Bancroft Library adds Women’s Studies Movement Archive

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The Bancroft Library recently announced the creation of the Berkeley Women’s Studies Movement Archive, which chronicles the history of the women’s studies program at UC Berkeley.

The women’s studies program officially began in 1976, resulting from years of effort by female students and instructors. The archive contains the original proposals to gain support and funding for a women’s studies program, according to Gloria Bowles, a founding coordinator of the women’s studies program who submitted the proposals in the 1970s.

Other documents in the archive include syllabi from early courses on women’s studies, a short film, women’s liberation and feminist pamphlets, correspondence and translations of poetry written by women — all contributed by women involved in the creation and development of women’s studies at UC Berkeley.

“Fortunately, I didn’t throw stuff away,” Bowles said.

The group of women who ended up founding the women’s studies program was largely comprised of comparative literature students driven by frustration at the lack of female writers in their curriculums. Bowles explained, “that anger helped energize us.” 

After years of informal meetings discussing women in literature, these graduate students organized and taught the first “Women in Literature” course in 1972, which set the stage for a larger movement of female students and instructors. Their activities included “translating women writers, writing dissertations focused on women authors and feminist topics, and advocating for equitable hiring, compensation and promotion of women faculty,” according to a press release from Carol Urzi, a facilitator of the archive and member of the women’s studies movement.

The women’s studies program has grown and changed over the years, eventually becoming the current UC Berkeley Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. The archive serves as an important reminder of the history of women’s contributions to UC Berkeley, according to Bowles.

“We all need to connect to our histories to see how we got to where we are today,” Urzi said. “We’re still pushing these ideas and ideals forward.”

The original coordinators of the women’s studies movement reunited to create this archive together, Bowles explained. Nine women have donated their individual collections of documents to the archive so far, although Bowles and Urzi both explained that the archive is still growing.

“Researchers of history, literature, and gender and women’s studies, especially, can use this material to study the contributions of these women to the campus landscape and set them within the context of the broader women’s rights movement that was taking place in the U.S. at that time,” said Kathryn Neal, associate university archivist, in an email.

According to Bowles, a panel on the new Berkeley Women’s Studies Movement Archive will be held Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Comparative Literature Library.

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.