In the early 1970's, the Women's Rights Movement, like other campus activism movements, was gaining popularity on the University of Michigan campus and across the country. Kitty Sklar, a history professor in the Residential College, created the first women's history course at the University in 19711. Sklar along with a group of women faculty, fed up with the absence of women in their academic fields, began planning a course in a new discipline called "Women's Studies." They developed a pilot course called "Introduction to Women's Studies," which covered a range of interdisciplinary topics and was taught by several women faculty members on a volunteer basis.
In 1973, the tireless efforts of the Committee for Women’s Studies came to fruition with the establishment of the Women’s Studies Program, one of the first of its kind in the country. As the program grew, its direction was shaped by what students wanted to see in their classes. Courses reflected the diversity of feminist thought and included topics that had been left out of traditional academia.
In the 1980s, after undergoing University review, the Women's Studies Program was recognized for its distinction and its graduate students.2 Since the 1990s, the Women's Studies program has grown to create a joint PhD program with a certificate and has greatly increased the number of faculty. In 2000, the Women's Studies Program moved into its own building, Lane Hall after a large renovation, along with the the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. After receiving departmental status in 2007, Women's Studies has grown even more. Today the department offers multiple minor concentrations and as of 2016 will offer two majors: Gender and Health and Women's Studies.
Donna Ainsworth, Administrative Specialist and beloved member of the Women's Studies Department since 1991, noticed that the Department experienced large growth in students and faculty each year as well as the globalization of Women's Studies. The department has been pioneering in queer studies, including the creation of a minor concertration in LGBTQ studies.
Today, the original pilot course now called “Women’s Studies 240” is still the foundational course for the Separtment’s major. Women’s Studies graduates go on to pursue a diverse range of fields that reflect the true interdisciplinary nature of Women’s Studies. The department has received numerous awards for its excellence from the university.
1. "Courses About Women at the University of Michigan," January 1972, Box 1, Department of Women’s Studies (University of Michigan) Records 1972-2006, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
2. Howard Brick, Heidi Gottfried, and Julie Green, "Views on the Domestication of Women's Studies," Michigan Daily, April 15, 1980, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.