AHA Activities

1988 Committee on Women Historians Annual Report

Judith R. Walkowitz, February 1989

The Committee has been engaged in a number of activities to further the concerns of women in the historical profession. Over the years, members have communicated to us their dissatisfaction with the date of the annual meeting, coming as it does during the Christmas week. After much negotiation, the AHA agreed this year to poll AHA membership about changing the annual meeting's date. (See p. 3) We have also pressed the AHA to take up another issue of concern to women historians: unadvertised searches as unfair employment practices and violations of the AHA's own guidelines. The CWH is concerned with unadvertised searches that fall into the following categories:

  1. "Star appointments" that are neither advertised nor even bona fide searches. These usually involve the creation of a position for a "famous" individual.
  2. Spousal appointments, that involve the creation of positions for spouses to attract a famous or highly sought after husband or wife. These appointments usually do not involve a search.
  3. Appointments made by ongoing search committees, that were advertised years ago and not readvertised. We feel this is tantamount to an unadvertised search.
  4. Appointments that are advertised at one level and made at a more senior or junior level.

The committee believes that a number of factors have contributed to unadvertised searches in these cases: the national erosion in the enforcement of affirmative action, that has made departments and universities cynical about fair-hiring procedures; new openings at the senior level, that have produced considerable movement and instability at the top and generated a "star war" among universities; and the increasing number of academic couples, who want appointment in the same university.

We regard the present trend towards unadvertised searches and the construction of positions for specific individuals as pernicious. It threatens to reintroduce an "old boy" and "old girl" patronage system, that, previous to the past few decades, structured the academic labor market. It is manifestly unfair to individual scholars, who would like to be considered for these positions. By undermining procedures for fair hiring, it also undermines the orderly mechanisms for negotiations between departments and administrations over the hiring of scholars within a department.

We are, of course, particularly sensitive to the needs of academic couples. We would love history departments, college and university administrations, and indeed the American Historical Association to think long and hard to develop a fair and humane family policy to meet the needs of scholars. But spousal appointments, usually to attract very senior scholars, are not fair and democratic: this is family policy for the "rich and the famous." Before we tackle the problems of academic couples in this way, we should be working to institute programs for parental leave, day care, maternity benefits, etcetera to meet the needs of academic families. We certainly support the hiring of academic couples at the same university, but we feel they should both be hired through regular procedures, that include advertised searches.

The CWH has also been active in the area of publications and conferences. The Directory of Women Historians, published in October 1988, contains information on women historians, with crosslistings for national culture, chronology, and thematic specialties. Special thanks to Assistant Director Noralee Frankel for its editing and production. The CWH has also initiated a series of essays in Perspectives on graduate training. The first essay is by Linda Gordon on job interviews that will be followed by an essay on applying to graduate study by Paul Boyer, and Natalie Davis on mentoring, the essays are scheduled to appear in Perspectives.

Other publications that are still in the planning stage are new editions of the Survival Manual and Recent U.S. Scholarship on the History of Women.

CWH organized two fine sessions for the 1987 sessions. "Comparable Worth in Historical Perspective" was moderated by David Katzman, University of Kansas, with papers by Sara M. Evans, University of Minnesota, "Wage Justice: Comparative Worth and Social Reform," and Sheila Tobias, University of Arizona, "The Case Against Comparable Worth." Thoughtful comments were delivered by Emily Van Tassel, Washington, D.C. and David Katzman. A lively session on "Women in American Constitutional History at the Bicentennial" was chaired by Nancy Cott, Yale University, with a paper by Joan Hoff-Wilson, Indiana University,"Women in American Constitutional History at the Bicentennial," and comments by Norma Basch, Rutgers University, Newark and Richard Chused, Georgetown University Law School. The Committee also hosted a highly successful breakfast at the annual meeting. Over 120 persons attended to hear the breakfast speaker Mary Berry, University of Pennsylvania and the U. S. Civil Rights Commission.

Besides sponsoring events at the annual meeting, the CWH has been actively engaged in conference organizing of its own. An exciting and thought-provoking conference on Women in the Progressive Era, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, was held March 10–12, 1988 at the National Museum of American History. Over 150 scholars attended. A book containing many of the essays from the conference will be edited by Nancy S. Dye and Noralee Frankel and published by the University of Kentucky Press. In June 1989 another conference, on Women's History and Public Policy, will be held at Sarah Lawrence College, under the cosponsorship of Sarah Lawrence, the Ford Foundation, and the AHA. Co-chairs of this conference are Alice Kessler Harris, Temple University and New School of Social Research, and Amy Swerdlow, Sarah Lawrence College.

Our committee has two excellent new members this year, Melanie Gustafson, New York University, our graduate student representative, and Joan Jensen, New Mexico State University. At the end of year, Ronald Walters, one of our treasured veterans, and I will be leaving the committee. Joan Jensen will replace me as chair; under her direction, we can look forward to a careful scrutiny of the role and future of women in the historical profession. We continue to be in the debt of Samuel Gammon, AHA executive director, for his unstinting cooperation, as well as James Gardner, AHA deputy executive director. Without Noralee Frankel, who provides us with our organizational center, institutional memory, and enterprising zeal, the work of the Committee could not go on.

Judith R. Walkowitz
Professor of History, Rutgers University
and Chair, AHA Committee on Women Historians