You have probably heard Winston Churchill’s phrase: “History is written by the victors.” For much of Western history, the victors were men – and little was written about or by the women. That situation has changed over the last century and women are now writing history as well. In this column, we will learn about some of those women historians. Match the woman with her accomplishment:
____ 1. She has received two Pulitzer Prizes for her books.
____ 2. The first woman president of Harvard University, her 2008 book served as the basis for an Emmy-nominated episode in the PBS American Experiences documentaries.
____ 3. She is one of the founders of women’s history as an academic field.
____ 4. Credited as pioneering the field of women’s history.
____ 5. The author of the first history of the American Revolution written by a woman, she received no formal schooling.
A. Mercy Otis Warren
B. Mary Ritter Beard
C. Barbara Tuchman
D. Gerda Lerner
E. Drew Gilpin Faust
The author of the first history of the American Revolution authored by a woman, Mercy Otis Warren had this accomplishment in spite of no formal schooling. Growing up in Massachusetts in the 1700s, Warren absorbed education through her brothers’ tutor, who allowed her to sit and listen during his sessions with her brothers, except during Latin and Greek! She knew most of the leaders of the American Revolution due to her husband’s position in the Massachusetts legislature. Combining her ability for writing with her political beliefs, she wrote plays in verse that were published in the Boston newspaper. Warren wrote a criticism of the U.S. Constitution and maintained correspondence with John and Abigail Adams. Her three-volume history of the American Revolution was published in 1805. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Credited as pioneering the field of women’s history, Mary Ritter Beard was dismayed by the omission of women from the historical record. After graduating from college and working in the militant wing of the suffrage movement, Beard resigned from the National Woman’s Party in 1917 and turned her efforts to writing and lecturing. She co-wrote significant American history textbooks with her husband, but by herself wrote and promoted the recognition of women’s accomplishments in the past and present, but domestically and internationally. Her works in this area included Understanding Women (1931), America Through Women’s Eyes (1933), A Changing Political Economy as It Affects Women (1934), and Women as Force in History (1946). After the dissolution of the World Center for Women’s History which she helped found, Beard worked with Smith College to establish the Sophia Smith Collection and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, both of which were established to house women’s history information.
A historian and biographer, Barbara Tuchman won two Pulitzer Prizes for her writing. Educated at Radcliffe, Tuchman’s first book (1938) resulted from her time as a news correspondent for her father’s newspaper during the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, she worked in the Office of War Information and then raised her family during the next decade while conducting research for what became her 1956 book Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour. Turning out a book every four years, her 1963 book on the developments that led to World War I, The Guns of August, won the Pulitzer Prize. Her second Pulitzer was in 1972 for a biography of Joseph Stilwell, Stilwell and the American Experience in China. The first female president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Tuchman received many awards including honorary degrees.
Gerda Lerner is considered one of the founders of the academic field of women’s history. She taught what is considered the first regular college course in women’s history, taught anywhere, in 1963. Lerner was instrumental in the development of women’s history curricula and is credited with launching the first masters program and the first Ph.D. program in women’s history. Her interest in women’s history was heavily influenced by the discrimination and harsh treatment she received throughout her earlier life and was driven by her desire to aid “people who did not have a voice in telling their own stories.” Her books helped establish women’s history as a recognized field of study. She also wrote poetry, fiction, theater screenplays, and an autobiography.
The first female president of Harvard University and the fifth female president of an Ivy League university, Drew Gilpin Faust is a historian whose focus has been the Civil War and the American South. Faust has published six books, many of which have received awards. Her 2008 book The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War served as the basis for a 2012 Emmy-nominated episode of the PBS American Experience documentaries. Faust has served as President of the Southern Historical Association and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women historians are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.
(Answers 1-C, 2-E, 3-D, 4-B, 5-A)