The Margaret Sloss Women’s Center was officially opened in the old Sloss House in the fall 1981. The road to its creation, however, began almost ten years earlier through a proposal to the University Committee on Women (UCW).
In 1973, a group of women representing nine women’s interest groups prepared a proposal and created a format for the proposal entitled “Options Unlimited.” The proposal was taken to the UCW, but the proposal died because Option Unlimited was a voluntary group that did not have much influence over the university administration and the UCW was only two years old and was hesitant about its authority.
It was not until April 1979 when another effort to create a women’s center was organized. An independent group lead by Lois Hamilton of the YWCA inquired about university space and funding ideas. The group was composed of campus and university women and was determined to secure the possibility of a women’s center on campus. By February 1980, the UCW received a proposal for a women’s center from the group, and they accepted the idea. In April 1980, the UCW discussed space requirements in campus, settling on three rooms in the old Sloss House. Built for around two thousand dollars from 1882 to 1884 for Professor Charles E. Bessey, the Sloss House was one of the oldest buildings on campus. Two months later, in June 1980, the university approved the use of Sloss House for a women’s center. For a year, the university repainted and refurnished Sloss House. By the fall 1981, the Sloss House was ready, and the Coordinator of Women’s Programs, Rachel Christensen, moved into the Sloss House. That same semester, and on September 16, 1981, the State Board of Regents approved the request to designate space in Sloss House as the “Margaret Sloss Women’s Center.” It was named after Margaret Sloss, the first female to earn her doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State.
Margaret Sloss Women's Center Advisory Board, 1979-1980
While the reality of a central location for women on campus had finally occurred, problems regarding the focus and function of the women’s center plagued its early years. Multiple groups interested in using the women’s center, including the UCW, the group Professional and Scientific Women, the YWCA, and the Coalition for Women’s Concerns, made coordinating its activities difficult. In the fall 1982, an ad-hoc committee reviewed the various women’s programs on campus and recommended the combination of Constance Tanczo’s position as Women’s Information and Center Coordinator, and Rachel Christensen’s position as Coordinator of Women’s Programs. Instead of two separate positions, one full-time women’s center position was created.
In the spring 1983, Torry Dickinson was hired as full-time director of the women’s center, but she resigned six months later. She explained that she felt restricted by the university administration. First, she had to answer to two offices on campus, the Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Life. Second, while the university demanded that she coordinate all of the activities of the women’s center, she only had two part-time employees working for her and was terribly short-handed. Finally, the entire operating budget for the women’s center was only four thousand dollars.
After Dickinson’s resignation, the UCW created a subcommittee to reevaluate the role and functions of the women’s center. In a statement issued by the UCW on November 5, 1983, the women’s center’s purpose was defined as a “source of empowerment and support for women in the University community through advocacy, programming and resources (e.g., information, consultation and referral).” With a new plan for the women’s center, the university hired a new director, and the women’s center staff began their work for the women at Iowa State.
Since its inception in 1981, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center has participated in, organized, or sponsored a wide range of programs at Iowa State for nearly thirty years. They have sponsored or co-sponsored Women’s Week, Sexual Assault Awareness Week, Rosa Parks Day, Women’s History Month, Black History Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month. The center continues to offer weekly noon programs and outreach workshops in residence halls, sororities, fraternities, and university classes. Topics for the programs have included “Strategies for Survival: Women of Color in the 90’s,” “Ecofeminism in India: Philosophy or Social Movement?,” and “Liberty! How Many Crimes Are Committed in Your Name?” The group “Liberating Voices of Color,” a social and support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people of color on campus have met at Sloss House. The center also has endorsed the group PFLAG or Parents, Friends, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and has sponsored the programs National Coming Out Week and Week Without Violence. In addition to all the programs, the women’s center provides a safe place for female “students, faculty, and staff to gather, find support, study, use the refrigerator or microwave, [or] watch television.”
Today, the purpose of the Margaret Sloss Women's Center, according to its website, is to promote “equity on the Iowa State University campus for women. The Women's Center works to promote social change through the following: 1. The creation of community and networks for women 2. Education through institutional training and curriculum development, in collaboration with academic and administrative departments and units 3. Programming to empower both women and men to participate in a fully equitable society. With a full schedule of programs and services ranging from productions of The Vagina Monologues to the Sexual Assault Task Force (SATF), the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center continues to be a strong advocate for women’s issues.
Peace Protesters at Iowa State, 1972