Peggy Pascoe, one of the most important feminist historians of the American West, died July 23. Estelle Friedman has a lovely obituary in this month’s AHA Perspectives describing her career and the importance of her intellectual work and feminist teaching and service to the profession:
Born in Butte, Montana, in 1954, Peggy Pascoe received a BA in history from Montana State University (1977), which later named her one of the school’s 100 most outstanding graduates. She entered the women’s history program at Sarah Lawrence College, studying with Gerda Lerner, and earned her MA degree in 1980. That year she began the doctoral program in U.S. history at Stanford, where I had the great fortune to serve as her advisor and then to become her colleague and friend. Her cohort—which included David Gutierrez, Valerie Matsumoto, and Vicki Ruiz—pioneered a multicultural and gendered history of the West. Pascoe’s revised dissertation, Relations of Rescue: The Search for Female Moral Authority in the American West, 1874–1939 (Oxford University Press, 1993), set a high standard for these fields. Through careful case studies of female missionary campaigns throughout the West, she explored the ways that white Protestant women attempted to uplift Native American, Asian American, working class, and Mormon women. Her balanced and subtle interpretation both credited the opportunities to challenge patriarchy and exposed the ways these efforts reinforced racial hierarchies.
Pascoe’s last book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (Oxford, 2009), was completed while she was enduring treatment for ovarian cancer and was awarded many prestigious prizes:
Pascoe was part way through the manuscript for her book on miscegenation law when she learned in 2005 that she had ovarian cancer. Initially she did not think that she would be able to complete the study. In 2007, at a panel held in her honor at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, several colleagues commented on her draft chapters, which helped inspire her to go back to work on the book even as she endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy. The scholarly result was stunning. What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (Oxford, 2009) provides a sweeping and detailed account of the criminalization of interracial marriage and resistance to that process from the 1860s through the 1960s. It is also a superb history of the shifting meaning of “race” in American culture and the ways that gender and race are always mutually constructed. One of the most acclaimed books in U.S. social, cultural, and legal history, it received the Ellis W. Hawley and the Lawrence W. Levine Prizes from the Organization of American Historians; the John H. Dunning Prize and the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize from the American Historical Association; and the J. Willard Hurst Prize from the Law and Society Association.
I’m really glad the book got all of this recognition before she died. What a commitment to scholarship! Peggy, along with her partner, was the mother of two young children. A scholarship for graduate study has been established in her name:
Contributions can be made to the University of Oregon Foundation, 360 E. 10th Ave., Suite 202, Eugene, OR 97401-3273 or online at https://supportuo.uofoundation.org/ with a note designating the Peggy Pascoe Graduate Student Fund in History.
I never had the pleasure of meeting or knowing Pascoe–perhaps some of you have rememberances.