Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 3, 1997

A Woman's Place

Christine A. Rowett
News and Information

Judith Walkowitz is preparing her keynote address for the celebration of women's history month sponsored by the Women's Studies Program. She has chosen as the topic for the speech the exploits of a female musician and journalist who went undercover in London in 1900 to investigate the lives of Cockney street sellers.

The journalist, an Anglo-Indian whom Walkowitz describes as "ethnically different" from her subjects, infiltrated London street life, impersonating a range of female workers and becoming a part of that life.

In her discussion, titled "The Indian Woman, the Cockney Flower Girl and the Jew: Photojournalism and Imperial Self-fashioning in Turn-of-the-Century London," Walkowitz will explore the changing image of London and its residents in the 1900s.

"I talk about defining citizenship, building alliances across race and gender," Walkowitz says. "She represents India, yet also represents the female Cockney social milieu of working-class London."

Building alliances across disciplines and academic departments at Hopkins has been Walkowitz's task as director of the Women's Studies Program for the past seven years. She will step down from that role in June, when she will begin a one-year sabbatical to work on a book on turn-of-the-century London before joining the History Department full time.

The Women's Studies Program was introduced in the fall of 1989, in part supported by funds Hopkins received through a grant from the Ford Foundation. It was formulated to promote interdisciplinary study on women and gender. Courses are cross-listed from several different departments, including Anthropology, Sociology, History and Classics. Though no major is offered in Women's Studies, students may earn a minor by taking six one-semester classes or by applying for independent study.

The program also includes lectures, seminars and conferences for faculty and students. At a recent seminar during which Professor David Harvey presented a paper, students and faculty from eight departments were among those who attended the event.

"I'm thinking, 'Engineering and Classics are both represented in that room, as well as German, History, English, Sociology, the History of Science,'" Walkowitz says, still somewhat amazed. "Certainly there are occasions at Johns Hopkins where you have at least 40 people show up for an event. But to have people from so many different disciplines do it is quite extraordinary."

When Walkowitz steps down, English professor Frances Ferguson will become the director of Women's Studies. It was during a trip to the Gilman coffee shop when Walkowitz approached her successor and asked her about taking the helm.

"It was really a matter of her being in absolute despair," Ferguson claims.

When the program began, about 350 students enrolled in courses that were cross-listed. Last year, 3,000 students and countless faculty members were involved in Women's Studies courses and seminars.

"My own work doesn't always deal with feminist issues," says Ferguson, who teaches 18th- and early 19th-century literature. "I'm not unhappy about that. I value tremendously how [Women's Studies] brings faculty together in ways that keep them from getting caught up in their own departments."

Though she has a "series of grand goals" in mind, Ferguson says she won't make any significant changes in the program soon.

"An awful lot of what I'm going to be doing will be working with the advisory board and Antoinette Burton," Ferguson said, speaking of the associate director of the program. "I want to make sure we solidify the kinds of gains that Judy has achieved."

She is impressed with the variety of seminars, internships and work that already takes place, including a volunteer effort at the Greenmount Recreation Center. And she would like to see the expansion of the current internship program.

"Many of the undergrads really want a chance to think about practical experience," Ferguson says. "We've been able to establish contacts with some of the women who have graduated; we're looking for internship possibilities." [See sidebar below.]

Women's Studies
Begins Internship

The Women's Studies Program is launching a new initiative this year with a for-credit undergraduate course, the Internship Practicum.

Many women's studies programs in the United States feature internship opportunities for undergraduate majors and minors so that students interested in making connections between theory and practice, between the classroom and the world, can volunteer their services in local community agencies and organizations. Establishing these connections has never been more important than at this particular historic moment, when congressional legislation is in the process of transferring federal responsibilities for low-income families and the nation's poor to state and local authorities.

Among our objectives is to encourage students to develop knowledge and skills that will allow them to understand the implications of this historic shift and to gain practical experience that may lead them to consider public service and/or advocacy as an option for employment after college. We will be working with Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Volunteer Services Office, to help interested undergraduates and find placements that match their personal commitments and long-term professional goals.

Women's issues are an obvious focus for a women's studies internship program, though placements need not be limited to agencies which deal with women or even explicitly feminist issues. The Internship Practicum operates on the presumption that feminism intersects with a variety of race, class, age and social justice issues, and that interns therefore will choose a diversity of areas in which to explore and pursue their feminist commitments. AIDS Action Baltimore, the Maryland Food Committee, the House of Ruth, the Baltimore Urban League, the Women's Housing Coalition and the United Way of Central Maryland are just a few of the organizations we are hopking to link up with the internship program.

--Reprinted from the Women's Studies Newsletter, Sept. 1996

Though the core senior faculty is now smaller than when Women's Studies began, Walkowitz believes the program has grown and will continue to do so.

"I think we've done very well with both the limits and the possibilities of this place, and the limits should not be underestimated," she says cautiously.

There are women's studies programs at other major universities, Walkowitz says, that attempt to serve a "huge number" of students without the proper resources.

"I've been very reluctant to expand without the kind of support that's needed," she says. "I've tried to do the best we can to make things work with the resources we have."

She is reflective and realistic when she discusses her time in office and the changes that may occur in Women's Studies.

"It's time to go on and allow new ideas and directions to take over. I don't believe in a permanent administrator," she says. "I'm pretty good at giving things up ... It's part of the feminist process."

Walkowitz says she won't offer any concrete advice to Ferguson, but may suggest the name of a good caterer, as the department has a reputation to uphold.

"We focus a lot of attention on providing good food. Everyone knows that when you come to a Women's Studies event and it says 'Reception to follow,' the food is going to be good," Walkowitz says, only half joking. "We believe that food is very important to nurturing and developing the intellectual community."

Ferguson will introduce Walkowitz for the keynote address, to be held Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Merrick Barn on the Homewood campus.

Refreshments will be served.

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