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  • Will Alabama Women Vote?: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Alabama from 1890–1920
  • Valerie Pope Burnes (bio)

There are so many directions this speech could have gone: 2019 is the state’s bicentennial, so I toyed with the idea examining of the state of history in the state or, perhaps, taking a look at how we could more actively promote and teach public history, including archival and historic preservation. So many options presented themselves: my dissertation was on the Civil Rights Movement in Perry County, and my book, Visions of the Black Belt (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2015), examines the cultural history of a very unique region of the state, which made those topics viable options as well.

I decided to look back on my academic journey. Travel with me back to April 1999—twenty years ago. I majored in history and English at Judson College with a concentration in pre-law. I did an internship my last undergraduate semester and realized law was not for me. Since I was graduating in June, I was in a bit of a bind. I headed to the career services office at Judson College and explained that I was about to graduate, and I could not use the pre-law course of study I had followed for four years. The sympathetic but not-too-hopeful director of career services looked at me with pity and wordlessly handed me an occupational aptitude test, with a headshake and a “bless your heart.” Results one through three of the exam were fairly generic—I don’t even remember exactly what they were—but [End Page 28] the fourth career option listed caught my attention: archivist. So I decided to find out what an archivist did. At Judson, only seniors are allowed in the archives, so I saw archives as a special place of honor, the right to visit which you had to earn. I had poked around in the archives working on a senior history paper, but that was the extent of my exposure. That career services test introduced me to the fact that someone had been trained to “identify, preserve, and make all of those records available,” and I might just have the temperament and mindset to do that very thing.

I started looking for archival programs and found that, joy of joys, Auburn University had one of the best programs in the Southeast. Now, I will tell you that this solved a little problem I had. My grandparents, my parents, my mother’s sisters and their spouses, and my cousins had all gone to Auburn. I had gone to Judson. And while my grandmother was relieved I had at least not gone to Alabama (I had caused a family meeting when I had, in the words of my grandmother, “accidentally” applied to the University of Alabama), suffice it to say, Christmas gifts had been a tad slim when I broke with family tradition and headed to the Black Belt prairies of Marion instead of the “Loveliest Village on the Plains.” Now, though, if I headed to Auburn for a Master’s degree in Archival Studies, I could graduate from a great program, have a career that I was certain I would love, and be back in the good graces of my grandmother, who had been in the founding class of Alpha Gamma Delta at Auburn.

Unfortunately, April was a little past the admission deadline for 1999, so I found a job working in the admissions office at Judson to tide me over. I got busy recruiting “Judson Girls,” and missed the deadline the next spring by two days. That’s fine, I thought. I was having a great time recruiting for Judson: I lived in an antebellum home on Judson’s campus, and I got to eat in the dining hall so I didn’t have to cook or wash dishes. That fall, a new biology professor who had just graduated from Georgia Tech moved to Marion for his first teaching job. (Let that sink in – he moved from Atlanta to Marion. That was a fun transition to watch.) And though we started dating in [End Page 29] the fall of 2000, I did...


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