Loss of Katherine Jensen
We are saddened by our recent loss of Katherine Jensen, our distinguished Professor Emerita in Gender and Women’s Studies, as well as one of our co-founders and former directors. As Cathy Connolly has aptly said, “It’s almost impossible to summarize her contributions to the University of Wyoming without resorting to far too many superlatives.”
Kathy was born in South Dakota, where her parents still own and run a cattle ranch. Before earning her PhD in 1977 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Department of Educational Policy Studies, she taught high school and lived and worked on the Navajo (Dine) reservation in Arizona. Coming to UW with a fresh PhD and babies in arms, she joined the Sociology Department and, in 1978, with the support of Dean Joan Wadlow, she and her colleague and friend, Janice Harris, co-founded our Women’s Studies Program, making it one of the oldest such programs in the nation.
One of Kathy’s early articles, “Mother Calls Herself a Housewife, but She Buys Bulls: Productivity and Status among Rural American Women,” (1983) began her recognition as a scholar investigating the meaning of sex and gender in rural life. Kathy’s work took her from our own backyard (studies of gambling in historic mining towns in the Rocky Mountains) to Egypt, Australia, Hong Kong, and China where she continued to examine women’s roles in typically rural economic environments. Most recently, Kathy was awarded a Fulbright Senior Research award for her study of Women’s microfinance projects in Nepal. Her class, Women and Third World Development, cross listed between Women’s Studies, International Studies, and Sociology, gave students the opportunity to learn from her vast experience and knowledge in this area. Many of us remember how passionate she was about women’s issues and women’s lives and how devoted she was to our program. In recognition of our always lively Women’s Studies meetings held in Ross Hall, Kathy was fond of saying, “We have been laughing on the floors of Ross Hall for years.”
While Kathy was a strong role model for many of us as a feminist foremother, scholar and teacher, she was also a leader in terms of her administrative contributions to the university. When some of us arrived at UW, she was one of the first people we met since she was our Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, a position she held from 1988-1991 under Dean Walter Eggars. She also worked with the International Studies program, serving on the International Studies Committee, including a term as director.
She and Audie Blevins shared many scholarly projects together as well as four kids, four grandchildren, gardens, cooking and many friends. Their home was often a hub of get-togethers featuring good food and good talk with folks from around the globe. Kathy loved being in the outdoors with her family, on hikes and at the cabin she built with Audie. Her love of family was clear any time you talked to her. She made sure her children were exposed to diverse cultures, whether it was attending public schools while she and Audie worked and lived in Australia and England, or traveling as a family to many other cultures in both hemispheres.
In honor of Kathy’s achievements and her place as one of our foremothers, the Gender and Women’s Studies Program will have an annual Katherine Jensen Memorial Lecture in conjunction with Women’s History Month each March. Also, in recognition of her sometimes fierce defense of nature on our campus, we hope to plant a tree in her name on Prexy’s Pasture. Donations for the Memorial Lecture and/or the Tree Fund can be sent to us at: