Women's Studies Movement

Gloria Bowles, Judy Wells, Olivia Eielson in 1976.

The Berkeley Literary Women's Revolution. “I experienced the lack of women writers as an affront to my gender and as an affirmation of the academy that women and their experiences didn’t count.”Many women on campus, from a variety of departments, soon joined the salon. One member, Doris Earnshaw, later formed a translation group that would go on to publish the first anthology of women poets in translation, with contributions by women graduates with specialties in Tamil, Urdu, Hindi, classical Chinese, Farsi, pre-Islamic Arabic, Provençal, classical Japanese, and ancient Greek, among other languages. Other anthologies would follow. (See below for an excerpt from Kathleen Weaver’s translation of Mozambique poet Noémia da Sousa’s “Poem of Distant Childhood.”)


The salon shifted decisively from Marsha’s “living room into the academy” in the spring of 1970, spurred in part by the anti-war movement on campus. As Hudson details in her essay, the department held a joint meeting of graduate students and faculty to discuss the political crisis, where someone derided the stream of groups “complaining endlessly of oppression.” “What would be next—women?” Following her impassioned response, graduate students in the department approached Hudson and they moved to form the Comparative Literature Women’s Caucus, “to further the cause of women in the department.”2 The caucus fought for the hiring of more women professors, and they were successful in institutionalizing the first courses at Berkeley focused exclusively on women and women's literature, to be taught by graduate students in the department. “Beginning in 1972,” writes Gloria Bowles, then a Ph.D candidate, “the caucus held meetings to choose the instructor for the new course. Each quarter, we sat on the floor of the comp lit library surrounded by stacks of books by women writers and our proposals.”3 These courses became some of the most popular classes on campus, with hundreds of undergraduates trying to enroll. The women teaching these courses espoused non-hierarchical, student-centered pedagogy, as opposed to a class governed by lecture.

In 1973, Bowles joined with a handful of her own undergraduate students in forming first the “Women’s Studies Committee,” and then in agitating for the creation of an independent “group major” in women’s studies. A first proposal, written in 1974 by Bowles and three undergrads (Susan André, Marti Dickes, and Lynn Witt), was turned down by the College of Letters and Sciences; the second was sent back with a recommendation to include a biology requirement, “so that our students ‘would hear the other side.”4 Bowles drafted a third version which was accepted in the fall of 1975; a year later the major went into effect. After completing her Ph.D, Bowles would become the coordinator of the program from 1976 to 1983, co-developing a large introductory lecture “Introduction to Women’s Studies,” in addition to courses in Feminist Theory, Feminst Literary Criticism and methods in the humanities. The course “Theories of Women’s Studies” was the basis of an influential volume edited by Bowles and Renate Klein, Theories of Women's Studies (1983). Meanwhile, the efforts of Bowles and others to maintain financial and administrative support for the program, while remaining true to the intellectual, pedagogical, and political commitments of its founding, was met with various institutional resistances. For a full account see Bowles’ essay and her memoir, Living Ideas: A Memoir of the Tumultuous Founding of Berkeley Women’s Studies (2009). The Women’s Studies Program eventually became a department in 1991, and in 2005 the unit changed its name to the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. A comprehensive timeline of the Women’s Studies Movement is available to peruse here.

The Creation of the Archive:

In 2019, the Berkeley Women’s Studies Movement Archive was created at Bancroft Library. This was the culmination of the collective efforts of Dr. Gloria Bowles and Bridget Connelly, Emerita Professor of Rhetoric; Carol Urzi, J.D.; Kathleen Weaver, M.A.; and Dr. Judy Wells, to assemble documentation from their work in the 1960s and 70s, and their subsequent writing about the movement. “The awakening moment,” writes Judy Wells in an essay-reflection on the work of assembling the archive, “came when we learned of our colleague Deirdre Lashgari’s death.”5 Lashgari had not only been an important teacher of women’s studies, she’d also co-edited two poetry anthologies: The Other Voice: Women’s Poetry in Translation (Norton, 1976) and Women Poets of the World (Macmillan, 1983). Following a memorial, the group gathered to discuss the fate of Lashgari’s papers: “We needed an archive for our feminist history, and we needed to begin this project while we still had the energy as women in our 70s to do it!”6 They approached Associate University Archivist Kathryn M. Neal and Bancroft Library Director Elaine Tennant in 2015 with a proposal to form an archive on the model of the Free Speech Movement Archive. Their proposal was enthusiastically accepted, and the group began the arduous and emotional work of diving into store rooms and garages, reaching out to former colleagues, and reliving the past as they gathered documentation for posterity. The creation of the archive was celebrated in the Department of Comparative Literature on November 16, 2019 with a symposium hosted by Professor Sophie Volpp, then chair, and Professor Laura Nelson of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department. Here is the archive’s press release. The materials can also be searched through Berkeley Library’s online catalogue.

Further Reading:

Bowles, Gloria. Living Ideas: A Memoir of the Tumultuous Founding of Berkeley’s Women’s Studies. Dexter, MI: Thomson-Shore, 2009.

Bowles, Gloria. “A Quiet Struggle for Women’s Studies at Berkeley,” Chronicle of the University of California No. 5 (Spring 2002): 69-82.

Bowles, Gloria. “From the Bottom Up: The Students’ Initiative,” The Politics of WS: Testimony from Thirty Founding Mothers, ed. Florence Howe. Feminist Press, 2000.

The Berkeley Literary Women’s Revolution: Essays from Marsha’s Salon eds. Marsha Hudson, Bridget Connelly, Doris Earnshaw, Olivia Eielson, and Judy Wells. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2005.

Theories of Women’s Studies, eds. Bowles and Renate Duelli-Klein. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

Wells, Judy. “Reclaiming Our 1970s Feminist History,” in Not Dead Yet: Feminism, Passion and Women's Liberation, edited by Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne. Mission Beach, Australia:  Spinifex Press, 2021. (forthcoming)

Photo at left: Book party for The Berkeley Literary Women’s Revolution at Cody's Bookstore, 4th St., Berkeley, 2005.  Editors from left to right are Doris Earnshaw, Marsha Hudson, Judy Wells, and Bridget Connelly.  (Editor Olivia Eielson was not able to attend.) Essayist Naomi Cutner is in the background.

Noémia da Sousa (b. 1927) “was born in Lourenço Marques, where she wrote for various journals and reviews and was associated with the militant African literature in Portuguese. Like many of the African writers who protested against the repressive Portuguese government, she was forced into exile and went to France where she wrote under the pseudonym Vera Micaia. For some years before her exile she lived with her Portuguese husband in Lisbon. She is the first black African woman to gain wide recognition as a poet.” (Poem and biographical text excerpted from The Penguin Book of Women Poets edited by Carol Cosman, Joan Keefe, and Kathleen Weaver.)




Poem of Distant Childhood
For Rui Guerra
By Noémia da Sousa
When I was born in the great house on the bank of the sea
it was midday and the sun shone on the Indian Ocean.
Sea gulls hovered, white, drunk with blue.
The boats of the Indian fisherman had not yet returned
dragging the overloaded nets.

Oh my companions, crouched, amazed in the marvellous
gathering of ‘Karingana wa karingana’
the stories of the old woman from Portugal
in the terrible storm-black sunsets
the wind shrieking in the zinc roof,
the sea menacing the wooden steps of the veranda,
the causeway groaning, groaning,
and filling our souls with strange, inexplicable fears,
our souls full of toothless spirits
and Massinga kings turned hunchbacked…)
Yes, my companions sowed in me the seed of this dissatisfaction
day by day I grow more dissatisfied.
They filled my childhood with the sun that shone
on the day I was born.
With their luminous unthinking comradeship,
their radiant happiness,
their explosive enthusiasm before any winged kite
in the technicolor blue of the sky,
their immediate, unconditional loyalty—
they filled my childhood
with unforgettable happiness and adventure.

So I BELIEVE that one day
the sun will shine again, calm, on the Indian Ocean.
Sea gulls will hover, white, drunk with blue
and the fisherman will return singing,
sailing on the tenuous afternoon.
And this poison of the moon that suffering has infused in my
veins will cease disturbing me forever.
One day,
life will be flooded with sun.
And it will be like a new childhood shining for everyone...
            (translated from the Portuguese by Allan Francovich & Kathleen Weaver)




1 Hudson, Marsha. “Dancing in a Cage” in The Berkeley Literary Women’s Revolution: Essays from Marsha’s Salon eds. Marsha Hudson, Bridget Connelly, et al. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2005): 12-13.

2 Ibid., 13.

Bowles, Gloria. “A Quiet Struggle for Women’s Studies at Berkeley,” Chronicle of the University of California No. 5 (Spring 2002): 69.

Ibid., 71.

5 First published in Not Dead Yet: Feminism, Passion and Women’s Liberation, edited by Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne, published by Spinifex Press, Mission Beach, Australia, 2021.

6 Ibid.