The Simone de Beauvoir Institute, a college within Concordia University, was established in 1978 to provide a foundation for the interdisciplinary teaching of, and research in, Women’s Studies. Beauvoir, a distinguished philosopher and feminist writer, authorized the Institute to use her name and continued to show great interest in its activities. The SdBI has been a pioneer in the field of Women’s Studies in Canada.
Here is a timeline with significant events in the development and life of the SdBI.
Greta Nemiroff and Christine Allen Garside (later Sister Prudence Allen) begin teaching the course The Nature of Woman in the Sir George Williams University Philosophy Department. In 1972, the course is divided into two courses on “The Nature of Woman”: Historic Attitudes and Recent Approaches.
Margaret Anderson (from the Loyola College French Department) teaches an Interdisciplinary Studies course, Social Change, Women in Modern Society. Katherine Waters begins teaching the course Women and Literature in the English Department at Loyola College. J. Tarlo teaches The Sociology of Women in the Sociology Department and M. Porter teaches History of Women in the History Department. Other Women’s Studies courses quickly follow in other disciplines.
Susan Hoecker-Drysdale (from the Department of Sociology) is the organizer of a Women’s Studies Concentration within the Interdisciplinary Programme of the Loyola Faculty of Arts & Science. Hoecker-Drysdale is named Co-ordinator of Women’s Studies in 1974-75.
Women's Studies becomes a programme within the newly-formed Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sir George Williams University (SGW) Faculty of Arts. The SGW Women's Studies Committee is formed and Vivienne Walters is named Coordinator of Women’s Studies. A joint major in Women’s Studies is introduced in 1974-75; this disappears in 1975-76, to be replaced by a minor in Women’s Studies. In August 1974, Concordia University is created as a result from the merger of Loyola and SGW.
Despite the merger, activities still take place on two campuses. The SGW Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies offers a minor in Women’s Studies (Vivienne Walters is Coordinator until Christine Allen replaces her in 1977) and the Loyola Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies offers a minor in Women’s Studies (Susan Drysdale is Co-ordinator until Allannah Furlong replaces her in 1976). In March 1977, a Women's College Committee is formed and starts working on a proposal. The Committee is co-coordinated by Christine Allen and Allannah Furlong, and includes faculty, students and staff from both campuses as well as individuals from other Montreal institutions and community organizations. On December 20, 1977 the Committee makes a formal submission to the Concordia Senate for the establishment of a Women’s College.
- Concordia Senate formally approves the establishment of the Institute for Women’s Studies on February 24, 1978 with Board of Governors approval on March 9, 1978. Senate approves the major in Women’s Studies on May 26, 1978, but tables a resolution to establish a Specialization in Women’s Studies. On June 8, 1978 the Board of Governors approves a name change to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. In September 1978 the Simone de Beauvoir Institute opens its doors with 27 students enrolled in the program.
- Maïr Verthuy is appointed the first Principal (June 1978-May 1983). Sheila McDonough and Katherine Waters are appointed Vice-Principals. More than 100 students become members.
- Bob Wall, Provost of Colleges at Concordia, states “I have no doubt that the women’s college will stir up a lot of trouble in the university, but I think that’s good – that’s a sure sign of health” (The Gazette, May 19, 1978).
- The SdBI establishes its Reading Room to house books, magazines and other documents relevant to women’s lives. The Reading Room represents an example of strong community relations, since its services are available to students, staff, faculty, and the broader Montreal feminist community.
- Publication of the first Simone de Beauvoir Institute Bulletin, edited by Professor Greta Hofmann Nemiroff with the help of enthusiastic students and SdBI community members.
- The SdBI sponsors a talk by French feminist Hélène Cixous.
- Conflict arises over the direction and orientation of the Women’s Studies Programme and the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. The non-rehiring of Greta Nemiroff is followed by a storm of protest and disruption and Institute members vote to dissolve the Institute. Despite divergences of opinion about the role, goals and structures of the Institute, new structures are put in place to comply with the university’s requirements.
Principal Maïr Verthuy and Professor Patricia Morley organize the first Canadian national conference on Women’s Studies, Parlons-en/Talking Together.
- Founding of the Women’s Studies Students’ Association (WSSA) to ensure student voice in the SdBI’s programmes, events and research.
- Thérèse Casgrain, feminist, reformer, politician and Senator, is named Honorary Principal of the SdBI. Casgrain dies in November of the same year.
- Québécoise writer Louky Bersianik gives a writing workshop at the SdBI.
Principal Maïr Verthuy, with the help of many students and faculty, organizes a 10-day international conference on teaching and research related to women. Participants from more than 80 countries are involved. A group of First Nations women organize an evening featuring a film by Alanis Obomsawin, the well-known Abenaki film director.
- The SdBI offers the first ever university course on the history of Black Women in Canada, taught by Dr. Esmeralda Thornhill.
- Elizabeth Sacca becomes the new Principal of the SdBI.
- Feminist scientist Ursula Franklin speaks at the SdBI on peace, disarmament, and women.
- Women graduate students at Concordia host an Open House.
The SdBI offers the first Lesbian Studies course at any Canadian university. The course is taught by Yvonne Klein as part of the summer session.
- Students associated with the SdBI advocate a women’s centre on campus, and organize to get funding.
- Simone de Beauvoir dies in Paris at the age of 78. In June of the same year, Concordia University posthumously confers her an honorary degree.
- Arpi Hamalian begins her term as Principal of the SdBI.
- The Concordia Women’s Centre, now known as the 2110, opens.
- The SdBI welcomes the International Forum on New Reproductive Technologies, Maternity in the Laboratory, organized by the Conseil du statut de la femme.
Regular meetings of the Lesbian Studies Coalition of Concordia take place in the SdBI lounge. These meetings honour the history of the SdBI building, which used to house Madame Arthur’s (1973-1975), a lesbian bar.
- The SdBI organizes the Conference of the Committee of 200, an international organization bringing together top women entrepreneurs and executives representing more than 70 industries. SdBI Principal Arpi Hamalian, serves as conference program organizer.
- Psychologist Elizabeth Henrik steps in as SdBI’s Interim Principal.
- Feminist scholar Sherene Razack joins the SdBI, teaching courses until 1991 including Feminist Theory and Feminism Applied to the Law.
- Chantal Maillé joins the SdBI’s full-time teaching faculty.
- Lucie Lequin holds a joint appointment at the SdBI and Études françaises.
- Gillian de Gannes teaches a course on Coloured Women Writers.
- Marianne Ainley is named SdBI Principal. In 1995, she becomes Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies at the newly established University of Northern British Columbia. She dies of cancer in 2009.
- Public event with feminist writer Nicole Brossard.
- One of the SdBI’s former student, feminist scholar and activist Carolyn Gammon, lobbies the university to change the names of degrees granted at Concordia. Arguing that the title “Master of Arts” was gendered, Gammon’s efforts resulted in Concordia students being able to elect to receive a degree with gender-neutral terminology: baccalaureate, magisteriate or doctorate.
- SdBI students and faculty are involved in La Ville en Rose, an international conference on Lesbian and Gay Studies held at Concordia University and UQAM.
- The SdBI brings in American feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem, in collaboration with Cole’s bookstore. The event raises $3000 that is given to two local women’s shelters: Auberge Transition and Logifem.
- Sunera Thobani, then president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, speaks at the SdBI in an event co-sponsored by the South Asian Women’s Community Centre.
- Dorothy Smith gives a talk, co-sponsored by the Sociology Graduate Students’ Association, on “Feminist Sociology Research and Post-Modernism.”
- SdBI staff Belinda Bowes, DiAnne Robin and Susan Sullivan work hard to help out with all of the administrative and logistical work related to teaching, curriculum, community events and media relations.
- The SdBI sponsors Janine Fuller and Stuart Blackley’s book launch of Restricted Entry: Censorship on Trial. This book documents the censorship of sexually explicit materials by Customs Canada.
- Chantal Maillé begins her term as SdBI Principal. Maillé is Principal again in 2008-2009.
The SdBI sponsors When Sex Works/Quand le sexe travaille, an international conference on sex work and prostitution that includes the voices of women working in the industry. This sponsorship is in line with the history of the SdBI building, which was reportedly once a brothel.
- Kaarina Kailo becomes acting SdBI Principal during Chantal Maille's six month sabbatical. Kailo, a native of Finland, goes on to become a candidate for the 2007 European parliamentary elections.
- The Canadian Human Rights Foundation brings a delegation of feminists from western Africa to the SdBI for a seminar on Human Rights Development in Africa. Françoise David, then President of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, attends the event.
- The Reading Room has 920 loans and 1242 visits that year, all managed thanks to the diligent work of documentalist Carol Mitchell.
- The SdBI hosts a symposium on bell hooks, hosted by Professor Brenda Rowe.
- Concordia’s College Visiting Lecture Series includes a talk, “Women’s Rights as Human Rights” by Her Excellency Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
- Fran Shaver steps in as SdBI Interim Principal.
- Folk singer and activist Faith Nolan gives a talk and concert.
Lillian Robinson begins her term as SdBI Principal. Under her leadership, the dynamism and visibility of the SdBI continue to thrive.
- The SdBI offers the course South Asian Women.
- The SdBI welcomes a new staff position of Events Coordinator and Information Officer. This position, which makes possible the organization of events and the bringing of the SdBI community together, is successively held by Amy Vincent (2001-2002), Marie-Claire MacPhee (2003-2007), Tanya Déry-Obin (2007-2008), Yasmine Amor (2008-2009), Melissa Cobbler (2009-2010) and Michelle Lacombe (2010-present).
- Women and Disability is among the SdBI’s course offerings.
- Viviane Namaste joins the SdBI as a full-time faculty member.
- The SdBI offers Women in the Muslim World and Jewish Women in North America among its course offerings.
- Roksana Bahramitash begins postdoctoral research at the SdBI on women and employment in the Muslim world. Bahramitash was the recipient of the SSHRC Eileen Ross Award given to the highest-ranking postdoctoral project in the area of women and poverty.
SdBI Principal Lillian Robinson captures the hearts and emotions of all, notably in her performance of a Concordia staging of The Vagina Monologues.
Ashanti Alston, former member of the Black Panthers, is invited to speak on “Counter-Power: The Black Panther Party Experience.”
- Marc Lafrance, having completed his doctoral degree at Oxford, arrives at the SdBI to engage in postdoctoral research on the relationship between body image, body modification and mainstream media. Lafrance is now Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Concordia.
- Death of Principal Lillian Robinson. Colleagues, students, and activists mourn her loss. The Lillian Robinson Visiting Scholars Program is inaugurated.
The SdBI produces “Reasonable Accommodations – A Feminist Response.” This statement, produced collectively and involving students, faculty and staff, raises critical questions about the framing of the “reasonable accommodation” debate in Quebec.
- Former Principal Maïr Verthuy receives the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for her outstanding feminist activism.
- Gada Mahrouse joins the SdBI community as a full-time faculty member.
Geneviève Rail is hired as the new SdBI Principal, bringing with her a wealth of research and administrative experience from the University of Ottawa.
- The SdBI issues a public statement on Projet de loi 94, which would have prevented women who wear the burqa or the niqab from accessing public services and working in the public sector.
- For the benefit of 16 Concordia students and in collaboration with faculty from the Kamala Nehru College, Professor Chantal Maillé and SdBI Fellow Rachel Berger co-teach a course at the University of Delhi: “Narrating Women’s Lives: India and Canada.”
- The SdBI makes a statement on the Bedford case at the Ontario Superior Court. This ruling examined the ways in which Canadian criminal laws harm women working in the sex trade.
- Thanks to a grant from the Faculty of Arts and Science as well as help from Librarian Susie Breier and Documentalist Laura Copeland, the SdBI library’s book collection is enlarged and digitized, while the space is refurbished.
- Former Principal Maïr Verthuy is inducted into the Order of Canada for her work on Quebec women writers and on the advancement of women.
- The SdBI community makes public its position against the increase in tuition fees and their impact on women.
- Related to this statement, WSSA students provide leadership at Concordia and beyond by being the first department of students to go on strike at Concordia during the Spring strike actions.
- Linda Bowes celebrates 25 years of service to the SdBI and Concordia.
- The SdBI issues a statement in solidarity with the Idle No More movement, and commits to anti-colonial work in its teaching and learning.
- The SdBI hosts an international conference entitled “Rethinking Race and Sexuality: Feminist Conversations, Contestations, and Coalitions” to celebrate its 35th anniversary.
- The SdBI is granted intervener status at the Supreme Court and later celebrates victory when the Supreme Court strikes down some of Canada’s prostitution laws because they do not respect the Charter rights, notably the right to security of the person. For the SdBI, striking down the laws that increase violence against women represents an important feminist victory.
- The SdBI submits a mémoire condemning Bill 60 (“Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests”). The SdBI suggests that the bill will restrict rather than enhance the rights of women and draws attention to the exclusionary nature of this bill and the false assumptions it supports.
- Concordia University celebrates Chantal Maillé’s 25 years of contribution to the SdBI and the university.
- The SdBI co-presents a two-day international symposium in collaboration with the Trudeau Foundation: “Imagining the future of LGBTQ Human Rights”
- The SdBI co-presents “25 ans après Polytechnique: contrer l’effacement, créer sa place” a one-day colloquium to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Polytechnique Massacre.
- SdBI Principal Geneviève Rail collaborates with other feminist leaders in Quebec and together they receive $1.2M for a FRSCQ “regroupement stratégique” called the Réseau québécois en études féministes (RéQEF)
- The SdBI invites the government to take part in a public dialogue about the impacts of government reforms on women.
- Dr. Viviane Namaste is awarded an FAS Curriculum Innovation Fund grant to develop new interdisciplinary teaching for HUMA students
- Dr. Gada Mahrouse is recognized by The Women’s and Gender Studies/Recherches feministes Association (WGSRF) and is awarded with the Outstanding Scholarship Prize for her 2014 book: Conflicted Commitments.
- Arpi Hamalian, Honorary Fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, receives the Lifetime Achievement Award as a "multilingual champion for learning".
- SdBI releases a Statement of Feminist Solidarity with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
- September 26, Professor Homa Hoodfar was released from the notorious Evin prison in Iran. Dr. Hoodfar was arrested for "dabbling in feminism". The Institute campaigned for Dr. Hoodfar's release during her incarceration.
Here is the list of those who have been Principal of the SdBI so far.
- Mair Verthuy (1978-1983)
- Elizabeth Sacca (1983-1986)
- Arpi Hamalian (1986-1989, 1990-1991)
- Elizabeth Henrik (1989-1990)
- Marianne Ainley (1991-1995)
- Chantal Maillé (1995-1999, 2008-2009)
- Kaarina Kailo (Jan/June 1997)
- Fran Shaver (1999-2001)
- Lillian Robinson (2001-2006)
- Viviane Namaste (2006-2008)
- Geneviève Rail (2009-2015)
- Gada Mahrouse (July 2015 - December 2015)
- Kimberley Manning (January 2016 - 2021)
- Gada Mahrouse (July 2021 - December 2021)
- Carolina Cambre (2022)
- Kimberley Manning (Interim, 2023)