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Journal of Women's History 11.1 (1999) 9-30

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Women's History In The New Millennium
A Conversation across Three "Generations":
Part I

Anne Firor Scott, Sara M. Evans, Susan K. Cahn, and Elizabeth Faue


In contemplating the approach of the year 2000, I thought it would be a good time to try to reflect on where the field of women's history has been and where it might be headed. Knowing how hard it is for historians to think about what has not yet happened, I wondered if it might be best to ask young scholars just starting out to try to peer into the mists of the future. Then Associate Editor Birgitte Søland suggested that we sponsor a conversation about the past, present, and future of women's history among three "generations" of historians, what I like to call, in an adaptation of the German terms, a "doctor-grandmother," "doctor-mother," and "doctor-daughter," or in this case two "doctor-daughters." Birgitte's Minnesota connection immediately brought to mind the Anne Scott/Sara Evans/Susan Cahn/Liz Faue "family," so voilà, this conversation came to be.

Having come to women's studies in the 1970s, when the literature was so minimal that it was easy to read it all and have a firm enough grasp to teach an introduction to a women's studies class without having taken such a course oneself, I have often been struck with how mind-boggling it must be to walk into a women's studies class today, without knowing any feminist theory. A beginning student cannot possibly read everything, and cannot even expect to understand everything she can manage to read. The same is true, of course, in the field of women's history. This sympathetic imagining of what it is like to confront a field that has moved so far from the early and relatively simple insights sparked the questions I originally posed in this conversation. How, I wondered, have our different points of entry into the field shaped our approaches to women's history and our visions for the future?

The following conversation, which will be continued in the next issue, ranges widely, from personal stories of discovering women's history to the pressing political concerns of the past and present to reflections on the sources and usefulness of different methodological and theoretical approaches. Perhaps it is true that, as historians, we are no good at predicting the future, but this conversation does much to enlighten us about where we have been and to pose thought-provoking questions about where we should be headed. We offer it as an opening salvo in our ongoing consideration of Women's History in the New Millennium.

——Leila J. Rupp [End Page 9]

Date: Wed., 25 March 1998
From: A. Scott <>
Subject: Re: Women's History in the New Millennium

Dear Friends:

I was startled to learn that my message has disappeared into Cyberspace—and so I will try to reconstruct. If I understood what Leila had in mind it was that we would use e-mail to talk informally with the notion that only whatever turned out to be significant would be preserved, and the rest would disappear. . . . So one doesn't have to try to be profound but can just engage in free association and hope to stimulate all the others. . . .

So here goes. As readers of the Journal of Women's History know, I tend to trace the beginning of any considerable interest in the history of women in this country to the early nineteenth century when the first outspoken proponents of women's rights encouraged reference to the past as a way of attracting women to their way of thinking. The first vaguely academic interest in the subject appeared in the teens with Mary Beard's Women's Workin the Municipalities, and later with her contributions to the Rise of American Civilization, still said to...


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