BCRW @ 50

Academic Feminism and Women's Studies

Feminist Scholarship and Institutional Change at Barnard

Founding of BCRW

At its founding in 1971, the Barnard Center for Research on Women was known as the Women’s Center. This space came about as a result of the findings of The Task Force on Barnard and the Educated Woman, a group that consisted of students, faculty members, administrators, and Barnard alumni. In its earliest iteration, the BCRW served a space which housed the women’s library, offered seminars on women and society, and created an index of “women scholars from universities throughout the country, which [would] be available for any school or college in choosing or employing women” (NYT 5/23/71).  A 1980’s iteration of the Center’s Mission Statement reads: “The Center provides a physical and psychological meeting space for women and offers a wide range of programs and services. Through the Resource Collection, its up-to-date information on women’s events and programs, its discussions, lectures and conferences, the Center seeks to increase knowledge and understanding and to encourage a continuing dialogue between women in the university and larger community.” 

In addition to its role in maintaining and expanding resources, the Center also served as a space through which Barnard was able to increase its course offerings on women. Predating the creation of Women’s Studies as a major at Barnard by several years (Women’s Studies became a degree-conferring program in the Fall of 1977), BCRW served as an early and important space in which women’s studies was a central focus.  As former-BCRW Director Jane Gould noted in a 1971 New York Times article, an early aim of BCRW was to “help young women take themselves more seriously” both inside the classroom and beyond (NYT 11/26/71). A 1985 entry in the Barnard Bulletin situates the founding of Women’s Studies as a department at Barnard within a broader turn toward courses focusing on women, grounded in what the article describes as the “suffragist impulse” and points to courses taught by Mirra Komarovsky and Annette K. Baxter as early markers of interest in such courses before the creation of WGSS as a department at Barnard.

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