies of Black feminism.

    Womanism: Calling the Color Question Among Our Feminist Sisters
    There are those who say American feminists have ignored and even betrayed their sisters of color. Can feminists stand for a better way of life for all people without confronting racism within their own ranks?

    Bridging Our Common World: African American Women and the Politics of Culture
    This forum will present artists who use traditional and non-traditional cultural forms as vehicles for creating positive, social and political change, and whose work is influenced by the Afrocentric concept that usefulness and beauty are not separate. Participants will talk about and present their work, which will include music, poetry, the visual arts, drama, and dance.

    Reconstructing Feminist Knowledge: Reflections by Women of Color
    Panel members will discuss the implications of Black feminist thought and other knowledge produced by women of color for feminist theory. One focus will be on the need for women of color to equally weigh race, class and gender, and to develop an audience of women of color. Another will explore the perspectives and pedagogies of five Afro-Caribbean women working with Black children in an urban Toronto school.

    Afracentric Literary Perspectives
    Panel members will discuss the intersection of Black feminist criticism/theory (including a discussion of that terminology) and an Afracentric feminist praxis.

    An Oral Black History Internship: Remedying History's Exclusions
    A national prototype for the development of local Black archives using audio and video technology operated by high school interns will be reviewed by the representatives of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

    Lesbian Women Organizing Across the Divides of Race, Nation, Poverty, and Sexual Preference
    This workshop will look at how lesbian women, Black/Third World and white, are organizing autonomously and with other women to get women's unwaged work counted, and using this demand as a strategy against racism, poverty, pollution, workfare, and rape, for child custody rights, the legal rights of prostitute women, health and peace.

    The Double Minority
    Akron Black Women's Leadership Caucus will do a presentation on the issue of the Black woman as a double minority in the workplace. We plan to discuss how the Black working woman has to deal with racism and sexism on the job. We will share personal experiences, discuss how our organization and other individuals are dealing with this problem and propose strategies and solutions.

    Organizing Strategies for Women of Color
    Panel members will discuss their experiences and strategies organizing as and with women of color and immigrant women workers with particular attention toward women's economic situation and employment issues.

    The Neglected Question: Black Wimmin's Spirituality
    This workshop and discussion session will focus on the diverse, unique, empowering forms of spirituality/religion practiced by African American wimmin as a source of effecting personal/political changes for all wimmin.

    African Woman in Development: Experiences With the New Way of Development Between Black and White
    Panel members will discuss the objectives and objectives of their four-year women's group which is based on 'vivid communication with women in their cuI lures: We will work to support resistence [sic] to westernization and a search for African identity.

    Images of Women in Advertising
    This session will consist of two slide/ talk presentations: a womanist critique of the images of African American and white women in print advertising; and an examination of the current stereotypes of women and their impact on women's emotional and physical health and image, and the message conveyed to Society.

    African American Women: Transformation of the Academy
    This panel will provide a model for feminist transformation within institutions of higher education from diverse viewpoints: five African American women and one white women.

    African American Women in Higher Education: Facing the Challenges of Feminism in the 21st Century
    Report of a study that examined the nature of relationships between African American and White women in higher education – specifically to illuminate whether the efforts on behalf of feminist organizations to become more allied and inclusive of women of color have influenced the perceptions of African American women in higher education in a positive direction.

The struggle for visibility and voice of Black women and women of color at a white-dominated NWSA, of course, went beyond the ordinary conference sessions, including a walk-out staged by the Women of Color Caucus. Of this time in NWSA's history, Black feminist scholar Barbara Ransby (who went on to serve as NWSA President from 2016-2018) said, “I felt marginal as a black feminist scholar. There were so few of us. I did not know how to really insert myself into the organization or the debates that were going on.”

For further reading, please see the articles and books linked below.

"Transformation of Consciousness" by Janell Hobson and Karon Jolna

Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century's End by Sara Evans

"Women's-Studies Association Struggling to Recover From Racial Tensions" by Carolyn J. Mooney

"Classless and Clueless in NWSA: A History of the Poor and Working Class Caucus" by Lois Rita Helmbold

List of 1990 program committee members

See the full program here

From the Executive Director

Dear NWSA Conference Participant:

"The age of simple adjustment is over." So wrote Donna Shavlik in Educating the Majority: Women Challenge Tradition in Higher Education, co-authored with Carol Pearson and Judy Touchton. Feminists have spent the last twenty years challenging our educational systems at all levels to rethink what is taught, how, by whom, to whom, for what purposes, and in what kind of climate. It is time to call the question and end the debate. We must turn to the harder task of redesigning those systems.

To begin that process, NWSA's named this year's conference, "Feminist Education: Calling the Question." We welcome you to what we hope will serve as a catalyst for action. This conference has been enriched by the leadership of Carole Garrison, a one-person catalyst herself, the Women's studies Program and its friends at the University of Akron, and the many Ohio supporters who have worked so hard with NWSA's Conference Office to bring us together.

During the next five days, NWSA has provided a forum for exploring new feminist research and questions; examining not merely what we teach but how; discovering how we might connect the classroom and the community; enlightening ourselves about our differences so we might celebrate as well as understand them.

NWSA orchestrated the conference. We are counting on you to continue to be a change agent along with us for the other 360 days of the year. Feminist education offers a new vision with transformative power. It is time to use it. It is time to reap the harvest of our energies and ideas, our expertise and experience, our commitment and caring.

NWSA invites you to begin the urgent work before us. May these days together inspire each of us to act upon our world in small and significant ways, with compassion and respect, in confidence that education, wherever it occurs, can liberate the knower and therefore ultimately liberate the world.

In sisterhood,
Caryn McTighe Musil
Executive Director

From the Local Conference Committee


It has taken 139 years to get a women's convention back to Akron, but here again we will have the potential to help move women and all humankind forward! In the spirit of Sojourner Truth, we welcome you to speak, to listen and to share our common wisdom and collective energies — for "Ain't We Women."

And while our work will be accomplished over the next several days, we want to thank numerous women and men who have given so generously of their ideas, time and resources so we could assemble this historic gathering. We especially want to thank Dagmar Celeste for her desire to bring the National Women's Studies Association back to Ohio; to Dr. Frank Marini for sharing our vision; to our many diverse communities in Akron and throughout northeast Ohio; and to our supportive campus community from President William V. Muse to our Women's Studies secretary, Ms. Kayanne Toney, who committed themselves to making this campus the "heart of it all."

Lastly, we want to thank NWSA for choosing The University of Akron to host its Annual Conference. The Association has given us an enriching opportunity to join hands and work together, which has strengthened the bonds of sisterhood enriching and enhancing our community.

Carole Garrison

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.

1990 Coordinating Council Members
1990 Coordinating Council Members
1990 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

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NWSA Program Archives

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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.