Before the Beginning: The Founding of Women’s Studies at Yale, 1969-1979

Women’s Studies at Yale began in the confluence of two events: the scholarly impulse of early second-wave feminism and the 1969 admission of Yale’s first female undergraduates.  Elga Wasserman, the President’s Special Assistant on the Education of Women, argued forcefully for women’s studies as a necessary element of coeducation and organized eight courses focused on women by the second year.  In the spring of 1976, the campus Women’s Forum supplemented Wasserman’s efforts by appointing a “Women’s Studies Task Force” to push for a formal program.  Consisting initially of Nancy Cott, John Winkler, Carol Mostow ’77, and Ruth Borenstein ’78, the Task Force began work immediately, attending national conferences and drafting reports for Yale’s Committee on the Education of Women.  At the Committee’s recommendation, the Task Force concentrated on the development of a core undergraduate course: “Feminism and Humanism,” collectively designed, was first taught in the fall of 1977 by then-graduate-student Catharine MacKinnon.  After much careful work on the part of the Task Force and a trial run over the experimental summer session of 1978, the Women’s Studies Program won the approval of Yale’s faculty in May 1979.