Chronology of Arrival of Women Faculty at Amherst College

Jane A. Taubman, emerita professor of Russian, gave the following presentation at the symposium, Half Century of Women Teaching at Amherst: Gender Matters on Saturday, October 1, 2011.


This symposium is the first step in our larger project, which is to write a history of the pioneer faculty women at Amherst.  We welcome, indeed beg for, any additions and corrections.  Like much of women’s work, it is a collaborative effort. Since we want to leave as much time as possible for this morning’s roundtables, I will focus on the early years leading up to co-education, to which few witnesses remain on the faculty.

I will introduce the Pioneer women here today, asking them to stand and take a bow as we get to the year in which they joined the faculty. Please hold applause till the end. I will note significant “firsts” as I go along. Pat Allen, the College’s events coordinator, put her heart and soul into this project, and has collected on our web site brief biographies and autobiographies of the original 50 “Pioneers.” Do read them, if you haven’t yet had a chance, for much more fascinating information.

In 1962, Rose Olver, the mother of us all, joined the Amherst faculty. For four years, she was the only woman. Rose became a mentor and supporter for most of the women who followed her. She served on many important committees, including the joint trustee-faculty committee on coeducation and the Committee of Six, many times.

1966: S(ara) Lowell Eayres , Anthropology. After three years at Amherst, she moved to Maine, where she was doing her field work, and taught at the University of Maine, Fort Kent, until her death in 1996.

1967: Anne Lebeck joined the Department of Classics. She taught until her death by her own hand in the spring of 1973.

1968: two more women joined the faculty. Both, perhaps coincidentally, were wives of junior faculty. 

  • Annette Barnes taught Philosophy and Humanities for four years.
  • Ellen Ryerson joined the faculty of American Studies. Ellen served on the Committee of Six, the first untenured faculty member to do so, and the first woman. She and Rose were the two faculty members, along with administrators and trustees, on a joint Committee on Coeducation. She left the College for an administrative position at the Yale Law School, where she later received a degree, and had a long career in academic administration.

1969: writer Tillie Olsen joined the English department as Lecturer for one year.
We are pleased that our project coincides with that of two undergraduates, Katherine Allyn '12 and Annemarie Iker '12, who have spent the summer researching Olsen’s year at Amherst, and the work of Robin Dizard, who contributed the bio for Olsen.

NO NEW WOMEN were hired in 1970 or 1971. The prevailing idea seemed to be that, since we were not co-educational, there was little need for women on the faculty, or that they would not be interested in teaching here.

1972; Elizabeth Bruss was hired in English. Liz was the author and instigator of the infamous “Keep Abreast of the Times” t-shirt demonstration at a Faculty meeting to discuss coeducation in the fall of 1974. She died in 1981, while eight months pregnant and serving her second year as the chair of the English department.  

By the spring of 1973, only three tenure-track women (Olver, Ryerson, Bruss) remained on the faculty, as serious discussion began about the possibility of co-education. But that fall five women were appointed, including yours truly. One day the eight of us decided to lunch together in the faculty dining room, and suspicions soon abounded that we were “up to something.” Not quite yet.

  •  Jane Taubman: I was given Amherst’s first tenure-track part-time appointment, an innovation designed to aid the recruitment of women faculty. It was inspired by Ellen Ryerson during her service on the C6.
  •  Judith Herzfeld, a chemist, was the first female tenure-track hire in the “physical sciences.” She left after her first year to marry (that used to happen in those days); she is now Professor of Biophysical chemistry at Brandeis. She cannot be here today.
  • Victoria  (Vicky) Spelman  taught philosophy. She left the College in 1980 after a controversial negative tenure decision. She is currently professor and chair of the department of philosophy and Professor in the Humanities at Smith. Vicky was one of the pioneers of Women’s studies in the Valley.  Unfortunately, she cannot be with us today.
  • Lois Beck taught Anthropology for three years. She is currently Professor of Anthropology, Washington University at St. Louis.
  • Noted poet Sonia Sanchez was Associate Professor of Black Studies for two years, leaving to teach at Temple University.  

 1974: in anticipation of co-education, the college hired a cohort of seven exceptionally strong women, doubling the number on the faculty to fourteen. Only two of the new hires were ultimately awarded tenure, and both of those eventually left the college. Several publicly refused to stand for tenure. None are currently on the faculty, but we are absolutely delighted to have five of the six survivors of the “great class of 1974” with us today.

  • Kathleen (Kate) Hartford  was the first woman in Political Science. After a long teaching career at UMass Boston, she is now Program Officer with the Ford Foundation in Beijing.
  • Rachel Kitzinger taught Greek in the Classics department. She is now Professor of Classics and Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs at Vassar.                        
  • Joan Dassin taught English and Latin American Studies. She is now Executive Director of the International Fellowships Program at the Ford Foundation.
  • Susan Lewandowski, the first specialist on south Asia in the History department, later went into academic administration. She is now retired and living in South Amherst.
  • Marguerite (Margie) Waller was awarded tenure in English and rose to the rank of full professor, but left Amherst in 1991 to teach at the University of California, Riverside, where she is now Professor of English and Women’s Studies.  
  • Lila (Pease) Gierasch replaced Judith Herzfeld. She is currently Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Massachusetts, and a former chair of both departments. She regrets that she cannot be with us because of a long-planned trip to China. She proudly reports that she still has her t-shirt.  
  • Helene Keyssar-Franke, in Dramatic Arts, was tenured in 1979. She left the College for the University of California at San Diego two years later, and died at the age of 57, of cancer.       

1975:  four more women.

  • Elizabeth (Buffy) Aries, Psychology. Also part-time tenure track.
  • Helene Scher in German, was awarded tenure, but later left Amherst to take an administrative position in Washington, DC.
  • Andrea Rushing, Black Studies and English retired in 2010 and cannot be here today.
  • Barbara Ansbacher taught in the Music department for seven years. She died of cancer in 1987, after leaving the faculty.

1976:  the first year of co-education, only three women were hired. None are here with us today.    

  • Mavis Campbell, Black Studies and History, retired in 2006. Among her other works, she is the author of Black Women of Amherst College.
  • Judith Davidson taught German for eight years.
  • Christine Zampach was the first woman coach in the physical education department.  She left the college after four years.

In 1977:  five women.

  • Deborah Gewertz is now the G. Henry Whitcomb 1874 Professor of Anthropology.  
  • Laura Wexler English and American Studies. She is currently professor of American studies; professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Yale.  While at Amherst, she gave birth to two children, taking two maternity leaves, the first woman to take advantage of the college’s new maternity leave policy. In 1977, when my second child was born, the College still had no maternity leave policy, nor day-care facility,
  • Elizabeth Garrels, Spanish. She left the college to teach at MIT, where she is Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies.
  • Oriole Farb Feshbach, a visiting artist, was the first woman hired by the Fine Arts Department. She lives and works in Amherst.
  • Priscilla Hunt, Russian, left the college after three years.
  • Susan Hunt, a dancer and choreographer, was the first woman to teach dance in the department of Dramatic Arts.  She left the college in 1982.

1978: three women.   

  • Susan Niditch, Religion. Originally appointed, along with her husband Robert Doran, to two tenure-track half-time positions in the department of Religion.
  • Nadia Margolis, first woman in French.
  • Michelle Morgan, the first (and only) woman tenured in physical education.

1979: seven new women.

  • Lisa Raskin, Psychology and Neuroscience.  First woman tenured in the sciences. Lisa served the College as Dean of the Faculty for eight years, and was Acting President for one semester.
  • Ruth Stark was the third woman serially hired in Chemistry, (never more than one at the same time.) She is now distinguished Professor of Chemistry at CUNY.
  • Elaine Brighty was the first woman appointed to a tenure-track position in Biology.  She resigned after teaching for three years, but is still very much part of the Amherst community.   
  • Helen von Schmidt, English. Helen was the first alumna to teach at the College.  She is currently Senior Lecturer in English.
  • Lynn Kaufman, Fine Arts. Left after three years.
  • Carol Kay, taught English for four years, and died in 1998, while teaching at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Danielle Johnson-Cousin, French.  Asst. Prof. 1979-82.  

In 1980, five new women were appointed to the faculty, including Mary Catherine Bateson, the first woman Dean of the Faculty.

  • Mary Catherine Bateson,  Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Anthropology, 1980-1987.
  • Lorraine Shemesh taught for only one year in the department of Fine Arts. She is now a working artist living in New York.  
  • Rebecca (Hague) Sinos Classics, is still teaching at Amherst. She regrets she cannot be here today.
  • Doris Sommer, Spanish, taught at Amherst for twelve years, rising to the rank of Professor before leaving to teach at Harvard.
  • Susan Zawacki,  Physical Education, 1980-82.

1981, Five new women.

  • Amrita Basu, Political Science and WAGS.  Former director of the Five-College Women’s Studies Research Center, member of the 1984 committee to study conditions of work for women.
  • Stephanie Sandler, Russian, now Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard. One of the members, with Amrita, Margie, Rick Griffiths, and David Sofield, of the 1984 Ad Hoc Committee.
  • Greta Slobin, Russian,  Asst. Prof. 1981-87. (Died 2011)
  • Kristin Marie Hallberg, Economics. Asst. Prof.  1982-1986
  • Linda Caron, Fine Arts Visiting Assistant Prof. 1981-82, Asst. Prof. 1982-88.

1982: four women.

  • Ute Brandes, German, is on leave and cannot be here today.
  • Beth Yarbrough, Economics, still at Amherst, cannot be here today.
  • Yolanda Henderson, Economics, taught for four years and resigned before her tenure decision.
  • Susan Huston, Romance Languages (French) taught for two years.

1983: three women

  • Patricia O’Hara. First woman to be tenured in the chemistry department, and one of the first tenured women in the sciences.
  • Sigrit Schutz, Senior Lecturer in German.
  • Penny Sackett was a Visiting Asst. Prof. in Physics from 1983-85, the first woman hired in Physics, and has had a distinguished career including the post of science advisor to the government of Australia.