American Women's History Journey

E-Zine & Podcast about American Women's History

What is American Women's History?

This article connects to our Launch 2018 Discussion Question

Virginia R. Bensen

While trying to organize my thoughts about what should be included in this E-Zine blog, American Women’s History Journey, I started a Google for Scholars Search asking,

“What is American Women’s History?”

Numerous interesting sources appeared that I felt was worthy of further inspection.  I then decided to check out what was available on the YouTube. That search provided even more insight to my dilemma of what should be included in American Women’s History. The list of YouTube items ranged from discussing women of the 19th century, women in Early America to women’s suffrage, an entire history of Black women, great women in American history, and the top ten milestones in U.S. Women’s history.

There were also articles asking “why” we should study women’s history, a few articles describing the problems with American Women’s history, and a list of sources regarding American women’s history.  What I found rather perplexing in this listing was a lack of history about pre-revolutionary colonial period regarding the Hispanic, French, and Dutch women of those times, as well as the other non-English based colonies in North America. Also glaring was the lack of YouTube listings of the history of Native American women’s history. The lists of the videos and digital history site sources are expanding daily, but those did not really answer the question at hand,

“What is American Women’s History?”

I then looked back at my initial source listing from Google Scholar. I first explored the introduction written by historian Nancy A. Hewitt in her book, A Companion to American Women’s History. Hewitt claims there is no single approach to studying American Women’s history.  Scholars have focused on prescriptive literature that shaped women’s behavior. Other scholars emphasized material conditions such as market economy and industrial capitalism and how these shaped women’s lives. Another group of scholars focused on movements for social change, the white middle-class, working class, immigrant, African American, and southern and western women.  Hewitt further explains that during the 1980’s, American women’s history began to focus on exploring differences among women including class, race, ethnicity, and region.  During that time, there were many different arguments between women’s history scholars on how to approach and study American women’s history.  She further emphasized that one of the greatest strengths of American women’s history is the field’s ability to take advantage of new approaches, concepts, and theoretical perspectives without abandoning those that came before, and that

“the debates and disagreements remain among women’s historians. These are the lifeblood of the field, nurturing new and important work on a vast range of topics from a wide variety of perspectives.” 

In her closing of her introduction, she claims that the definition of American women’s history is continuing to be recast.

Historian Susan Ware in her book, American Women’s History: A Very Short Introduction, quotes historian Linda Gordan as follows:

                “Women’s history does not simply add women to the picture we already have of the past, like painting additional figures into the spaces of an already completed canvas. It requires repainting the earlier pictures, because some of what was previously on the canvas was inaccurate and most of it was misleading.”

Ware further explains that “feminist scholarship has demonstrated that the category of women is difficult to generalize about,” and should highlight the diversity of American women’s experiences as shaped by many different factors, and the moments when there are differences between women.  Also, she states that historians should not write about women in isolation from men or separate women from national events and trends.

“Women’s stories link to larger themes at the same time they often challenge them,” and “Men and women have built society and have built the world, and women are central to it.”

So, what are the takeaways from trying to determine a definition of American Women’s History?                                                             

  • There are many different aspects to American Women’s history.
  • There is no one way to study American Women’s history.
  • Women’s history digital resources are expanding.
  • Women have been and still are a force in history.
  • Women should not be isolated from men, national events, or trends.

 After writing all of this, I then started to ponder why I am adding another digital site to the many woman’s history sites that already exist?  In answer, this site offers a new approach to what already exists. We will add a discussion component.  It is not all inclusive, but will present a variety of the events, issues, and women themselves that sometimes have been overlooked, or even some newer aspects of many of the familiar historical women. In addition, this e-zine will be linked to a podcast that relates to one of the posted articles on this site. This site is a cooperative effort between the readers, the folks who contribute articles to this site, and discussions that may arise from podcast broadcasts.  These will all be moderated by the editorial staff of this E-Zine blog

Like many other sources, we did not come up with a definition of American women’s history, but we now know it is wide and vast and diverse.  Let’s all work together and make this a useful tool for those of us who study American Women’s history.

Sources: (To view sources, click on citation.)

Nancy A. Hewitt, ed., A Companion to American Women’s History, Madden, MA: Blackwell Publishing,  2002, 2005.

Susan Ware, American Women’s History: A Very Short Introduction, New York, Oxford University Press, 2015.

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