Women's Studies

Old Dominion University's Women's Studies Program, founded in 1977, was the first in Virginia. In 1995, it became the first of the Commonwealth's state-assisted schools to offer students the opportunity to major in women's studies, and in 2002 it became a department. From a wealth of women's studies courses and those cross-listed from other departments, ODU undergraduate and graduate students learn up-to-date information and vital analytic communications skills. (http://al.odu.edu/womens_studies/ )

Although the Women's Studies program was started through the efforts of many people, Carolyn Rhodes, an emeritus professor of English and Women's Studies, is often credited as being the guiding force behind the program and its most ardent and loyal supporter. In 1995, the Carolyn Rhodes Scholarship Fund for undergraduate study in the ODU Women's Studies Program was established in her honor.

Early History of the Program

1972 : A couple of history courses were introduced to focus on women's roles in history.

1973 : Several students and faculty began work to develop a pilot program in Women's Studies. In September 1976, a grant proposal was sent to the National Endowment for the Humanities. Fourteen people participated in the development of this proposal, and Pat Hyer developed the budget.

1977 : The pilot program began with an NEH grant for $42,836, supplemented with $12,822 from the university. This was the largest grant received by the College of Arts and Letters at that time. Carolyn Rhodes served as coordinator of the pilot program. Six courses were offered for the pilot program -- they emphasized women's roles and combined art, history, english, sociology, speech and interdisciplinary studies. One hundred students participated in these courses.

1978 : Nancy Topping Bazin was hired as Director of the newly founded Women's Studies Program, which was the first of its kind in Virginia. Formerly, she was coordinator of the Women's Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She served as Department Chair until 1985, when she became Chair of the English Department. In 1999, the Nancy Topping Bazin Scholarship for graduate study in the ODU Women's Studies Program was established. Under Dr. Bazin's leadership, the fledgling Women's Studies Program not only expanded from six to over three dozen interdisciplinary courses per year, but also inaugurated the first cluster of graduate courses in Women's Studies at Old Dominion University. (http://al.odu.edu/womens_studies/resources/scholarships.shtml)

Gloria Putnam served as Program Technician for the Women's Studies Program from its inception in 1977 until her retirement in 1999.

Article: Courier, Feb. 24, 1989

Read Dr. Dorothy Johnson's oral history interview discussing her views of Women's Studies at ODU in 1980.

Article in Virginian-Pilot, Jan. 26, 1986 discussing the need for the Women's Studies program.

1986 : Ellen Lewin was hired as the first full-time Director of the Women's Studies Program. She served until 1988.


Article: UNews, 1986

1988 : Anita Clair Fellman was hired in 1988 as the second full-time Director of the Women's Studies Program. Dr. Fellman has been Chair of the Women's Studies Department and Associate Professor of History at Old Dominion University since 1988. Under her directorship, the Women's Studies Program became a department, offered a major and minor in women's studies, and offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in women's studies.

Among the books she has authored or co-edited are Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women's History (3 editions), Ourselves as Students: Multicultural Voices in the Classroom , Making Sense of Self: Medical Advice Literature in Late Nineteenth-Century America . Currently she is finishing a book on the place of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books in American culture. http://al.odu.edu/womens_studies/directory/faculty.shtml



Women's Studies poster celebrating 50th anniversary of ODU, 1980

25th anniversary celebration of Women's Studies, 2002
Nancy Bazin, Anita Fellman, Gloria Putnam, and Carolyn Rhodes

The Women's Studies Department has sponsored numerous events over the years.

Programs, such as "Contemporary Perspectives on Women's Athletics," 1979

Speakers, such as Dorothy Redford, 1990

Guerrilla Girls, 1997

Mermaids in the Basement, 1997

Mentoring Program

In the spring of 2003, the Women's Studies Department launched a voluntary mentoring program for all women's studies students who might benefit from having contacts in the community. The Mentoring Program seeks individuals in the community who can give our students advice and guidance in regard to their prospective careers, their educational aspirations beyond ODU, the challenges of creating lifestyles suitable to them, and their inclinations to become activists in the community.

The Friends sponsor annual dinners with lectures by such speakers as feminist humorist Regina Barreca, global activist Njoki Njehu, and author Lisa See. The 20th Anniversary Dinner & Celebration featured human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar.

The Friends group supports the following:

  • sponsorship of two scholarships
  • subscriptions to five feminist journals for the University Libraries
  • sponsorship of the yearly Women's Studies Student Essay Contest
  • sponsorship of the Community Mentor Program
  • a "Work in Progress" conference
  • the Feminist Activist Fair on campus

They also publish a newsletter "Like Minds."