Leila Rupp has transformed women’s history. As a scholar, editor, and mentor she has initiated new approaches and topics, shaped and refined the field, and helped new voices enter the conversation. Colleagues who have worked with Leila in a number of different capacities created this roundtable to explore her work and her influence on us as people and on the rich scholarship in women’s history. This is no simple love-fest, although it is also that. The contributors below offer critical appraisals and historically contextualized analyses of Leila’s scholarship even as they explain how and why it broke new ground. They also show how a first-rate scholar combines research, activism, and vibrant personal relationships to create an integrated professional and personal life—something to which we all aspire.
I met Leila when I prepared my first manuscript for publication in the Journal of Women’s History, which she edited at the time; my article appeared in 2000, but Leila continued to connect with me at conferences and offer me advice and networking opportunities. Less than a decade later, in 2009, I became co-editor of the Journal alongside Jean Quataert; we both worked closely with Leila who, as a former editor and member of the Journal’s board of trustees, provided us with sage advice and enthusiastic support for our ideas.
Leila is currently professor of Feminist Studies and associate dean of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara; she has written or co-written at least seven books ranging widely over time and space. Leila’s career began in the 1970s; as a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, she specialized in the history of Nazi propaganda and comparative history. By 1980, she published her first article on women’s relationships with other women—a theme that continued to animate her work as it moved from Germany to the US and into the arena of transnational history and interdisciplinary research. At each juncture, Rupp’s research questions and publications have inspired other scholars whose contributions continue to turn the topics Rupp has introduced into full-blown subfields in their own right.
Leila’s scholarship began to engage the history of sexuality with her 1999 publication A Desired Past, focusing on same-sex love before moving on to drag queens and, in 2009, a stunningly ambitious study of love between women all over the world since before time began.1 That’s Sapphistries, which, like all of professor Rupp’s books, is beautifully and engagingly [End Page 138] written. Seriously—you can assign her work to undergraduate students and they do not complain!
As editor of the Journal of Women’s History for eight years (between 1996 and 2004) Leila worked hard to recruit and publish more manuscripts on the history of sexuality and international history. She hoped these would encourage scholars in women’s history to read more broadly and converse with each other “across traditional lines of geographically and chronologically defined fields.”2
As a mentor, Leila has recast the profession’s mold. She has served as a mentor not only to her own graduate students (note: she has graduated twenty-six PhD students). She has also mentored students and colleagues around the globe through her work as an editor and scholar. Indeed, she is quite possibly the most beloved and generous academic I have ever known.
The participants in this roundtable are all historians of women whose familiarity with Leila’s work comes from different areas of expertise and experience. Leila’s thoughtful response follows.
LEIGH ANN WHEELER is professor of history at Binghamton University. Her books include How Sex Became a Civil Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873–1935 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004). She is a founding senior editor for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History and former co-editor of the Journal of Women’s History. Her current research examines the uncovering of the respectable female body in twentieth century US history.
1. Leila J. Rupp, A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in...