AHA Activities

Report of the 1994 Committee on Women Historians

Susan Kingsley Kent, March 1995

The Committee on Women Historians (CWH) benefited from the commitment and hard work of its members, Gerald Gill (Tufts Univ.), Cynthia Little (Historical Society of Pennsylvania), Iris Berger (State Univ. of New York at Albany), Carla Hesse (Univ. of California at Berkeley), and Eleanor Alexander (Brown Univ.). Committee members wish especially to thank Gerald Gill and Cynthia Little, who are rotating off the committee this year, and to welcome incoming members Linda Shopes (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Comm.) and Stanley Chojnacki (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

The committee initiated and completed a number of projects this year:

1. The committee is in the process of developing a new pamphlet that will examine a number of specific issues in women's history from a global perspective. The committee envisages a format of some 10 or so debates on such topics as industrialization, sexuality, and imperialism that will enable the respective participants to address both theoretical and substantive points of controversy. All of the work will be put on disk so that it can be updated periodically and continue its usefulness as a teaching device for instructors at both the high school and college levels.

2. Carla Hesse has spent many hours compiling data for and revising the Report on the Status of Women and Minority Historians in Academia. Although the report is not yet finalized, the CWH wishes to draw attention to a number of points:

  • As of 1992, women received 34 percent of the Ph.D.'s granted in history, but their numbers in the ranks of tenured professors continued to lag behind those of men.

  • The statistics on part-time employment suggest that women more often than men are compromising full-time careers to accommodate spouses and partners. The committee will recommend that departments think creatively in assisting and accommodating relationships in hiring and retention practices.

  • Minority women and men are still scarce among history Ph.D.'s; indeed, there has been a notable lack of improvement since 1975, and especially since the late 1980s. Given the dramatic lack of change in the number of minority Ph.D.'s since 1975, the CWH will recommend that departments implement measures to increase the number of minority graduate students in history.

  • After examining the data compiled by Hesse, the CWH noted with interest that the trend in the production of male Ph.D.'s appears to follow market forces, while that of women seems to respond to the implementation of affirmative action policies.

The report will be reviewed by the Professional Division in the spring and by the Council in May. It will appear in Perspectives and be distributed at the CWH's breakfast meeting in Atlanta in 1996. It will also be listed in the AHA's publications catalog.

3. The CWH added wording to the AHA's job interviewing guidelines to reflect the concerns of its members that "all interviews with both male and female candidates are conducted courteously and in a proper manner," and that "questions on marriage and family, race or national origin, age, or personal lifestyle are not applicable and should not be asked."

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, former chair of the CWH, and Iris Berger organized a panel, "Recent Graduate Research on `Third World' Women's History," for the 1995 AHA annual meeting in Chicago. Chaired by Jean Allman (Univ. of Minnesota), the panel included the following papers: "Women of Color and the Economy of San Juan, Puerto Rico," by Felix Rodriguez; "The Critical Role of Gender in Understanding Early Central African History," by Christine Ahmed; "Women, Power, and Change in Sierra Leone," by Sylvia Ojukutu-Macaulay; and "Reproductive Labor in 1930s Shanghai," by Susan Glosser .

Last year's women's breakfast, held in San Francisco, was a great success. Vicki Ruiz's talk was well attended and well received. The availability of a less expensive continental breakfast seems to have made it possible for graduate students to attend in much greater numbers than before, and the CWH plans to continue this policy. More than 270 diners participated in the 1995 breakfast meeting.

Many people worked long and hard to ensure that the AHA not meet in Cincinnati for the 1995 meeting, and they richly deserve our gratitude. I wish to single out one person to thank expressly, for without his courage, determination, and commitment to fairness and justice we would not have been able to persuade the people who make these decisions for the AHA that the principle of nondiscrimination should not carry a price tag. That person is Tom Holt, immediate past president of the AHA. On behalf of the Committee on Women Historians, thank you, Tom.

The staff of the AHA—Sandria Freitag, executive director; James Gardner, deputy executive director and former acting executive director; Lynne Lee; Robert Townsend; and Wendi Maloney—also richly deserve our thanks for the hard work and long hours they put in in 1994. Noralee Frankel, assistant director for women and minorities, forms the backbone of the CWH; without her, the committee could not function. I've relied on her for a great deal and she has never failed to come through.

Susan Kingsley Kent
Univ. of Colorado at Boulder
Chair, Committee on Women Historians