Call for Applications: NEH Summer Seminar: Varieties of American Feminism, 1830-1930

Sojourner Truth

The following is a guest post from Elisabeth Israels Perry, who is the John Francis Bannon, SJ, Professor, Emeritus at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, MO. A specialist in American women’s history, Perry will be offering an NEH seminar for teachers called Varieties of American Feminism, 1830-1930 this summer.  I invited Perry to share more about the scope of the seminar and how to apply. The deadline is March 1.

Hello feminist teachers!  My name is Elisabeth Israels Perry, and I’m an Emeritus Professor of History and Women’s Studies at Saint Louis University.  This coming summer, I’m directing a seminar for teachers called “Varieties of American Feminism, 1830-1930,” which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University-St. Louis.  It will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, on the Wash U campus, for four weeks from June 27 to July 22, 2011.

The purpose of the seminar is to provide teachers an opportunity to discuss with colleagues some of the great writings and speeches from America’s first feminist movement.  We address the following questions:  what is feminism?  What are its historical roots and essential components? How have feminists differed from one another, and how do early feminists differ from feminists today?  What aspects of feminist traditions are important for today’s youth to know about, and how can we best convey that knowledge to them? 

Among the early feminist foremothers we read are Judith Sargent Murray, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Anna Julia Cooper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Emma Goldman, Crystal Eastman, and Eleanor Roose­velt, among others.  By the end of the seminar, participants will have a new understanding of the wide variety of ideological traditions within early American feminism.  Never a monolithic ideology, American feminism consists of a stream of varied (though obviously related) ideas about gender equality from which individuals and groups have charted varied courses of action.

The ideological issues that these texts raise range from justifications for equal legal status with men to radical demands for sweeping changes in relations between the sexes.  The readings show that early feminism found expression along a wide spectrum of views, from “cautious” to more “radical,” from arguments that equal opportunity and the preservation of women’s traditional roles do not have to be mutually exclusive to demands for the total emancipation of women from their traditional social roles.

This will be my sixth time directing the seminar.  The first time was in 1987, the last in 2000.  I decided to offer it again because, while the integration of women’s history into high school curricula has improved in recent years, much more can be done.  Material on individual women is often just “added” to textbooks and lesson plans without recognition of the importance of feminist ideas in the development of our culture.  This seminar will help teachers of American studies–history and literature–deepen their understanding of the historical origins and varieties of American feminism, an understanding that they will then be better equipped to pass on to their students.

The seminar has 16 places for teachers and up to two for graduate students preparing for teaching careers at the secondary level.  Participants receive a stipend of $3,300 to cover travel, living, and incidental expenses.  A full description of the seminar and instructions on how to apply are here.  A complete application consists of the following; please collate:

  • three copies of the completed application cover sheet, filled out from this link:  Cover Page for Applications;
  • three copies of a detailed resumé, and
  • three copies of an application essay,
  • as well as two letters of recommendation (these can be sent separately by your referee).

If you have further questions not answered on the website, you can write to us directly at

Applications due: March 1

Elisabeth Israels Perry holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. Among her recent books are Belle Moskowitz: Feminine Politics and the Exercise of Power in the Age of Alfred E. Smith; The Challenge of Feminist Biography: Writing the Lives of Modern American Women; and American Women in Political Parties, 1880–1960. She has also published articles on Eleanor Roosevelt’s early career, American Girl Scouting, and the political choices of women in post-suffrage New York. She was on the Editorial Advisory Board of Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (1997).

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