In the early 1990's, a student group was formed to function all year to compliment the annually held campus-wide Take-Back-the Night march and rally. The group was very successful, had great student participation, visibility and good press coverage, and even won two awards at the end of its first year, including outstanding new student group. The Women's Center opened in September of 1993, an outgrowth of discussions between the division of Student Affairs and the Women's Studies Program at the university. After a meeting was set by students to address concerns expressed by the student body, the administration and faculty agreed that the most effective means of reaching the needs of women on campus was to consolidate programs and services for women into a single center. Dr. Harry Knopke, then Vice President of Student Affairs, led the effort in making the idea of the Women's Center a reality. Dr. Margaret A. Purcell, former founder of the student led initiative who currently serves as a Manager in Financial Affairs Grants, noted, "The confluence of forces was right to see policy change. Students recognized a need and sought a solution. The administration listened, agreed, and made the requested change. This is a great example of successful public policy-making originating from the students themselves." In the fall of 1993, the Women's Center officially opened its doors under the direction of Sandi Cantrell, Director. Ms. Cantrell served as the Director of the Center until the spring of 1994. In October of 1995, Melanie L. Miller was named Director of the Center. She served in this role until 2007, when she accepted the position as Associate Dean of Students.
Since it's inception, the Women's Resource Center has experienced tremendous growth. When it was started, the center provided programs on a variety of women's issues, published a newsletter and provided limited advocacy services for victims of violence. It also had a small collection of books and other resources available for lending.
In 1995, a generous donation from Frances S. Summersell allowed for the creation of the Frances S. Summersell Library. Today the library has grown to include thousands of holdings, including books, DVDs, and many periodicals and other information on women's issues.
In 1999 the name was changed to Women's Resource Center to reflect the growth and changes that have occurred, emphasizing its broader mission to maximize the learning experience of every UA student and the greater UA community through outreach, services and advocacy to empower women and encourage their active and equal participation. As the center has increased its visibility and accessibility to the university community, it has become an increasingly important resource for students, faculty, and staff.
The timeline below provides highlights of some of the significant events that occurred during the first ten years of the center's operation.
October, 1996 - Received first grant award for $54,000 from the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE).
October, 1997 - Grant awarded from the Violence Against Women Act, administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs in the amount of $82,000. Hired first two professional staff members in addition to the Director.
July, 1998 - American Association of University Women Educational Foundation - Community Action Grant - $3,000.