Mary Beth Norton on Women in Academe

Norton_11Norton is the president of the American Historical Association and Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University.   She reflects on her experience as a woman in the academy in a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled “The Awakening: Women and Power in the Academy.”  Here is a taste of Norton’s contribution:

In three books on 17th-century Anglo-America, I have focused on women who exercised or sought power: Anne Hutchinson, a religious leader in early Massachusetts; Lady Frances Berkeley, the aristocratic wife of the governor of Virginia in the 1670s; and the so-called “afflicted girls” of Salem, Mass., in 1692, who for a few months upended normal hierarchies with their complaints about witchcraft. In the first two instances, the women in question were high status, living in a world in which status was more important than gender, and in which low-status men were expected to defer to high-status women as well as to high-status men. In the third case, the young women were low status, many of them servants, thus making their impact on society so shocking that we still puzzle over how to interpret and explain why their accusations led to such disastrous consequences.

It might seem that academic hierarchies are comparable to the early modern world I have spent so many years studying. Are tenure and a full professorship at a university the equivalent of 17th-century aristocratic standing for women? Superficially the analogy might appear correct, but it ignores the intervening centuries, when — starting in the early 18th century — gender came to override status to such an extent that all women, regardless of their rank, were denied access to the reins of power. That history of the overwhelming effect of gender on one’s identity remains relevant for female academics today. But it can be minimized, as my career suggests.

In 1969, I joined the history department at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. I had three female colleagues: two other junior women and a senior chaired professor, a rarity in those days. Yet that pattern was familiar to me from my undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, where the only woman in the history department was a distinguished older scholar. Harvard, my graduate institution, had just one female historian, who was untenured and had been selected from among recent Harvard Ph.D.s. I learned subsequently that both the senior women I knew had experienced significant gender discrimination during their careers.

Read the rest here.

On the Road With Susan B. Anthony

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A life crusading for women’s rights was not easy.  Over at the website of National Public Radio, Nina Martyris writes about what it is was like for Susan B. Anthony to spend so much time on the road.  Hint: she ate a lot of bad food.

Here is a taste of Martyris’s piece:

The journeys were punishing and the reception, while sometimes warm and encouraging, was often apathetic, sullen or viciously combative. On the eve of the Civil War, when the national mood was fissile, rotten eggs were lobbed at the stage and cayenne pepper flung on the stove to disrupt the meeting. Implacable, Anthony stood her ground. But one can well imagine how much she and her companions longed for a hot meal and a clean bed after these brutal encounters. In most cases, however, they went back to a dirty hotel and terrible food.

“Most of the food served them was green with soda or floating in grease and the hotels were infested with bedbugs,” writes her biographer Alma Lutz in Susan B. Anthony: Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian. “Susan wrote her family of sleepless nights and of picking the ‘tormentors’ out of their bonnets and the ruffles of their dresses.” One South Dakota hotel served “sour bread, muddy coffee and stewed green grapes.” In others they were faced with unclean water, straw pallets and coffee without cream or milk, sweetened only with sorghum – a good cup of coffee was something Anthony sorely missed, as is evident from a report she filed for a newspaper describing how she “luxuriated in a Christian cup of coffee” in Trinidad, Colo.

“I can assure you that my avoirdupois is being rapidly reduced,”Anthony wrote with characteristic humor in a letter to her family in Rochester, N.Y. Fortunately, she had a robust constitution and weathered the harsh travel conditions mostly without complaint, but a plangent sigh in her diary reflects her frustration: “O, the crimes that are committed in the kitchens of this land!”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Amanda Izzo

9780813588476Amanda Izzo is an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Saint Louis University. This interview is based on her new book, Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters (Rutgers University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters?

AI: I was inspired to start the project while I was an employee of the Sophia Smith Collection, a women’s history archive at Smith College. This immersed me in the world of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Maryknoll Sisters, the two faith groups I examine in this book. Preparing manuscript collections—including packing hundreds of boxes in the YWCA’s Empire State Building headquarters—was a revelation. I had a unique vantage point on a stirring history of women’s activist faith that begged to be told.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters?

AI: Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism argues that the YWCA and Maryknoll Sisters put an activist Christianity into motion in the twentieth century by creating bridges between grassroots interpersonal encounters and social movements that were both local and global in scope. Their efforts left a significant imprint on the labor, civil rights, and global human rights movements

JF: Why do we need to read Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters?

AI: I think the book is a necessary corrective to historiographic and popular perceptions that religious activism has, since the mid-twentieth century, been the exclusive province of conservative Christians and that the most instrumental actors in religious life are men. This work also offers new frameworks for interpreting U.S. political history. These frameworks connect foreign mission to the global human rights movement, red scares to women’s activism, and Christianity to feminism. Liberal Christianity remains a vital presence in U.S. political life; this book, in some part, attempts to explain why this fact has become obscured.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AI: This, too, goes back to the archives. Arranging material gives such intimacy with the past, it is as though I felt a call to share these stories. I have been fortunate to work in interdisciplinary settings—my training is in American Studies and my faculty appointment is in Women’s and Gender Studies—that have enabled me to emphasize how the study of the past can help us to understand the present.

JF: What is your next project?

AI: I’m in the very beginning stages of a project looking at women’s religious activism in twentieth century Saint Louis. Religious groups in this city have been at the forefront of so many mobilizations: from disability rights to fair housing and from refugee resettlement to queer liberation, to name a few. While my recently published book highlights the global reach and ambitions of movements often thought to operate solely in local or national contexts, this new project does the reverse. It attempts to unearth how activist religious projects of national or international scope shaped grassroots politics and faith communities in a single metropolitan locale.

JF: Thanks, Amanda!

Overlooked

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The New York Times is publishing obituaries for important people in history who never got an obituary published in the Times at the time of their deaths.  Learn more here.

The initial installment of the “Overlooked” series includes obituaries of fifteen women:  Ida B. Wells, Qui Jin, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, Diane Arbus, Marsha Johnson, Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Madhubala, Emily Warren Roebling, Nella Larsen, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Abbott, Belkis Ayon, Charlotte Bronte, and Lillias Campbell Davidson.

Here is a taste of the Ida B. Wells obit:

Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Miss., in 1862, less than a year before Emancipation. She grew up during Reconstruction, the period when black people, including her father, were able to vote, ushering black representatives into state legislatures across the South. One of eight siblings, she often tagged along to Bible school on her mother’s hip.

In 1878, her parents both died of yellow fever, along with one of her brothers; and at 16, she took on caring for the rest of her siblings. She supported them by working as a teacher after dropping out of high school and lying about her age. She finished her own education at night and on weekends.

Around the same time, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was largely nullified by the Supreme Court, reversing many of the advancements of Reconstruction. The anti-black sentiment that grew around her was ultimately codified into Jim Crow.

“It felt like a dramatic whiplash,” said Troy Duster, Wells’s grandson, who is a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University. “She cuts her teeth politically in this time of justice, justice, justice, and then injustice.”

Observing the changes around her, Wells decided to become a journalist during what was a golden era for black writers and editors. Her goal was to write about black people for black people, in a way that was accessible to those who, like her, were born the property of white owners and had much to defend.

Her articles were often reprinted abroad, as well as in the more than 200 black weeklies then in circulation in the United States.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Jeanne Abrams

abrams comp final (004)Jeanne Abrams is a Professor, University Libraries at the University of Denver. This interview is based on her new book, First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role (NYU Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: It was actually my last book, Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health, which sparked my interest in the way our inaugural first three ladies carved out a role for themselves in the political life of the early American republic. Revolutionary Medicine examined the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison from the perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era. In the process of writing that book I gained a deeper appreciation for the role these formidable and path-breaking women, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, played in the grand experiment which transformed America from a colonial outpost to an independent nation.

JF: What is the argument of First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, the three “first” First Ladies of the United States, invented the position without a roadmap to follow to accommodate the demands of a new republican government. Although they had to walk a fine line between bringing dignity to the position and distancing themselves from the courtly styles of European royalty that were seen as inimical to the values of a republic, these three spirited women, who in their time could not even vote or hold office, exercised intelligence and initiative to play a substantial role in the nation’s early political life.

JF: Why do we need to read First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: First Ladies of the Republic demonstrates that the creation of the United States was not only a male enterprise. Although they were constrained by the customs of their era, elite women like the inaugural First Ladies played a substantial role in the nation’s early political life. All three helped shape the nation’s political culture and were able to transcend boundaries between the private and public sphere. The lives of these three extraordinary women intersected on many occasions, and they learned from one another as the brand new position of First Lady evolved. Moreover, though most historians have looked at male and female socio-political roles in their era as a binary divide, I argue that it is more useful to view the manner in which they operated together with their presidential husbands as members of a family unit. For early members of America’s governing elite, political life was often a joint cooperative undertaking, an effort in which they participated actively as part of a close-knit family circle. The three First Ladies were all deeply committed to the public good and the principles of independence and liberty which had first emerged in Revolutionary America and continued to develop in the early national period, but at the same time, they also worked to burnish the public images of their presidential spouses and advance their family interests.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JA: As a freshman in college many decades ago, I had to write a paper on American Loyalists in the American Revolution for a history class. I paid a visit to the New York Historical Society, and too my astonishment and gratitude, I was handed a box of letters written by Loyalists in the 1760s and 1770s. I couldn’t believe I was holding historical documents from two centuries prior in my hands, and the experience launched my on the road to becoming an historian. That fateful day, I immediately fell in love with primary sources, and it is a love affair that has endured to this day.

JF: What is your next project?

JA: I am now working on a book manuscript about the European journeys of John and Abigail Adams and how their time abroad influenced their increasing admiration for their home country of America and commitment to the republic of the United States.

JF: Thanks, Jeanne!

What Happened to Harriett Hemings?

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Thomas Jefferson had four children with his slave, Sally Hemings.  One of them was a daughter.  Her name was Harriett.  According to historian Catherine Kellison, “Sally’s daughter boarded a stagecoach to freedom at age 21, bound for Washington D.C.  Her father had given her $50 for her travel expenses.  She would never see her mother or younger brothers again.”

Learn more about Harriett Hemings in Kellison’s recent piece at The Washington Post: “How Did We Lose a President’s Daughter.”  Here is a taste:

Since Harriet’s time, science has proved there is no difference in blood as a marker of “race.” As a biological category, racial difference has been exposed as a sham. Even skin color is not a reliable indicator of one’s origins. As one study calculated, almost a third of white Americans possess up to 20 percent African genetic inheritance, yet look white, while 5.5 percent of black Americans have no detectable African genetic ancestry. Race has a political and social meaning, but not a biological one.

This is why the story of Harriet Hemings is so important. In her birth into slavery and its long history of oppression, she was black; but anyone who saw her assumed she was white. Between when she was freed in 1822 and the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, she was neither free nor enslaved — yet she lived as a free person.

She does not comfortably fit any of the terms that have had such inordinate power to demarcate life in America. Her disappearance from the historical record is precisely the point. When we can so easily lose the daughter of a president and his slave, it forces us to acknowledge that our racial categories are utterly fallacious and built on a science that has been thoroughly discredited.

Read the entire piece here.

Rutgers University is Collecting 2018 Women’s March Signs

Women's Rights

Daniel Munoz reports at Tape Into Newark:

Believe it or not, we’re living through history right now. That’s why the Rutgers University Libraries want to collect artifacts and memorabilia from the present day.

If you took part in yesterday’s women’s march in Morristown, or one of the “sister” marches across the state, you should consider donating your signs and protest memorabilia to Rutgers – for future historians.

Any donated items will be part of the library’s Women’s March Archive Project, which itself is a section of the Rutgers’ Special Collections and University Archives.

Last year, we collected signs, buttons, pamphlets, newspapers, stickers and one embroidered goose patch from Women’s March Participants,” reads a statement from library officials.

Any donated items will be part of the library’s Women’s March Archive Project, aimed at documenting these materials for future scholars.

Read the rest here.  Great idea.

Conference on Faith and History Session: “The Bible in American Cultural and Political History”

BibleEarlier today I chaired a session titled “The Bible in American Cultural and Political History.” It was co-sponsored by the American Historical Association and the Conference on Faith History.

In recent years, several important monographs have been published examining the role of the Bible in American culture and politics.  In 2015, Oxford University Press released Mark Noll’s In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783, the first book in his projected multi-volume work on the history of the Bible in America.  In 2017, Oxford also published The Bible in American Lifethe culmination of a four-year interdisciplinary study by the Center for the Religion and American Culture at IUPUI.  The study focused on Bible-reading as a religious practice.  Two of today’s panelists–Amy Easton-Flake and Emerson Powery–contributed to this volume.

The editors of The Bible in American Life–Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsely, and Peter Thuesen–write: “According to Gallup, nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or as inspired by God.  At the same time, surveys have revealed–and recent books have analyzed–surprising gaps in Americans’ biblical literacy.  These discrepancies reveal American Christians’ complex relationship to Holy Writ, a subject that is widely acknowledged but rarely investigated.”

The panel I chaired today reflected on the history of the Bible in American history with four scholars who have contributed to this ongoing conversation.  I asked each panelist to take a few minutes to describe their ongoing work.

Daniel Dreisbach of American University talked about the challenges–both real and imagined–of writing about the Bible’s contributions to the American founding.  He is interested in the question whether the Bible’s contributions are sufficiently significant that it merits mention alongside other intellectual influences on the founding, such as British constitutionalism, Enlightenment liberalism (in various forms), and classical and civic republicanism.  He also addressed criticism that some of his work has been used by the defenders of the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

James Byrd of Vanderbilt Divinity School focused on the relationship between his book Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution and his current book project, “The Bible and the American Civil War.”  Byrd is particularly interested in the ways the Bible was used to justify and explain war.

Amy Easton-Flake of Brigham Young University spoke on women’s deployment of the Bible in late nineteenth-century America.  She used three case examples: the portrayal of Latter-Day Saint women in the journal Women’s Exponent, Harriett Beecher-Stowe’s portrayal of biblical women in her Women and Sacred History, and the Suffrage Movement’s use of the Bible in Revolution and Women’s Journal.

Emerson Powery, my colleague at Messiah College, offered a few thoughts on the integral use of the Bible in arguments surrounding slavery during the antebellum period, especially from the perspective of those whose bodies were most affected.  His way into this discussion was through the voice of the formerly enslaved though the so-called “slave narrative.”

It was a lively session.  I encourage you to explore this subject further by reading the books and articles of these panelists:

Dreisbach, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

Byrd, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible in the American Revolution

Easton-Flake: Mormon Women’s History: Beyond Biography

Powery, The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved

Fea, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society

The Women Behind the Lost Cause

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Over at The New York Times, historian Karen Cox tells the story of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the role the organization played in instilling “Southern white youth a reverence for Confederate principles.”

Here is a taste of her piece “The Confederacy’s ‘Living Monuments’“:

The Daughters’ primary objective, however, was to instill in Southern white youth a reverence for Confederate principles. Indeed, they regarded their efforts to educate children as their most important work as they sought, in their words, to build “living monuments” who would grow up to defend states’ rights and white supremacy.

Members of the U.D.C. developed a multipronged approach to educating white children about the “truth” of the “War Between the States.” They developed lesson plans for teachers, a number of whom were members of the organization. They placed pro-Confederate books in school and public libraries, which they insisted students use when they competed in U.D.C.-sponsored essay contests. They led students in the celebration of Robert E. Lee’s life on his birthday and placed portraits of Confederate heroes, festooned with the battle flag, in classrooms across the South and even in some schools outside of the region. They also formed Children of the Confederacy chapters for boys and girls ages 6 to 16, intended to serve as a pipeline for membership in both the U.D.C. and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a parallel organization.

Read the entire piece here.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 5

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Princeton rare books librarian Eric White breaks out a first-edition collection of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and the teachers transform into the paparazzi

It was another busy day at the Gilder-Lehrman Institute‘s “Colonial Era” teacher seminar at Princeton University.  We covered a lot of ground yesterday and traveled through three different regions of British colonial America:

  1. We started the day discussing women and dissent in colonial New England.  We talked about Anne Hutchinson and the “Good Wives” made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
  2.  We had a great day in Philadelphia on Wednesday.  On Thursday we discussed Philadelphia in the larger context of the Middle Colonies with a specific focus on Pennsylvania as a Quaker and liberal colony.
  3.  After lunch we discussed the emergence of slave culture in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

We ended the day in the Firestone Library’s Rare Books Department where curator Eric White showed the teachers a host of first editions from the 17th and 18th centuries.  We got to see a copy of John Eliot’s Algonquian Bible and works by William Penn, Cotton Mather, John Locke, George Whitefield, Phillis Wheatley, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Stern, Addison and Steele, and others.  It is always fun to watch the teachers’ eyes light-up as they are exposed to these books.

One more day left!

Rare Books 2

Notes were taken

 

Doug Sweeney Reviews “Sarah Osborn’s Collected Writings”

OsbornYale University Press recently published Catherine A. Brekus’s edited volume, Sarah Osborn’s Collected Writings. Check out Sweeney‘s review at the website of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

A taste:

This lightly annotated edition of selected Osborn manuscripts arrives as a companion to the highly-acclaimed monograph on Osborn Brekus published back in 2013, which we reviewed here.

Brekus, who teaches at Harvard, is a specialist in the religious lives of women in early America. And Osborn (1714-1796) is one of the few colonial American women–religious or otherwise–whose writings were preserved. More than 2,000 pages of her manuscripts survive (out of nearly 15,000 Osborn penned altogether), in addition to a book published anonymously by Osborn (with the help of a local clergyman) and material by Osborn published shortly after she died (by two of her admirers). Several other scholars have treated Osborn before, but only now is she receiving the attention she deserves, thanks in large part to Brekus.

Read the rest here.

 

FOUND: The Slave Quarters of Sally Hemings

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Slave manacles from Monticello (Creative Commons)

She was mother to six of Thomas Jefferson’s children.  She was also Thomas Jefferson’s slave.  Archaeologists at Monticello have discovered the living quarters of Sally Hemings.

Here is a taste of a report from NBC News:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Archaeologists have excavated an area of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion that has astounded even the most experienced social scientists: The living quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.

“This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room,” said Gardiner Hallock, director of restoration for Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation, standing on a red-dirt floor inside a dusty rubble-stone room built in 1809. “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”

Hemings’ living quarters was adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom but she remains something of an enigma: there are only four known descriptions of her. Enslaved blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson recalled that Hemings was “mighty near white . . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back.”

Her room — 14 feet, 8 inches wide and 13 feet long — went unnoticed for decades. The space was converted into a men’s bathroom in 1941, considered by some as the final insult to Hemings’ legacy.

Read the entire news report here.

I am sure Annette Gordon-Reed‘s phone has been ringing today.

Will There Be a Smithsonian Museum of Women’s History?

Maloney

Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

Momentum is building for a national museum of women’s history.  The Hill reports:

Momentum for a museum of women’s history on the National Mall is building, with 198 lawmakers signing on to co-sponsor legislation to create it.

That’s a jump from 150 co-sponsors on June 6, a surge in support that is edging closer to a House majority.

“I believe that there’s no reason not to support it,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill. “It helps the country, it helps women, and it’s truly bipartisan.”

Maloney took a letter to the White House Thursday asking President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and adviser Ivanka Trump for their backing.

The top Republican sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce (Calif.), said he is encouraging House members from both sides of the aisle to support it.

Read the entire article here.

Call for Papers: Women and Religion in the Early Americas

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Mary Maples Dunn

Ann Little, aka Historiann, is co-editing a special edition of Early American Studies in honor of the late Mary Maples Dunn.  Here is the call for papers:

Call For Papers: Women and Religion in the Early Americas

For a special issue in honor of the life and career of Mary Maples Dunn, Early American Studies seeks article-length contributions from scholars working on the history of women and religion in the early Americas. Mary Maples Dunn (1931-2017) was a leading practitioner of women’s history, as a scholar, as a teacher, and in her life as a university leader. She worked in a variety of fields from early American women’s history; to colonial Latin American history; to the history of religious women; to the history of women’s education as well as, of course, the worlds of William Penn and early Philadelphia.

The editors invite essays that consider the history of early American women, early American religion (or both) and are especially interested in work that makes cross-cultural comparisons or integrates multiple Atlantic orientations: North and South (French, British, Dutch, Spanish and/or Portuguese) East and West (from European and/or African links to Native American perspectives). We are interested in both formal article-length contributions (10,000 words) and in shorter essays on “Notes and Documents” that highlight innovative or creative ways of reading/using primary-source documents (3,000-5,000 words).

To submit, please email a 3-page CV and a 1,000 word summary of the contribution you propose to write by September 30 to Ann Little (ann.little@colostate.edu) and Nicole Eustace (nicole.eustace@nyu.edu). Please use the subject line “Mary Maples Dunn Special Issue Submission.” We will notify you of your preliminary acceptance by October 31, 2017 and final essays are due on April 30, 2018. Articles are to be published, subject to peer review, in 2019.

The Smithsonian Women’s History Initiative

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The Smithsonian is trying to raise $10 million for this new initiative.

A synopsis:

Women have influenced eras, changed nations and shaped history. Yet countless of their stories are not well known, their contributions not fully integrated into our national narrative.

The Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative will amplify women’s voices to honor the past, inform the present and inspire the future. As the preeminent institution about the American experience, the Smithsonian will tell the critical stories of women to millions of people in Washington, D.C., and around the world, elevating their pivotal roles in building and sustaining our country.

We seek donors who share our vision for women’s history to help launch this initiative. Your support will allow the Smithsonian to hire the best educators and curators to be positioned in museums throughout the Smithsonian. These experts will investigate our vast collection to uncover and illuminate women’s stories—and then plan programs, exhibitions and publications to inspire the next generation and reach a global audience.

Here is how the money will be used:

  • Recruit at least six new curators for five-year terms to work in museums across the Smithsonian and provide start-up funds for their research, exhibitions and programs.
  • Survey the Smithsonian’s collections for objects relevant to women’s history and establish an acquisitions fund to build the collection.
  • Hire an education specialist for a five-year term and allocate start-up funds to develop programs and educational materials.
  • Produce an annual symposium and other public programs, such as lectures, film series and curator talks.
  • Mentor ten paid interns each year.

OUR GOALS FOR THE INITIATIVE are ambitious. We aspire to grow far beyond the foundation of activities described above. With additional gifts, we will:

  • Recruit a senior curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and provide funds to help develop a landmark exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.
  • Create print and digital resources such as books, documentaries, podcasts and a website for a large and diverse audience.
  • Develop Washington, D.C.-based and traveling exhibitions, including a traveling exhibition of posters to reach hundreds of communities across the country.
  • Launch a venture fund, to seed new projects and provide competitive grants for emerging topics in women’s history across the Smithsonian.

Learn more here.

Christian Feminism

Thousands Attend Women's March On Washington

Kristin Kobes Du Mez of Calvin College writes about what it is and what it is not.  It’s a very helpful piece.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Du Mez lists “ten things Christians get wrong about feminism.”  They are:

  1. “Christian feminism” is an oxymoron
  2.  Feminism is only about abortion
  3.  Feminism provokes violence against women
  4.  Feminists hate men
  5.  Feminists want to make women just like men
  6.  Feminists are anti-motherhood
  7.  Feminists have no sense of humor
  8.  Feminists are ugly
  9.  Feminists are crass
  10.  Feminism is a “diverse and varied” movement.

Read how Du Mez unpacks these points here.

What Happens When You Teach a Graduate Seminar on “Women, Gender, and Sex in U.S. Religious History” to a Class That is Over 85% Men?

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Andrea Turpin, a history professor at Baylor University, reflects on such an experience in a recent post at The Anxious Bench.  She uses her observations from this graduate seminar, as well as her experience teaching an undergraduate class on women and gender that was almost 90% female, to say some important things about history and diversity.

Here is a taste:

Too often the term “diversity,” and even the concept, comes loaded with all the baggage of the culture wars, and we reflexively either embrace it or reject it accordingly. (Indeed, as I was thinking about these things this week, a controversy along these lines broke out at Duke Divinity School.) So what difference does it really make, intellectually and spiritually, who our conversation partners are — in terms of our classmates and pewmates, the authors we read, and the voices from the past that we seek out?

Since I had a ready-made experiment at hand to help me answer this question, I periodically asked both classes to respond emotionally to what we had been reading or discussing. After all, in my view one of the great spiritual and intellectual benefits of studying history is that it can help students develop empathy for those who are different alongside critical thinking about themselves, others, and their world. I first tried this question on the graduate class after we discussed Rebecca Larson’s Daughters of Light (Knopf, 1999), about traveling Quaker female preachers in colonial America. The book is a bit hagiographic, but it paints a compelling picture of women who lived very full lives and whose spiritual and intellectual contributions were valued by the men of their community. I am not a Quaker and do not share all their theological convictions, but I always find the book moving and have had women students report a similar experience. No man in the course had that emotional response — though they did have thoughtful insights on the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, my great joy of class that day was watching one man have the sudden realization that he had not particularly felt for any of the book’s women in their triumphs or struggles — but that he had been moved by the account of a husband who had been left behind while his wife, with full support from the Quaker community, went on an extended preaching mission.

Meanwhile, the undergraduate class watched the movie Suffragette, about British women fighting for the right to vote in the early twentieth century. The movie is crafted to induce emotional responses — I wept openly at my kitchen table the first time I screened it — so every student certainly had one. But different things stuck with male and female students. It was one of the course’s two men who made the observation, part way through class discussion, that the movie featured three types of male characters: the suffragettes’ allies, their opponents, and men somewhere in between who were wrestling through competing impulses. He could give incredibly nuanced summaries of the attitudes of the different male characters and what might have accounted for them.

Turpin concludes:

What should we make of these stories? Perhaps the most obvious point is that students, and indeed all of us, tend to respond most easily to those people in history with whom we identify in some manner. Knowing our own history is a basic human need that helps us develop our sense of place and purpose in the world. Identifying with historical actors also helps pull us into their story. Once we’re there, we realize that these people are not only familiar, but also different, as denizens of the “foreign country” that is the past. They are paradoxically therefore also a gateway to widening our sympathies. Including diverse voices in the curriculum thus serves the spiritual and intellectual needs of multiple types of students.

The flip side is also true: having a diverse classroom population expands the minds and sympathies of all students. The presence of the two men in my undergraduate class meant that the class’s women were constantly confronted with the question of how what we were studying affected men as well. And my presence and that of the female graduate student meant that the men in my graduate class could not content themselves with merely dispassionately analyzing a book. The presence of students of color in both classes had a similar effect.

Read the entire post here.

The Daring Women of Philadelphia

Daring Women

I am in Philadelphia today.  This morning I was interviewed for a documentary film on women, religion, and anti-slavery in the early American Republic (1789-1848) titled “The Daring Women of Philadelphia.”  The Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmakers at History Making Productions are producing the film.

I don’t pretend to be a historian of women in the early republic.   There will be many other historians in the film who will speak authoritatively on this topic.  I was asked to participate for the purpose of providing general background information about the Second Great Awakening, benevolent societies, and the religious impetus behind moral reforms movements in the early 1800s.  I have no idea if anything I said was useful or will make the cut, but it was fun talking about Charles Finney’s visit to Philadelphia, the Orthodox-Hicksite Quaker schism, Lucretia Mott, “moral suasion,” and the American Bible Society (of course).

Stay tuned.

Happy 321st Birthday Esther Wheelwright!

LittleMy favorite early American history book of 2016 was Ann Little’s The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  Over at Historiann, Little informs us that the subject of her book was born 321 years ago today.  Happy Birthday Esther!

I highly recommend The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, but don’t take my word for it.  Listen to Little talk about Esther, women’s history, and biography in Episode 11 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

It looks like we are not the only historians who like the book.  Here is a taste of Little’s post:

It’s Esther Wheelwright’s 321st birthday! She was born March 31, 1696 (Old Style).*  Since Esther has been dead for 237 years, I was thrilled to accept a birthday present on her behalf in the form of a rave review of my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, at the Christian Century!  (H/t to friend and blog reader Susan for passing it along.)  In “Women Who Do Things,” Margaret Bendroth, the executive director of the Congregational Library and author of The Last Puritans:  Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past (among many other titles), gets my book exactly right.  

Read the rest here.

Teaching Abortion

clasroom

Rose Holz is associate director of the Women’s & Gender Studies program and director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  She also teaches a course on the history of sexuality.

And if her piece at the website of The American Historian is any indication (and I think it is), she is a great history teacher.

Here is a taste of her “Why the Classroom Is a Sacred Place for Me and Why I’ll Keep Venturing Out into ‘No-Man’s land’…Even during These Abortion Wars”:

Of course, I’ve always prided myself in teaching in a way that allows for diversity of opinion. The classroom, as I see it, is not a place where I impose my views. It is a place for the free exchange of ideas even—no, especially—if they differ from my own. Otherwise, how else are we going to learn? Otherwise, how else are we going to get to know each other—maybe even like each other—even if sometimes we hold radically different views? And of course again, I would be lying if I didn’t mention just how many times I’ve miserably failed in this regard. But I’m also happy to report how over the years I’ve managed to achieve a few moments of success, in particular when facilitating conversations about abortion.

The cornerstone to my approach is Leslie Reagan’s When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867–1973. If you haven’t read it, you should. It is, hands down, the best book on the subject, and students are fascinated to discover just how little they know about an issue everybody talks and has a strong opinion about, despite how little most people know about its history. Thus, each semester Reagan’s book is required and each semester students must do a take-home exam. We then spend two days discussing what we’ve learned.

But first I lay down a few ground rules. When writing their exams, I tell the students that they are to keep their politics out of their answers. As I explain, “I don’t care if you’re pro-choice or pro-life. Your job is to stick with learning about what happened in the past.” Easier said than done, however, particularly once the conversation begins. Thus the creation last spring of another helpful ground rule. Sensing how high the students’ emotions were running already, I came to class on our first abortion discussion day armed with a Zip-lock food storage container and little slips of white paper. “Write your position on abortion down here, on this little piece of paper,” I told them. “And if it makes you feel better, feel free to surround your position with exclamation points, as many exclamation points as you feel the need to announce.” But then, as I further instructed them, “you are to put that little piece of paper into this Zip-lock box. And this Zip-lock box is going to sit up front—with me and all my stuff—for the duration of the class.”

It worked like a charm.

This is not to say that When Abortion Was a CrimeWhen Abortion Was a Crime lacks a political message; it is clearly pro-choice, a conclusion I let the students discover on their own. And most do. But this prompts another interesting question for us to debate: how would a solidly researched historical account of the same subject read if the author were pro-life? Very quickly we then find ourselves eyeball deep in my favorite historical themes about subjectivity, objectivity, historiography, and evidence. Yes, these days, especially about evidence.

The subject of abortion rarely comes up in my courses.  But if I had the opportunity to teach it I would definitely follow Holz’s lead.

Read the entire piece here.