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  • An Unforgettable Collaboration: Women, the Family, and Freedom
  • Karen Offen (bio)

Dear Susan, . . . where does one begin in describing our collaboration since 1971? The beginning was inauspicious. Having discovered Susan’s lectures on women’s history, which she gave through our local community college, I decided to attend—with my small daughter. That was, of course, a mistake, and when little Catherine began crawling around the floor and twanging the doorstoppers, Susan briskly but kindly asked us to leave. But we arranged a subsequent meeting to discuss her projects and mine, and from there a fast friendship ensued. I provided some advice and also some suggestions for items to include in Susan’s anthology, Women: From the Greeks to the French Revolution (1973); I also encouraged Susan to present one of her wonderful slide lectures at the spring 1972 conference of the West Coast Association of Women Historians.1

In late 1972, we submitted a panel proposal on the development of French women’s education for the December 1973 conference of the American Historical Association in San Francisco. Susan would present her research on Christine de Pizan and the Humanist Tradition, and I would speak about my investigation of the new state secondary education for girls during the French Third Republic. We needed a third to report on women’s education during the period in between. That is when Natalie Zemon Davis suggested Carolyn Chappell Lougee, who had just completed a dissertation at the University of Michigan on seventeenth-century French women’s place and education. She agreed to give a paper comparing the approaches of Archbishop Fénelon and Madame de Maintenon (morganatic wife of King Louis XIV) to educating girls of the “impoverished” nobility. Little did we know then that Stanford’s History Department would hire Carolyn—sight unseen! We also did not know that Carolyn would continue to take an interest in our subsequent projects.

Susan’s anthology was not yet out when, during the spring quarter of 1972, I codeveloped and cotaught (with another colleague) the first course ever offered at Stanford on women in Western (European) history (from the Greeks to the twentieth century), in the Undergraduate Specials Program (which did not pay its instructors!). This made me aware, as Susan had already become aware, of the difficulty of locating appropriate documents—especially in an English language translation—for students’ assigned [End Page 195] reading. And we both agreed, in good humanist fashion, that teaching with primary sources was essential, especially in the newly emerging field of women’s history. We also agreed that a “sequel” to Susan’s forthcoming book was greatly needed. This need became even clearer during the 1977 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for High School Teachers, codirected by Carolyn Lougee and Estelle Freedman, in which I participated, assisting teachers to identify European documents that could help integrate women’s history into the high school curriculum.

That was the point of departure for a multi-year collaboration with Susan, which culminated in late 1983 with the publication of our two-volume work (totaling 1,035 pages), Women, the Family, and Freedom, 1750–1950: The Debate in Documents (henceforth WFF).2 According to correspondence in my files, I officially joined Susan on this “sequel” project in early 1978. We started off with a proposal for a modest book, with perhaps ten clusters of documents. A British publisher, David Croom of Croom-Helm, was initially interested in publishing that modest version, but as the book grew—and grew—and grew, he got skittish. Sue and I contacted Norris Pope at Stanford University Press, which was about to publish Victorian Women: A Documentary Account of Women’s Lives in Nineteenth Century England, France, and the United States (henceforth VW) and to reissue Sue’s Women: From the Greeks to the French Revolution. We received a contract with a small advance.3

I was then still working on Victorian Women with what began as an interdisciplinary team of five other scholars (including Estelle Freedman, Barbara Gelpi, Erna Hellerstein, Leslie Hume, and Marilyn Yalom). Erna, Leslie, and I took on primary responsibility to prepare the manuscript for publication. Coediting VW taught me that three...


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