Biographical / Historical
The history of Women’s Studies at Rice can be said to begin in 1983 when Dean of Humanities Allen
Matusow returned from a conference in Wisconsin with a sense that Rice was behind the times in relation to this field. Under the leadership of Paula Sanders (history) and Elizabeth Long (sociology), women faculty from various departments—including sociology, history, English, and music—organized a joint study project known as the Faculty Feminist Reading Group, which met several times a semester and brought a few nationally known feminist scholars to campus for public presentations. In 1985 the university hired its first faculty member whose research was dedicated to Women’s Studies. This was Jane Gallop, now a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In 1990 Helen Longino, subsequently chair of Stanford University’s Philosophy Department, was hired by Rice and guided establishment in 1992 of the undergraduate major in the Study of Women and Gender, one of Rice’s first interdisciplinary majors.
Having become known as the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, the discipline added “sexuality” to its title in 2005. In 2006 the Program was made a Center, and Rosemary Hennessy, the author of three books on materialist feminism and sexual identities in late capitalism, was brought to Rice to head the Center. Establishment of the Center brought together various expressions of feminist studies on campus, including the peer-reviewed journal Feminist Economics, which was founded in 1995 and continues to be overseen by Diana Strassman, its founding editor. She is also director of the Program on Poverty, Justice, and Human Capabilities, included in the curriculum as a minor in 2006.
In addition to the undergraduate major, the Center offers the Graduate Certificate Program, established in 2004. The curriculum represents an educational philosophy centered on “engaged research.” Majors can write a thesis or, beginning in 2008, conduct a research project in partnership with a Houston nonprofit organization. Director Hennessy explains, “For us it means a project that is developed in a collaborative and reciprocal relationship with the clients who are served by this nonprofit.” In the first four years of this project, more than 40 students had been matched with 27 Houston-area nonprofit organizations. Research projects ranged from evaluating anti-bullying policies in high schools to educating low-pay workers about the labor laws in Texas. In 2012 the Sherry Matusoff Merfish Award was established to recognize students who show exceptional commitment to social justice or engaged research on an issue pertaining to women, gender, or sexuality.
To mark the twentieth anniversary of Women’s Studies at Rice, on November 9 and 10, 2012, the Center held a celebration that featured a graduate student panel and a day-long symposium in which current and former directors participated. Present were Jane Gallop, Distinguished Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Helen Longino, the Clarence Irving Lewis Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Stanford University; Paula Sanders, vice provost for academic affairs, dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, and professor of history, Rice University; Helena Michie, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor in Humanities and professor of English, Rice University; Lynne Huffer, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Emory University; Lora Wildenthal, associate professor of history and chair of the History Department, Rice University; Elora Shehabuddin, associate professor of humanities and political science, Rice University; and Rosemary Hennessy, the L. H. Favrot Professor of Humanities, professor of English and Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality director.
The Center has grown to include 47 faculty affiliates from seventeen departments and three divisions: Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Shepherd School of Music. Also included are visiting scholars, postdoctoral fellows, graduate fellows, graduate assistants, and staff. In addition to its many undergraduate and graduate courses, the Center provides two public lecture series: the Gray/Warow Lectures in Health and Well-being, and the Marian Fox Martel Lectures in Gender and Science. Beyond these series, other acclaimed authors and scholars are brought to campus for their contributions to the study of women, gender, and sexuality.