Publication Date

February 1, 1988

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities


Women, Gender, & Sexuality

Since its establishment in 1970, the Committee on Women Historians (CWH) has worked diligently within the AHA to make the presence of women scholars felt and their concerns recognized. The CWH has also worked hard to persuade women historians that the AHA has come a long way in welcoming them and responding to changes within the profession. Both these aims were greatly facilitated in 1987 with the election of Natalie Z. Davis to the AHA presidency.

Other breakthroughs within the AHA were also achieved this year. After years of negotiation, the Research Division finally endorsed our proposal for a formal guideline encouraging gender-integrated panels at the annual conference. For the past several years, individual program chairs have informally adopted this policy, but until this year it has never been an official policy of the organization. We are very pleased that the policy has now been institutionalized, rather than left to the goodwill of individual chairs and their committees. We are also pleased that the Research Division has allotted the CWH at least one session at the annual meeting devoted to professional issues of concern to women and minorities.

The CWH has been less successful in persuading the AHA to take up another question: changing the date of the annual meeting. Because a number of AHA members have communicated to us their dissatisfaction with holding the conference during the Christmas holidays, we requested the Research and Professional divisions to poll the membership about changing the date. We encountered no enthusiasm with this plan and do not expect to pursue the issue.

The CWH has also been very active in the area of publications. It has decided to initiate a series of essays in Perspectives on graduate training. In the first installments, Paul Boyer will discuss how to advise undergraduates about writing effective essays for admission to graduate study, Natalie Davis will write on mentoring, and Linda Gordon and Florencia Mallon will discuss job interviews. These and later columns will become the basis for a new Survival Manual. In addition, Noralee Frankel has completed the Directory of Women Historians, compiled from computerized data on approximately 1300 women historians. The Directory will be published in early 1988.

One of our members, Virginia Scharff, has compiled statistics on the small proportion of book reviews and articles published by women in the AHR. We met with AHR editor David Ransell about this matter and agreed to try to identify a larger pool of female reviewers and to encourage women scholars to submit articles.

CWH members have also produced a number of short “Roses and Thorns” pieces for Perspectives. Noralee Frankel has written a piece giving a rose to the schools that completed the CWH survey on graduate students. Virginia Scharff will write a piece for Viewpoints, using qualitative material drawn from the surveys.

CWH organized two fine sessions for the 1986 AHA annual meeting. “Class, Race, and Nationality,” chaired by Nancy Dye, included papers by Claire Goldberg Moses on “Women’s Culture and Social Class,” Darlene Clark Hine on “The Evolution of Black Women’s Culture: A Historical Perspective,” and Vicki Ruiz on “Women’s Culture and Nationality: The California Food Processing Industry as a Case Study.” Thoughtful comments were delivered by Dye and Ronald Walters. At the second CWH session, on “Leadership and Equity Issues for Women,” Ellen Furlough chaired a panel, composed of Marilyn J. Boxer, Carol R. Berkin, and Karen Anderson, with comment from Warren Lerner.

CWH also hosted a highly successful breakfast at the annual meeting in 1986, attended by over 100 members. Patricia Graham, our speaker, gave an updated account of the 1970s Rose Report, assessing the limited progress achieved by women historians in securing senior positions at a series of research institutions and private colleges in the U.S. Although the news was none too favorable, the audience certainly appreciated the wit and irony with which it was delivered.

Besides sponsoring events at the annual meeting, the CWH has been actively engaged in conference organizing of its own. A conference on “Women in the Progressive Era” has received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Twenty-nine speakers have accepted an invitation to participate and the conference will be held March 10–12, 1988 at the National Museum of American History. Another conference, on “Women’s History and Public Policy,” is in the planning stage. The CWH has asked Alice KesslerHarris and Amy Swerdlow to organize and plan this conference for June 1989. Swerdlow and Kessler-Harris met with twelve historians at the Berkshire Conference in June 1987 and are proceeding along with plans for a one-and-a-half day conference. The CWH also advised Karen Offen of possible speakers for the 17th International Congress of Historical Sciences to be held in Madrid in 1990.

Two of our members, Nancy Dye and Virginia Scharff, will be leaving the CWH by the end of this year. We would like to thank them for their valuable and enthusiastic service to the Committee. Although the CWH loses two treasured veterans, it has greatly benefited from the insight and participation of our new Committee members, Barbara Engel and Louise Kerr. We continue to remain in the debt of Samuel Gammon, for his unstinting cooperation, as well as that of James Gardner. Without Noralee Frankel, who provides us with our organizational center, institutional memory, and formidable political savvy, the work of the Committee could not go on.

Judith R. Walkowitz, Rutgers University, is chair of the AHA Committee on Women Historians.