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The first library at the University of Wisconsin (later University of Wisconsin-Madison) was established in 1850, after UW-Madison was founded in 1848. The library grew and relocated to several locations, even held a residence in the State of Wisconsin Historical Society. The Memorial Library building was built over a three year period and completed in 1953, with later additions made in the 1970s into the 1990s. The library houses several collections from books, magazines, newspapers, government documents, electronic records, and other media that cover 350 languages. With individual specialized libraries managing the materials of their department's focus. The Memorial Library is the home to the Office of the Gender & Women's Studies Librarian on the fourth floor. Esther F. Lanigan was the first Women’s Studies Librarian-at-Large in 1977 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the Memorial Library. She launched several projects that has shaped the Office and serve the Women’s Studies program and libraries across twenty-six college campuses in the University of Wisconsin System.


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Esther Franco Lanigan (neé Stineman) became the first Women's Studies Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1977 on a trial basis. Upon entering the position she was given the title: "Women's Studies Librarian-at-Large." With the "at-large" portion stating her responsibility to support the emerging Women's Studies programs, with its administrators, faculty, researchers, and students, as well as the libraries that serve them (the Women’s Studies Library--now The Office of Gender & Women's Studies). These libraries spread across the twenty-six campuses which merged into the UW System.

Lanigan was known as the “red-headed blur." to her coworkers. As she kept up an astonishing pace of travel and work that seemed impossible with her short contract of 19 months. The position that Lanigan held was rejected several times over a course of three years from the governor’s office to assist in the funding to hire a librarian. It was granted funding from the UW System vice president after various faculty and librarians across the state at UW campuses to connect the Women’s Studies program with one main librarian. To access the documentation and resources that are otherwise not available at the respected campuses. During her time as the librarian, Esther established relationships and offered tools to librarians at the various campuses; advising them on their collection and development of the program. One of the tools she gifted them was the Women's Studies Union List, which is a catalog of books held throughout the UW System for the Women’s Studies program.

Lanigan spearheaded several projects to develop the Office of Gender and Women’s Studies Librarians outreach. She visited each of the UW System campuses during her tenure, even received grant funding to create a presentation on the importance of Women's Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences. With colleague Catherine Loeb (the Office’s first editor), she published Women’s Studies: A Recommended Core Bibliography, a guide to nearly 2,000 books and periodicals that were essential for library collections in support of the Women’s Studies courses at their respective campuses. She became a role model for several librarians, as she understood the value of having a multi-campus specialist librarian position for this particular program. Lanigan placed the UW System on the map for the Women's Studies program in order to connect nationwide to other campuses.

After 19 months, Lanigan left her position to settle down with her husband, Charles Hinkle, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 1980, she published, American Political Women: Contemporary and Historical Profiles. Later she attended Yale’s American Studies doctoral program in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. She created a sequel to the Women’s Studies: A Recommended Core Bibliography with Catherine Loeb and Sue Searing in 1987. At the same time while writing the second edition of the Bibliography and commuting between three states (her home in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Connecticut), Lanigan went into surgery to remove a brain tumor and later recovered. She completed her PhD and her dissertation of Mary Austin: Song of a Maverick, was published by the Yale University Press in 1989 and then reissued by the University of Arizona Press in 1997. Mary Austin was an American novelist and essayist, whose work focused on feminism, ecology, mysticism and spiritualism, and more specifically the American Southwest. Lanigan worked as a faculty member in the Department of English at the University of Colorado, Colorado College, Yale University. Her final position was held at the College of William and Mary (1988-1995) in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she is remembered after she passed away in Monument, Colorado, on December 29, 2002, when the cancer returned.

The Office of Gender & Women’s Studies Librarian is located within the Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The building was finished in 1953 after the decision was made to permanently gift the first library at the University its own building. To finally keep the growing collection of the library in one place rather than moving from place to place as done since the first library was established in 1850. The library houses several collections and resources across various subjects to suit the needs of those who use the library. From the humanities to the sciences to the Gender and Women’s Studies to the Arts.The library has spaces to study and research across the five levels for the UW-Madison community as well as servicing to the general public.

Today, the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarianship lives on thanks to the efforts and groundbreaking work of Esther Lanigan. In 40 years, five individuals have occupied the position now known as Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian. After Lanigan left, Linda Parker was hired and she ushered in the computer technology age when she acquired the Office’s first microcomputer. Parker launched a national effort to engineer an electronic database in women’s studies and connect other programs with the UW System. The following librarians were Sue Searing (who by that time the “at-large” moniker was dropped) and then Phyllis Holman Weisbard. The position is now, as of 2019, held by Karla J. Strand. Strand wants to know how the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian Office (which is still headquartered at UW-Madison) can “make a greater impact beyond the borders of Wisconsin to both the national and international communities.”

  1. "General Information: Memorial Library", Libraries: University of Wisconsin-Madison. Accessed December 10th 2019. https://www.library.wisc.edu/memorial/about-memorial/general-information/.
  2. Gish, Robert. "Book Reviews: The Land of Journey's Ending / Mary Austin: Song of a Maverick.". American Indian Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4596 - 598. Published January 10th 1992. American: History and Life.
  3. Searing, Sue. "In Memoriam: Esther Lanigan.". Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, vol. 24, no. 2. 1 - 2. Published January 1st 2003. GenderWatch.
  4. Shole, Linda and Phyllis Holman Weisbard. "From the Editors: Anniversaries". Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, vol. 21, no. 2. Published January 31st 2000. GenderWatch
  5. Strand, Karla. "From the Librarian.". Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, vol. 38, no. 1/2. ii - 16. Published January 1st 2017. GenderWatch.
  6. Strand, Karla. "History of the Office", Libraries: University of Wisconsin-Madison. Published July 2018. https://www.library.wisc.edu/gwslibrarian/about-gws/history-of-the-office/.
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University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Madison