Fifty years ago, when our department was established at Western, universities in this province were staffed essentially by male faculty. There were some women professors in very specific areas (such as Nursing and Language Studies), but in most cases, if there was a woman teaching it was in a temporary or part-time appointment.
In the late-1960s, a political plan to expand and develop Ontario universities created opportunities for qualified women. By the late 1970s, a number of D\departments had at least one woman on faculty.
In 1980, when I was working in Visual Arts on contract, I encountered women across campus who were isolated in their respective units. To provide a sense of community, Western’s Caucus on Women’s Issues was founded. This group researched course offerings identifying where content existed in women’s history in every field. Where such content was lacking, department chairs were asked to facilitate the introduction of a new course on women’s work in their department’s specialization.
Our Chair, professor Jose Barrio-Garay, suggested I develop a course on Women in Art. It was perfect timing because art historians were beginning to work on this topic and relevant materials were becoming available.
It was a wonderful opportunity for me, leading to a valuable course offering for Visual Arts and to a research area that has been personally compelling. Bringing the reality of women artists and scholars into the discussion at that time made it possible for many among us to recognize what we were missing when we did not include women as colleagues in the studio and the art history classroom.
Finally, in the later 1980s and 1990s, the first women were hired in full-time positions in Art History – Kathryn Brush and Corinne Mandel – and in Studio – Fern Helfand, Alice Mansell, Sheila Butler, Sarah Hartland-Rowe and Colette Urban. By the time I served the department as chair (1995-2000), the faculty ratio was close to equally male and female.
The anniversary celebration is our opportunity to reflect on our history and to appreciate all the people who contributed so successfully to the development of the department.
Madeline Lennon is a feminist, art historian, professor emerita and former Visual Arts Chair.