Interview with Joanne Frye

Dublin Core


Interview with Joanne Frye


Literature; Academic majors; Interdisciplinarity in education; Women's studies; Feminist studies; Feminism; Gender


This is an interview with retired Professor Joanne Frye. Joanne Frye was a founding force in the creation of the Women's Studies minor and later Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies discipline at the College of Wooster. Joanne talks about her experience with literature and her interest in feminism and Women's Studies. She talks about what the process of creating the Women's Studies discipline at Wooster and the challenges that were faced in creating this area of study at Wooster when there were few programs like it in America. Joanne also talks about the classes she taught, Virginia Woolf and her novel Biting The Moon.


Harris-Ridker, Matthew
Frye, Joanne






OHLA Undergraduate Fieldwork Fellow/Faculty Mentor Microgrant, College of Wooster Libraries


Presented with permission from Joanne Frye

In Copyright










South Bend; Wooster; San Diego

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Harris-Ridker, Matthew


Frye, Joanne


College of Wooster Digital Studio


Joanne Frye Interview

Edited by Matthew Harris-Ridker and Joanne Frye for clarity

[00:00:00] MHR: All right. I am here with Joanne Frye and it is May 30th [2018]. Hello Joanne.

[00:00:06] JF: Hello. 

[00:00:07 ]MHR: Thank you for being a part of this project. I'm very excited to talk to you. 

[00:00:11] JF: Good to talk to you too Matt.

[00:00:13] MHR: I'm going to start off by asking you, where are you from originally and how did you end up at the College of Wooster? 

[00:00:18] JF: I was born in South Bend, Indiana. After college I went to graduate school at Indiana University, finished my Ph.D. in 1974, divorced my then husband, had two small daughters and went on the job market in 1976. I got the job at the College of Wooster on a short-term basis in the English Department. It was a two-year appointment, and I was fortunate to end up making it my life career. 

[00:00:51] MHR: So what was your experience with Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies in your education? 

[00:00:57] JF: Well, there wasn't any.

[00:00:58]MHR: OK.

[00:01:00] JF: That's a place to start. I mean it wasn't really possible to have a background in Women's Studies when I was an undergraduate. I was an English major. There were very few women writers even taught in many of the courses that I took. I did my dissertation on Virginia Woolf and that became a path for me into Women's Studies in a somewhat indirect way. As you probably know, the first Women's Studies Program formalized in the US was at San Diego State in 1970. I was pretty much done with coursework of any kind by then.

[00:01:38] With a Ph.D. in English I found my way to feminism partly through literature and partly through life experience. I went from there in terms of my arrival at the College of Wooster. When I went through my divorce, I found myself very hungry to read other women writers. So I proposed—early on when I came here—a course then called “Major Fiction by Women.” That became a kind of focus point and a platform for me to develop in lots of different other interdisciplinary directions.

[00:02:15] MHR: So you're saying that the Women's Studies courses were just... or, like, the degree wasn't there when you were in school?

[00:02:22] JF: The courses weren't even there.

[00:02:24] MHR: Oh, the courses weren't even there. Yeah, that's what I was going to ask, if there were even, like, Women's Studies designed courses.

[00:02:30] JF: There was... nobody really had anything. Women's Studies was... was newly born, I guess, in the late 60s. But you had to have some courses before you could develop programs, which is how the program here worked. We might have a course occasionally in a Discipline that would focus on women in one way or another, or gender. Pretty much not sexuality—but lots of evolutions had to come before we got to where we are now in the Discipline.

[00:03:08] MHR: So can you tell me a little bit about how and why the Women's Studies program was created at The College of Wooster and how did the efforts to establish that program, sort of intersect, with other efforts? 

[00:03:24] JF: Where to start? 

[00:03:28] MHR: It’s a broad question.

[00:03:29] JF: It is! Maybe I'll break it into a couple of parts.

[00:03:33] Well, let me begin by paying tribute to two people you won't be able to interview who were really important in the early years of the program—people on the ground here at the college before I arrived in 1976. And those are Jim Turner, who was in the history Department and one of the founding members of the program, and Deb Hilty who had been in the English Department and became secretary to the president of the college. She did a lot of her groundbreaking work behind the scenes, in a way, as a part of the administration. She was often instrumental in shaping the kinds of speakers that might come to campus. She certainly was influential in guiding me to some writers and thinkers that I might have taken a little longer to come to, particularly and most centrally Adrienne Rich, who was, I think, one of the founding intellectual presences in our thinking about the Program—along with such classics as Simone de Beauvoir, and in my case Virginia Woolf, and in many people's cases Virginia Woolf also.

Deb Hilty taught a course within the English department called “Poetry by Women” that then became one of the very first courses that we had in the Program. Jim Turner had taught a course in the history Department and had developed a course on Women in Contemporary Society, which was the first interdisciplinary course. That was on the books when I came in 1976. Because I was also offering, within the English Department, a course on fiction by women, I was tapped as someone interested in these issues and appointed to the Committee on the Status of Women. It was then suggested that perhaps the next step would be to propose a Women's Studies minor.

I didn't know much. I had to learn a lot. [00:05:33] We had Women in Sport, Poetry by Women, Psychology of Women, Fiction by Women, Women's History, Women in Contemporary Society, and there was a course, then interdisciplinary, Sex Antagonism in Western Literature. So those seven courses—on the basis of that—we proposed to add a new course, a capstone course for a minor, then called Seminar in Women's Studies. With eight courses, we proposed a minor, which calls for six courses—for a student to take six courses—so you can tell it was pretty thin offerings. I was then chair of the Committee on the Status of Women, which brought the proposal. Therefore it was my task to argue it to the faculty. So we took that to the faculty and it was actually approved in January 1978. That was our first big step in formalizing what was not then yet really a Discipline anywhere—certainly not in the courses that we were proposing as part of the minor.

[00:06:36] MHR: It sounds like everyone who was a founding member of the Program was, sort of, learning along the way because there was nothing to base it on.

[00:06:42] JF: The first time we taught Seminar in Women's Studies, Jim Turner and I did it together, as an overload. We had no teaching credit for doing it. We had a handful of students. We met in Kittridge over lunch and mostly we had to use mimeographed materials. We did have The Second Sex, which became a very important text in my thinking about the Program and, you know, foundational in a lot of feminist thought despite all its flaws, which are many. So we just sort of looked around and said, "what is there?" And that's what we put together. And it was... it was exciting.

[00:07:19] We felt like we were doing something new even though, as your question implies, there were Programs developing similarly across the country—though each Program, in my view, was really marked by what the institutional character was. Wooster had some advantages. It had its interdisciplinary history, it had its independent study, it had an openness to curricular innovation. And those really enabled us to do what could only be done, at a small college like this, as a collaborative effort among Departments and individual faculty.

[00:07:56] MHR: So you're saying it started off as a minor originally. Were you a part of the process of it becoming a major?

[00:08:05] JF: You know, I can't emphasize enough how much it was all collaborative. At the same time I was there for all of the first part of the Program and served as the first chair of the Program once it was approved as a minor. I, for some years, was not in favor of a major because I didn't think we had the depth of resources and scholarship and foundational understandings to make it a major. So when people challenged even the minor to say, "well you know it's not really a Discipline," I shared some of that because we had a lot of work to do as scholars and thinkers and teachers and students and learners all together. But by 1988, ten years into the Program, people were more and more saying, "now there is the material! Now we should have a major!" So in 1988 [as part of the move toward a major], we celebrated 10 years of the Women's Studies Program and our keynote speaker was Adrienne Rich. 

[00:09:06] MHR:  Oh wow! 

[00:09:06] JF: One of my hidden secret most exciting moments was when I was working late one evening and the phone rang and it was Adrienne Rich calling to say yes she would come. It was... very thrilling. And, again, I credit Deb Hilty in many ways for her influence on my thinking. And then with Adrienne Rich, it [the celebration] just exploded. She added many important concepts and so much to my thinking and to the thinking of a lot of people in the field as it was developing. Then we had a lot of other important contributors [to the celebration]. Some of them were students at the college, but also the current editor of [00:09:43] "Signs," Jean O’Barr at that point. bell hooks came, [00:09:48] Zillah Eisenstein, Elizabeth Higginbotham  in sociology, [00:09:54] Marilyn Boxer, Gail Griffin.  This was a very exciting celebration—a day-long symposium of local contributors and then these national figures that we were able to get to come. We were thrilled, of course, to have the college give us some funding for that and we put a lot of work into making it happen. And that was a very exciting thing.  [Let me back up and give more background.] Before that—in 1985—we had finally actually gotten approval for the first half time position in what was then still Women's Studies. So that's the first time then I had an official title. I became that first chair and taught half-time the interdisciplinary segments as well as in my original field in English--and then did the curricular chairing and organizing. It took a lot of work—it still does—to organize all the cross-listed courses, to engage all the different people from all the different Departments and pull them away from what they see as their primary work. We were doing that at the beginning. It still goes on, as you've probably heard.

[00:11:02] So I was chair then officially as of 1985, having been sort of chair without appointment prior to that.  [Following the 1988 celebration], with the committee—again a collaborative effort—we then finally proposed the major and had it approved in January of 1989—eleven years after the minor. And majors were increasingly developing [around the country]. Universities, of course, had a great advantage in terms of the number of faculty they had, the number of access to different ways of thinking in appointments across the Disciplines, and so forth. But we had the advantage of the sort of "think on our feet" flexibility that we had at a small liberal arts college that was open to innovation. 

[00:11:46] MHR: It sounds exciting! 

[00:11:47] JF: It was exciting! Oh and one other thing that was interesting along the way before we actually got to the major. We had a number of students who did self-proposed majors under the college's guidelines for independent majors. We developed guidelines for those [self-designed majors] and those [guidelines] became the foundation for the major. So we went forward from that. The first two Women's Studies majors under this independent rubric graduated in 1986. One did an I.S. on female sexuality. One did an I.S. that was a feminist sourcebook for campus—already, sort of, seeing some of the directions the Program would need to keep evolving in terms of activism and in terms of sexuality studies. It was kind of interesting that those were the first two I.S.’s. And then we had another independent one on midwifery, another one that developed a high school curriculum. So, there was a range of interesting innovative work done even before we had the formal major.

[00:12:57] Those, of course, fed the energy to develop the actual major. By then we had more courses and continued to have a collaborative investment of many faculty. 

[00:13:07] MHR: Yeah, that's cool to hear that the self-designed majors by students were actually part of the organization of what the Program would become. So going off of the idea of students in the program, what was the popularity of the Program like in its early years?

[00:13:27] JF: There was good energy... pent up energy from students, such as the ones I mentioned already, who were craving—craving these understandings and craving academic affirmation of the things they wanted to know that had such an impact on their own lives and thinking. There was also some backlash, I guess, but not hostile backlash exactly. Trivialization, you know, "well then why don't we have men's studies?" And, you know, all the sort of usual diminishment of the kinds of things that we were doing. But I didn't feel that students were particularly resistant. Students, as you know, choose courses according to their interests, so the ones that were hostile stayed away. And probably students in the courses heard more from their peers outside the classroom over lunch in Lowry or wherever. And so they heard some resistance that way. And there were some grumblings among the faculty, but mostly it was pretty well received.  We did make a decision early on to make the Program premised more on conceptual understandings. And that meant that our commitment to the activist components lagged a bit.

[00:14:50] I would stand by that decision as a way to enable the intellectual maneuverability that was required to develop a new Discipline. And then to not make simple-minded applications from the way the world was, but rather to think about simultaneously the way the world is and the way we would like it to become in terms of social justice concerns. So, I would stand by the emphasis on epistemology and cognitive concerns and conceptual understandings even as I recognize the need for the applications—which Christa's been fabulous about emphasizing and bringing more to the fore, as others have been as well, but Christa in particular.

[00:15:36] MHR: So, I'm just curious because a few of the courses at Wooster, when I was talking to Christa we were talking about Queer Lives for instance. And the waitlist, she was saying, is, like, is sometimes as long as the class itself. So classes that were offered in the early years of the program, was there a problem of too many people being interested or was it hard to fill the classes?

[00:16:01] JF: Not so much like the long wait lists, though once something is relatively new then there's a sort of backlog of energy and interest of people waiting for it to happen (though Queer Lives has been around for a while now and still has that kind of pressure). It depends a lot, of course, on the cultural context. Feminism had a... still a lot of negative connotations at that point. And, you know, we go in and out of how we think about feminism. Some of us have seen feminism get co-opted to corporate talk, which we’re not that happy about. You know, we want to pull it back to its roots in social justice, including for all people with a focus on gender. Anyway, back to the popularity question, I wouldn't say with the same kind of resounding enthusiasm that you're talking about in numbers. [00:16:55] But the students that did come were markedly enthusiastic [and we did need to gradually add additional sections of the Introduction course].

[00:16:59] MHR: Ok. So to talk more about historical context at the time when the program was being created, what was the campus community like in regards to women's rights and LGBT rights when the program was created?

[00:17:12] JF: Well, the Women's Resource Center had been going on for a while and that was a place where women students, in particular, would go for books, conversation, programming. The academic branch sort of spun off of that and went in its own direction. The attention to LGBTQ... well obviously I mean a lot of people were not out. You know, closeting was more common than not, so one didn't even know. And for reasons of privacy, it's not like you go around asking.

[00:17:50] MHR: Of course.

[00:17:50] JF: And, so, you'd feel your way for what people's issues would be. And people were understandably apprehensive about coming out. Deb Hilty herself didn't come out till considerably later. I knew she was lesbian and I knew that she was a magnet for students who needed to have a comfort zone. She somehow knew how to make herself available to students without coming out. It was brilliant. I mean, she was amazing. And students are very alert. They somehow... I mean, as you know, you have your own networks and find a way. I hope that all of us in Women's Studies, regardless of our own sexual identities, were, you know, we were too I think safe zones and we had I.S.’s that would explore topics of sexuality. I had an I.S. [student] in English—he worked on homosocial relationships in D.H. Lawrence's novels. [00:18:52] He was gay. And I can't remember exactly when and how he came out, but he was editor of "The Voice" and he did a big, sort of, coming out kind of issue in which—I  don't think it was his own coming out—but  it's like "this is for our community" and that was fairly early on. It wasn't associated with Women's Studies per se, but clearly the environment of the campus had some connection to that. So we had a lot of, sort of underground, finding our way—all of us finding our way in a culture that was pretty marked by homophobia.

[00:19:28] MHR: Yeah. Very raw history.

[00:19:31] JF: It is. It totally is.

[00:19:35] MHR: So, you already talked about a lot of the struggles that you faced when trying to get the Program off the ground, like how there was really no example for how to do it. Not very many classes or faculty involved. But were there any other struggles that you, as well as the other founders, faced when trying to get the Program off the ground?

[00:19:58] JF: Ongoing dialogues with Departments. And I think this persists throughout the whole history of the program. Loyalties that faculty members need to have to their Discipline of origin and then also feel to the interdisciplinary work in Women's Studies/WGSS. And that's a tension. And that's always a tension. I mean, Women's Studies—WGSS—by definition, almost has to remain interdisciplinary both because of its intellectual needs and because, at a small college like this, you're just not going to be able to appoint enough faculty to approach all the different questions that need to be addressed in the curriculum. [00:20:40] So you really have to be able to draw people from other Departments. That struggle was early, middle, late. All the time.

[00:20:48] MHR: Yeah.

[00:20:49] JF: Though, of course, one of the great things was when Christa was hired as permanent Women's Studies faculty, even if half time. And that was a big accomplishment. Now the new position. That will be interesting to see how that develops, so...

[00:21:04 ] MHR: Yeah, I know right now the WGSS Department is on a search for a tenured professor. So, I'm very, very curious to see where that goes in the coming years. I think it's going to happen when I'm not at Wooster anymore, but I hope to, like, keep tabs on what’s happening. 

[00:21:21] JF: Sure, sure.

[00:21:22] MHR: I've seen personally how it can be difficult to have different professors coming in who are just temporary positions who bring in all their own interests. And then, I was talking with Christa about this, like how a student can get really attached to one professor, really interested in their research because that's what they're specialized in and then they leave before they can have them as their senior I.S. adviser.

[00:21:46] JF: That's right.

[00:21:47] MHR: So I am... I'm excited for this search going on.

[00:21:50] JF: You know, and even the leave program has problems there. I mean—there are students I still regret I couldn't work with because I was going on leave. But I couldn't make my own whole research pursuits be dependent on which students I wanted to work with. But... but it was sad not to be able—to approach a senior year when I knew I was going to be on leave and not be able to work with certain students who were... we had worked well together in earlier courses. Yeah, the temporary faculty—that's a big one.

[00:22:21] MHR: Yeah. So how have you seen the program change. I mean obviously there's been tons of change but what are some of the biggest changes you think you have seen from the early years and what the program is now? 

[00:22:38] JF: Well, not surprisingly, I don't feel very well versed in ability to talk about the current program. I'm aware of a lot of changes that took place during my years and then since my retirement. But the big things I think that developed over time and continue to develop are greater awareness of the diversity among women. We certainly hoped we weren't just talking about white women, but it was a lot of the way things came out in the ‘70s when we were starting the program. And we had to work hard on that. And students helped us with that too. We've always had trouble attracting—I think this is still the case—we don't have as many students of color take Women's Studies or WGSS as would be healthy for the program. That's something to continue to pay attention to. So that's one development: a greater awareness and an investment in antiracist thinking and in diverse resources as part of the program. Same with sexuality questions. A greater development of the resources, which of course has happened. Greater faculty presence, which has happened, but there's more to be done. And, of course, the curriculum there. At the beginning, so much of it felt like we were just opening up what we can discover about any of us in our lives and how gender has had an impact on how we think about things.

[00:24:10] And then it became clear we needed to remind ourselves to think about social justice for all people in their gendered lives and to make that a more central concern. So, that was a really important ongoing concern and emphasis. You know, when intersectionality became an important concept in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, that sort of facilitated some of the ways of thinking about that. And then what to do with activism, how to think about engagement in the process of actually making change in the communities we live in, as well as learning about how to think about that change. Now I'm of the view both are very important and need to be linked to each other but you don't have to be always doing both simultaneously because then you wear yourself out. So you, sort of, find your way, pause and think and figure out theoretically how things might work better, and then invest in making the changes you can. Some people learn a lot about theory by doing, also. So it can go the other direction. 

[00:25:25] MHR: Were you involved at all when the program changed from just Women's Studies to what's now Gender and Sexuality Studies? 

[00:25:32] JF: It's funny because people were making rumblings about change of a name for a long time when I was still chair. And then of course we had the rotating chair and then I came back as chair briefly because nobody was willing to do it so I did it briefly again in the early 2000s. And I didn't want to lose “women.” Some people wanted Gender Studies. I was very opposed to Gender Studies. I was fearful we would lose women as a focus. And I just thought that was still too important.

[00:26:04] I would have been in favor of Feminist Studies, Feminist Gender Studies, something like that. That would have been probably my preference. But Feminist was seen to be a loaded term. In any case, they did it when I was on leave. So, I mean, I think it was going to happen. And, you know, the concepts are the important thing. And WGSS seems to be working now. And so I affirm that. It's probably not what I would have chosen. It's clearly not what I would have chosen at the time. I wanted feminist in there. But anyway—that's how that happened. It was contentious but not hostile.

[00:26:46] MHR: Did it seem like it was always gonna become more than just Women's Studies? Was that a thought that you and other people who sort of created the program... was that ever a thought in your head when it was first created?

[00:27:00] JF:  No, not at the beginning. At the beginning it was like—we haven't been thinking about women in the academic programs that we're aware of and we need to think about women. And it was sort of just there as a baseline thing. Very quickly we became aware of all the things that opens up in terms of human diversity across sexualities and cultures and religions and races and all the different classes. All the different ways humans are diverse. So, we became rather quickly aware that that opened on to a lot of things. But it took quite a while till it became an issue of title or how to label it all. And of course labels keep eluding what we really mean. So it's an ongoing question I think. But, WGSS is working I think. Is it working for students do you feel?

[00:27:53] MHR: I think the name definitely encapsulates what we're learning and what the goals are from the degree. I'm curious to see if a name change will ever come again to something like Feminist Studies. Because I think today, in my opinion, Feminist is not such a controversial term.

[00:28:11] JF: Right, right.

[00:28:12] MHR: So I'm very curious to see if that is ever going to become part of the name.

[00:28:17] JF: I would still love to see it be part of the name but I would also love that to be accompanied by the reminder that feminist isn't just about me getting my own: "If you're a woman and you want equal rights then you're a feminist." I don't really buy that. I think if you're a feminist you care about social justice for all people. And so I would like that to be evident somehow in the definition of feminist. I would love to see that in the program title. 

[00:28:49] MHR: Me and Dr. Craven, because she was... or she asked me what I would like to see in the program and I was talking about I'd be interested if there could be, sort of like a general education requirement, like a Feminist or Social Justice, like, requirement.

[00:29:06] JF: And we've had that conversation over the years: having a required course [drawn from courses emphasizing social justice]. And of course, you know, Black Studies grew up right alongside, now Africana Studies, grew up right alongside Women's Studies and in the best of times nourished each other but at times seemed to be at risk for competing for limited resources, which is horrible. You know, I hate that thought. It never should be that way. But a lot of the conversation was: can we make FYS into such a [social justice] course?

[00:29:39] There were experiments with that: can we require from a list of courses among these programs that are available. Many people who teach in such programs are not thrilled about students there because they have to be there. It's much harder to teach a course where you have a mix of students who are passionate about wanting to learn it and students who are hostile to it and resistant to the thought that they are being made to do something. So there are those questions. And they've been part of that discussion a long time. Another part of the discussion was, early on, how much do we want a separate program and how much do we want to mainstream the topics. And, of course, both/and has to be, in my view, the only way to go. I think it has happened but it's bumpy.

[00:30:32] MHR: Yeah I think it's also interesting to think about how WGSS has sort of gone into other programs with all the cross-listed classes we have now. So we have, like, a bunch of, like, Women in the Political Sphere, Women in Music, Women Psychology. So, I think that's interesting to see how it sort of becomes a part of all these different areas of study. So... 

[00:31:02] JF: But it's useful to remember that in many ways the programs started from just those kinds of courses.

[00:31:07] MHR: Exactly.

[00:31:07] JF: Before we had the organizational structure. So they feed each other in the best of times. And, you know, one of the things you as a student probably know more about than I do: the need to do your best to have foundational concepts in each of these courses but not to have it be redundant for those who have gone from one course to another. You know, "oh again I'm going to learn these basic concepts," but there are people who haven't learned them yet.

[00:31:37] MHR: Yeah.

[00:31:37] JF: So those are parts of an interdisciplinary structure that are to be negotiated.

[00:31:43] MHR: Yeah that's what I like a lot about WGSS is I feel like it's relevant to, like, everything. It's very interdisciplinary. So, a question that just popped into my head was did you have a favorite class you taught within the WGSS Discipline and what were some of the main objectives you wanted students to come out of that class with?

[00:32:07] JF: I actually loved doing seminar because—and I would tell students this in the beginning... first of all I was instrumental in making it ungraded because I don't like grades.

 [00:32:17] MHR: Yeah.

[00:32:18] JF: But I would say, "this is a course where you all do have a foundation we can take for granted. You're all serious about the work. We expect responsibility from all of you. And we're going to go with the questions that don't have answers and really wrestle with them." And I really enjoyed that. And it was often difficult because people come from such different places and they aren't always ready to do that and some people hated having no grades and all of that as well. So I won't say it was utopian but I really enjoyed both working with the structure of the course and then working with the students in the course.

Then a course I haven't mentioned—and I'm sad I don't think it persisted; it must have been just my course—“Feminist Perspectives on Motherhood.” It was not a motherhood course. [00:33:10] I would insist that it was feminist perspectives on motherhood, which involved thinking about how we gender parenting, how we think about gender through the reproductive knot, what we do to disentangle this knot if we want social justice for all people regardless of all those constraints. I really loved developing that course. That was very important to me—and hard work, really hard work. And the reading load was... well just ask the students who were in there. I loved doing that course.

In the English Department I loved doing the Virginia Woolf course, which was sort of my origin in my ongoing passion because she just ends up making you ask a lot of questions and I'm fully committed to the idea that questions are where we have to be. Not answers so much. I mean obviously you want answers but not ready-made answers. You want to keep pushing hard, but always ask the next hard question. That's my mantra.

[00:34:12] MHR: Do you have a favorite Virginia Woolf book? 

[00:34:14] JF: For WGSS, Three Guineas. For literature, and also gender thinking, To The Lighthouse.

 [00:34:26] MHR: I'll have to add those to my list!

[00:34:27] JF: Yes, do! I recommend!

[00:34:27] MHR: Awesome! So speaking of literature, I read a little bit of your memoir, Biting the Moon. I wanted to just ask you to talk a little about your experience with writing the memoir as well as some of the things that are most influential to your experience.

[00:34:46] JF: As I just said about teaching, I think it holds true in writing as well. You need questions. You start with questions, you pursue questions, you ask hard questions. You don't go for easy answers. So I had a backlog of questions.

[00:35:04] My first book had been a book of literary criticism about contemporary women novelists using first person voice for women to tell their own stories. So I was thinking about the way in which claiming agency in a narrative form was important. That was my first book. And my second book was on Tillie Olsen, who was also a very major presence in my intellectual life, and I got to know her quite well and did interviews with her and so forth. And she pushed me that much harder to think about probing the role of class and all kinds of things—the way history plays out in people's lives—poverty, racism. And motherhood. And I was doing the Feminist Perspectives on Motherhood course and I was doing independent studies with English majors about writing narratives. So all of those things converged in my saying: "wait a minute. I have all these questions. They come from my life. They come from my life as a single mother, from my life as an academic, as a person committed to literary understandings. How do I think about feminism and motherhood together through my life?" So that was the trajectory that got me to that book. It took me a long time even to get to think I was going to write it and then it took me a long time to write it. But it was question driven and I went in trying to figure some things out.

[00:36:43] MHR: Very nice, yeah. I really enjoyed the little bit I read!

[00:36:47] JF: The section on the development of the program?

[00:36:51] MHR: Yeah!

[00:36:51] JF: It was fun to be able to reflect on the importance that had, personally, for me in the work and in the program.

 [00:37:00] MHR: So I guess the final question I have is there anything you learned through the experience of being a professor in the Women's Studies Department or being a part of getting the program off the ground?

[00:37:13] JF: Be ready for change. Keep asking questions. Keep learning from whoever's around you and read with great hunger to understand.

[00:37:28] MHR: Good answer! All right, those are all the questions I have but I wanted to just ask you if you have anything else you want to add or say.

[00:37:36] JF: This doesn't fit at this point exactly, but you had asked early on, and then I ended up not really addressing it so much, the national context. And I did want to mention the development of the National Women's Studies Association, about the time we developed the minor in the 1970s. And the GLCA  [Great Lakes Colleges Association] had the Women's Studies group, and many of us served as representatives on that. We learned from colleagues in other like institutions, which was very helpful. Many of the voices would be university voices, whereas the GLCA ones would be more from a liberal arts context. And so you'd learn from everybody. And I came, among other things, to really value the institutional context at Wooster with the way in which I.S. and interdisciplinary work and... and openness to change had enabled us to develop Women's Studies here. And WGSS.

[00:38:32] MHR: The historical context of the time you're talking about is kind of fascinating to me who has this rich resources of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies and at the time it was really getting off the ground. So it's very interesting to hear your perspective. I feel like we covered so much in 45 minutes! And then there's probably so much more to say but thank you so much for being a part of this.

[00:38:59] JF: My pleasure. Thank you, Matt, for doing this project.


Original Format






Harris-Ridker, Matthew and Frye, Joanne, “Interview with Joanne Frye,” WGSS at Wooster: Past, Present, and Future , accessed May 24, 2024,