March 5-6: Exploring the Legacy of Louise Lamphere v. Brown University

February 2, 2015

Brown University Anthropology Department, 1970-71.Brown University Anthropology Department, 1970-71.To mark Brown’s 250th anniversary, the Pembroke Center re-examines Louise Lamphere v. Brown University, the landmark class action case that in 1975 charged Brown with sex discrimination and set in motion a chain of events that changed Brown.

The Lamphere Case: The Sex Discriminiation Lawsuit that Changed Brown The exhibit opened at 3:30 pm on Thursday, March 5 on the first floor of Pembroke Hall. The exhibit may be viewed here.

Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Women Presidents and the Changing University President Christina H. Paxson hosted a public roundtable in the Salomon Center on the Main Green, at 5:30 pm on Thursday, March 5.  View the video online.

Feminist Change and the University This symposium linked past and present feminist concerns, exploring the way feminist scholarship continues to change what students study, how knowledge is made in the contemporary university,  and the challenges and possibilities facing current and future generations of women at Brown. View videos from the symposium here.

About the Case
An assistant professor of Anthropology and the only woman in her department when she was hired in 1968, Louise Lamphere was denied tenure in 1974. The Anthropology Department claimed that her scholarship was theoretically weak. Lamphere claimed she was the victim of sex discrimination and argued that the small number of women on the Brown faculty was evidence of a larger pattern of discrimination. After unsuccessfully pursuing an internal appeals process, on May 10, 1975 Lamphere brought suit in U.S. District Court.

Under the leadership of a new President, Howard Swearer, the University settled the case before trial, entering in September 1977 into an historic consent decree designed “to achieve on behalf of women full representativeness with respect to faculty employment at Brown.”  Brown agreed to set up an Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee charged with overseeing the processes departments used to hire, tenure, and promote faculty to be sure they were fair; evaluating searches to make sure they were inclusive; and monitoring progress toward full representation of women on the faculty. The Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee was in existence from 1978 to 1992 when by mutual consent the consent decree was vacated.  During this period the proportion of women on the Brown faculty shot up.

Program Details

At 3:30 pm on March 5, the Pembroke Center opened an exhibit, The Lamphere Case: The Sex Discrimination Lawsuit that Changed Brown, exploring in detail the Lamphere case and its consequences for Brown.  Based on extensive archival research and oral histories with key participants, the exhibit paints a vivid picture of why and how Brown changed during a key moment in its history and of the feminist activism that drove that change. The exhibit is on view on the first floor of Pembroke Hall through Commencement Weekend (May 24). 

Also on March 5, President Christina Paxson hosted a public roundtable, Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Women Presidents and the Changing University.  Participants include:

  • Christina Paxson, President of Brown University
  • Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University
  • Shirley Tilghman, former President of Princeton University
  • Nan Keohane, former President of Duke University and Wellesley College

They discuss the social changes, including feminism, that have allowed women finally to become leaders of major universities and the challenges women still face in these key leadership roles. View the video of this event.

On March 6, 2015, the Pembroke Center hosted a one-day symposium, Feminist Change and the UniversityLinking past and present feminist concerns, the symposium opened with a conversation between Louise Lamphere and Amy Goldstein ’79, reporter for the Washington Post, about the case and its aftermath. Later panels focused on the way feminist scholarship continues to change what students study and how knowledge is made in the contemporary university and the challenges and possibilities facing current and future generations of women at Brown. 

Support for exhibit and events provided by: Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, Pembroke Center Associates, Brown University's 250th Anniversary, Office of the President, Creative Arts Council, Brown University Library, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage.