News & Updates: NWSA History

NWSA, A History 1995 – 16th National Conference

Thursday, May 7, 2020  
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Cover of the 1995 conference program book

16th National Conference | "Women’s Movements (R)evolutions: Cultural, Intellectual, & Political" | June 22-25, 1995 | University of Oklahoma | Norman, Oklahoma

Program Highlights

In the 1994 conference program, outgoing NWSA President Vivien Ng promised that the 1995 NWSA National Conference would "build on the global linkages that we make in 1994." True to her word, the 17th conference emphasized not only transnational themes but also Fourth World – or, Indigenous – voices, issues, and experiences. As Oklahoma has the third largest number of Native American tribes in the U.S., it's little surprise that the majority of exhibited artists at the conference were Indigenous, and many of the plenary speakers were as well. In recent years, NWSA has emphasized the cruciality of participation from First Nation and Indigenous Peoples, as well as local communities (as discussed below), through complimentary registrations, conference registration scholarships, and travel grants.

Throughout NWSA's history, local communities have played a major role in both the programming and organizing of conferences and the growth of the Association. The 1995 conference renewed a frequent tradition in showcasing local art by community members – who displayed not only local but global themes in their art – from both on and off the campus of NWSA's host institution. The art exhibit "WOMANIMAGE: Seven Oklahoma Women Artists" brought local art to NWSA members with themes of aging, agriculture, care work, class, diasporic longings, and motherhood that highlighted the complex and varying lives lived by women in such a rural state as Oklahoma. "Generations: Arts of Oklahoma Indian Women" included the work and voices of women representing different tribes from across Oklahoma with an emphasis on the intergenerational legacies of art and art forms: "Each generation expresses their individual creativity with the special knowledge of their role in the expressions and maintenance of artistic, cultural, tribal and human values." Fifteen local Indigenous artists like Adele Collins, Tahnee Ahtoneharjo-Growingthunder, and Sharron Ahtone Harjo displayed the complexities of the land on which the conference was taking place, pulling from Cherokee, Osage, Comanche, Kickapoo, Seminole, Ponca, Seneca, Pawnee, Cree, Creek, Delaware, Peoria, Shawnee, and Kiowa tribal traditions, stories, values, and lived traditions.

The emphatic theme of intergenerational knowledge and traditions also spilled over into the keynote and plenary sessions, as seasoned feminist speakers discussed the legacies, survival, and futures of feminism. Their titles, abstracts, and speakers are below. See the rest of the 1995 program for bios of the speakers.

    Keynote – Feminist Futures: A Dialogue between Beverly Guy-Sheftall and bell hooks
    [No Abstract]

    Across generations, women have struggled to express their visions, their cultures, their sexualities, and to work for liberation, often in coalition with other movements for social justice and often in conflict with each other. This panel considers political strategies for passing on the legacy of previous generations while integrating, revising, or critiquing that legacy.
    Speakers: Deborah Dalton (mod), Inés Talamantez, Mildred Jeffrey, Valerie Kameya, and Louise Bernikow

    Chaos and Order
    Conceptions of order and chaos have variously affected women in the form of law, systems of myth and thought, logic, and military structure; women have also invented, redefined, and critiqued these concepts and systems in ways these panelists explore.
    Speakers: Laura Boyd (mod), M Jacqui Alexander, Chrystos, Andrea Nye, and Cynthia Enloe

    The Politics of Survival
    Surviving and pushing beyond survival, has involved various strategies for material, cultural and political movements, and activists and scholars in this panel explore some of these strategies.
    Speakers: Bernie Mitchell (mod), Julie Moss, Bonnie Thornton Dill, Inés Hernandez-Avila, and Rosalind Pollack Petchesky

    Communities and Coalitions
    Working from diverse communities to form new coalitions involves an understanding of state, sexual, and global politics filtered through a feminist lens. Speakers at this plenary session address how women have defined and created coalitions for survival, resistance, and revolutionary change.
    Speakers: Marjorie Pryse (mod), Betty J. Harris, Mandy Carter, Leslie Feinberg, and Charlotte Bunch

    List of 1995 program committee members

    See the full program here

    From the NWSA President

    Whether you are an NWSA "old-timer" attending your 7th or 16th annual meeting, or new to this gathering, I am pleased to welcome you to a conference that promises to be exciting and energizing for all of us.

    Each June, it seems, magic happens. From allover the country, people interested in feminist education come together. Our lives at home take many different shapes and forms; so the reports we bring to each other about our newest work and most powerful ideas are full of the spark and power of difference. We come together at NWSA to share stories, to discover ideas and energy that help us continue our important work. Despite the hectic pace of the conference, and the complaint I always seem to hear "There's too much to do! How can I decide?," we always find time to laugh and enjoy; and somehow we go home strengthened and empowered, even if we hardly ever slept.

    This year, while I was privileged to serve as NWSA's President, I learned in exquisite detail that none of this is "magic." It is the fruit of extraordinary work by numerous talented volunteers. And it's a labor of love; none of us came to NWSA expecting to get rich or famous. This-conference (and NWSA generally) exist because so many people choose to give time and talent, energy and spirit. Some of those contributions, including those made by this year's conference leadership, are beyond the ability of the Association (that means us, folks, the members) ever to repay.

    But there would be no conference to "coordinate" if there were not thousands of other volunteer gifts already offered–all the proposals to present a paper, organize a workshop, share an idea.

    At NWSA '95, it's ok to be "selfish" in a way: go from room to room, find what's best for YOU, absorb the wisdom and support, insight, shortcuts, visions, and challenges that are most useful and empowering for YOU. And then, please also be generous. Tell the volunteers how much you value their work; tell them they have made a difference in your life. And be part of the NWSA community in our work of strengthening the development of Women's Studies. Plan to share your own experiences and talents (again!) next year. Join a task force, committee, or caucus. Run for elected office in NWSA – many positions will be on next winter's ballot.

    NWSA needs all of us, even as we all need each other. The challenges we face are critical. Even as we continue to fight the institutions, ideologies, and behaviors that divide us from each other because of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age, class, and ethnicity, we face an ever-growing right-wing backlash. It threatens to destroy the feminist education we have built together, and which still brings us together. We need each other now more than ever before. We must overcome the forces of division because we face powerful threats outside.

    Let's create a new physics here in Oklahoma. Make the sum of all of us greater than the parts. Let's ALL go home taking more energy than we brought. We'll conjure energy from our presence together. And then may we all encounter each other – in person, in print, in voice, in color, at NWSA, and in the world – again and again for many, many years to come.

    Sandra Coyner
    NWSA President, 1994-95

    From the Conference Planning Committee

    Dear Friends:

    Six months ago, when we found ourselves suddenly without a site, we were not at all sure that there would be a 1995 NWSA Conference. That we were able to shift gears and relocate to the University of Oklahoma with so little lead time is a testament to the restored health of the organization and to the strength and determination of NWSA's leadership.

    We are grateful to those faculty and staff members at the University of Wyoming who worked with us in the early stages of planning this conference, and especially to those who stuck with us through a difficult transition period.

    We are, of course, enormously thankful to Betty Harris, the incoming president-elect of NWSA, and Vivien Ng, immediate past president, and the rest of the OU faculty and staff for being willing to roll up their sleeves and undertake the considerable work that was needed to be done in a very short time to make this conference happen.

    For the past three years, in order to cut costs and strengthen NWSA, we have gone without the full-time paid conference organizer, executive director, and support staff we once had, and we have been almost entirely dependent upon volunteer labor to maintain the organization and produce our conferences. This year has been especially challenging. We have tried to anticipate all your needs, but if we have overlooked something, we ask that you be understanding, bring the matter to our attention, and give us an opportunity to rectify our mistake. In addition to your suggestions for improvement, we look forward to your observations about what you have appreciated about the Conference. Conference staff and volunteers are identifable [sic] by special ribbons on their nametags.

    Following this year's conference, I will be stepping (or perhaps, by that time, falling) down as NWSA Conference Chair. I would like to thank all of those who have, over the past several years, shared with me the frustrations and the rewards of this work–both of which have been considerable-especially Sue Mansfield, Pat Clarke, and Carole Heath.

    Enjoy the conference.
    Kris Anderson
    NWSA Conference Chair

    NWSA Governance

    Below are the 1995 council members, as well as the NWSA staff team. You can see the current Governing Council members, conference co-chairs, and staff members here.

    1995 Governance 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.