The Druscilla French Distinguished Professorship in Women’s Studies was funded by a gift from Stephen Cumbie and Drucie French. A member of the Carolina Women Leadership Council’s executive committee, French earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Carolina.  She is a strong advocate of women’s rights and is passionate about supporting women’s studies.

When she learned about the College of Arts and Sciences’ Curriculum in Women’s Studies, she was intrigued. “There wasn’t such a thing as women’s studies when I was in school,” she said. And the more she learned about the program, the more she was impressed.

“My life is about helping women,” she said. “So I asked the women’s studies faculty, ‘What do you need the most?’”

The answer: faculty.

French raised more than $30,000 toward the first-ever distinguished professorship in women’s studies. Eventually, she and Cumbie completed funding for the professorship, and Cumbie insisted on naming it the Druscilla French Distinguished Professorship in Women’s Studies. It received a matching grant from the state’s Distinguished Professorship Endowment Trust Fund to bring the fund’s value to $500,000.

Having brought much visibility to women’s studies at Carolina, French’s fund-raising efforts have also led to the creation of the Women’s Studies Faculty Fund, which supports the research, writing and professional activities of faculty holding appointments in the curriculum.

The Women’s Studies Program was established in 1978 at the height of the American women’s movement. Each year more than 2,000 students enroll in thought-provoking courses that include women and politics, violence against women, gender and imperialism and feminization and globalization.

“So much of history ignores the contributions of women,” French said. As an English major, she said she started thinking about the role of women in history. “It was not acceptable to me, and to a lot of women, that there was no accurate portrayal of the role of women in our classrooms. What happened in the lives of half of humanity? How did women shape history?”

These are questions French continues to explore as a cultural mythologist—someone who examines the underlying beliefs of a collective such as a religion, science or form of government. Her main interest is in the traditions of monotheism and patriarchy in the Western world.

After receiving her master’s in communications from Carolina in 1978, French worked for several years in Charlotte for the N.C. Area Health Education Centers (AHEC). When she was in her 40s, French went back to school to earn her Ph.D. in Depth Psychology and Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif. She defended her dissertation on her 50th birthday.

Besides drumming up support for women’s studies, French has served on the Carolina First National Campaign Committee in the Washington, D.C., area and the executive committee of the Carolina Women’s Leadership Council. She also served on UNC’s Board of Visitors from 2000 to 2004.

Excerpts from a spring 2005 Carolina Connections article by Catherine House.

Druscilla French Distinguished Professor

2007-2014: E. Jane Burns