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 "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 mostly taught political science, as well as 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.


                                             Louise Overacker                                      

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, M. Margaret Ball, also a leader in the field, taught primarily international politics.

M. Margaret Ball

The curriculum of 1940-41 consisted of an Introduction to Political Science that focused on comparative politicals, 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.

The Directions for Election in 1940-41 for the major included the following statement: "The courses in Political Science are arranged to meet the needs of the following groups of students: those intending to do graduate work in Political Science or Law; those planning to qualify for certain civil service examinations and other types of public service; those wishing to supplement their work in other fields with a knowledge of Political Science; students who wish to be prepared to take an intelligent part in the political activities of their communities after college."            

From the Wellesley College Bulletin 1940-41

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. Prof. Evans was the first woman to serve as president of the American Society for International Law. 


                                                           Alona Evans

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 required a major 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 and has led many Wellesley students to pursue law school and legal careers. 

Two of our majors, Madeleine K. Albright '59 and Hillary Rodham Clinton '69, have served as a United States Secretary of State, and Secretary Clinton was the first woman nominated as a candidate for president of the United States by a major political party.


                          Madeliene Korbel '59                                               Hillary Rodham '69

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. 

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. 09/2020