Creating Careers for Women: Gender and the Historical Profession after 1969

AHA Session 168
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Continental A (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Susan K. Kent, University of Colorado Boulder
William Chafe, Duke University
Kathleen Neils Conzen, University of Chicago
Nupur Chaudhuri, Texas Southern University
Isabel V. Hull, Cornell University

Session Abstract

1969 marked the end of one phase of civil rights activism and the beginning of the next, as women who had worked in nuclear disarmament, African-American civil rights, farm workers movements, and anti-war activism organized as feminists and pushed for equal access to professional work. This included university professorships, jobs that women had trained for since the end of the nineteenth century but were not – with rare exceptions – able to convert to careers as tenured university faculty. In the historical profession, while women taught at the college and university level, too often they were employed as instructors or lecturers, and hired when their husbands were appointed to tenure-track positions. The access of women of color to the tenure track was even more constricted by racism; while lesbians were often well advised to not share their personal lives with colleagues or students.

Yet by 1969 social movements that had often been born and nurtured on campus were transforming university workplaces: the admission of women as undergraduates to prestigious, formerly all-male colleges and universities; the creation of African-American, and then Women’s Studies, curricula; and advances in anti-discrimination law meant that women were promoted to the tenure track from instructorships, were recruited to diversify all-male departments and traditional curricula, and were sought after as potential mentors to a rising generation of female graduate and undergraduate students who, by the 1970s, saw new opportunities opening to them in all professional fields.

In this session, we will reflect on the challenges of those early years a half century later, how the hiring of women changed the university workplace, and why a gender and racially integrated university mattered to other kinds of commitments: publicly engaged scholarship, the transformation of curriculum, re-imagining hiring norms, and the creation of new knowledge. Topics might include:

  • The role of men as change resistors, or as mentors who helped women overcome barriers to their success; and the role of white scholars who worked to create anti-racist spaces that nurtured women of color;
  • Homophobia, racism, ageism, class discrimination, anti-Semitism and other barriers to hiring and promotion;
  • Questions of family and home; the “two-body problem;” and commuting;
  • Curricular transformation, the creation of new fields, and the identification of specific bodies with specific forms of knowledge;
  • The role of formal institutions – professional associations, institutes and centers, and granting agencies -- in promoting or frustrating women’s careers; and the role of informal institutions, such as seminars, study and consciousness-raising groups in promoting women’s scholarship and careers.
  • The advancement of women to administrative roles, such as presidencies, provostships, and foundations, that made resources available for the advancement of female scholars more generally.
  • The transformation of ”women’s history” into the history of gender and sexuality, and the impact on scholarship as gender binaries give way to complex, multi-valent definitions of who a “woman” is.
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