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Jean Ward - 42 Years of Positive Feminism

August 11, 2006

When Jean Ward joined the undergraduate faculty of Lewis & Clark in 1964, the College had no gender studies program, no related symposium, no affirmative action or sexual harassment policies, and no critical mass of women faculty. By the time she retired in spring 2006, 42 years later, all of those elements were firmly in place.

Ward, professor of communication and a founder and director of both the Gender Studies Program and the Gender Studies symposium, was a key player in making these accomplishments a reality.

“It’s no coincidence that at the age of 18 she hopped a train from Portland to Seattle to audition for the film role of Joan of Arc,” says Deborah Heath, associate professor of anthropology. “Jean has the heart of a crusader.”

Ward joined the College in the mid-1960s to coach debate and teach speech. She and Neil Sabin, professor of communication (now deceased), were the only two faculty in the then speech department, which had recently separated from theatre. Ward notes that women debate coaches were rare in that era and that to compete in some contests, women debaters were required to have male partners.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Ward says she experienced an “awakening” to issues of gender. “I felt a need to restore women to their place,” Ward says, “to tell the stories that hadn’t been told.” 

Ward shared her story–and helped students give voice to their own–through her long history with the College. During her tenure, she rose from instructor to professor, directed forensics, served as an assistant and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, directed Inventing America, and chaired the communication department. She also directed the Gender Studies Program for 16 years and the symposium for seven.

“Jean is an extraordinary person,” says Jane Hunter, professor of history. “She brought to the Gender Studies Program the sharp analysis of the post-1970s women’s movement, along with the generosity of spirit, inclusiveness, and warmth often associated with the best of more traditional women’s culture.”

Ward’s former students agree. She is often described as “a role model,” “an inspiration,” or “the person who helped me find my voice.”

Throughout her career, Ward has demonstrated how feminism can be a positive, constructive force in the lives of both women and men. “Jean’s feminism is a ‘pro-humanity’ feminism,” says Hunter. “She sees the ways feminist ideas can lead to better lives and greater fulfillment for everyone.”

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