History of WGSS at Colby
The first Women’s Studies course at Colby College was taught in 1972. Throughout much of the 1970s, Women’s Studies at Colby consisted of a few courses taught on an ad hoc basis and often by part-time or temporary instructors. Professors Phyllis Mannocchi (English), Jane Moss (French), and Sonya Rose (Sociology) developed courses and feminist anti-racist programming, signaling the beginning of permanent Women’s Studies course offerings at Colby. Professor Phyllis Mannocchi and Marilyn Mavrinac helped organize the Women’s Studies Advisory Committee and the Women’s Group, while Jane Moss spearheaded the colloquium series (that we still run today).
In the spring of 1980, a petition signed by 250 students requesting that an interdisciplinary major in Women’s Studies be developed was delivered to President Cotter. In 1981, Women’s Studies officially became an interdisciplinary course cluster. This was the first formally organized Women’s Studies Program in the state of Maine. In 1987, the concentration in Women’s Studies was approved, and the first three WS students graduated in the class of 1988. WS111 (Introduction to Women’s Studies) and WS 493 (Senior Seminar) were offered for the first time shortly thereafter.
In the next decade, Women’s Studies grew to 40+ cross-listed courses taught by 35 program faculty across multiple disciplines. During the Fall 1994 and Spring of 1995, the Women’s Studies Coordinating Committee developed the proposal for a major in Women’s Studies. The major in Women’s Studies became a reality in May, 1995. As a result of various curricular and philosophical developments within the Program, across Colby College, and across the nation as a whole, the Program changed its name in the fall of 2002 to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS).
WGSS at Colby was, and continues to be, indebted to faculty across the College that sustain the Program through cross-listed courses, curriculum design, service, and in their commitment to feminist knowledge production. Many faculty work tirelessly on feminist anti-racist activism that goes beyond curriculum. For instance, in the 1980s, Women’s Studies professors worked to implement Affirmative Action policies, to achieve gender equity in athletics, and organized the first Maine Women’s Studies conferences. The Women’s Studies program hosted a feminist outdoor orientation trip (FOOT modeled after COOT), and a Women’s Studies career support group. In the late 80s and early 90s, Jane Moss worked to make sure the College hired women physicians. Lyn Mikel Brown (Education) has engaged with the larger Central Maine community on girls’ empowerment, co-founding the organization Hardy Girls Healthy Women. Elizabeth Leonard (History), who directed the WGSS program for many years, is active in and sits on the coordinating committee for the Maine chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which continues the anti-poverty, anti-racism work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
WGSS students are often double majors, members of Phi Beta Kappa, and campus activists. WGSS graduates have entered into the fields of law, education, environmental policy, government, non-profits/NGOs, medicine and the health services, and much much more. They are well poised to think critically about power and domination and committed to bringing equity, social justice, and social change to the organizations in which they work.
WGSS continues to grow with committed full time faculty. In 2012, the first full hire was made when Sonja Thomas joined the WGSS faculty. Sonja currently serves as Program director. In 2018, Laura Fugikawa joined the program as an Assistant professor in both American Studies and WGSS.
WGSS at Colby College invites you to join us. Attend our colloquium, our teach-ins, and our co-sponsored events. Take WGSS classes and reach out to our professors. Developing a feminist anti-racist analysis of how gender and sexuality shapes and is shaped by the world around us will transform your scholarship and how you engage the world.
This history was researched and drafted by Maddie Wehr ’22