VETERAN FEMINISTS OF AMERICA
HONORS WOMEN'S STUDIES PIONEERS
VFA honored those women and men whose legacy lies in the 600 programs and over 1000 courses in women's studies in colleges and universities around the nation. Representing a "Who's Who" of scholarly feminism and feminist scholars, over 130 educators, teachers and activists came from all over the country to take part in a panel discussion, a reception and an awards dinner. Sheila Tobias was the chief organizer of this event.
Tobias, who had organized the first feminist college conference at Cornell '69, and who authored "Faces of Feminism," opened the panel discussion on "Feminist Education, Old Frontiers and New." Bunny Sandler, Senior Scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington and the person most responsible for passage of gender equity laws in in education, recalled the days when terms like "Sexual Harassment and Sex Discrimination didn't exist, when there were no networks, no conferences about women and girls, no equal pay act and no such thing on the books as discrimination based on gender.
Nancy Hoffman, professor of education at Brown University made connections between expanded careers for women and the low social value accorded teaching and the teacher shortage. Weitzman , professor of sociology at George Mason University, examined the disparate consequences of gender discrimination from divorce to the Holocaust. Florence Howe, founder of the Feminist Press and the Women's Studies Newsletter, shared experiences about the founding of the first feminist publishing house. Janet Jakobsen, a young feminist who is director of the Center for Women's Studies at Barnard College, used her experience as a token lesbian feminist professor of women's studies to highlight some of the pitfalls of progress And Jane Gould, first permanent director of the Barnard Women's Center, put the icing on the cake with touching memories of the early days when Barnard was pulsiing with angry and dedicated young activists.
Participants from the audience who joined in the lively discussion included Constance Comer, an early NYC NOW activist; Kate Millett, a former Barnard activist and author of "Sexual Politics; " Barbara Seaman, a founder of the women's health movement and author of "The Doctors' Case Against the Pill," Free and Female" and "For Women Only" and the conversation continued on a more informal level during the afternoon reception and dinner; the evening was devoted to honoring the women's studies pioneers.
As Sheila Tobias introduced each one, they were presented with the VFA Medal
of Honor by Jacqui Ceballos and Muriel Fox, respectively VFA president and chair. Then, each honoree shared a memory
from early experiences and honored posthumously those no longer here. The audience was rapt to the end, and many
felt this was the most substantial and interesting of all the 17 events VFA has held.
Since it was founded in 1991, VFA has honored over 1000 prime movers of the feminist movement, from "stars" Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and the late Bella Abzug and Flo Kennedy, to hundreds of unsung heroes once prominent in their states and communities, and then, in most cases , forgotten. VFA is writing them into feminist history in a Directory of Pioneer Feminists published by Barbara Love and their individual histories are part of VFA's archives, which will find permanent homes in the great feminist archives in the nation.
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