U.S. Women’s History Syllabus

Melissa DeVelvis
6 min readJan 4, 2021
Four Black women, members National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, pose for a photo.
Image courtesy Women’s Museum of California

Here is a work-in-progress of potential works I would use to teach a crash course in U.S. Women’s History. Enjoy, and feel free to throw more sources my way.

Note: all of the following links to sources were found from a simple Google search — I myself have not uploaded any scans from books and thus protect their copyright.

Requirements, assignments, etc.

I prefer not to assign a textbook and instead make the readings as accessible and free to my students as possible. That being said, some of y’all might not be able to access these scholarly works without institutional support, and for that I am sorry.

This hypothetical course would have a midterm and a final, but also a “biography” project and an exhibit project.

Biography

In this 4–5 page double-spaced essay, you will write a biography on a woman that you believe has been overlooked in U.S. history. You must confirm your choice with me before you begin. Within your biography you must explain how this woman relates to the historical trends we have seen in this class, and how she either challenged or confirmed the gender norms of her period. Biography must refer to at least TWO primary sources within the essay.

Exhibit Project

Students will design a museum exhibit around one of the themes, events, topics, or even woman or group of women you came across in this course. Try not to make the topic too big — there are entire museums about the Civil War, for example, and you are just designing an exhibit. We will view examples of in-person and online exhibits, as well as how to find primary sources, throughout the semester.

You will not have to draw or physically design your exhibit in any way, but the exhibit will need a title, introductory text, three objects with exhibit labels, and three primary source documents with exhibit labels. All text will fit within a certain word limit. You will then attach a write-up explaining the objects and sources you chose, and why they best convey the historical significance of your exhibit.

Syllabus

Week 1: Crash course into gender versus sex and “separate spheres”

Readings: Excerpts from Bonds of Womanhood, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Women’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History”

Week 2: Indigenous women

Readings: Navajo Emergence Story; “The Woman who Fell from the Sky” Seneca origin story

Secondary Sources: Kathleen M. Brown, “The Anglo-Indian Gender Frontier” (chapter 2 in Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs); clips from Pocahontas: Beyond the Myth.

Week 3: Colonial women and Founding and Revolutionary Mothers

Primary Sources: Salem Witch trial transcripts; Abigail Adams’ letters to John Adams; poetry by Ann Bradstreet; poetry by Phyllis Wheatley

Secondary Sources: Uncivil podcast on Ona Judge; Scenes from The VVitch (2015); Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment-An American Perspective.”

Week 4 The Antebellum South

Primary Sources: Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; excerpts from the diary of slaveowner Keziah Hopkins Brevard

Secondary Sources: chapters from Stephanie Jones-Rogers, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the Antebellum South; clips from Gone with the Wind (1939)

Week 5: The Industrializing North

Primary Sources: Lucy Larcom “Among Lowell Mill-Girls: A Reminiscence” and the Lowell Offering newspaper; selections from Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills

Secondary Sources: Gerda Lerner, “The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson;” excerpts from Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States.

Week 6: The Reformers: Temperance, Women’s Rights, and Abolition

Primary Sources: Sarah Grimké, “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes;” selections from Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Declaration of Rights and Sentiments; Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?;” Temperance Cartoons

Secondary Sources: scenes from Harriet (2019)

Week 7: The Civil War and Reconstruction; U.S. Imperialism and the Jim Crow South

Primary Sources: Louisa May Alcott, Hospital Sketches; Civil War women illustrations from Harper’s Weekly

Secondary Sources: Brief readings from the following books/articles: Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow; Tera Hunter, “Reconstruction and the Meanings of Freedom;” Eileen J. Suárez Findlay, Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920; Rose Stremlau, Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation

Week 8: Club Women, New Women, and Progressive Women Part 1

Primary Sources: Ida B. Wells on lynching; Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House, Frances Willard, “Address before the Second Biennial Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union”

Secondary Sources: Kathryn Kish Sklar, “Florence Kelley and Women’s Activism in the Progressive Era

Week 9: Club Women, New Women, and Progressive Women Part 2; War and Suffrage

Primary Sources: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper;” Margaret Sanger, What Every Girl Should Know; clips from Lois Weber, Where Are My Children (1916); Children’s Catechism for the United Daughters of the Confederacy

Secondary Sources: Clip from Iron Jawed Angels (2004); selections from Karen Cox, Daughters of Dixie; selections from Marjorie Spruill, New Women of the New South.

Week 10: Mission Accomplished? The 1920s and 30s; World War II and 1950s Domesticity

Primary Sources: Women on the Breadlines; clips from His Girl Friday (1940); 1950s Tupperware advertisements and sales guides; selections from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar

Secondary Sources: Ruth Milkman, “Gender at Work: The Sexual Division of Labor During World War II;” clips from Carol (2015); The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter documentary

Week 11: Women and the Civil Rights Movement; Second Wave Feminism Part 1

Primary Sources: Watch and read the transcription of Fannie Lou Hamer’s speeches; Presidential Commission on the Status of Women Report; Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique; NOW Statement of Purpose

Secondary Sources: Danielle McGuire, “Sexual Violence and the Long Civil Rights Movement”

Week 12: Second Wave Feminism Part 2

Primary Sources: Ms. Magazine; Roe v. Wade decision; Our Bodies, Ourselves

Secondary Sources: RBG (2018); Selections from Marjorie Spruill, Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women’s Rights and Family Values that Polarized American Politics

Week 13: Black Power, the American Indian Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement; Backlash and the rise of the Religious Right

Primary Sources: Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan debate; The Combahee River Collective statement; Dolores Huerta Sacramento speech; Frances Beal, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female; selections from Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman

Secondary Sources: Stonewall Inn page; selections from Spruill, Divided We Stand; Donna Hightower Langston, “American Indian Women’s Activism in the 1960s and 1970s;” clips from Mrs. America (2020)

Week 14: The 1980s to Today

Primary Sources: Hillary Clinton, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Anita Hill; Stassa Edwards, “I Looked at the 2,500 Lean In Stock Photos So You Don’t Have To;” selections from Alison Bechdel, Fun Home; Tarana Burke, “Me Too is a movement, not a moment;” Laverne Cox speech at Creating Change 2014

Secondary Sources: Premilla Nadasen, “Expanding the Boundaries of the Women’s Movement: Black Feminism and the Struggle for Welfare Rights;” Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”

Week 15: Women in Television

I thought this would be a fun last day of class — talking about women in television and going through a few “ground-breaking” examples. Obviously we cannot hit all of these!

We will watch clips from, time permitting, the following tv shows with prominent women’s roles: I Love Lucy; Mary Tyler Moore Show; Carol Burnett Show; Wonder Woman (1970s); Charlies Angels (1970s); One Day at a Time (1970s); Cagney And Lacey; The Jeffersons; Murder She Wrote; Murphy Brown; Golden Girls; Xena: Warrior Princess; Oprah; Alias; The X Files; Girlfriends; Sex and the City; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; 30 Rock; Ellen; Gilmore Girls; The Mindy Project; Insecure

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Melissa DeVelvis

PhD in U.S. History. Only two brain cells left outside that.