History of the Department

History of the Department

Political Science was first taught at Wellesley in 1883-84, making us one of the first colleges in the country to offer this new discipline. By 1888-89, a year of work was offered, consisting of a course entitled "Lectures on Grecian and Roman Methods of Government" in the first semester, followed by a "History of Political Institutions." In terms of institutional structure, a Department of History and Political Science was established in 1888-89, but this was soon reorganized as History and Economics, with political science being grouped under history. Four years later, history and economics were separated, with political science continuing in the Department of History.

In the early years of the College, Elizabeth Kimball Kendall taught mostly political science, and also some history courses. However, in 1922-23, a full-time political scientist, Phillips Bradley, was appointed, and in 1925, Louise Overacker, who became one of the leaders of the discipline, came to Wellesley. She was a leading figure in the department until her retirement in 1957. Prof. Overacker shifted the focus of the department from history, and the number of political science course offerings was increased. By 1931-32, with almost 200 students registered in political science courses, the department was renamed History and Political Science, with a separate major in political science being offered.

In 1940-41, the Department of Political Science was established, with 13 majors and some 350 students registered in courses. Louise Overacker continued to teach American government, and also comparative courses. A second full-time member, Margaret Ball, also a leader in the field, taught primarily international politics. The curriculum of 1940-41 consisted of an introductory course in comparative government, Political Parties (primarily American), Public Administration, "Political Problems," International Organization, International Law, Law and the Administration of Justice, the Supreme Court and the Constitution, the History of Social and Political Thought, Modern Political Theory, and research and independent study.

In the 1940s, additional appointments were made. Alona Evans, who originally taught International Law, Latin American Politics, and Asian Politics, later took over the course in Law and the Administration of Justice, making it a central course in the curriculum until her death in 1980). Owen Stratton taught a wide range of American politics courses. In the 1950s and 60s, when Alona Evans was serving as chair, the department continued to grow and to develop a broader curriculum. By the early 1970s there were approximately 8 Full-Time Equivalent faculty members and over 800 students studying political science.

In the 2013-14 academic year there were 119 political science majors, about 900 total enrollments, and 17 tenured, tenure-track, or long-term appointment faculty members, making political science one of the largest departments at Wellesley. There were an additional 22 majors in the International Relations-Political Science major, which is administered by the department.

Concurrent with the expansion of student enrollments and faculty size, the offerings of the department were greatly expanded in the 1970s. In particular, sequences were clarified in each of the fields of the discipline, and many more upper-level (300 level) courses were offered. Thus in 1969-70, the department listed 27 courses in the Catalog (with almost all of them actually offered). The number grew to about 50 courses by the early 1980s. In 2013-14, it stood at 53.

During most of the 1960s and 70s, the department's offerings were divided into 5 fields: American Politics, Legal Studies, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory, with a student majoring in political science required to take work in four of these fields. In 1982-83, Legal Studies was incorporated into American Politics, and was a major now required to take work in all four fields. Despite the abolition of the separate field, legal issues have continued to be a major focus in the curriculum. This focus, which began early in the department's history, and was particularly emphasized by Alona Evans in her enormously successful "Law and the Administration of Justice" course, was significantly responsible for the many Wellesley students who have gone on to law school and to a legal career in recent years. Of course, many other majors have gone into public policy programs, to graduate school, and to a host of other careers.

The Department of Political Science also serves as the “hub” for several of the College’s interdisciplinary programs, including American studies, East Asian studies, South Asia Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, environmental studies, and Latin American studies. Many political science faculty help to direct these programs and teach courses that count for credit in them. 

In the fall of 2013, Pendleton East 251 was renamed the Edward A. Stettner Political Science Library in honor of our colleague who was a member of the department from 1968 until he retired in 2008. Prof. Stettner also served as Associate Dean and Acting Dean of the College. He passed away in early 2013. The beautifully renovated space is one of the nicest seminar rooms on campus. The Stettner Library houses bound copies of honor theses written by political science majors from the 1940s to the present.


Rev. 02/2020