Monmouth College

HIS 370: United States Women's History, 1776 - Present

Professor: Dr. Stacy A. Cordery


Course Description

This course surveys women's historical experiences in the United States from the American Revolution to the present. It is intended to introduce you to the methodology of women's history in addition to exploring the often hidden and forgotten gender dimensions of the American past. One major goal of this course, therefore, is to present women's history both as an integral part of United States history and as a unique subject of historical investigation. As with every other liberal arts class, this one should also sharpen your analytical skills, critical thinking skills, writing ability, and reading comprehension.

The course is designed so that you will teach yourself/yourselves as much as possible. To that end, (nearly) every Tuesday we will begin with small group discussions of the documents in the textbook. Then we will all discuss the documents together for the remainder of the class. On Thursdays, a pair of you will lead the discussion over the articles in the textbook. During these student-led discussions, I will not say anything for the first fifteen minutes of class. We'll reserve the last fifteen minutes for a summation and a look ahead to the next week's topic.

To prepare yourself for the discussions, and to maintain your discussion grade, every Tuesday BEFORE CLASS you will turn in to me a list of four observations that occurred to you while you did the readings. These should be the points you want to make during the class discussion--parallels, discrepancies, questions that you have, reminders of past readings, connections to ideas from other classes, connections to your life experience--anything pertinent. Your observations will become more sophisticated as time goes by, so do not censor yourself or fret that your list is "silly". I will not grade these questions, per se, but I will take them into account when calculating your final grade. If you are missing one or more weeks'worth, it will affect your grade. As you compile these questions, you will be making a great midterm and final study guide for yourself. If you are shy about discussions then it will help you to have already written your ideas down on paper. (NOTE: Since these must be handed in before class, you will want to make a copy for you to keep as a prompt during the discussion.)

N.B.: The format of the class is open to change at my discretion. I will announce any changes to you in class.

Grading policy:

class discussion:                                                50 points
midterm (essay and identification):                             100 points
final (half will be take-home and half an in-class essay):      200 points total
leading a Thursday discussion:                                   50 points
worldwide web assignment:                                        50 points
research paper:                                                 100 points
oral history project:                                           100 points
Tuesday observations

Class attendance:

Class attendance is a course expectation. More than three absences during the semester will be considered excessive and will warrant my invoking the no-cut policy. If you must be absent, see me before you miss the class, if possible. In the case of an emergency, see me when you return. You are responsible for material missed during your absences. Clearly, in a seminar wherein a percentage of your grade is based on discussion, class attendance is crucial.

Assigned book:

  • Mary Beth Norton, Major Problems in American Women's History, Second Edition
    Please bring this book to class with you everyday.

    Suggested book:

  • Tindall and Shi, America (or any other standard history textbook for background).

    Schedule of Lectures, Assignments and Exams:

    Aug. 26:         Introduction:  What is Women's History?
         28:         Discussion over Chapter 1
    Sept. 2 & 4:     The Impact of the American Revolution--Chapter 4
    Sept. 9 & 11:    The Cult of Domesticity--Chapter 5
    Sept. 16 & 18:   The Lives of Enslaved Women--Chapter 6
    Sept. 23:        Varieties of Nineteenth-Century Activism--Chapter 7--Documents
          25:        WORK ON WWW GROUP PROJECTS
    Sept. 30:        Varieties of Nineteenth-Century Activism--Chapter 7--Articles
          30:        WWW PROJECT DUE 5:00 P.M.
    Oct.  2:         Suffrage: read only Addams, ?A Working Woman,? and Beard
    Oct.  7 & 9:     Women in the West--Chapter 8
    Oct.  14:        Fall Break--no class
          16:        MIDTERM EXAMINATION
    Oct.  21 & 23:   Work Culture in the Early Twentieth Century--Chapter 11
    Oct.  28 & 30:   Women and Politics in the 1920s--Chapter 12
    Nov.  4 & 6:     The Great Depression and World War II
          6:         RESEARCH PAPERS DUE, 5:00 p.m.
    Nov.  11 & 13:   Women and the Feminine Ideal in Postwar America--Chapter 14
    Nov.  18 & 20:   Political Activism and Feminism in the 1960s and 1970s
                     --Chapter 15
    Nov.  25:        In-class Film
          27:        Thanksgiving Holiday--no class
    Dec.  2 & 4:     An Elusive Sisterhood: Since 1972--Chapter 16
          4:         ORAL HISTORIES DUE, 5:00 p.m.
    Dec.  9:         Discussion of oral histories
          11:        Discussion of class/wrap-up/review for final
    Dec.  15 at 1:00 p.m. is the FINAL EXAMINATION for this class.


    Directions for leading the Thursday discussion: You and your partner will collaborate on the readings. You may split them up so that one of you discusses one and the other does a different essay, or you may work together on all of the essays. You must do all three if your chapter has three. None = of you are first-year students, and so you've all been exposed, at least in Freshman Seminar, to a discussion-based = class. In order to lead a discussion you have to understand fully the articles yourselves, and understand the connections among them, their individual themes, and the way the documents support them. Lead your classmates into fruitful discussion, but have a list of the points you want to make--or ideally that you want them to make. Do not dominate the discussion yourselves, but ask leading questions that spur your classmates to thoughtful responses. Sure, this is easier said than done. You may simply want to begin by asking what the essays are about, or a similarly broad question. Be sure that you have the answer yourself, though! I strongly suggest that you and your partner come talk about the main points of the essays before you lead the class. We can also clear up the historical background material that your colleagues might need to know.

    Directions for the www assignment will be handed out to you in class soon.

    Directions for short research paper:
    Write a paper of approximately 2000 words (eight typed, double-spaced pages) on a subject in women's history of your choosing. Your paper should be based on one major historical work and on three (or more) primary sources. The object of your paper is define your subject, analyze and synthesize it, and put it into historical perspective. This is not a book review. You will be leaning on the interpretation of one historian, but you will supplement his or her conclusions with primary research of your own.

    To find the historical work, go to Hewes Library in the HQ section. Find a book on a topic that is congenial to you. Bring it to me so that I may ok it, and so that we may discuss potential primary sources to augment your study of that topic. I encourage you to hand in early drafts of the paper so that we can = discuss them (no grade, no penalty--just a check to make sure that you are on the right track).

    Directions for the oral history project:

    This project should be a lot of fun. It consists of a three-page paper based on an approved historical source, a list of at least twenty questions, and a thirty-minute taped interview with-- ideally--your mother, step-mother, aunt, or grandmother. If you do not have any of these female relatives, or if you cannot get together with one of them to do the interview, then you will have to find another woman to interview. See me if you have difficulty thinking of someone. This project is due near the end of the semester because the knowledge that you gain during the term will infuse your interview. We will spend some of the last week of class discussing your reaction to these assignments and figuring out what commonalities exist in your projects.

    The purpose of this assignment is fourfold: to introduce you to one = of the tools of the historian; to increase your understanding of the possibilities and the limitations of history; to deepen your appreciation for the history around you; and to investigate how the themes of this academic class = have influenced or inspired or confounded one particular woman in your life.

    Oral history is a tool historians use to recreate history through the recollections of the persons who lived it. Oral histories often focus on people who are ignored by the = mainstream, on people who don=92t think that they have really been a part of history, and by people who cannot write their own history. It is true that oral histories are conducted with senators and presidents and chairpersons of the board, but oral histories are also conducted with people who are not likely to make it into history books. These = people can teach historians different dimensions about the period of United States history than can be found in congressional papers and army reports. Do not be afraid, then, that you know no one who has "made history."

    Since this is a women's history class, you will want to ask your interviewee about being a woman. Think of the themes we've been discussing throughout the class and be creative. Ask her if she wanted to be a boy when she was young, or if her parents wanted her to be a boy--and if so, how did that make her feel? Ask what was good and bad about being a girl. What could boys (or her brothers) do that she couldn't and vice versa? If she grew up within a church tradition, ask how that influenced her as a woman. You might ask about dating customs--what was the woman's role, and has she seen any changes? Ask her what career options she thought were open to her as a

    woman. Did she face much pressure to get married? Did she face pressure to have children? Was she ever aware of special treatment because of her sex, and if so, was that good or bad? Was she ever aware of discrimination?

    Eventually, your interview will narrow to the topic that you have chosen, whether that is nursing, being a housewife, participating in the women's liberation movement, being the head of a sorority, or coping during the Great Depression. Rely on the themes of the course to guide you. To begin this project, you must find someone to interview. The interviewee should be knowledgeable on the subject, straight-forward, easily understood, and willing to participate.

    Once you have settled on a person, you must decide what you are going to focus on in the interview. Once you have matched the interviewee to the subject, you must find a book from the library that will give you detailed information about the period that you will be discussing in your interview. This outside book that you choose and the lectures will form the basis for the paper. The study associated with gaining this knowledge is the most important step in completing a useful and interesting interview. You will demonstrate your understanding of the period and/or the event by the background you supply in your three-page typed paper, and by the questions you ask. These questions should be germane, leading, insightful, probing, and tailor-made for your interview.

    NOTE: You must clear your topic with me before you begin; this relieves you of worrying about the significance of your interview. We will shortly pass around a sign-up sheet for that purpose. If you'd like, you can let me see your preliminary list of questions, and I'll be happy to check them over before you go into the interview.

    The assignment--paper (based on outside reading), list of questions, and thirty minute tape (If it isn't thirty minutes worth of interview, then you do not get full credit. Period.) with release form--is due to me no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, 4 December 1997. Your over-all grade will be lowered one letter grade for each day it is late, without exception.

    Interview hints:

    1. I must be able to understand you and the interviewee. If I cannot understand the tape, I cannot grade the tape. If you think it necessary, provide a typescript to accompany the tape. Try to avoid outside noises, like telephones ringing, airplanes overhead, rain, ticking clocks, and sirens, which distract the listener. Be aware of this when you choose the place for the interview.

    2. Make sure that your tape recorder works before you get to the interview. Check the batteries and the tape. Always bring a pad of paper and a pen, in case your tape recorder fails. Before you get to the interview, speak both of your names, the location, and that day's date into the tape. (I.e., "This is Jane Doe interviewing Hillary Clinton, on October 5th, 1997, in the East Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C.")

    3. Have the interviewee sign and date a release form stating that she allows you to use her interview for this class assignment.

    4. Allow time for both of you to get comfortable. Chat about the weather or your surroundings, or anything else of minor consequence until you and your interviewee are ready to begin the interview.

    5. Take notes as you go. Describe the interview and the setting. Note follow-up questions. Ask for clarification on personal and place names. Make observations concerning facial expressions or voice inflections which may clarify the taped material.

    6. Write your questions out in advance and take them with you. Make sure that your questions cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Try to formulate process questions, questions that begin with "How did you . . .?" or "Why do you think that . . . ?" rather than "Did you like growing up in the city?" Be sure to politely cut off aimless reminiscences that draw you off your topic. This is the list of questions that you will turn in to me.

    At the same time, do not be absolutely tied to your questions. It may be that your interviewee decides to disclose something important that you didn't know about beforehand. In this case, do your best to stay with her, and be extra certain to ask her for clarification on all matters of which you are uncertain. In other words, if you go to interview a nurse who served during the Vietnam conflict, and in the course of the interview you learn that she was taken a prisoner of war, don't neglect this topic simply because you hadn't written out questions about it in advance.

    8. Do not contradict the answers given you, even if you are positive that they are incorrect. You may try to guide your interviewee, but you will get nowhere if you attempt to show off your knowledge of history at the expense of their memory of history. If she tells you that Goldwater ran for election in 1976--an error of fact--you may try to suggest that she meant to say Ford, but don't ruin your interview by sounding like you know it all. You can point out errors of fact made by your interviewee in the paper. This is especially important if you are interviewing an older relative, who may not be accustomed to you knowing more than she does about a time in which she lived.

    9. Try to make sure that your interviewee speaks only about herself. Stories that begin, "A friend of mine once told me that she saw . . ." are not as immediate or as historically relevant as first person memories.

    10. If your interviewee brings out materials to show you--scrapbooks, medals, photos, tools, clothing--describe them into the tape, or write up a description of them to hand in to me. Consider taking along photographs, of your own of from a book, to help your interviewee recall the time period.

    11. A good way to draw the interview to a close is to ask for an overwhelming feeling or impression of the time. Sometimes it is helpful to ask if the interviewee had a sense of = being a part of an historical moment or movement, and how they come to feel that way. Do not cut them off mid-thought when the thirty minutes are up. Let the interview go on as long as you see fit. The thirty minute time requirement is because it often takes ten minutes or so for the two of you to get to the significant events or feelings.

    12. I hope this goes without saying, but be sure to call in advance to confirm your meeting, and always, always send a thank you note afterwards, even if it is your mom.

    13. One page of your three-paper should contain the following:

    1)your name and social security number

    2)the name of your interviewee

    3)the place and the starting and ending time of the interview

    4)a brief physical description of your interviewee

    5)the reason that you chose this person to interview

    6)their place in history

    7)the significance of what you discovered during your interview

    The other two pages should consist of a background history, drawn from the book that you read to prepare you for the interview. Your interviewee should not teach you about the broader subject or the time period. If she does, you haven't done your homework. Be sure to cite the book in full at the conclusion of your paper. If you quote from the book, cite the page number(s). If you are unclear about how to cite from a book, see me. Plagiarism is academic dishonesty. See the ScotsGuide for details.

    13. Clear up questions with me before you begin the interview

    Directions for the take-home part of the final exam: For the final exam, you will be asked to locate a document from U.S. popular culture and analyze it in light of the themes of the course. This one-hundred point essay will be handed in on the day of the final and it must include a copy of whatever it is you are analyzing. Most particularly, consider the document in an historical context. Do you see any signs of issues/ideas/causes/problems from the past? What image of women is portrayed in the document you?ve chosen? What can it tell us about modern U.S. culture? Consider the questions we?ve been asking of the documents all semester long. Your paper should describe your document and its venue, analyze it and its historical context, and draw conclusions about women in the United States today. It would be in your best interest to be on the lookout for this document during the semester and most definitely in your best interest to clear the document with me before you hand it in as half of your final exam grade.