A Women's and Gender Timeline of Amherst College

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Amherst College class to include women graduates, the Women's and Gender Center is embarking on a project of reclaiming our history on this campus. Our goals are to celebrate Amherst women, to acknowledge important gender-related events on campus, and to share a gender history of Amherst College. 

We know that women existed on this campus long before coeducation, including women enrolled at other colleges who took classes at Amherst, the wives and contemporaries of our past presidents and faculty, and women community members. These women are an important part of our history and we are including their stories as well. We have many noted areas of growth for this timeline, which include:

  • The history of the Women's and Gender Center;
  • Stories of our transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming Amherst College community;
  • Notable women speakers and guests, especially women of color;
  • Stories of student activism and gender-related student organizations;
  • Events from the 2000s; 
  • And, women in athletics. 

This timeline is a work in progress and we will continue to add to it in the coming years. If you have any additions, we encourage you to please complete this form.

We give credit to the Archives and Special Collections for their help in this endeavor, as well as the work of the Public Affairs Office. At the bottom of this page, you will find more resources on Amherst College's history and our movement to coeducation. 


 Our Timeline:

1845 to 1854:

Orra White Hitchcock
  • Orra White Hitchcock was one of the first women scientific illustrators and artists. She was the wife of Edward Hitchcock, who served as the third President of Amherst College. Hitchcock was a noted American geologist. She often illustrated the scientific works of her husband. Their papers are available as a part of Amherst's Digital Collections, as are Orra White Hitchcock's classroom drawings. The image to the right is a photo of one of her classroom drawings. Photo credit: The Archives and Special Collections. 
  • Amherst College began the formal conversation on coeducation. Two women applied for admission to the college and a committee was formed to consider the matter.
  • Amherst College celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the College at the Semi-Centennial. At this event, Henry Ward Beecher (c/o 1834) and Alexander H. Bullock (c/o 1836) advocated strongly for coeducation. 

Rose Olver
  •  Rose Olver became the first full-time woman faculty member in a tenure-track position as Professor of Psychology. For more information about Rose Olver's life, please visit her memorial page. Her image is in the photo the right. 
  •  S. Lowell Eayres joined the Amherst College faculty, teaching Anthropology. 
  •  Anne Lebeck, Ph.D., joined the Amherst College faculty, teaching Classics.
  •  Rose Olver became the first woman to receive tenure.
  • Ellen Ryerson, Ph.D., joined the Amherst College faculty, teaching American Studies.  Dr. Ryerson served on the Committee of Six and on the Select Committee on Coeducation. 
  •  Tillie L. Olsen joined the Amherst College faculty, teaching English. Olsen was a notable feminist icon and author. 
  •  Rose Olver became the Chair of the Psychology Department, the first woman to chair any College academic department.
  •  Title IX passed as a part of The Educational Amendments of 1972. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. To learn more about Title IX's impact on athletics in the words of women from Amherst Athletics, please read "How Title IX Changed Everything."
  • Elizabeth Wissman Bruss, Ph.D., joined the Amherst College faculty as Assistant Professor of English. Liz Bruss was the instigator of the "Keep Abreast of the Times" t-shirt demonstration in 1974. The Women's and Gender Center's resource library is named after Liz Bruss, as is The Bruss Reading Room in Johnson Chapel and the Bruss Readership. To learn more about the life and legacy of Professor Bruss, read her memorial

Can Sticker Coeducation
  • Following a decision by Trustees to not address the issue of coeducation, these 2 x 3 inch  stickers emerged on campus. Inspired by Andy Warhol, the stickers were worn by Amherst College community members who favored coeduation. 
  • Joice Haines from Mount Holyoke College became the first woman editor on the board of the Amherst Student. 
  • Faculty Additions:
    • Sonia Benita Sanchez,  Assistant Professor of Black Studies. She is pictured to the right. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections.

Sonia Sanchez
    • Jane Andelman Taubman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Russian. 
    • Lois Conchita Grant Beck, Ph.D.,  Anthropology.
    • Judith Herzfeld, Ph.D., Chemistry. Dr. Herzfeld was the first woman faculty member among the science faculty at Amherst College. 
    • Elizabeth Victoria Spelman, Ph.D., Philosophy.
  • On October 15, 1974, the faculty voted 95 to 29 to "reaffirm...its sense that Amherst College should become a College for men and women." 

Keep Abreast of the Times Faculty Protest
  • When the motion for coeducation was introduced a group of faculty rose to reveal T-shirts with the words "Keep Abreast of the Times -- Vote Yes." Liz Bruss, Lila Gierasch and Helene Keyssar were in this group of fierce faculty. The photo to the right captures this action. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections. 

Amherst Student Cover Coed
  • On November 2, 1974 the Trustees voted by a margin of 15 to 3 in favor of coeducation. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections. 
  • Faculty Additions: 
    • Helene Keyssar, Ph.D., Dramatic Arts. One of her specialties was feminist theater. 
    • Kathleen J. Hartford, Ph.D., Political Science. Hartford was the first woman in her department.
    • M. Rachel Kitzinger, Ph.D., Classics. 
    • Joan Rosalie Dassin, Ph.D., English. 
    • Susan Judith Lewandowski, Ph.D., History.
    • Lila Gierasch (Pease), Ph.D., Chemistry. 
    • Marguerite Waller, Ph.D., English and Women's Studies. 
  • 9 women who were already at Amherst as a part of the 12-College Exchange were admitted as transfer students and joined the Class of 1976. 
  • 94 sophomore, junior, and senior women began classes, including 79 transfer students and 15 students participating in the 12-College Exchange. They constituted 6.1 percent of the student body.
  • Faculty Additions:

Buffy Aries
    • "Buffy" Elizabeth Joan Aries, Ph.D., Psychology. She is pictured to the right. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections. 
    • Andrea Benton Rushing, Ph.D, Black Studies and English. Rushing taught at Amherst until 2011 and would go on to become a Full Professor. She is pictured to the right. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections. 

Andrea Rushing
    • Helene Scher, Ph.D., German.
    • Barbara Ansbacher, PhD., Music. 
  • The 9 women who were a part who joined Amherst College as seniors graduated as a part of the Class of 1976.

Anita Cilderman
  • Anita Cilderman, a transfer student from Mount Holyoke College became the first woman to graduate with a bachelor's degree from Amherst College. 
  • 7 women were hired as Dorm Advisors (now Resident Counselors) to help meet the needs of women students in residence.
  • Women's field hockey was established as a varsity sport. 
  • Faculty Additions:

Mavis Campbell
    • Mavis Campbell, Ph.D., Black Studies and History. She is the author of Black Women of Amherst College. Her photo is to the right. Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections. 
    • Judith Davidson, Ph.D., German.
    • Christine Zampach, the first woman coach in the Physical Education Department. 
  • As a part of The Amherst College Copeland Colloquium, noted womanist writer and activist Alice Walker spoke at Amherst College.

The Sabrinas
  • The Sabrinas were established as Amherst's first all-woman singing group. Photo credit: Frank Ward, 1997. 
  • The Class of 1977 included 31 women. 
  • Faculty Additions:
    • Deborah Gewertz, Anthropology.
    • Laura Wexler, English and American Studies. 
    • Elizabeth Garrels, Spanish.
    • Oriole Farb Feshbach, visiting artist. She was the first woman hired by the Fine Arts Department. 
    • Priscilla Hunt, Russian.
    • Susan Hunt, dancer and choreographer. She was the first woman to teach dance in the Department of Dramatic Arts. 
  • Faculty Additions:
    • Susan Niditch, Religion.
    • Nadia Margolis, French.
    • Michelle Morgan, the first (and only) woman tenured in the Physical Education Department. Morgan is pictured to the right. 

Michelle Morgan
  • Amherst College's population of women students climbs to 570. The student body at this time was comprised of 1,535 students.
  • Faculty Additions:
    • Lisa Raskin, Psychology and Neuroscience. She was the first woman tenured in the sciences. 
    • Ruth Stark, Chemistry.
    • Elaine Brighty, Biology. The first woman appointed to a tenure track position in Biology.
    • Helen von Schmidt, English. The first alumna to teach at the College.
    • Lynn Kaufman, Fine Arts.
    • Carol Kay, English.
    • Danielle Johnson-Cousin, French.
  • The Amherst Student published "Women Professors at Amherst, a Survey of the Professional Difficulties and Perceptions of Women on the College Faculty."  Published on May 5, this piece was 4 pages long and included interviews from 17 faculty women. 
  • The first women admitted as first-year students graduate as members of the Class of 1980. This was the first class of Amherst graduates to include women who attended Amherst for all four years. 129 of the 379 graduates were women. 
  • 16 women were science majors. 
  • Faculty Additions:
    • Mary Catherine Bateson, Ph.D., Anthropology. Bateson was the first woman Dean of the Faculty. She pushed for the hiring of more women into senior faculty positions, instead of hiring entry level faculty. 

Mary Catherine Bateson
    • Lorraine Shemesh, Ph.D., Fine Arts.
    • Rebecca (Hague) Sinos, Ph.D., Classics.
    • Doris Sommer, Ph.D., Spanish.
    • Susan Zawacki, Physical Education. 
  • Rosanne Haggerty '82 was appointed the first woman chairman (as the editor-in-chief was then called) of the Amherst Student. 
  • Following the death of President Julian Gibbs in 1983, Dean of Faculty Mary Catherine Bateson briefly led the college until an Acting President was named. 
  • In October, Amrita Basu, Frederick Griffiths, Stephanie Sandler, David Sofield (chair) and Marguerite Waller, members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Conditions of Work for Faculty Women at Amherst College submitted the "Report on Conditions for Faculty Women." They were selected by the Committee of Six and assigned to answer nine specific questions. 
  • The Amherst Student published "Assessing the Conditions of Women Faculty" on October 29. 
  • In December, The Amherst Student published an editorial on the "Report on Conditions for Faculty Women" entitled "Subtle Sexism Undermines Amherst."
1984 to 1989:
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick taught English at Amherst College, during which time she helped to create the Women's and Gender Studies department (now called the Sexuality, Women's, and Gender Studies department). In 1985, she published "Sabrina Doesn't Live Here Anymore." 
  • The College establishes the Department of Women's and Gender Studies.  
  • Elizabeth Joan Aries, Ph.D., recieved an honorary degree from Amherst College. 
  • Mary Catherine Bateson's book, Composing A Life, is published. In this work, Bateson details her time as a Professor and Dean of the Faculty at Amherst College. 
  • The Bluestockings women's a cappella group is founded. 
  • Lisa Raskin serves as Dean of the Faculty from 1995 to 2003. She is pictured to the right. Photo credit: Frank Ward. 

Lisa Raskin
  • By 2000:
    • Almost one half of the graduates were women.
    • 46 women had earned degrees in the sciences. 
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Amherst College. 
  • In June, Suzanne Coffey was named Athletic Director. She joined Amherst College in August. 
  • On April 4, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued the "Dear Colleague Letter." This document was geared to help federally funded schools, colleges, and universities understand and implement their responsibilities under Title IX. 

Biddy Martin
  •  In June, Carolyn A. "Biddy" Martin, Ph.D., was elected the 19th president of Amherst College.  
  • In January, the Special Oversight Committee on Sexual Misconduct released "Toward a Culture of Respect: The Problem with Sexual Misconduct at Amherst College."  This report and the recommendations therein led to many positive changes at Amherst College; including increased institutional support for the Women's and Gender Center, the hiring of a Title IX Coordinator and a Sexual Respect Educator, and increased staff in Student Affairs. 
  • The Title IX Committee redrafted our policies, procedures, and protocols regarding sexual misconduct. The College changed our approach to sexual misconduct and established seperate adjudication procedures specific to gender-based incidents.
  • The Women's and Gender Center moves into our current location in 103A Keefe Campus Center from the basement of Keefe. The name of the center was also changed from The Women's Center to the Women's and Gender Center in an effort to be more inclusive. 

WGC Old Logo
  • The Women's and Gender Center welcomed our first director. Up until this point, the WGC had been run solely by students. Students led the charge to hire the director and professionalize the center. 
  • In fall, the Women's and Gender Center was given its first operating budget and employed two student staff members, in addition to the director. 
  • In August, Amanda Collings Vann joined Amherst College as the Sexual Respect Educator. 
  • Amherst College hires a full-time Title IX Coordinator. Laurie Frankl arrived on campus on December 6th. 
  • Suzanne Coffey was named the Chief Student Affairs Officer.

Gender Matters
  • Gender Matters: The First Half-Century of Women Teaching at Amherst by Elizabeth Aries, Rose Olver, and Jane Taubman is published. 
  • On April 29, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights released the "Questions and Answers About Title IX and Sexual Violence" document. This document affirmed the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students under Title IX. The document states: "Title IX's sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and the OCR accepts such complaints for investigation."
  • As of May 2014, Amherst College student insurance coverage includes hormone replacement therapy, gender affirmation surgeries (maxiumum of $50,000), and gender-related counseling. 
  • In July, Professor Catherine Epstein, Ph.D., became the Dean of Faculty
  • For the 40th anniversary of the 1974 vote on coeducation, the Women's and Gender Center recreated the "Keep Abreast of the Times" t-shirts and distributed them across campus. 
  • The enrollrollment of the Class of 2019 matriculated in fall of 2015; this class is 53% women.
  • On November 12, three Black women, Lerato Teffo, Katyana Dandridge, and Sanyu Takirambudde, planned a sit-in in Frost Library to show solidarity with students of color at Mizzou, Yale and other colleges and universities experiencing structural oppression. Amherst Soul interviewed Lerato Teffo about her experiences in their first Spotlight

Amherst Uprising
  • This sit-in developed into the student action known as Amherst Uprising, in which hundreds of Amherst College students, as well as faculty and staff, occupied the Frost Library for 4 days. The photo to the right is from the Uprising. Photo credit: Kaelan McCone '19. 
  • The Women's and Gender Center welcomed our second director. The student staff has grown to 8 staff members. 
  • The Women's and Gender Center updated our logo.

WGC Logo 2016
  • On May 13, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights released the "Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students." 
  • The College celebrates the Class of 2016, the 40th class to include women graduates at Amherst College. 
  • Women's Group, a new student organization, was founded.
  • Reproductive Justice Alliance, a new student organization, was founded. Reproductive Justice Alliance took 21 students to the Women's March on Washington in July 2017.

Additional Resources: