Happy birthday Esther Wheelwright, with remembrances of other American ladies on this date in history.

Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas), 55.7×45.5 cm; © Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

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.  Check out her lede, which is just perfect:

An offhand remark can change everything. I still remember a graduate school professor’s consternation at the idea of “women’s history.” “They don’t do anything,” he protested. The comment passed without notice in a room full of male professors and students, but it took up permanent residence in my head. I was hooked, not just by his attitude problem but by the nagging reality that in the categories this well-regarded historian recognized—wars and politics and all that—he was right.

Writing women into history isn’t easy. It’s one thing to add an occasional sidebar in a textbook or praise a heroine whose brave exception proves the rule, but that doesn’t change the overall story line. The narrative still belongs to men who “do things,” driving the engines of change by waging wars and winning elections.

I am so touched that readers and reviewers really get where I’m coming from, and are moved to share their own stories of alienation and feelings of displacement in graduate school.  The discipline of history isn’t just heedless or careless about women and women’s history–it’s actively engaged in denial and erasure. Continue reading

Alert the Media: Spring & summer book talk dates!

Yale University Press. 2016

For your convenience, here’s a list of my spring and early summer North American book tour stops. I hope to meet more of you in person, finally!  Most of these events are free and all are open to the public:

Thursday March 30–tomorrow night!–I’ll be at the Longmont Public Library to give a talk about The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright at 7 p.m.

Thursday April 13 I’ll be at Bryn Mawr College to give a talk about the book.  Stay tuned for more details as they arrive–as you might imagine, this trip will be a sentimental favorite, as it’s my own college and therefore a special honor to be asked to return as a guest.

Thursday April 27, I’m one of five invited authors to participate in a book reading at the opening reception of the Western Association of Women Historians in San Diego, California.  The Strawberries and Champagne Book Launch runs from 7-9 p.m. at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center.

Saturday May 6, I’m doing a book talk at the Morrin Center in Québec.

And finally, on Wednesday June 28 at 6 p.m., I’m going to present my book talk at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.  Come early for cocktails and snacks at 5:30, and stay to get your book signed afterwards!

 

Mary Maples Dunn, 1931-2017

UPDATED BELOW WITH MEMORIAL SERVICE INFORMATION

As many in the early American community learned Monday morning, Mary Maples Dunn died Sunday in North Carolina.  She was a longtime professor and dean at Bryn Mawr College who then served as president of Smith College, director of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, president of Radcliffe, and the co-executive officer of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

In one of the emails that started flying around Monday morning, a senior scholar in my field reported that she had been visiting with her youngest daughter and grandchild when she died.  She had whooped it up the night before with two manhattans.  I’m sure that she and they were glad she was able to make one last trip and enjoy a last visit before her death.  Continue reading

Women and fashion: can’t win for losing, turn of the 19th century-style

I’ve been inspired by the recent coverage of the fall 2017 collections during New York and Paris fashion weeks to think about the many ways fashion is deployed as a critique of women’s vanity.  Here are a couple of brilliant prints I came across recently that are great to consider together.  First, we have “The Inconvenience of Dress” (1786), which mocks the late-1780s demand for “false rumps” or “cork bums” to fill out the rear portion of women’s skirts.  The poor dear needs help from a false rump because she can’t get consume enough calories to build her own, given the fashion for generous neckerchiefs in women’s wear in this period, too.  Aye, but “Who’ll not starve to lead the Fashion?” as the ditty below asks:

Continue reading

Marcia! Marcia! Marcia! A member of a Monstrous Regiment of Women pipes up a tune & smokes it.

Portrait of Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), by John Singleton Copley, 1763.  In her correspondence with Abigail Smith Adams and John Adams, Warren called herself “Marcia,” and Adams signed herself “Portia.”

Do women historians exist?  If we exist, do men historians know it?  Going by the antics of the editors of the Journal of the American Revolution, the answer to both questions is an entirely nonsensical no! Which you must admit is pretty hilarious, especially considering that the very first historian of the American Revolution (yes, that one!) was, in fact, a lady!  It’s true!  Mercy Otis Warren’s Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (3 vols., 1805) is widely recognized as the first, and for probably more than a century the only authoritative history of the American Revolution.

For a historical subfield invented by a woman, you’d think there would be a little more remembering of the ladies happening in this list of the “100 Best American Revolution Books of All Time.”  You’d think that, but you’d be so very wrong.  Tragically wrong, in fact.  Of the 114 separate books they list, there are only 11 by women, and one co-authored by a woman.  And of those 11 single-authored books by women, fully three are by the great Pauline Maier, so the list includes only ten women historians in all.  TEN women, and eleven and a half books.  Take that, Marcia!   Continue reading

More process, more complicated product? Monica Green on Twitter, digital (dis)information, and Women’s History Month

Monica Green, Professor of History, Arizona State U.

Monica Green, Professor of History, Arizona State U.

Today I bring you a guest post by eminent historian Monica Green, a European medievalist and historian of women, gender, and medicine.  Those of you who follow her on Twitter have probably noticed that she’s had a bee in her bonnet this week about Trota, a medieval healer, and her book the Trotula.  I asked her to write up a short blog post to talk about her late Tweet storms and other efforts to ensure that information being shared about women’s history was correct and adequately contextualized.  

Professor Green argues here that by only focusing on a superficial takeaway fact or two, non-historians may be distorting the fuller story or even seeding the ground with new falsehoods.  What are we to do as historians who see our work used simplistically, or even incorrectly?  The answers are even more difficult when you see journalists drawing attention to feminist causes like recognizing women in history who have been systematically written out of the story.

Take it away, Professor Green– Continue reading