A Herstory of the Tufts Women's Center

Out of the Ashes: A Herstory of the Tufts Women’s Center

Women Centered, March 16, 1981, page 4
By Fern Ellen Greenberg

In the past ten years, Tufts women have been gathering to effect social change on behalf of all women. The early years were marked by one-issue lobbying groups of fleeting coherence. The Tufts Women’s Center, as we know it today, was founded in 1973. The end goals of the center have remained the same over time: to eradicate discrimination, to claim control over our bodies and lives, to challenge the patriarchal power structure, to educate ourselves, and to support and celebrate our achievements. The means to attain these ends however, have changed in response to changes in social events, attitudes and student involvement.

In the Beginning

In 1971, the Jackson-Tufts Committee for the Dignity of Women was formed to protest a striptease sponsored by Delta Upsilon. The Committee also hoped to obtain a full-time gynecologist of Health Services --but to no avail. Following this brief excursion into the political fray of “women’s liberation” politics, came a more structured group, again primarily devoted to one issue: abortion legalization. Early in 1972, parallel activities opened the doors of the first Women’s Center and established a Tufts chapter of the National Abortion Action Coalition (WoNACC).

Steering Committee members of the Tufts Abortion Action Coalition (TUACC) Mopsy Matthews, Aleen Rothschild, and Marsha Star, among others set up the Women’s center to “increase the awareness of women’s plight in America” (Observer 2/15/72). These women set up shop temporarily in a Miller basement room. They had three main areas of concern: circulation of information, skills training and consciousness raising. Programming to implement these aims included films, plays, crafts and the organization of a resource library. Also envisioned at this time was the position of a Health and Sexuality (H&S) counselor. Political lobbying was a concern of the TUAAC which united with the WoNAAC to demand the repeal of all anti-abortion laws, restrictive contraception laws, and forced sterilization. But as abortion and contraception became more available and the semester came to an end, unifying forces fell away. This group, too, “quietly disappeared”  (Observer 9/20/74)


Finally in 1973 members of the ExCollege Course “Drama of Rebellion” decided it was time to establish a more enduring, service-oriented organization. Ellen Sussman, Sue Klavens, Gail Koplow, and Marsha Star were among those who planned strategy. The Senate was successfully petitioned for funding and a location. By April 1974 the Tufts Women’s Center opened in Curtis Hall with a part-time coordinator and H&S counselor.

Collectively, as an alternative to the traditional power structure was now instituted at the Center. Political theory as practice was added to the previously mentioned aims of CR, skills training, and health, legal aid, and career information. Open collective meetings allow all interested women the opportunity to share ideas about Center policy and planning. These meetings also operate as a kind of support group. Women give and receive feedback; participants empower each other to organize programs of their own; and last but not least, women meet socially to share and be with each other. This alone does much to counteract the feelings of self-doubt, helplessness, and frustration engendered by isolation. “We want to make all women feel good about themselves as women, “ stated Gail Koplow, one original founder of the Center. This was the central goal of the Center organizers and is as true today as it was then. A burst of programming in the following two years attests to devotion to this theme. H&S counselors conducted Dorm Talks and counseling sessions to educate students. “Mirage,” a ½ hour radio show spread women’s issues and music over the airwaves. Film series were popular and exceptionally effective in educating women about our cultural heritage and political rights. A resource library began finally to grow. And lectures, performances, seminars, discussion groups, and workshops (often in conjunction with other interest groups) were held frequently. A yearly literary magazine was published to give women a forum for creative impulses. The Women’s Community School began its first semester in January 1976. The school combined skills development with community outreach and was a culmination of exhaustive work by Center women such as Sarah Axelrod, Ronnie Sanders, and Trudy Albinger. Its overwhelming success brought financial independence to the school. And while it still operates under the auspices of, and is located in the Women’s Center, the community school is a self-sufficient organization.

Some of the most important results of this activism are the organizational skills learned “on the job.” For many women, getting involved in the Center is one very useful way to learn program leadership, support group facilitation, budget writing, etc. I myself, learned editing, layout, paste-up, publicity and other skills through participation in the literary magazine, Out of the Ashes.

A Blue Funk

Sometime around 1977 the effects of a shift in attitude were felt on campus. Center organization had radical origins. Early activity attracted many students interested in confronting the administration. Women’s Center organizers originally wanted total control over programming and services. Soon, however, it became apparent that the University, too, needed to be accountable to women’s needs. Thus the Center moved toward a greater lobbying role.

No longer was there an adversary relationship with the administration. In 1977-78 the H&S position was funded by Health Services. The two-year Mellon Grant attempted to provide role models for women on campus. This change in attitude coupled with growing political apathy caused a severe decrease in student participation. April 1977 brought a fire to Curtis Hall which caused losses to many organizations. The Women’s Center was forced to relocate to smaller quarters next to the Bookstore, now the safety office. In 1978-79 the Senate withdrew funding for the coordinator position and students attempted to fill the gap. Center involvement experienced a Blue Funk at this time. Leadership of the Center lost direction and this combined with student indifference and uncertainty created a vacuum wherein little progress could be achieved.


In September 1979 Gail Koplow returned as part-time coordinator and reconstruction work began. To help prevent recurrence of such loss of participation, Center leadership sought to increase its base of supporters. This was also an organizing tool to broaden the focus of Center activities and involve a larger diversity of women.

Slowly the Center has increased its lobbying and coordination role on campus along with continued programming. Over the years it has provided impetus and support for many splinter groups: Tufts Women Employers, Women’s Community School, Women Outdoors. The Center’s own programming seems to be attracting more support from women at all levels of interest. The H&S counselor needs full time status to fulfill the need for training groups, education, counseling time. There is opportunity for work/study and internship involvement. Recently , support group training graduated facilitators ready to lead groups of their own. The radio show “Something About the Women” is now four hours long and can be heard Saturday mornings. Weekly forums provide an ongoing series of events. The yearly Women’s Week Celebration offers a concentrated smorgasbord of activities to commemorate the achievements in the struggle for enlightenment. Center members attend many women’s issues conventions such as recent ones exploring Women & Racism, and American Women in Psychology.

Today, the Center has a solid legacy of commitment. The future, as always, is uncertain. Without student input and directed leadership the Center may again face insecure times. But since its founding in 1973, the Women’s Center has and will continue to provide needed services on the campus to educate, train, empower, support, and celebrate the individuality of all women.