Women in US History: Diverse Lives, Critical Debates, Social Change with Kathy Peiss

Course Description

This course explores the history of American women, focusing on how attention to women, in all their diversity, changes the ways we understand and teach the history of the United States. We will explore women’s relationship to the family and economy, political debates over women’s nature and roles, cultural ideals and women’s agency, and women’s movements for rights, freedom, and justice. Throughout, we will consider how race, ethnicity, and class have profoundly shaped women’s experiences and perceptions. Each day of the course is organized around a long chronological period—early America to the Civil War, Reconstruction to the Great Depression, World War II to the early twenty-first century—but we will center our discussions on key events and revelatory documents in women’s history.

Course Professor

Kathy Peiss

Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor Emerita of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research and teaching focus on the history of modern American women, gender, sexuality, and cultural history, with an emphasis on the ways culture shapes the everyday lives and popular beliefs of Americans across time. Her books include Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986), Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1998), Love across the Color: The Letters of Alice Hanley to Channing Lewis (1996); Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality (2001); Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style (2011); and Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe (2020). In addition to writing and teaching, she has served as a consultant to museums, archives, and public history and digital projects, and appeared in the documentary films New York and Miss America.

Recommended Readings

  • Susan Ware, American Women’s History, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2015, 141 pp.)
  • For a long read: Lillian Faderman, Woman: The American History of an Idea (Yale University Press, 2022, 544 pp.)
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