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Susan Cavin (1948–2010)

Author of Lesbian Origins

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Susan Cavin was born in Trion, Georgia, on March 18, 1948. After finishing high school in Trion in May 1966, she attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating with an interdepartmental major in sociology, history, and philosophy in 1970. In 1973 and 1978 she received her MA and PhD, respectively, in sociology from Rutgers University.

After numerous teaching assistant internships at Rutgers, Cavin moved to Poultney, Vermont, to take up a position as Assistant Professor at Green Mountain College. During her years there, from 1979-1983, she taught courses on "Marriage and the Family," "Introductory Sociology," "Social Theory," and "Women's Studies." As founder and Director of the Green Mountain College Women's Center, she also instituted the college newspaper Lines, and served as its first faculty advisor. In 1981 she was elected chairperson of the faculty and President of the Faculty Senate, and from 1982 to 1983 was voted "Outstanding Teacher of the Year" at Green Mountain College.

In 1983 Cavin moved to the New York area, serving on the board of directors of the Gay Press Association, of which she became president in 1984. It was in 1984 that her renewed association with Rutgers University began, from then until 1991 she held a number of positions as visiting assistant professor and as assistant director of Women's Studies.

Cavin's work as an intellectual and a teacher is inseparable from her identity as a lesbian and her political activism. The present collection indicates this interdependence in that one of Cavin's courses, Homosexuality and Society, formed the springboard for the launch of the Rutgers Sexual Orientation Survey, which in turn influenced the formation of the President's Select Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns, an important tool for change in the Rutgers community.

A prolific writer of articles and papers, Cavin has also published a poetry collection, Me and Them Sirens Running All Night Long. Her doctoral dissertation, An Hystorical and Cross-Cultural Analysis of Sex Ratios, Female Sexuality, and Homo-Sexual Segregation: Versus Hetero-Sexual Integration Patterns in Relation to the Liberation of Women was published in 1985 under the title Lesbian Origins. Notes and letters in the collection document changes and developments in the dissertation due to the influence of members of Cavin's committee, who asked for more empirical data to reinforce the theoretical underpinning of the work.

Cavin intiated the Rutgers Sexual Orientation Survey after a student in her course "Homosexuality and Society" brought a gun into class. Several students also complained of harassment, and at about this period Cavin saw the Yale Sexual Orientation Survey (1986), which served as a model for the work at Rutgers University. The Rutgers survey revealed that homophobia was rife on the campus and led directly the formation of the President's Select Committee on Gay and Lesbian Concerns (PSCGLC), in which Cavin was very active.

Cavin left Rutgers University in 1991 when a new director of Women's Studies was available to fill what had been Cavin's position. Clearly, Susan Cavin worked hard and effectively during her time on the faculty at Rutgers, in raising consciousness across the campus on gay and lesbian issues.

Susan Cavin has for many years edited newspapers serving the New York lesbian community. Tribad ran from 1977 to 1979, while its longer-lived successor, Big Apple Dyke News" (BAD) survived from 1981 to 1988. Cavin is currently (1993) the originator of a third paper, Radical Chick. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner, Laura Zeidenstein, and has a son, Julian Samuel Cavin Zeidenstein who was born on May 12, 1980. Since 1991 Cavin has worked as project director on a National Science Foundation grant, for a project entitled "Women in Science and Engineering" at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
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