Gender Studies at the Library
The University of Waterloo’s Special Collections & Archives opened in 1976 with its foundational collection: the Lady Aberdeen Memorial Library, showcasing the history of women. It had been donated several years earlier to the Arts Library (now known as Dana Porter Library) under the stewardship of Doris Lewis, Waterloo’s first University Librarian.
The collection was donated by the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC), a non-partisan federation of women’s organizations aimed at social reform and suffrage, and named in honour of their first president, Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair (1857-1939), in commemoration of the contributions she made to the lives of women.
Gender Studies at Waterloo
The donation of the Lady Aberdeen Collection marked a milestone in gender studies at Waterloo, which already had a growing number of courses, faculty and resources focused on the study of women. Teaching, learning and research related to what is today called Gender Studies is both long-standing and an area in which Waterloo has played a defining role in the development of related scholarship in Canada.
This history of Gender Studies at Waterloo can partially be understood by looking at the archival records and collections related to the history of the University, such as undergraduate course calendars and other administrative records. Doing so provides concrete evidence about how gender and related topics have been discussed and taught over time as more precise and nuanced language has been established.
Since its establishment, SCA has actively collected and maintained items related to women, gender and sexuality. Highlights include gay pulp fiction books from the 1940-50s, zines and periodicals produced by equity seeking communities, and records and publications from our campus community, such as The Glow Centre newsletters.
Why This Exhibit, Now?
On June 28, 2023 a Waterloo professor and two students were injured in a hate-motivated attack during a class examining gender. The attack occurred in a climate of increasingly aggressive rhetoric in the public arena rooted in bias against transgender and gender non-conforming communities.
Gender-based attacks often coincide with moral panics about societal change. The visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming communities has recently led to hostility against public libraries for hosting drag story-time and the banning of books that center 2SLGBTQIA+ characters and experiences.
Over time, similar punitive actions have been launched in response to campaigns to advance the vote for women, desegregation in schools and public spaces, same-sex marriage, and Land Back activism. The sentiment behind these responses is often tied to the belief that something perceived as new or different is a threat when it has, instead, always been present but talked about in different or less immediately visible ways.
Drawing on SCA’s holdings, the exhibit Gender Studies Isn’t New now on display in Dana Porter’s first floor, features archival records that reflect the persistence of gender-based study, research and activities over time. New and longer-term acquisitions are featured as a way of disrupting the notion that the questioning and examination of gender in our daily lives is a new or unique phenomenon. To learn more about this exhibit and SCA’s collections related to Gender Studies, read the SCA’s blog post.