Margaret Smith Crocco
Women's History Has Arrived- Or Has It?
Women's history has come a considerable distance from its consolidation as a field of inquiry during the days of "second wave feminism" in the nineteen sixties.1 At this time, Gerda Lerner wrote a dissertation that helped to revitalize the field established by Mary Beard earlier in the century. Lerner recalls that when she announced her intention of writing a dissertation on Sarah and Angelina Grimké to her doctoral committee at Columbia University, she was greeted by blank stares. Despite this reaction, she remembers thinking, "I want women's history to be part of every curriculum on every level, and I want people to be able to specialize and take Ph.D.'s in the subject and not have to say they are doing something else. I want women's history respected and legitimized in the historical profession."2
Lerner's vision has largely been realized at the university level. However, at the secondary level, my experience as a staff developer and teacher educator suggests that many present and future school teachers are still largely unfamiliar with the subject, and thus handicapped in incorporating women's history into their curricula. While primary and secondary level materials in women's history, and articles on how to infuse these resources into the curriculum, now exist,3 it seems that many teachers still give women's history short shrift.
A number of factors explain this state of affairs. Teachers' lack of content background, the pressures for coverage in survey courses, and definitions of what's "important" based on what is included in standardized tests, have all limited the amount of attention given women's history in the schools. Even though women represent half the world's population, and in that sense have experienced half of human history, their stories are often marginalized if not omitted entirely when world or American history is taught in the nation's classrooms.
Moreover, the neglect of women's history persists despite the fact that many publishers feature "women's contributions" in their textbooks, if only by way of an occasional sidebar. This approach has often been disparaged as "add women and stir," and in truth, little mixing of women's history with the main events occurs when the subject is presented via sidebars. Such presentation may be preferable to women's absence from textbooks altogether; nevertheless, it suggests the degree to which the social studies curriculum has depicted women's stories as peripheral to the real story of political and economic history. Teachers whose own education has emphasized these traditional perspectives are often reluctant to address topics from social and women's history with which they are not familiar. Thus many factors collude to keep women on the margins.
Good reasons exist for making an effort at gender balancing the high school social studies curriculum. In this short essay, I will address the questions of why and how to include women's history at the secondary level in ways that underscore its significance without requiring that the teacher give up everything else he or she is obliged to cover.
Why Teach Women's History?
Curriculum theorists agree that creating and delivering curriculum is a normative process.4 In essence, a curriculum represents truth and cultural significance for students. If women's lives (or those of non-elite men) get left out of the curriculum, students receive a message that these lives have been unimportant to history. If political and economic history crowd out social history, and by extension, women's history, then students get the message that childbearing and childrearing, subsistence agriculture, the building of a social order, and the care and maintenance of communities have had little significance over time. Only wars, political power, industrial and technological development, economic evolution and convulsion count in this scheme of history.
A second problem with an approach to history that makes women invisible is the incomplete understanding of the world that such treatment imparts. If male history gets substituted for all human history, the fallacy of this part-for-whole substitution falsifies the story of the past.5 Since men's and women's experiences have been substantially different, collapsing women's history into men's history creates an inaccurate representation of the past. Men's story gets told; women's gets left out. Thus, not only do women's lives not count in the story of civilization, but men's lives "stand in" for women's lives, essentially rendering women invisible to history.
Of course, it should be noted that in traditional "great man" history, many men's lives get left out of history as well.6 Traditional history features the "winners," those who have achieved political or military glory, great wealth, fame, or title. While the last two decades have witnessed a profound shift away from this elitist representation of the past at the university level, again my experiences suggest that the impact at the secondary level has been more limited. Even in settings where much attention is given to multicultural content, the attention to gender balancing this content suggested by scholars such as James Banks7 often does not get priority.
Arguments for gender balancing can be made from the standpoint of both its truth value and the need to correct for the skewing that results when the curriculum reflects contributions only to public culture. A further rationale speaks more directly to the reality of the student sitting in the classroom. According to Emily Style,
"If the student is understood as occupying a dwelling of self, education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected. Knowledge of both types of framing is basic to a balanced education which is committed to affirming the essential dialogue between the self and the world."8
Such an approach strikes the right note in its dual emphasis on curriculum as connection to students' lives as well as curriculum as conduit into the lives of others. The challenge lies in creating a "both/and" rather than an "either/or" curriculum. Depending on context, different teachers will surely calibrate their solutions to the "both/and" challenge differently; nevertheless the principle will remain the same. Both the stories of the powerful and the lives of women and others who are less powerful should find a place in the secondary social studies curriculum. This is true, in my view, whether the students represent the powerful or the dispossessed, women or men, Black, Latino, Asian or White, gay, lesbian or straight. The key is striking a balance.
Five Phases of Women's History
Incorporating materials about women into the standard survey course can be accomplished in a variety of ways.9 In this essay, I have chosen to highlight Peggy McIntosh's approach (see Table 1). Each of her five "phases" in the treatment of women's history raises the ante in considering the assumptions and values that shape what gets taught. McIntosh begins with the question, "How would the discipline need to change to reflect the fact that half the world's population are women and have had, in one sense, half the world's experience?"
McIntosh stresses that her schema is not meant to represent a ladder-like progression in curriculum revision. The five phases were deliberately not labeled "levels," so as not to imply a hierarchical relationship between each one. She suggests that phase five curriculum has scarcely been imagined at this point in time; thus, its contours are the least well defined. Analogously, in James Banks' writing on multicultural education,10 he posits evolution towards a transformative curriculum that culminates in social activism by students based on the material studied. Nel Noddings11 has called for a rethinking of the social studies curriculum that derives from a more holistic approach to students' needs, one that considers both the private and public dimensions of their lives. These approaches may cast light on what McIntosh had in mind in sketching out the possibilities for phase five curriculum.
Overall, for the discipline of history, the shift from phase one to phase four involves a move from the question, "What did women do or produce that was important?," to the question, "How did past women live their lives?" For example, art historians or literary historians can substitute the question, "Did women paint or write anything good in the past?," with the questions, "What did women write?" and "How did women express themselves artistically?" Phase four work recognizes that the assessment of historical significance has been based on standards that reflect male experience and its normative framework. It critiques these postulates about historical significance by problematizing traditional standards and uncovering the male bias inherent in them.
McIntosh's framework will become clearer as we go through the phases and then develop one example. In phase one, the focus is on "greatness." Women are absent and their absence seems "natural." Phase two features the women who are "not like other women." These women represent the exceptions that prove the rule that women are incapable of the highest levels of achievement.
Phase three moves toward "systemic seeing." The focus of historical understanding shifts to a split screen analysis: individuals as part of groups and the systems that oppress them. The study of women's history now recognizes that cultural systems support, privilege, or thwart individuals, and this eventuality correlates highly with the individual's group identity. Freedom and agency are not denied; however, the social context is viewed as highly determinative of the scope for individual action and the possibilities for public recognition.
In phase three, for the first time, a feminist consciousness emerges; patriarchy is understood as having benefited a small set of "winners" while oppressing most women. Because of this awareness, the emotional tone of phase three curriculum shifts towards anger. Phase three highlights women who have challenged patriarchy: labor organizers, suffragist and equal rights leaders, "the new woman" of the twenties and "the women's libber" of the seventies, advocates of women's reproductive rights, and sexual harassment victims.
As curriculum re-visioning moves into phase four, a sea change in the normative framework results in a major reconsideration of what gets taught. Women's lives become history. Indeed, all of ordinary life finds itself part of history. The unrecognized and unrewarded women and men of all races, classes, and ethnicities who have participated in the behind-the-scenes work that sustains the pinnacle achievements of a few famous men find acknowledgment in the curriculum. Because of its emphasis on multiple perspectives, phase four women's history avoids the pitfalls of seeing women's history monoculturally, emphasizing an understanding that the racial, ethnic, and class differences of women's history as well as men's must be addressed by the curriculum.12 Women's and men's multiple realities, multiple perspectives and multiple identities have shaped history in concert.
The Antebellum Period in Four Phases
Analyzing approaches to the antebellum period in the American history survey course can show how this process of inclusion works more concretely. In phase one, the teacher focuses exclusively on the national events leading from the Mexican War to the Civil War, emphasizing efforts in Congress to deal with manifest destiny and hold the nation together as tensions escalate over the spread of slavery. Politicians, states' rights, Congressional compromises, and manifest destiny define the contours of the curriculum.
In phase two, a teacher might add Dorothea Dix and her work to develop more humane modes of treating the mentally ill, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, called by Lincoln the "little lady who began the Civil War." Phase three history might add Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and the Seneca Falls meeting that produced the "Declaration of Sentiments" on women's rights. So far, a few extra names, dates, and facts have been added to the curriculum, which may feel compressed but retains its structural emphasis derived from politics, economics, and military milestones.
Up to this point, the teacher has emphasized the contributions of forgotten women to the patriotic drama of American history. Because these approaches have not required reformulation of the traditional political and economic orientation, certain economies of scale apply. Women are no longer invisible; indeed, the idea has surfaced that women and men were not treated equally under past American political and economic arrangements.
In phase four, a teacher must tackle a more comprehensive reworking of the curriculum. Now the teacher needs to explain why the "Declaration of Sentiments" was such a radical document, that is, how women's lack of property rights, lack of access to an education, and inability to initiate divorce or maintain custody rights, contributed to the texture of women's lives. The class will also consider the content of different women's lives-on the Overland Trail and on the plantation, in the factories of the North, and among the Native American tribes of the West.
Juxtaposition of the diaries of Harriet Jacobs13 and Mary Boykin Chestnut14 can provide different perspectives on women's views of slavery: that of the slave and that of the mistress. Comparison of the life of a female slave15 with that of a Lowell mill girl16 can offer a lens on women's work outside the household and the varied meanings of "freedom" during this period. In both cases, such discussion, as McIntosh17 notes, leads inevitably to treatment of Abraham Lincoln. However, if the unit begins with Lincoln, the student may never get to the voice of the slave, mistress, or mill worker. Phase four treatment of antebellum America also provides glimpses of women's involvement in the temperance and abolitionist movements, the harsh conditions of life in a sodhouse or in a Western mining town, and the disruptions in Native American life produced by westward expansion of the European Americans.
Clearly, phase four treatment of women's history requires compromise in the content covered. Perhaps less time will be given to covering the battles of the Mexican War or the Civil War; instead, emphasis will be placed on the causes, turning points, and outcomes of these conflicts. Letters, diaries, tracts, and novels written by women during the antebellum period-an outpouring which Nathaniel Hawthorne found vexing enough to complain that "those damned women scribblers" were outselling him-will add new dimensions to the understanding of the past.
In making these changes, however, fresh consideration of the conventional periodization found in textbooks will be necessary. Now the question emerges: Are the years 1820 to 1860 best dealt with under the heading, "the antebellum period" (the political history rubric), or under the heading, "the age of reform" (the social history rubric)? Were these decades of reform or retrenchment for women? Is there only one perspective on this period, that of prelude to Civil War? In the lives of men and women between 1820 and 1860, what were the conditions that had the greatest long term cultural effect? These are some of the tough questions that teachers must face as they do phase four curriculum transformation.
Clearly, incorporating women's history into the secondary curriculum offers an instance of what Andy Hargreaves18 calls the "intensification" of the teacher's role. While various national standards or state curriculum frameworks may call for greater inclusion of material on women and multiculturalism, the teacher's role as "curricular-instructional gatekeeper"19 will only result in unwanted innovations being left outside the classroom door unless teachers feel some ownership of these changes.
It is important to keep in mind that only a minority of American youngsters attend college. A high school social studies curriculum that offers only a partial understanding of the past, that views history through a single lens, and that excludes women's stories, does a tremendous disservice to students whose education ends with high school. Like college graduates, they will inherit a world in which multiplicity and diversity define everyday reality. Those who have been schooled to one dimensional and overly generalized ways of thinking will find themselves at a serious disadvantage.
Primary source anthologies in U.S. history that can be used or adapted for secondary students include the following.
Cott, N. Roots of Bitterness. NY: E. P. Dutton, 1972.
Kerber, L. and J. DeHart, eds. Women's America: Refocusing the Past. NY: Oxford University Press, 1995. An excellent compendium of primary and secondary sources for advanced students with a videotape list and bibliography for each chapter.
Lerner, G., ed. Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. NY: Vintage Books, 1992.
Lerner, G., ed. The Female Experience: An American Documentary. Indiana: ITT Bobbs Merrill, 1977. (1992)
Rossi, A., ed. The Feminist Papers: From Adams to DeBeauvoir. NY: Bantam, 1981.
Even when nothing else in women's history gets taught, the standard U.S. history course typically covers suffrage and passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The following are recommended.
Flexner, E. Century of Struggle. NY: Atheneum Press, 1973. The classic work.
Scott, A. and A. One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982. Includes primary sources and analysis.
Social Education. "75th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage: Special Edition." 59(5) September 1995. Includes Crocco, M., "The Road to the Vote: Women, Suffrage, and the Public Sphere," pp. 257-264, and Crocco, M. and D. Brooks, "The Nineteenth Amendment: Reform or Revolution," pp. 279-284.
Wheeler, M., ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Oregon: New Sage Press, 1995. Includes the most up to date scholarship on the suffrage struggle.
Primary sources for use in teaching European women's history at the secondary level include the following.
Anderson, B. and J. Zinsser. A History of Their Own: Women from Prehistory to the Present, Vols. I and II. NY: Harper and Row, 1988. The best collection available.
Bridenthal, R., Koonz, C., and S. Stuart. Becoming Visible: Women in European History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. For good readers.
Lerner, G. The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Lerner, G. The Creation of Patriarchy. NY: Oxford University Press, 1986.
For materials created expressly for students, a number of organizations offer their own publications or serve as clearinghouses.
At the elementary level:
HerStory for Futures Unlimited. Address: 2123 Marineview Drive, San Leandro, CA 94577. Phone: 510-483-4246. Fax: 510-351-3383.
For elementary and secondary students:
National Women's History Project. Address: 7738 Bell Road, Windsor, CA 95492. Phone: 707-838-6000.
Women in the World: Curriculum Resource Project 5-8. Address: 1030 Spruce Street, Berkeley, CA 94707. Phone: 510-524-0304.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Offers biographies of women usable for roughly grades 5-10.
At the secondary level:
The Feminist Press. Address: City University of New York, 311 E. 94th Street, New York, NY 10128. Phone: 212-360-5790. Fax: 212-348-1241.
National S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project. Address: Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. 02181. Phone: 617-431-1453. Fax: 617-239-1150.
Upper Midwest Women's History Center. Address: Hamline University, 1536 Hewitt Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104. Phone: 612-644-1727. Publishes a series of paperback textbooks on women's lives, past and present, around the globe. The materials include student texts, teacher guides, slides and filmstrips.
1 J. DeHart, "The New Feminism and the Dynamics of Social Change" in L. Kerber and J. DeHart, eds., Women's America (NY: Oxford University Press, 1995).
2 Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds its Past: Placing Women in History (NY: Oxford University Press, 1979).
3 Margaret Crocco, "Women's History of the 1920's: A Look at Anzia Yezierska and Charlotte Perkins Gilman" in Social Education 59, 1 (1995a), 29-30; Id., "The Road to the Vote: Women, Suffrage, and the Public Sphere" in Social Education 59, 5 (1995b), 257-264; M. Tetrault, "Women, Gender and the Social Studies" in Social Education 51, 2 (1987), 167-205.
4 S. Thornton, Lecture in "The History of Social Studies" (NY: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1/1996).
5 E. Minnich, Transforming Knowledge (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).
6 A. Chapman, Feminist Resources for Schools and Colleges: A Guide to Curricular Materials (Old Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press, 1986); Margaret Crocco, Listening for All Voices: Gender Balancing the School Curriculum (Summit, NJ: Oak Knoll School, 1988); L. Kerber and J. DeHart, eds. Women's America (NY: Oxford University Press, 1995); Peggy McIntosh, "Interactive Phases of Curricular and Personal Re-vision with Regards to Race. Working Paper No. 219" (Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1986); E. Minnich, Transforming Knowledge; J. Zinsser, History and Feminism: A Glass Half Full (NY: Twayne Publishers, 1993).
7 J. Banks, An Introduction to Multicultural Education (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1990).
8 Emily Style, "Curriculum as Window and Mirror" in Listening for All Voices: Gender Balancing the School Curriculum (Summit, NJ: Oak Knoll School, 1988).
9 Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past; Peggy McIntosh, "Interactive Phases of Curricular Re-vision: A Feminist Perspective. Working Paper No. 124" (Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1983); M. Tetrault, "Women, Gender and the Social Studies."
10 J. Banks, An Introduction to Multicultural Education.
11 N. Noddings, "Social Studies and Feminism" in Theory and Research in Social Education 20, 3 (1992), 230-241.
12 E. Spellman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988).
13 J. Yellin, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself, Harriet A. Jacobs (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press: 1987).
14 C. Woodward, Mary Chestnut's Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).
15 J. Jones, Labor of Love: Labor of Sorrow (Boston: University of Massachusetts, 1990).
16 T. Dublin, Women at Work (NY: Columbia University Press, 1979).
17 Peggy McIntosh, "Interactive Phases of Curricular and Pesonal Re-vision with Regards to Race."
18 Andy Hargreaves, Changing Teachers, Changing Times (NY: Teachers College Press, 1995).
19 S. Thornton, "Teacher as Curricular Instructional Gatekeeper" in James Shaver, ed., Handbook of Research on Social Studies Teaching and Learning (NY: Macmillan, 1991).
Margaret Smith Crocco is Assistant Professor of the Program in Social Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.