IWD at UChicago

After a hiatus of three decades, the University of Chicago celebrated International Women's Day again in 2013. The celebration focused on women from around the world at the University, gender dynamics in the classroom, and on the ways in which all community members can contribute to the advancement of women. These conversations pointed to a multitude of gendered spaces and dynamics around the University that invite continued discussion and change. We will expand these conversations in 2016. Visit our calendar for details about the events planned across the University.

 Women's History at UChicago

The Articles of Incorporation of the University of Chicago (1892) state that the institution will "provide, impart, and furnish opportunities for all departments of higher education to persons of both sexes on equal terms," which made coeducation one of the University's founding principles.

However, 120 years leater full equality for women at the University of Chicago and in society at large is still elusive. Researchers involved in the project On Equal Terms, which explores the education of women at UChicago, have highlighted that fully integrating women in the curriculum, research agenda, and extracurricular life of the University has proven to be difficult and remains a "yet unfinished" task. The history of women at the University of Chicago is uneven, marked by successes and failures that reflect both UChicago's unique intellectual community and larger trends in academia.

While International Women's Day was aparently not celebrated at the University until 1978, a year after the UN declared it a notable day, women had been organizing at the University for decades. Since 1916, Ida Noyes Hall served as a center for women's activities, including sports. However, it was never a women only space, as men and women were both welcome.

The researchers of the project On Equal Terms further note that the 1960s and '70s were a very active period of women's organizing. The first "women's lib" group called the Women's Radical Action Project (WRAP) emerged, but women were involved in other groups such as University Feminist Organization (UFO) or Rape Crisis Hyde Park, which brought together both University and community women.

The first known (to us) celebration of International Women's Day at the University of Chicago was held in 1978. Rev. Parsons, whose name appears on the flyer below, is remembered very fondly by some of the women involved in the 1978 event.  Parsons was very supportive of the abortion cause and allegedly kept records of the UChicago branch of the JANE project - an undergroud organization providing women access to abortion prior to the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade (1973) - under the altar of the Rockefeller Chapel.

UofC IWD 1978.jpg
Special collections: University of Chicago Committee on University Women.

In two years, another celebration of International Women's Day was held. The 1980 events were relatively modest in scope compared to the 1978 celebration, but no less bold. We have not yet found evidence of any International Women's Day observances after 1980.

In 1996, after a decade of campaigning, faculty in the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions - led by Leora Auslander (History), Lauren Berlant (English), and Elizabeth Helsinger (English and Art History) - established the Center for Gender Studies (now Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality). In 2007, the University approved a Gender Studies major, and in 2013, Gender Civilizations became part of the undergraduate Core.

Between 2010 and 2013, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs recognized both National Women's Heritage Month, observed in March, and International Women's Day. While smaller events took place, no University-wide celebrations were held.

The Office of International Affairs coordinated the celebration of International Women's Day across the University in 2013. The events included a student-led workshop on gender equality in the classroom, a screening of the documentary The Light In Her Eyes, including a Q&A with the film's director Julia Meltzer, an online photo exhibit, and a short YouTube video entitled Women of the University of Chicago:


Rallying around the theme Women's Voices Heard, the campus celebrated International Women's Day with an action-packed week of events.  Highlights included a Women's Resource Fair, the screening of Jennifer Baumgardner's film It was Rape, and a march across campus.

womens voices heard_1.jpg

What will the 2016 celebrations look like? Visit the calendar to find out.