Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Elaine Ryan Hedges (1927-1997)
MSA SC 3520-13606


Elaine Ryan Hedges was a leader in advancing women's studies education in Maryland and across the nation. Her passion for expanding the understanding of women's contributions to culture and society was nearly unmatched in her generation. At a time when most scholars scoffed at the idea of women's importance in history, Hedges asserted the value and importance of women in shaping society. As an english professor, she was especially successful in highlighting the contributions of women in literature, a topic that had been mostly ignored in college academia during her time as a student. Hedges ensured that women were finally included in scholarship and literature, and her life's work was integral in establishing the concepts of gender equality and awareness that exist today.

Elaine Ryan was born on August 28, 1927 in Yonkers, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. John A. Ryan.1,2,3 She graduated from Barnard College in New York with her bachelor's degree in 1948, then continued her education with a master's degree from Radcliffe College in 1950.4 For nearly the next two decades, she taught at the college level at several institutions before arriving at Towson in the 1967, including:
    -Harvard University
    -Wellesley College
    -San Francisco State University
    - University of California at Berkeley
    -Goucher College5,6

In 1956, Hedges married William Leonard Hedges, and English professor at Wellesley College.7 They would have two children together, a son named James and a daughter named Marietta.8 Hedges also pursued her doctoral degree at this time while teaching at the college level, and in 1970 received her Ph.D. from Harvard University.9

Dr. Hedges came to Towson State College (now University) in 1967 as an associate English professor.10,11 Inspired by the revived Women's Movement of the 1960s, Hedges became concerned with the lack of study on women at the college level. So, in 1972, Hedges founded and was appointed co-director of the women's studies program at Towson, one of the first such programs in the country.12,13 The program was small, initially offering only a handful of classes, but by the time of her retirement in 1996 the program had expanded to include 40 faculty members and 50 courses, and reached almost 2,000 students a year.14,15

Hedges' motives for establishing the program were personal. In an interview at the time of the program's founding, Hedges said, "I wish there had been a women's movement when I was in college. I would have become much more aware of myself as a person, and as a woman - I would have gained more self-confidence."16 For her, the women's studies program was not just about expanding the understanding of women's involvement in the world, it was also about providing empowerment for women in current and future generations. She wanted to teach women, and all students, to question and challenge what they learned.. Hedges recalled one of her classes as an undergraduate, and how the readings were constantly skewed towards male writers and male concepts. She said in regards to one of the authors she was required to read, "We [women] were just there to improve our style - Nobody ever stood up and said 'This guy is being unfair to women.' We didn't have that kind of orientation."17

In addition to founding and coordinating the women's studies program at Towson, Hedges was also involved in several conferences and panel discussions. She spoke at the Parents Without Partners monthly meeting on 'The Woman's Liberation from the aspect of economics and politics."18 Hedges also led a discussion in 1973 on "Women's Studies: Course Content," at the Conference on Women in Higher Education at Essex Community College.19 In 1979, she was a guest at the Monocacy Quilters meeting, researching a book she would publish on women, culture, and the arts."20 This would lead to her lecture on nineteenth century quiltmaking at the Festival of Quilts a year later.21 It would also result in an essay she published in one or her books, titled, "Quilts and Women's Culture.22 In it, she equated quilting with women's intellectual and creative self expression, writing: "Quilting was a primary way many women expressed themselves. Women were discouraged from writing, were poorly educated, or had never been educated. Quilting became a form of self-expression and eventually an important form of political expression."23

Hedges wrote, co-wrote, and edited numerous books during her tenure at Towson State University. In 1980, she wrote a book called, Land and Imagination: The Rural Dream in America.24 In it, she discussed the differences in the concepts between the dream and reality of country life.25 This was an important subject to Hedges, who studied the decline of agricultural life in New England for her graduate degree.26 She argued that women were severely restricted in their often isolated rural settings, writing that, "Women, raising, children, acting as stabilizer and conserver, were more likely to feel the want of community. They needed schools, they needed other women, they needed culture."27

In addition to Land and Imagination, Hedges also wrote or edited the following feminist books:
    -Ripening: Selected Works, 1927-1980 (1982)
    -Yellow Wallpaper (1973)
    -Listening to Silences (1994)
    -Hearts and Hands: Women, Quilts, and American Society (1987)
    -In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts (1980) 28,29
Hedges was also involved with several academic journals over the years, including The Feminist Press and the Anthology of American Literature, either as writer, editor, or critic.30,31

During the 1980s, Hedges worked to bring women's studies into the "mainstream."32 This was the process of taking a decade's worth of scholarship in women's studies and putting it into mainstream college courses.33 Hedges was co-director of the program, called the National Center for Curriculum Transformation Resources on Women; it ran from 1988 to 1990.34 This was no easy feat, and Hedges faced inevitable resistance, but she was prepared for it. She said, "It took thousands of years to get to where we are now. You're not going to change everything overnight. You work with those who are willing to work with you, and you wait for others to retire."35 This integration of women's studies into basic courses at Towson took place over a period of three years, and Hedges also spent two years on a similar project with community colleges in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.36 It was highly successful.

Hedges won several awards for her work in expanding women's studies. In 1983, she was one of thirty faculty members at Towson to be given a merit award with a cash prize of $1,000.37 In 1988, The Feminist Press honored Hedges with The Feminist Press Award for Contributions to Women's Culture.38 She also traveled overseas on multiple occasions. Twice she acted as a visiting professor at Freie University in Berlin for the American Studies Program, and in 1989 she traveled to China as a lecturer on the American Women's Movement.39 Hedges was also involved with the Modern Language Association Conference in Toronto in 1993, particularly in the American Literature Section of the Conference.40 And, in 1996, she acted as a representative for Women's Study International, a member of the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum, at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing.41

Hedges was a member of the American Association of University Professors, National Women's Studies Association, Women's Caucus for the Modern Languages, and Modern Language Association of America.42 She was also a founding member of the National Women's Studies Association.43 Hedges died June 5, 1997, in Baltimore, Maryland, just a few months shy of her 70th birthday.44 Her family and friends published Elaine Hedges: A Tribute, in honor and memory of her life.45 Those who knew her remember her joy of teaching, and her interest in women writers, especially Emily Dickinson, as well as the enormous contributions she made in women's studies.46 Elaine Ryan Hedges was an exemplary woman with a distinguished and accomplished career, and her pioneering leadership in women's studies will touch the lives of students and scholars for years to come.

Written by Archival Intern Emily J. Steedman, B.A. History, A.A. Liberal Arts & Sciences

1. "Elaine R. Hedges - Social Security Death Index,",
    ROOT_CATEGORY&h=26634735&recoff=13+14+15&db=ssdi&indiv=1 (Accessed August 2,
    2011). Return to text
2. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges, 69, English professor, authority on women's history, studies,"
    Baltimore Sun, June 12, 1997, Final Edition, Lexis Research System. Return to text
3. "Elaine Ryan Engaged: Fiancee of William L. Hedges - Both English Teachers," New York Times,
    June 9, 1956, ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Return to text
4. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
5. Wolfgang Saxon, "Elaine Ryan Hedges, 69, Author," New York Times, June 22, 1997, ProQuest
    Historical Newspapers. Return to text
6. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
7. "Elaine Ryan Engaged," New York Times. Return to text
8. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
9. Ibid. Return to text
10. Wolfgang Saxon, "Elaine Ryan Hedges, 69." Return to text
11. "Dr. Hedges to speak," Baltimore Sun, January 16, 1972, ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
    Return to text
12. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
13. Matt Seiden, "Women's Studies: more than case of 'minor genres,'" Baltimore Sun, January 26, 1983,
    ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Return to text
14. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
15. Carolyn B. Stegman, "Elaine Ryan Hedges," In Women of Achievement in Maryland History,
    107, Anaconda Press, Incorporated, 2002. Return to text
16. Gabrielle Wise, "Women in literature: Trying to break out of the image," Baltimore Sun, February 15,
    1973, ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Return to text
17. Ibid. Return to text
18. "Dr. Hedges to speak," Baltimore Sun. Return to text
19. Gabrielle Wise, "Women in literature." Return to text
20. "Monocacy Quilters to sponsor workshop," Frederick News, March 2, 1979,
    Return to text
21. "Festival of Quilts," Annapolis Capital, February 15, 1980, Return to text
22. Carol B. Stegman, "Elaine Ryan Hedges." Return to text
23. Ibid. Return to text
24. Isaac Rehert, "American dream is still a piece of rural peace," Baltimore Sun, April 1, 1980,
    ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Return to text
25. Ibid. Return to text
26. Ibid. Return to text
27. Ibid. Return to text
28. Wolfgang Saxon, "Elaine Ryan Hedges, 69." Return to text
29. James H. Bready, "Regional books through the year past," Baltimore Sun, January 12, 1997, Final
    Edition, Lexis Research System. Return to text
30. Carol B. Stegman, "Elaine Ryan Hedges." Return to text
31. "NCCTRW: Women in the Curriculum: Directory of Curriculum Transformation Projects
    and Activities in the U.S." Towson University, (Accessed August 2, 2011).
    Return to text
32. Matt Seiden, "Women's Studies." Return to text
33. Ibid. Return to text
34. "Publications: Getting Started: Planning Curriculum Transformation." Towson
    University. (Accessed
    August 2, 2011). Return to text
35. Matt Seiden, "Women's Studies." Return to text
36. "Elaine Hedges - Co-Founder of the NCCTRW," Towson University, (Accessed August 2, 2011).
    Return to text
37. "Here's to...: Towson State faculty," Baltimore Sun, September 11, 1983, ProQuest Historical
    Newspapers. Return to text
38. Carol B. Stegman, "Elaine Ryan Hedges." Return to text
39. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
40. Christine Bucher, "REVIEWS," MELUS 23, No. 4 (Winter 1998): 193-195,
    EBSCOhost Academic Search Premier. Return to text
41. Carol B. Stegman, "Elaine Ryan Hedges." Return to text
42. Robert Hilson, Jr., "Elaine Hedges." Return to text
43. Carol B. Stegman, "Elaine Ryan Hedges." Return to text
44. Ibid. Return to text
45. Ibid. Return to text
46. Ibid. Return to text

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