The Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) has helped to define the discipline of women's studies in the United States. It has sought from its inception to connect the study of women and gender with race and class, and not to isolate gender as a single category of analysis. As it has matured, EDWS has also brought the categories of ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, and other aspects of identity, together with gender, race, and class, into its feminist analyses. EDWS has also sought from its beginning to establish programmatic connections with organizations and persons outside the academy, most prominently with Rosalynn Carter of the Carter Center, and through service learning opportunities for our undergraduate majors. It has also sought sustained relationships with other local schools and women's studies programs, including those at Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, and especially Spelman College.

WGSS began as the Institute for Women's Studies (IWS), which was founded in 1986 with the hiring of its first director, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, a distinguished historian. It began by offering a minor in Women's Studies in 1986-87, and a major and a graduate certificate in 1988-89. A PhD in Women's Studies was initiated in that same year under the auspices of Emory's Institute for Liberal Arts (ILA). The first jointly appointed faculty were hired in 1989-90.

In fall of 1990, the first class of Women's Studies PhD graduate students was admitted under the IWS itself, with some connection with the ILA. In that same academic year the first set of Rosalynn Carter Fellows in Public Policy was subsequently named. The first Rosalynn Carter Distinguished Lecture in Public Policy followed in 1993.

Our first Women's Studies PhDs, Paula Washington and Isa Williams, graduated in spring of 1995, and we have subsequently produced over 40 PhDs in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Recognized as a leader in the field of doctoral education in women's studies, Emory has gained national visibility for producing top notch students with a high placement rate and a strong commitment to the profession. In fact, many of our PhD alumnae hold positions in Women's Studies programs across the country, and several are now directing these programs.

The IWS became a department in the Fall of 2003, and since that time we have continued to consolidate our reputation nationally, internationally, and at Emory. The department conducted an external review in 2005-2006 and was acknowledged to be the leading department in the country. This assessment was confirmed in 2007 with our number one ranking by Academic Analytics.

In Fall 2007 we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Women's Studies at Emory with a Women's Symposium. Also recognizing the 30th anniversary of the President's Commission on the Status of Women and the 15th anniversary of the Center for Women, this two-day event publicly marked the decades-long collaborative efforts at Emory on behalf of women that have led to our current position of prominence.