- Issue 500:A Message from the Editors
Herstory. The term was coined in the early 1970s, at a time when feminist scholars were beginning to dismantle in a systematic way the generations of male bias that had long characterized male-dominated historiography. It suggests pithily that what scholars in the past described simply as "history" is really often a chronicle of specifically male activities, often presented and analyzed to the exclusion of women's activities or roles within the same chronological period. Men writing about men; men equating male experience with "general" experience; men selecting concerns and interests to focus on in ways that privilege masculine values and marginalize feminine. Male bias has not been exclusively produced by men, of course, nor is it the case that male scholars have consistently ignored female experience in their writings and analyses. But the point is a good one: any received history will display the biases of the people who wrote it, sometimes to the point of erasing other versions of the story entirely. And that has certainly happened, as the authors of the three main essays in this issue contend, in the case of the disciplinary history of folklore and folklife studies, where the work and roles of men have often been allowed to overshadow or even eclipse the substantive contributions of their female counterparts.
The magazine before you—nestled in your hands, or, more likely today, residing on your screen—is the five hundredth issue of the Journal of American Folklore. The American Folklore Society was founded in 1888—125 years ago—and, with four issues per year, that makes the present issue, predictably, inevitably, number 500. Any field, any journal, ought to pause to savor such a moment: reaching 500 is no small feat, and represents in fact the combined effort of a vast number of folklorists, past and present, male and female. And folklorists do like to pause; call it an occupational hazard: the product of training that reminds us to view the present always with a cognizance of the past, and often with a level of discomfort at the changes we see around us. So readers of JAF might well expect that issue 500 would take note of its number, and they will not be disappointed on that score.
So excited were we, your editors, about the approaching anniversary that we started the commemoration early. You may have noticed if you are a regular reader of the JAF that the last several issues of the journal have focused on communities and topics that were identified as important in the formative years of the American Folklore Society. Issue 497 presents new research on African American folklore; issue 498 on children's folklore. Issue 499 looks at Native American folklore. And here, in issue 500, we focus on women workers of our field. The articles are celebratory in some ways but sobering in others: they focus attention on women who did remarkable work for our field, but they also give us a means of viewing our disciplinary history that is [End Page 117] not altogether flattering. And that, we hope, makes these an especially appropriate way of marking our five hundredth issue.
In the three main articles of this issue, three female folklorists examine the careers and disciplinary profiles of past female folklorists. The reader will find many points of comparison and occasional moments of contrast in the lives and experiences of the women discussed here, be it in Deirdre Ní Chonghaile's examination of Sidney Robertson Cowell, Elaine J. Lawless's presentation of Zora Neale Hurston, or Barbro Klein's chronicle of women associated with both the Swedish outdoor museum Skansen and the ethnographic collections that became the Nordiska museet. Issues recur in each of these studies: questions of career choices, of exclusion and discrimination, of glass ceilings, of trade-offs between marital or filial duties and the supposed dangers or improprieties of fieldwork. Written with sensitivity and acumen by women who are themselves folklorists, these essays invite the personal reflection of any folklorist reader, female or male, as they examine the norms of feminine behavior both within the academy and within...