It was the late 1960s, and Ellie Wymard was pursuing a doctorate in American literature at the University of Pittsburgh, when a thought occurred to her: The works she was studying had all, with just a few exceptions, been written by men.
"It wasn't that women weren't writing," Ms. Wymard said. "It wasn't that women weren't painting. It was just that their work wasn't in the traditional canon. It wasn't part of the traditional curriculum."
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, that thought -- that women were not represented in academic scholarship even as they were growing in representation in the workplace, in government and in media -- occurred not just to Ms. Wymard. On college campuses across the country, a new field of study started to show up on lists of academic programs -- women's studies.
This week, Carlow University in Oakland is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its own Women's Studies Program, which Ms. Wymard founded in 1972, also the year the University of Pittsburgh started its women's studies program. The Carlow department sponsored a program Thursday night that included a documentary, followed by a panel discussion, about the media's representation of women.
Interdisciplinary classes in the new program looked at the way women have been portrayed, and the contributions they have made, in fields ranging from literature to biology to philosophy to religion.
The leaders of Carlow, a mostly female college founded by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy in 1929, believe that "women should have a sense of their own history and background," said Ms. Wymard, who was director of Women's Studies for about a decade and is now director of Carlow's Master of Fine Arts program.
Women's studies is offered as an 18-credit minor, and each of Carlow's just over 1,400 undergraduate students is required to take one women's studies course as a requirement for graduation.
"It fits in with the legacy of the school," said Katie Hogan, who has a doctorate in American literature and is starting her 10th year as director of Women's Studies at Carlow. The school's founders, she said, were interested in creating change and being in the world.
Courses listed on Carlow's website cover topics ranging from women in religion and in art to the psychology of women. One of the newest courses, which Ms. Hogan helps teach, talks about girl cultures and looks at research about, for example, girls and prom.
Women have made substantial strides in the past 40 years, Ms. Hogan said, but women's studies programs are still vital to raising topics of discussion about how women are portrayed or where they are underrepresented.
As examples, she pointed to the wage gap between what men and women are paid, and also to the low percentage of women who have held elected office in the United States.
"I think that needs to always be talked about," she said.