The Critical Difference program (originally named Critical Difference for Women) was born in 1986 when 22 exceptional Ohio State women came together to do research showing that many women students were not completing degrees and that the disruption in their studies was largely due to family responsibilities and financial constraints. The researchers further concluded that financial assistance for tuition, books, childcare and other living expenses would make the critical difference in permitting women students to re-enroll and stay in school through graduation.
The founders also determined that female faculty and staff members were not advancing at the university at the same rate as men, and they created programs to support professional development for women and research on women's issues. CDW became an official university scholarship under the development of Ohio State in 1994. Gail Feinstein was hired as Director of Development for CDW and remained dedicated to that position until leaving the university in 2007. Joy Trego served as administrative assistant. Dean Nancy Zimpher of the College of Education played a significant role during the 1990s in the development of the Critical Difference for Women program.
In 2006 Critical Difference for Women celebrated its 20th anniversary and honored its founding members. These 22 women were honored for their advocacy and beginning donations to make a critical difference in the lives of women at Ohio State: Sue Blanshan, Karen Carroll, Caroletta Curtis, Jean Dickerscheid, Mary Margaret Fonow, Judy Genshaft, Jean Girves, Ruth Gresham, Gay Hadley, Sheryl Hansen, Susan Hartmann, Margaret (Peg) Hines, Barbara Real Jennings, Joan Leitzel, Sue Mayer, Barbara Newman, Margaret Nichikawara, Loretta Patterson, Jean Peebles, Jo Ann Stokes, Mary Ann Williams, and Judy Fountain Yesso.