- Women, Work, and Family in the Distinguished Career of Leila J. Rupp
As PhD students who were preparing for comprehensive exams, my peers and I anticipated that one of Leila Rupp’s essay questions would require us to use Louise Tilly and Joan Scott’s book, Women, Work, and Family, as a point of departure.1 I will admit the unflattering fact that anything focused on family and set in Western Europe sounded like a real bore to me. The book’s publication date in the 1970s did not elevate its appeal. Of course, now I am grateful for the well-rounded training I received as a women’s historian, and I cringe when my own students do not share my appreciation of classic texts.
While reflecting on Rupp’s impact on the field, it occurred to me that Tilly and Scott’s title—Women, Work, and Family—represents something enduring about the practice of women’s history, its historiography, and Rupp’s influence, particularly on her students. So I have organized my comments around these three themes, hoping to capture the ways that Leila Rupp continues to make a difference in the field. In particular, her work has taught me, and many others, not to overlook continuity and persistence even as we recognize, adjust to, and create change.
Like many of my peers, I came to Ohio State University in the 1990s because of its strong reputation in women’s history, built by Leila Rupp, Susan Hartmann, Birgitte Søland, Stephanie Shaw, Claire Robertson, Judy Wu, and others who joined the department later. As a graduate student who migrated between women’s studies and history, I found in Rupp a scholar with enthusiasm for both fields. She was also extremely generous with her encouragement, and not just to the many students she formally advised. I marvel to think of how she got any of her own work done, given the sheer number of faculty and staff colleagues and students who sought her attention. This was all the more evident when she adopted the editorship of the Journal of Women’s History in 1996. When I joined the editorial staff, I developed an even better appreciation of her expansive collegiality, her efficiency and productivity, and her fondness for all things Tina Turner.
As someone immersed in community with academic women, lesbians, and feminists, Rupp has examined women’s lives in virtually all her research and writing projects. From the outset, her work attended to conceptions [End Page 153] of womanhood, including its limits and contradictions. Public images of womanhood in the mid-twentieth century were the focus of her earliest work. In the dissertation that became Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939–1945 (1978), she audaciously looked for points of similarity between the two governments’ appeals to women.2 Wartime propaganda extending women’s roles, in both Nazi Germany and the United States, did little to change fundamental beliefs about women and their status in society. In other words, propagandists temporarily reformed traditional ideas about women’s place in society, but not in ways that were lasting.
In several subsequent projects, Rupp focused on women speaking and acting as women, on behalf of women, both in the United States and globally. This attention to social movements derived from Rupp’s feminist activism as well as her partnership with the sociologist Verta Taylor. Rupp and Taylor hoped that by examining an earlier moment in the “death of feminism,” Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (1987) would shed light on contemporary questions.3 In a direct challenge to the then-current assumption that no women’s rights activism connected the first and second waves, Rupp and Taylor explored the remnants of the early women’s movement at mid-century.
An eye for feminist continuities led Taylor and Rupp to question the premise of second-wave feminism’s devolution into “cultural feminism” in their 1993 Signs article “Women’s Culture and Lesbian Feminist Activism: A Reconsideration of Cultural Feminism.”4 Taylor and Rupp demonstrated that feminist institution building did not end radical feminist politics, showing instead how...