Peggy Pascoe, 1954-2010

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 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.

0 thoughts on “Peggy Pascoe, 1954-2010

  1. I wish I had a specific story to capture what a warm and gracious woman Peggy was, but I don’t think any of my anecdotes can quite do her justice. I had a brief email exchange with her this summer and she was as lovely as ever (and as punctual in responding) and I didn’t realize until I heard of her death how ill she must have been at the time. She fought hard. My heart is heavy for her partner and children. But I too am so glad that the she received just recognition before her death.


  2. I’m very sorry to hear this. I found Dr. Pascoe’s first book to be very inspiring as an undergraduate, and I even quoted part of it in my personal statement. I’m happy a fund has been established to help out other aspiring graduate students.


  3. I met her once as a “graduate representative” to the hiring committees that year including that for the Beekman Chair at the University of Oregon. When she began the next fall as the Beekman Professor I was off to another program for doctoral work so I never got to take a class with her.

    I was only an MA student and neither a Western nor a Women’s History major but what I always remembered about my very brief interaction with her was how gracious and kind she was not only to me as the grad rep but to all the students she met.


  4. I met Peggy when she gave a job talk at Michigan. She treated me kindly then and in many interactions thereafter at a number of conferences, always remembering my name. She was first class all the way.


  5. I had the great good fortune of taking the historical methods course from Peggy while working on my MA at UofOregon. It was the third year in a row that she taught the course–two more than she was obliged to. But Peggy cared so deeply for the profession and its future professionals that she kept taking on the responsibility. She was incredibly kind, patient, and always interested in each student as an individual. And forgiving and gracious! I remember during one meeting I kept saying “proscribe” and Peggy was saying “prescribe”–which was correct, of course, but she never corrected me directly, instead just letting her own example lead (I didn’t figure it out until after class, and I was so embarrassed, but so happy that Peggy hadn’t pointed out my stupidity). She gave and gave and gave to students, and not just her own. I remember seeing her in her office on a Friday afternoon one beautiful Oregon summer day. I figured that she was working on her own project. Nope: she was writing comments for a student from another university who had asked for her help. No obligation, and not a particularly “important” project or student. Just Peggy’s generosity. Which is the best word I can think of to describe her: generous. With Peggy’s passing, the profession lost one of its best scholars, teachers, and people.


  6. When on the program committee for the AHA-PCB held at SF State in the 1990s, she made sure graduate student scholars were represented on panels. But the memory of her that comes to mind is of her cradling her baby girl in her arms exuding much love.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s