As the 1970s opened, Brown University, like many U.S. college campuses, was in a state of transition and, often, turmoil. Of the many forces that reshaped the university in those years, few were as transformative as the women’s movement and the feminist activism unleashed by it.
During the spring of 1974, a promising young assistant professor named Louise Lamphere was denied tenure in Brown’s Anthropology Department. Believing that she was a victim of sex discrimination, Lamphere boldly challenged the university. In May of 1975, she filed suit against Brown in U.S. District Court, arguing both that she had been discriminated against and that the small number of women on the Brown faculty at the time reflected systemic bias. Her suit became a landmark class action case.
While the case was settled before the charge of sex discrimination was decided, in 1977 the university entered into a consent decree that bound Brown to undertake fundamental changes to foster the hiring, promotion and tenuring of female faculty members in every discipline – revisions that, over time, changed the face of the university.