American Women’s History

American Women’s History (History and GWS 259)
Tuesday and Thursday 3:30-4:45
210 Douglas Hall

Instructor: Jennifer Brier
Office: 1822 University Hall
Office Phone: 312-413-2458
Office Hours: Tuesday 2:00-3:00, Thursday 10:30-11:30, and by appointment

Welcome to the American women’s history survey. This class focuses on the changing experiences of women in the United States from colonization to the present. Throughout the course of the semester we will study historical change by examining the emergence of social, cultural, economic and political ideologies to maintain “appropriate” gender roles in the past. We will also learn about women’s work, both in and outside the home, the role women played in their families, as well as the ways in which women addressed social and political problems. To that end, we will explore and think about differences among women, looking at the intersections of race, class, nationality, sexuality and gender throughout the historical period covered by the course.

In addition to learning about the history of women and gender, it is my hope that you will work on critical and constructive reading and writing skills in this class. Over the course of the semester we will read and discuss a wide range of historical documents, including secondary academic articles, short primary documents, and historical memoirs. You will also do historical research at four points during the semester, and share your findings with the class. The writing assignments are designed to encourage active learning and engagement with all the course materials. While I will give brief lectures in almost every class session, I expect you to come to each class ready to discuss the assigned materials.


All the books have been ordered at the University Bookstore. I strongly suggest you purchase all three books. If this is not possible, please let me know immediately so we can arrange for you to get the necessary materials.

Jacqueline Jones Royster editor, Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1982-1900 (Bedford, 1997).

Linda Kerber and Jane Sherron Du Hart editors, Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, Sixth Edition, (Oxford, 2004). You may not use an earlier edition. (WA on the schedule)

Karla Jay, Tales of the Lavender Menace (Basic, 2000).

Articles that appear on the syllabus with (x) are on the blackboard site. For those of you without fast modem connections, I suggest using the campus computer labs to download and print the articles.


Attendance/Class Participation:

This is not a lecture class. While I will give brief lectures as background, most of our class meetings will consist of discussions. For these conversations to work everyone must come to class, do the reading, and regularly engage in class discussions. It is important to practice speaking in public spaces. This forces you to develop clear and concise arguments, a skill that will serve you well in academic and non-academic environments alike. I know that some people have a harder time with talking in class than others, but I encourage you to try. If this remains difficult, you should see me during office hours. If you miss more than 3 class periods, you risk receiving a failing grade for class participation. Class participation will be worth 20% of the final grade.

Writing Assignments:

Paper 1 (Parts A-D) Primary Source Research:

At four points during the semester you will do digital historical research. While I have chosen the websites you must visit, you will need to spend time navigating the site to locate a specific document that interests you. Each of the sites is designed to allow students to find historical documents that illuminate particular moments in the past. You may choose a written document such as a diary entry, a personal letter, or a newspaper article or a visual document such as a photograph. After choosing your primary document, you will need to write a short paper providing an introduction to the document for the other members of the class. Your introduction should include a brief summary of the document, no more than one paragraph, and two or three paragraphs on the significance of the document in relation to the historical context. Paper 1 will be worth a total of 30% of your final grade.

The sites also appear on the schedule below on their due dates.

For Early Nineteenth Century America

For the Civil War

For the Progressive Era

For the Great Depression or

Paper 2 Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching:

In this paper you will write about the Ida B. Wells anti-lynching activism described in Southern Horrors and Other Writings. The specific topic will be handed out in class. Paper 2 will be worth 20% of your final grade.

Take Home Final Exam:

One question will focus on Tales of the Lavender Menace, the other will be cumulative and will require analysis of a combination of primary documents and secondary materials. The final exam will be worth 30% of your final grade.

Academic Integrity: Please read the University policy on academic integrity at If you have any questions about this policy or about proper citations, please ask during class time. Academic dishonesty will endanger your standing in the class and at UIC.


January 11 Introductions

January 13 Why study Women’s and Gender History?
De Hart and Kerber, “Introduction” (WA)

January 18 Contact/Conquest: Borderlands in the Southwest
Brooks, “This Evil Extends” (WA)

January 20 Slavery and Race in Colonial America
Berkin, “African American Women in Colonial Society” (WA)
Documents: The Law of Slavery (WA)

January 25 Gendered Bodies in Early America
Norton, “Searchers again Assembled” (WA)

January 27 Witchcraft
Karlsen, “The Devil in the Shape of a Woman” (WA)

February 1 Women and the American Revolution
Kerber, “The Republican Mother” (WA)
Documents: Supporting the Revolution (WA)

February 3 Martha Ballard
Visit to learn about Ballard. Choose one document from the website and bring it to class.

February 8 Women’s Work in Antebellum America
Boydston, “The Pastoralization of Housework” (WA)
Document: Working Conditions (WA)
Paper 1-A due at the beginning of class

February 10 Slavery in Nineteenth Century America
Block, “Lines of Color” (WA)
Documents: The Testimony of Slave Women (WA)
Painter, “Sojourner Truth’s Defense” (WA)

February 15 First Wave Feminism I
Documents: Claiming Rights I and II (WA)

February 17 Civil War
Faust, “Enemies in Our Household” (WA)
Visit either or to locate a document on women’s experience during the Civil War. Bring the document to class.

February 22 Reconstruction
Hunter, “Reconstruction and the Meaning of Freedom” (WA)
Documents: After the Civil War: Reconsidering the Law (WA)
Paper 1-B due at the beginning of class.

February 24 Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching I
Royster, Part 1

March 1 Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching II
Royster, 49-72

March 3 Immigration
Yung, “Unbound Feet” (WA)
Orleck, “From Russian Pale to Labor Organizing” (WA)

March 8 Progressive Era
Sklar, “Florence Kelly” (WA)
Visit to locate a document on gender and Progressive Era reform. Bring the document to class.

March 10 Frontiers
Gordon, “Orphans and Ethnic Divisions” (WA)
Pascoe, “Ophelia Paquet” (WA)
Paper 1-C due at the beginning of class.

March 15 Women’s History Bus Tour
Meet at Hull House on Halsted St. for the bus tour.

March 17 Passing Women
View: “She Even Chewed Tobacco”
Paper on Wells due at the beginning of class.

March 22 and 24 NO CLASS

March 29 First Wave Feminism II
Documents: Dimensions of Citizenship I (WA)
Cott, “Equal Rights and Economic Roles” (WA)

March 31 Youth Culture
Ruiz, “‘Star Struck!’: Acculturation, Adolescence and the Cultural Construction of Gender, 1920-1950” (x)

April 5 Women’s Work in Twentieth Century America
Cowan, “The ‘Industrial Revolution’” (WA)
Dowd Hall, “Disorderly Women” (WA)

April 7 The Great Depression
Jones, “Harder Times” (WA)
Kessler-Harris, “Designing Women and Old Fools” (WA)
Visit or to locate a document on gender and the Great Depression. Bring the document to class.

April 12 World War II
Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II” (WA)
View: Rosie the Riveter
Paper 1-D due at the beginning of class.

April 14 Gender and Sexuality in Cold War America
Horowitz, “Betty Friedan” (WA)
Freeman, “Miriam Van Waters” (WA)

April 19 Women’s Civil Rights Activism
Kornbluth, “A Human Right to Welfare?” (WA)
Documents: Dimensions of Citizenship II (WA)

April 21 Second Wave Feminism
First Half of Jay, 1-70
Documents: Making the Personal Political, selections (WA)

April 26 Gay and Lesbian Liberation
Finish Jay

Take home final exam due at time of the scheduled final exam.


If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at