Honor, Celebrate, Recognize: Women's History Month at UMass Amherst
Women’s History Month can be traced to 1981 when Congress authorized and requested the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as "Women’s History Week." Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as "Women’s History Week."
In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9, designating March 1987 as "Women’s History Month." These proclamations celebrate the contributions women and nonbinary persons have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements they have made over the course of American history.
WOMEN MAKE THEIR MARK AT UMASS AMHERST
Thirteen years after its founding in 1862, Louise Millicent Thurston became the first woman to enroll at Massachusetts Agricultural College (now UMass Amherst) in 1875. Almost 100 years later, the Women's Studies program grew from the rich terrain of feminist, women's liberation, and lesbian organizations that existed on and around the UMass Amherst campus in the 1970s. In 2009, the Women's Studies program became the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies when faculty recognized that the field had changed since the program's founding, and that intersecting identities like race, class, and sexuality were key to the study of women and gender.
JOIN THE CELEBRATION
Learn more at the Office of Equity and Inclusion on ways to attend events throughout the month, including "Feminists Against Empire: Resistance to U.S. Sanctions and Embargoes," featuring a panel of Latin American feminists, including award-winning Cuban journalist and producer Liz Olivia Fernández, activist and World March of Women organizer Alejandra Laprea, and UMass Amherst assistant professor of history Diana Sierra Bercera. Part of the history department's 2022-2023 Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series, Confronting Empire, this event will explore decades of patriarchal and imperialist policies imposed on Latin American nations, the consequences of these policies on women and Black people, and how today's revolutionary feminists are building small- and large-scale economic alternatives.
Below, you can explore the many resources, stories, and histories of women whose journeys began or continue at UMass Amherst. Their varied and extraordinary accomplishments—often achieved amid sexist, racist, and homophobic moments in history—are testaments to the fortitude and strength upheld by women as they've left their legacies at UMass and beyond.
Influential Women on Campus
Groundbreaking research, social justice advocacy, and record-breaking athleticism: UMass Amherst women continue to excel academically, push boundaries, and strive for a better tomorrow.
Traci Parker, associate professor of Afro-American studies, historian of (among other things) nostalgia and consumer culture, and author of Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s, recently wrote an article in The Washington Post exploring the return of Toys"R"Us—and how the pandemic influenced its resurgence. She is currently working on her second book, Beyond Loving: Black Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Twentieth Century.
Stuart Rice Research Professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences, Francine Berman wants to ensure technology works for us, rather than the other way around. A data scientist focused on the social and environmental impacts of information technology, Berman studies the Internet of Things—a deeply interconnected ecosystem of billions of devices and systems that are transforming commerce, science, and society. As director of UMass Amherst's Public Interest Technology Initiative, she seeks to develop educational, research, practice, and outreach offerings across the diverse schools and colleges on campus.
Three years ago, assistant professor Siyuan Rao founded the biomedical engineering department's Neurobiological Interfaces Lab—known as "Rao Lab"—which aims to study the scientific principles at the interfaces of biological and material systems, investigate neurobiological questions, and work toward making advancements in biotechnology.
As an observational extragalactic astronomer, Katherine Whitaker studies galaxy formation and evolution over the past 12 billion years of cosmic time. She's a member of the international team behind UNCOVER, a survey utilizing the James Webb Space Telescope to explore the frontiers of deep space.
Whitney Battle-Baptiste, professor of anthropology and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, is the current president-elect/vice president for the American Anthropological Association. She is a historical archaeologist of African and Cherokee descent whose work focuses primarily on the intersection of race, class, and gender in the shaping of cultural landscapes across the African Diaspora.
Besting themselves again for the 2023 season, UMass Women's Basketball banked their 23rd win in a single season after their victory over George Washington University. This month, they head to the Atlantic 10 Conference Championships.
Read about just a few of the remarkable women who have graduated from UMass Amherst.
Best known as the author of Human Anatomy & Physiology, Elaine Marieb’s (1936-2018) textbooks are taught in more than 2,400 classrooms around the world. Time magazine ranked her the seventh most-read female writer in the college classroom, behind such literary luminaries as Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf. Though the world lost this titan in 2018, her legacy, impact, and influence continue to grow, thanks to her generous philanthropy. After the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation made a gift to UMass Amherst of $21.5 million, UMass officially named the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing in her honor.
Buffy Sainte-Marie '70, '90H
Even before graduating from UMass Amherst, Buffy Sainte-Marie was a force to be reckoned with as a singer, songwriter, and cultural icon. She has gone on to receive recognition as a visual artist (and pioneer in digital imaging), educator, and social activist. In 1983, she became the first Indigenous American person to win an Oscar, when her song "Up Where We Belong", co-written for the film An Officer and a Gentleman, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 55th Academy Awards.
Landing a book on the New York Times Bestseller List is an author's dream. Alumna Ana Reyes not only achieved this accomplishment, but her debut novel, The House in the Pines, is also a pick for actress Reese Witherspoon's famous book club.
Betty Shabazz ’75EdD
Betty Shabazz (1934-1977) was an educator and civil rights activist. The wife of Malcolm X, Shabazz became an important political activist after her husband's assassination in 1965. In the 1970s, Shabazz began giving public lectures on the African American condition, fighting for education and human rights causes.
Award-winning independent filmmaker and photographer Lauren Anders Brown believes in the power of visual storytelling to amplify the stories of people who cannot tell them on their own. Her curated exhibition for the United Nations, “Wanted: A World for One Billion,” raised awareness about the sexual and reproductive health and rights and bodily autonomy of women and young people with disabilities around the world, highlighting their voices and experiences and promoting access to sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services.
As senior editor and editorial ambassador from Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it's lexicographer Emily Brewster's job to pin down new words and decide when to add them to the dictionary. Brewster and her colleagues are keenly aware of the zeitgeist and the constantly shifting usage of words. They record shifts in society—transcribing the ever-evolving human story that the dictionary tells.
Briana Scurry ’95
Briana Scurry is a legendary U.S. goalkeeper, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and a World Cup champion. Briana played a pivotal role in soccer history as one of the first African American professional female players and has helped to diversify the sport.
Audie Cornish ’01
Audie Cornish is a journalist and a former co-host of NPR's All Things Considered and panelist on Pop Culture Happy Hour. She was previously the host of NPR Presents, a long-form conversation series with creatives about their projects and shaping culture in America. Cornish recently announced she will host a weekly show for CNN+, as well as contribute to the streaming service’s slate of live programming.
UMass Amherst offers an abundance of digital and in-person resources available to the campus community all year long.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion invites the campus community to explore their list of events, suggested readings, and podcasts in celebration of Women's History Month.
Established in 1972, the Center for Women and Community offers many services to meet the needs of the diverse populations of UMass Amherst, the Five Colleges, and Hampshire County.
To raise awareness of the issues and increase visibility of the unique contributions of Black women, women of color, and transfem people, Distinguished Alumna Irma McClaurin ’76MFA, ’89MA, ’93PhD, founded the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive (BFA). It is a collaboration with UMass Amherst Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives and the W.E.B. Du Bois Center.
The Valley Women's History Collaborative is an active group of students, scholars, archivists, and community volunteers dedicated to researching, collecting, preserving, and publicizing the history of women in Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden counties from the mid-1960s to the present.
Explore the Five College's course catalogue to find faculty that specialize in: African American women's history; feminist history; 20th-century U.S. women's history; histories of women and gender in Latin America; and much more.
The Stonewall Center has been a cornerstone of support for the campus LGBTQ+ community for more than 35 years. The center provides support, resources, programming, and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual, and allied students, staff, and faculty at UMass Amherst and for Western Massachusetts.
Continue the Conversation
Discover more exceptional students, staff, and alumni, as well as find ways to get involved this month and all year long at UMass Amherst.