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Campaign for WVU women’s studies endowment nearly done

By JAKE JARVIS

Charleston Gazette-Mail

An endowed professorship named in honor of the first woman to graduate from West Virginia University is nearly funded.

It’s the brainchild and legacy of Judith Stitzel, the first director of WVU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, which began in 1980. The Harriet E. Lyon Professorship in Women’s Studies is $25,000 away from reaching the campaign’s goal of $500,000. It will provide the money for a two- to three-year appointment for professors in different programs to study and teach curriculum with the center.

Judith Stitzel

Stitzel hopes the professorship challenges current professors to look critically at their own work and ask themselves how they might look include the perspectives of more women and the things important to them.

“Back then we were really discovering things about women’s contributions, women of different colors and ages, that were not part of the curriculum,” she said. “When I went to school, you could take a literature course about great literature, and there would be no women writers.”

This endowed professorship gets at the heart of that. Any professor from any department at any of WVU’s main and satellite campuses is eligible to apply.

That’s a stark change from when Stitzel went to school. She graduated from Barnard College, a private women’s college in New York, in 1961 with a degree in literature.

As she moved on in her career and began work on a master’s degree, her husband was recruited by WVU. Stitzel was a teaching assistant at the time. She said WVU hired her in the literature department as a favor of sorts to her husband — but she had to take a pay cut to take the position.

But even that was a vast improvement on Lyon’s time at WVU.

Women were first admitted to WVU in 1889, and Lyon’s family already had strong ties with the college. Her father was an original faculty member of the school, which was founded in 1867, and her brother-in-law was a faculty member and later went onto become president of the school.

Lyon transferred to WVU from Vassar College and finished a three-year program in two years at the top of her class.

When faculty and administrators were considering a name for the endowed professorship, some considered Stitzel’s name.

At her retirement party in 1998, she announced that when she died, she would donate enough money to the center to create and endowed professorship. She envisioned this position as a full-time professor within the center totally devoted to women’s and gender studies.

University administrators and students surely supported the program, but people come and go. So, too, do budgets. Stitzel worried at the time about the future of the program if funding for higher education were cut.

Then, not long ago, she had a slight change of heart.

“I don’t think I want to wait until I’m dead,” she said matter-of-factly. “If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to see any of the fruits of my labor.”

The endowment reward can be flexible depending on the application, but Stitzel said generally professors who apply and are given the endowment will received $10,000 and the department the professor comes from will also receive money.

To contribute to the endowment, send checks to the WVU Foundation at 1 Waterfront Place, P.O. Box 1650. For more information about the endowment, call Marnie Dacko at 304-293-4611.

See more form the Charleston Gazette-Mail

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