By Mary Zirin
Our association has its roots in events that took place late in 1986. The Slavic Women's Studies Newsletter first came out in December of that year. It was an outgrowth of the Women's Seminar (now called a Discussion Group) that Marcelline Hutton organized in 1982 at the Summer Research Laboratory, sponsored by the Russian and East European Center of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 1983 Birgitta Ingemanson and I co-coordinated the seminar session, and I ran it in 1984 and 1985. When I could not attend in 1986, Bette Fox (Eastern Kentucky University) took over.
Afterward, she wrote a report on the session, in which she said that the group had decided that they needed a newsletter -- and I took that as a hint. I planned on putting out two issues a year, in May and November. The first issue (all of five far from crammed pages!) was sent to everyone who had contributed to the seminar in the past and to scholars in a broad range of disciplines whom I knew to be working on gendered topics. It was oriented toward literature, since that is my field, and included an announcement of what eventually became the Dictionary of Russian Women Writers that Marina Ledkovsky, Charlotte Rosenthal, and I published in 1994. The bibliography included Barbara Heldt's Terrible Perfection and Iulia Voznesenskaia's Women's Decameron.
The first number was dedicated to "the growing and enthusiastic network of scholars studying various aspects of women's lives and history in countries now under the Soviet 'sphere of influence'." How growing and how enthusiastic I couldn't have imagined!
The second issue of the newsletter, May 1987, first used the rubric Women East-West. Instead of a dash, the heading had an arrow pointing from West to East, and that generated discussion of what our mission actually was. Eventually the arrow was replaced by one pointing both ways and then disappeared: our goal is interchange, not one-way influence. On the front page WEW carried a report on the roundtable "Retrieving Russia's Women: Methodological Problems, Perspectives, and Strategies," held at the November 1986 AAASS conference in New Orleans. Participants were: Barbara Norton (chair), Barbara Clements, Ruth Dudgeon, Barbara Engel, and Rochelle Ruthchild. Barbara Engel reported to WEW that the gathering "drew thirty people, whose interest in the subject matter was exceeded only by their desire to continue to meet and exchange ideas.
“The interest in Women's Studies in Russia, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was sufficiently great that we decided that we needed an ongoing forum. As a result, those present decided to form a Women's Studies Caucus to meet annually at the Convention of the American Association for Slavic Studies." The group also decided to arrange a luncheon and try to set up childcare facilities at the convention. Initiatives to "attempt to make Soviet archives more sensitive to and aware of women's studies as a field" were also discussed. The creation of a data bank of scholars interested in the field was suggested. People wishing to join the caucus were invited to get in touch with Rochelle; perhaps sometime she will tell us what she remembers about the response. That same issue also included Diane Nemec Ignashev's request for expressions of interest in a women's caucus for AATSEEL to meet at their national convention in December 1987. It was clear that the time was ripe for creation of a network of women in Slavic Studies and their supporters.
The AWSS website aims to serve as an up-to-date, functional resource for those interested in women's issues as they pertain to Slavic and East European cultures. It also serves as a tool for networking with other members.
Janelle Reichman of Ellanyze designed and created the current website, launched in 2018.
Rebecca Sweeton served as the webmistress from 2004 through 2017.
Susan Olson reformatted and maintained the site from 1997-1998, after which Sibelan Forrester (1998-2001) and Cheri Wilson (2001-2004) generously served as AWSS webmistresses.
The first iteration of the AWSS website was created by Sibelan Forrester (Swarthmore College) in 1995.