As Barbara L'Eplattenier and Lisa Mastrangelo have demonstrated in Historical Studies on Writing Program Administration (2004), the work of administering a writing program began long before a title accompanied the work. Because little was published in the early years about WPA work as such, recovering information from unpublished sources becomes paramount to understanding the early period of the profession. The materials here—a memoir, an oral history, and an out-of-print pamphlet on assessing writing—give us important information about writing program administration at the University of Wisconsin, Madison from just after World War II up until the early 1980s. During that long period, the writing program was overseen by just two women, first Ednah Shepherd Thomas and then Joyce Steward, allowing for remarkable continuity through some turbulent times, including the abolition of the first-year writing course in 1969. (Readers who want to learn more about the abolition of the first-year writing course in 1969 should consult David Fleming's 2011 book, From Form to Meaning: Freshman Composition and the Long Sixties, 1957-1974.)
To fully understand the contributions of these two WPA pioneers, readers should start with the introductory essay by McLeod and Hughes. Chronologically, The Memoir of Ednah Shepard Thomas (written for her children) comes next, along with her now out-of-print book on evaluating writing, which she first wrote for the TAs she trained and supervised. The memoir provides a detailed account of Thomas's pioneering contributions to writing program administration in the Freshman English program at University of Wisconsin-Madison from the post-World War II period through the turbulent 1960s. Finally, the oral history that Brad Hughes conducted with Joyce Steward will give some insight into the development of one of the early university writing labs.
About the Curators
Susan H. McLeod is Research Professor and Distinguished Scholar of the University of California Santa Barbara Writing Program.
David Stock is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Writing Center at Brigham Young University.
Bradley T. Hughes is Director of the Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Thomas, Ednah Shepard. (2017). The Memoir of Ednah Shepard Thomas. Edited by David Stock, Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/thomas-steward/memoir.pdf
Thomas, Ednah Shepard. (1955/2017). Evaluating Student Themes. Madison: Univeristy of Wisconsin Press. Republished by the WAC Clearinghouse, 2017. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/books/thomas-steward/themes.pdf
McLeod, Susan H., and Bradley T. Hughes. (2017). Understanding the Stories of Two WPA Pioneers: Ednah Thomas and Joyce Steward. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/thomas-steward/pioneers.pdf
Hughes, Bradley T. (2017). An Interview with Joyce Steward. Edited by Susan H. McLeod. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/thomas-steward/interview.pdf
When we discuss the history of writing program administration, it is convenient to begin with 1979—the date that marks the founding of the Council of Writing Program Administrators. But as Barbara L'Eplattenier and Lisa Mastrangelo have pointed out (Historical Studies on Writing Program Administration), the practices we associate with WPA work began long before that date. With their observation in mind, this article presents the stories of two writing program administrators, Ednah Shepard Thomas and Joyce S. Steward, whose careers as what we would now term writing program administrators ran from 1945 to 1982, a time span during which they provided continuity of administrative leadership for a program that underwent some radical changes in the 1960s.
The Memoir of Ednah Shepard Thomas offers an in-depth look at what it was to be a Writing Program Administrator during the period from after World War II up to the time of the early 1970s, a time for which we have little in the way of documentation for the work of early WPAs. Written at a time when the civil rights movement and the women's movement were just beginning to influence the way one thought and wrote about issues of race, class, and gender, this memoir offers insights into a period of time when the field was only beginning to come into focus. A foreword by Susan McLeod, an introduction and extensive footnotes by David Stock, and an afterword by David Fleming contextualize the memoir and highlight its relevance to scholars, teachers, and program administrators in composition-rhetoric. As a local history of writing program administration in its pre-professional era, the memoir offers a vital counternarrative to David Fleming's (2011) award-winning account of the abolition of UW-Madison's Freshman English program in 1969-70.
One of the first handbooks on how to evaluate student themes, this booklet became a University of Wisconsin Press all-time bestseller. One sentence rings as true today as it did when it was first published: "No student should be left without hope and no student should be left without challenge" (v).