The first course in Women's Studies was offered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1970. For the next seven years, committed faculty began to develop courses and advocate for a Women's Studies Program. Paula Treichler (Professor of Communication), Cheris Kramarae (Professor of Speech Communication) and Beth Stafford (Women's Studies Librarian) were among those who helped pioneer feminist studies at the local and national levels.
In the fall of 1978, an Office of Women's Studies was founded and housed in the School of Humanities, and Joan Huber (Professor of Sociology) appointed director. At that time there were no faculty, but the Program initiated a newsletter and the Feminist Scholarship Series, which continues today as one of (if not the) longest running brown bag lecture series on this campus.
Under the leadership of Marianne Ferber (Professor of Economics), who became the director in 1980, the Office of Women's Studies was moved to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the program developed its first two core courses: Introduction to Women's Studies in the Humanities and Introduction to Women's Studies in the Social Sciences. The third director, Berenice A. Carroll (Associate Professor of Political Science) oversaw the creation of an official Women's Studies Program and the approval of a Women's Studies Minor.
In 1986, Women's Studies hired its first joint appointment, Mary Loeffelholtz (English), followed in 1989 by Carol Neely (English) and Jean Rhodes (Psychology). The number of faculty and courses steadily increased during the terms of Jean Peterson (Associate Professor of Household and Family Development), Cheris Kramarae (Professor of Speech Communication), and Sonya Michel (Associate Professor of History). The Program proposed two core graduate courses in 1991 and instituted a graduate minor in 1993. In 2003, under the direction of Kal Alston (Associate Professor or EPS), the Program changed its name to Gender and Women's Studies. GWS, as it is now known, also began to offer an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Major.
The successful development of Gender and Women's Studies owes much to its dedicated staff. The current associate director, Jacque Kahn, preceded by Phyllis Vanlandingham and Nan Dibello, has helped ensure continuity during times of transition. And no history of the program would be complete without naming Sari Schnitzlein, who worked as an administrative secretary for GWS for 18 years. Her financial savvy helped the program thrive on a limited budget, and her warm personality helped make GWS a welcoming community for all.
People working from outside the program have also made important contributions to GWS. Over the years many faculty affiliates and advisory committee members gave generously of their time and intellect. The Director of the Office of Women's Programs, Pat Morey, has been a teacher and mentor to many GWS students, and a guiding force and inspiration for feminist activists on this campus and throughout the community.