We Owe a Lot to Florence Howe, the Feminist Who Made Women's Studies an Academic Discipline

We Owe a Lot to Florence Howe, the Feminist Who Made Women's Studies an Academic Discipline
Screenshot:The Feminist Press (Fair Use)

Florence Howe, a founder of women’s studies and a champion of women’s writing, has died at 91 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017, the New York Times reports.

Howe, who was born in Brooklyn, attended Hunter College and then Smith, where she received a master’s degree in English. She went on to become a professor at Goucher College in the 1960s, and it was there that she realized that there was a dearth of published feminist scholarship available to teach her students. When Howe brought up the problem to publishers, proposing that they publish materials for feminist studies, they told her it was a good idea—but publishing women wouldn’t exactly be a boon for sales. When she came home frustrated and discouraged, her husband suggested she start her own small publishing house, and the Feminist Press was born.

Howe founded the press in 1970, which began as a group of about a dozen women who lived in the Baltimore area. That same year, she was appointed chair of the Modern Language Association’s Commission on the Status and Education of Women in the Profession, where she got the opportunity to argue for making the study of women’s literature and scholarship an academic discipline.

The women’s liberation movement took off, and so did women’s studies, as well as the demand for women’s writing. The Feminist Press eventually published some of the most well-known feminist thinkers and writers of our time, including Zora Neale Hurston, Grace Paley, Alice Walker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Willa Cather.

“We owe her a tremendous debt for her unending devotion to championing marginalized voices and diversifying the publishing industry for over half a century,” Jamia Wilson, the executive director of the Feminist Press, wrote in a statement confirming Howe’s death. “Thanks to Florence, I was born into a world where I could always recognize myself within the books on FP’s list. “

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