WCML History

Founded in 1969, the WCML’s purpose, according to its Bylaws, is “to promote study and research in the status of women in modern languages, to elevate the position of women in the modern languages, and to further the common interest of women in modern languages.” Our stated mission is “to focus on professional issues of concern to women and to provide a forum and support network for women in the MLA.

Our primary activities continue to be:

a) Organizing panels pertaining to feminist themes at annual MLA conventions, in addition to sponsoring a cash bar and business meeting.

b) Reviewing submissions and nominations and presenting two annual Florence Howe Awards for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship ($250), one for an essay in English Studies and one for an essay in a foreign language. Recipients are announced at the annual MLA Convention. (We began to bestow two awards in 2003 in order to better represent the diverse scholarship of our members.)

c) Reviewing submissions and nominations and presenting the Annette Kolodny Award ($400) to a graduate student member of the WCML scheduled to deliver a paper at the MLA Annual Convention. The Graduate Student Travel Award was renamed at the 2004 WCML business meeting to honor Kolodny for her groundbreaking work in women’s studies.

d) Maintaining close relations with the Division on Women’s Studies, the Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, Women in French, Women in German, Feministas Unidas, the Gay and Lesbian Caucus, the Graduate Student Caucus, and the regional caucuses of the MLA.

In 2006, the WCML published a new essay collection, Diversifying the Discourse: The Florence Howe Award for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship, 1990-2004, edited by Mihoko Suzuki and Roseanna Dufault. This volume includes award-winning essays since 1990, along with reflective postscripts written by each award winner. It also includes a foreword by Annette Kolodny, an early recipient of the Florence Howe award. The essays address a wide range of topics, including gender and race, through research on English and American (including Native American) women authors, authors from Spain, Mexico, and Algeria, various filmmakers, and theorists. Two recent recipients, Abigail Coykendall and Alison Rice, were graduate students in English and French, respectively, at the time of their awards. A follow-up volume of collected Florence Howe Award essays is currently in the discussion phase.

Our organization enjoys a long-standing commitment and close association with its founding members. For example, in 2011, Florence Howe, founder and publisher of the Feminist Press, was honored at the WCML Cash Bar on the press’s 40th anniversary and upon the publication of her autobiography, A Life in Motion. In 2004, Annette Kolodny spoke in an MLA session organized by First Vice President Shirley Geok-lin Lim (“Dancing Past the Mine Fields: Thirty Years After the Florence Howe Award”).

In perusing the session titles and paper topics, it is clear that the WCML has sought specifically to address various subgroups of our constituency, including graduate students, part-time instructors, and department chairs, and to provide a forum for discussion of numerous important issues for women in academe. Most recently, WCML panels have focused on issues germane to contemporary feminist scholarship, namely transnational feminisms and human rights. In 2009, the WCML panel “Transnational Feminisms” featured prominent postcolonial feminist scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Columbia U.) as Respondent. We had over 80 colleagues in attendance for this panel. In 2011, WCML panel “Gendered Evidence: Ethics and Human Rights” was highlighted in MLA President Sidonie Smith’s “Narrating Lives” brochure, which listed sessions devoted to the 2011 Presidential Forum theme. Our cash bars have been co-sponsored with groups including Women in French, Women in German, and Feministas Unidas. These occasions have been consistently stimulating and useful in bringing together our constituents and renewing our commitment.