History of the Program

In response to emergent and urgent needs on the Homewood campus, and thanks to a grant from the Ford Foundation, the Women’s Studies Program began operations in 1989–90. The initial funds were used to launch a faculty seminar designed to encourage methodological and disciplinary encounters between Homewood faculty within the context of contemporary concerns of feminist scholarship and activism. To administer the program, Judith Walkowitz, the celebrated feminist historian, was recruited and served as the program’s director for seven years.

At a time when many universities were struggling to build “women’s studies” as an area of scholarship and teaching, scholars at Johns Hopkins started questioning the identification of women as either a discrete field of study or political group on campus. They suggested that perhaps the very supposition that there is a sexual or gendered identity that awaits recognition needed to be questioned. In response to these scholarly developments, in 1998 the Women’s Studies Program was renamed the Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGS).

Since its foundation, WGS has coordinated a rich array of course offerings for both undergraduate and graduate students. Collectively, the courses offered in WGS form the basis of a flexible minor—open to students from any department—which integrates work undertaken across a broad range of offerings in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.

In brief, the program has brought together unusually resourceful, hard-working, and hard-thinking people. It has spun off distinct working groups that are based in departments; it has developed innovative teaching models; and it has continually found ways of addressing scholarly issues that have particular urgency.

In WGS, faculty research, graduate education, program development, and undergraduate pedagogy are not separate components that operate in isolation but are folded together. This integrated intellectual work fosters commitments that resist easy categorization.