Dear Friend of the Department of History,
As we began preparations for our campaign to fund an endowed chair in comparative women’s history, we spoke with Sara Evans, Regents Professor of History and first professor of women’s history at the U of M. Sara, a distinguished national leader in the field of women’s history, has been a crucial voice in changing the landscape for women at the U and in history books. An excerpt from our conversation appears on this page.
If you are as inspired as we are by Sara’s remarks and would like to contribute to or learn more about the Chair in Comparative Women’s History, please feel free to contact Eva Widder at 612-626-5146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane R. Walters
Sara, why a chair in comparative women’s history?
SE: Not only does the University of Minnesota have one of the foremost programs in women’s history in the country, but our hallmark, and our unique contribution to that field, is our capacity to be comparative. We have world-class scholars in women’s history studying almost every part of the world and every period of time. A chair will strengthen and solidify and guarantee for the future this thing we’ve made.
SE: Because we have hired brilliant young people and nursed them into stardom, we’re always in danger of losing them. I think several of them—and this actually happened to me, too—have given up more money because they’d rather be here. We want to make sure that it’s worth it to be here. With this new chair, we’re not going to go out and hire a superstar and put this person in place forever. Instead, we’re going to take our own superstars and rotate the chair. Whoever’s holding the chair at any given time has extra research money, has extra responsibility for running workshops and generating conferences so that we pull in a national and international community. A chair will let proven scholars reach their full potential by enriching their capacity to do this work.
One thing people might say is, “Well, there are so many other things going on that need our support. Why should we give to this chair and, not, say the women’s political campaign?”
SE: I came into the field of women’s history initially because I was involved in the founding years of the women’s movement, and I felt that “How can you make history if you don’t know you have a history? How can you imagine yourself changing the world if all the messages you’ve ever received are that people like you don’t make history?” You can’t do that. I see history as enormously empowering.
The history of women includes a history of forgetting in which women have been erased—and this is over the millennia—so that time and time again, women have had to reinvent the idea that they could change things. During the time I was growing up, I didn’t learn one thing about the women’s suffrage movement. Not one thing—until I took a college course from a woman who was one of the real founding mothers of women’s history. I didn’t receive that knowledge as a legacy. And neither did my own mother. I showed her part of a video documentary project called One Woman, One Vote, a two-hour documentary on the women’s suffrage movement. It’s part of my fifteen minutes of fame; I got to be a talking head in that one. But I showed my mother that documentary—my 90- year-old mother—and she wept. And she said, “I did not know this.” She was born in 1917, and she said, “Some of this was going on when I was alive, and nobody ever told me; I had no idea.”
I don’t like that disjunction between learning history and making the world better for women—or more equal or more democratic. I really think that these enterprises are essential to each other.