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Records of the New York Women's Anthropology Caucus

Call Number



1972-2002, inclusive


New York Women's Anthropology Caucus


3 Linear Feet in 5 manuscript boxes and 1 flat box.
16 audiocassettes
16 sound discs (cd)

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


The Records of the New York Women's Anthropology Caucus document the founding and activities of a group of female anthropologists and anthropology students who were active in the New York City and international feminist movements. They were focused on women's rights and were an official non-governmental organization in the United Nations and were active from the 1970s to the 2000s. The records include meeting minutes, newsletters, correspondences, membership lists, funding proposals, scholarly papers, photographs, cassette tapes, and compact discs. Materials date from 1972 to 2002.

History of the New York Women's Anthropology Caucus

In 1972 the New York Women's Anthropology Caucus was formed by a group of women anthropologists who felt the need to examine critically anthropological writings from a feminist perspective, to encourage new research, and to identify and challenge the sexist academic practices that women students and professionals faced. Founding members were Eleanor Leacock, Ruby Rohrlich-Leavitt, and Constance Sutton. In November 1974 the group changed its name to the New York Women's Anthropology Conference (NYWAC) and became an official not-for-profit organization registered in the state of New York. At NYWAC meetings, held every second Friday during the academic year, women anthropology graduate students came together with more established women anthropologists to share their scholarly work and listen to a wide range of invited speakers. This group of about 25 to 40 women anthropologists meet originally at Columbia University's International House and then at the CUNY Graduate Center. NYWAC arose to fill the gap between intimate feminist anthropologist consciousness-raising groups, such as the Ruth Benedict Collective, and the more impersonal large-scale feminist associations that were emerging.

NYWAC served as both an educational forum and professional academic service for members. Meetings were devoted to discussing papers, courses, current ideas, employment opportunities, affirmative action, and the experience of women in the academy. It was an arena for disseminating anthropological information inflected with feminist concerns. Members addressed the critiques of feminist anthropologists concerning past anthropological writings and examined new feminist writings. A central aim of NYWAC from its first meeting forward was to offer an analysis from their distinct perspective as women. NYWAC worked to bridge the gap between activism and academia through their support of women workers who were on strike to demand better working conditions around New York. NYWAC crossed age and status lines in its membership which consisted of women anthropologists who held academic appointments, women working in "applied fields," and women graduate students.

NYWAC meetings were an important resource for younger scholars looking to navigate their way through the often biased world of the academy. Meeting agendas included discussions of the ethics of field research, the academic interview experience, and the ground-breaking courses NYWAC members were teaching on women. Together NYWAC members planned important panels on women and gender at the yearly American Anthropological Association meetings. In addition to being an important scholarly and professional network, NYWAC served as a social contact network to integrate professional and recreational activities through parties and informal gatherings.

Increasingly as the international aspects of the women's movement gained ascendancy and as more women anthropologists engaged in field research around the world, NYWAC turned its focus to the international arena. NYWAC renamed itself the International Women's Anthropology Conference (IWAC) in May 1976. In 1982 IWAC sought and achieved status as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in consultative status with the United Nation's Economic and Social Council. Through this relationship it has had continued access to activities, conferences, and programs of the United Nations and has brought together an international network of anthropologists interested in research on women informed by a cross-cultural perspective. IWAC sought to influence international policies concerning women from its unique anthropological perspective. IWAC became involved in organizing activities related to the End of the Decade UN World Conference on Women held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985. This prompted members to publish the first issue of a series of fifteen newsletters to promote of an international exchange of data, research, and feminist perspectives among women anthropologist and those in related fields.

IWAC Newsletters spanned the years 1982 through 1995. Through the newsletter IWAC engaged in the exchange of information among its dispersed members concerning current research, women's projects, women's collective actions, and new publications. Issue number six of the IWAC Newsletter is devoted to reports on IWAC activities at the Forum '85 Nairobi Conference. A report on IWAC activities at the Beijing '95 Forum can be found in Voices, the Newsletter of the Association of Feminist Anthropologists of the American Anthropological Association. In addition, IWAC published two bulletins summarizing papers and discussions from their Wenner-Gren conference concerning a decade of women's collective action, 1975-1985, held in Mijas, Spain, in 1985, and from their panel on "Practicing Feminist Anthropology" organized for the International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women held in New York in 1990. Together with the Association for Feminist Anthropology, IWAC published two collections edited by Constance R. Sutton, From Labrador to Samoa: The Theory and Practice of Eleanor Burke Leacock (1993) and Feminism, Nationalism, and Militarism (1995) .

IWAC's work in the international arena was diverse. IWAC members Mona Etienne and Eleanor Leacock brought together an international group of women anthropologists to write about the changes in women's roles and status following European colonization. They published 12 case studies in the book entitled Women and Colonization: Anthropological Perspectives (1980). IWAC members Leela Dube, Eleanor Leacock, and Shirley Ardener edited a collection of international contributions entitled Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development (1986).

IWAC was led by an international Board of Directors composed of five officers and six members-at-large, each of the latter form a different country. At its height, IWAC claimed 500 members, half of whom were from Africa, Asia, the South Pacific, the Caribbean, and South America. The remaining members were from North America and Europe.

Members of IWAC's Board of Directors organized two Wenner-Gren Conferences. The first took place in August of 1980 at the Burg Wartenstein Conference Center, Austria. Organized by Eleanor Leacock and Helen Safa on the topic of "The Sexual Division of Labor, Development, and Women's Status," it marked the first all-women Wenner-Gren Conference with women scholars from around the world participating.

In November 1985, IWAC members Constance Sutton and Helen Safa organized a conference on "A Decade of Women's Collective Action: Anthropological Perspectives" in Mijas, Spain. This conference was also sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. See IWAC Bulletin #1 for conference presentations and discussions.

Both NYWAC and IWAC were run on a voluntary basis with very limited financial support from the institutions to which various executive committee members were connected. However, the Wenner-Gren Foundation provided crucial financial support in enabling IWAC members to organize two international conferences, and small grants for various activities, such as funding to bring overseas women anthropologists to the IWAC organized panel "Practicing Feminist Anthropology: Views from Around the World," presented at the Fourth International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women (IICW) in 1990, and in the present archiving of NYWAC/IWAC records .

Highlights of IWAC's work in the international arena include the panels it organized at the NGO Forum in Nairobi, Kenya during the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the UN Decade for Women in July 1985. IWAC's panels included: "Cross-cultural Perspectives on Women's Collective Actions"; "Women and Migration"; "Cross-cultural Perspectives on Women's Labor: Producing and Reproducing"; and "The Woman Question: Forward-Looking Research and Strategies," a brain-storming session. Ten years later at the NGO Forum in Beijing during the Fourth UN Conference on Women in 1995, IWAC also organized several panels.

Over the years, IWAC presented several well-attended panels at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, and participated in a number of the preparatory conferences of Non-Governmental Organizations who were attempting to influence major UN documents, such as the Platform for Action that came out of the World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995.

This collection indexes the ways that feminist anthropologists, both nationally and internationally, responded to issues raised by a globalizing women's movement. Along with the Ruth Benedict Collective, NYWAC and subsequently IWAC played a crucial role in creating an arena in which anthropological work could be examined from a feminist perspective. The materials exhibit the myriad ways in which many of the important debates of today have their roots in earlier discussions among feminist anthropologists involved in NYWAC and IWAC.

Source: NYWAC website


This collection is arranged in five series:

  1. NYWAC Records
  2. IWAC Information, Correspondence, Publications
  3. IWAC Conferences, Panels, Symposiums
  4. Other Organizations
  5. Audio (cassette tapes and compact dics) and Written Interview Material with NYWAC/IWAC members

Scope and Contents

The New York Women's Anthropology Conference and the International Women's Anthropology Conference records show the development of a feminist anthropologist organization from 1972 to 2002. The records document the organization's activities intended to bridge the gap between the academy and the international women's movement.

The records include meeting minutes, newsletters, correspondences, membership lists, funding proposals, scholarly papers, and photographs. The records also contain cassette tapes and compact discs of 14 oral history interviews and 3 written responses in which individual anthropologists recall what NYWAC and IWAC meant to them.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to Box 1, folders 17-18 is restricted. Materials contain sensitive student information.

The remainder of the collection is open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Records of the New York Women's Anthropology Caucus; MC 166; box number; folder number; New York University Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The provenance of this collection is unknown. The accession number associated with this collection is 02.016.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact, (212) 998-2641, with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Collection processed by

Naomi Schiller in 2002. Additional arrangement by Alison Lotto in 2012.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:51:27 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

The records of the New York Women's Anthropology Caucus were re-foldered and re-boxed when they were processed in 2012. The original folder titles have been retained.

Revisions to this Guide

October 2018: Edited by Jasmine Larkin for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description.


New York University Archives
New York University Archives
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