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Leslie R. Wolfe, Ph.D.


photo of Leslie Wolfe

Dr. Leslie R. Wolfe was a visionary leader for women's human rights. She was a skilled policy analyst and gifted strategist who worked for transformational change. The hallmark of her work and advocacy was a multiethnic feminist approach to policy issues affecting women and girls that recognized the combined impact of bias and discrimination based on race/ethnicity, income, age, disability and sexual orientation, which is often referred to today as intersectionality.

Dr. Wolfe was born November 24, 1943 in Washington, DC. Her family moved to Bethesda, Maryland where she attended Montgomery County Public Schools. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois, earned a master's degree from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in English Literature from the University of Florida in 1970.

In 1979, she became the director of the U.S. Department of Education's Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Program. WEEA was a relatively new program that provided federal funding for model programs designed to support the implementation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Dr. Wolfe referred to Title IX "as the big stick for ending sex discrimination and bias against women and girls in education and WEEA as the carrot for showing us how to do it."

Under Dr. Wolfe's leadership WEEA's priorities changed to focus on the combined impact of sexism-plusracism and sexism-plus-disability bias, and the needs of other marginalized women. These changes allowed WEEA to fund many small women's organizations, community-based programs, and disability groups. The impact continues to be felt today.

Dr. Wolfe left the government in 1983 to become the director of the Project on Equal Education Rights (PEER) of the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund (now Legal Momentum) before becoming President of the Center for Women Policy Studies in 1987.

In 1989, the Center published a ground breaking study by Phyllis Rosser, which examined sex and race bias in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the exam widely used in college admissions. The study analyzed the performance of 100,000 students and showed how the SAT was biased against female students and students of color. When the study's results were published, only a handful of accredited colleges and universities had rejected the SAT from their admissions requirements. Today the number stands at 1050 -- about 40 percent of them.

At the Center, Dr. Wolfe was instrumental in drawing attention to many areas of concern for women and girls, balancing work and family and workplace diversity; reproductive rights and justice; violence against women and girls; trafficking of women and girls; the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on women in the United States and globally. She created several bold initiatives aimed at providing state legislators, women Parliamentarians and Ministers with learning opportunities, information and support to develop creative and effective policy options using a women's human rights framework.

Dr. Wolfe served as a member of the Montgomery College Board of Trustees and the Montgomery County Commission on Women, leading its projects on Educational Equity and Sexual Harassment in the Public Schools. She resided in Montgomery County until she died November 30, 2017.

"We who believe in freedom are in the same boat. Some of us - by virtue of our race, class, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, immigration status, or language - are in first-class cabins, and some of us are in the cargo hold. We are not the captain. The boat is stratified by race, class, and gender; it is often brutal and it s governed by patriarchal assumptions. If we remain isolated in our separate cabins and cargo holds, we cannot transform this society, this boat. We need to open our doors wide to each other."

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2020.

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