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Mary Lynn Stewart

Excellence in teaching awards: Mary Lynn Stewart

April 3, 2008

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The academic world knows her as one of Canada’s leading European feminist historians and a prize-winning author.    

But SFU women’s studies chair Mary Lynn Stewart is also the heart and soul of her department, inspiring students and colleagues for more than 30 years with her passion for learning and her encyclopedic knowledge of women’s history and politics.

A 2007 Excellence in Teaching award winner, Stewart is a fair but demanding taskmaster who expects — and brings out — the very best in her students. But she is also renowned as an animated, humorous, impeccably prepared instructor.

“I’ve essentially remained a traditional teacher,” she says. “I lecture and I conduct tutorials. But I’m also very passionate about communicating to students the joy of intellectual life, the way in which it engages your mind and your curiosity.”

Stewart “made theory come alive by telling relevant personal stories connecting the theorists and their work to the political and social debates of their time,” says one former student. “She is definitely one of those teachers that ignites a love for subject in her students,” says another.

Stewart earned a PhD in history from Columbia in 1973 and taught at Smith College before joining SFU in 1977 with a joint appointment in history and women’s studies. That position morphed into a full-time women’s studies professorship in 2004.

She has taught virtually every course in the department, although she now teaches two — a first-year introduction to western feminisms and a graduate-level course on French feminist theory.

While she enjoys teaching, Stewart admits that writing is her first love. Her most recent book Dressing Modern Frenchwomen: Marketing Haute Couture, 1919–1939 was published in February, and she has another in the works on female journalists in France between the two world wars.

 “If life were as it should be I would be at the Collège de France in Paris, writing and giving the occasional seminar,” she says with a smile. “But life has not provided me with that opportunity. So I do try very much to pass on my love of learning here.”
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