Women Have Always Worked: A New Online Course Premieres Today

It’s been said that the great­est achieve­ment in Amer­i­can his­to­ry in the 20th cen­tu­ry is the progress that was made – although the jour­ney con­tin­ues – toward woman’s equal­i­ty, what with women’s right to vote cod­i­fied in the 19th amend­ment (1920), women’s repro­duc­tive rights affirmed by the Supreme Court over a half cen­tu­ry lat­er (1973), and every advance in between and since. Our nation­al gov­ern­ment has done what it can to rec­og­nize that progress, and to remind us whence we came. The Nation­al Park Ser­vice, for exam­ple, tells us that when our coun­try start­ed:

The reli­gious doc­trine, writ­ten laws, and social cus­toms that colonists brought with them from Europe assert­ed wom­en’s sub­or­di­nate posi­tion. Women were to mar­ry, tend the house, and raise a fam­i­ly. Edu­ca­tion beyond basic read­ing and writ­ing was unusu­al. When a woman took a hus­band she lost what lim­it­ed free­dom she might have had as a sin­gle adult. Those few mar­ried women who worked for pay could not con­trol their own earn­ings. Most could nei­ther buy nor sell prop­er­ty or sign con­tracts; none could vote, sue when wronged, defend them­selves in court, or serve on juries. In the rare case of divorce, women lost cus­tody of their chil­dren and any fam­i­ly pos­ses­sions.…

And that … “Women actu­al­ly lost legal ground as a result of the new Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion.”

What if there were an oppor­tu­ni­ty to study this strug­gle and the progress we have made in great depth – in an online course from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty and the New-York His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety fea­tur­ing its star women’s his­to­ri­an, Alice Kessler-Har­ris, now emeri­ta, and a line­up of guest voic­es from all around the coun­try inter­viewed under her lead­er­ship to pro­vide their exper­tise on mat­ters of progress and equal­i­ty? And what if there were a new Cen­ter for the Study of Women’s His­to­ry launch­ing at the same time, even on the same day – March 8, 2017 – to pro­vide a more per­ma­nent place for exam­in­ing and under­stand­ing how to make this progress even more expan­sive?

Women Have Always Worked, a 20-week online class, pre­mieres its first 10 weeks today – free on the edX plat­form. The offer­ing (enroll here) is unique in the his­to­ry of edu­ca­tion. The course intro­duces the first col­lab­o­ra­tion between a uni­ver­si­ty and a his­tor­i­cal soci­ety to present knowl­edge to the world – with extend­ed video-record­ed con­ver­sa­tions and arti­fact and doc­u­ment dis­cus­sions with renowned schol­ars and authors includ­ing Baruch’s Car­ol Berkin; Deb­o­rah Gray White from Rut­gers; Iowa’s Lin­da Ker­ber; Car­roll Smith Rosen­berg from Michi­gan; Thavo­lia Glymph from Duke; St. John’s Lara Vap­nek; Blanche Wiesen Cook from CUNY; Louise Bernikow; Harvard’s Nan­cy Cott; Elaine Tyler May at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta; NYU’s Lin­da Gor­don; the great New York writer Vivian Gor­nick; and more.

The course page lists some of the ques­tions cov­ered:

• How women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in, exclu­sion from, and impact on Amer­i­can eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and social life have altered Amer­i­can his­to­ry.
• How key fig­ures and events have chal­lenged the role of women in the home and work­place.
• How ideas, such as democ­ra­cy, cit­i­zen­ship, lib­er­ty, patri­o­tism, and equal­i­ty have dif­fer­ent­ly shaped the lives of women and men.
• How women of dif­fer­ent races and class­es have expe­ri­enced work, both inside and out­side the home.
• How his­to­ri­ans of women and gen­der study America’s past, includ­ing hands-on oppor­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice ana­lyz­ing pri­ma­ry sources from the present and the past.
• How women’s his­to­ry has devel­oped and changed over time.
And did we say it’s free?

The sec­ond part of the course will launch in June, in asso­ci­a­tion with the annu­al meet­ing of the Berk­shire Women’s His­to­ry Con­fer­ence at Hof­s­tra Uni­ver­si­ty – the largest meet­ing of wom­en’s his­to­ri­ans any­where. The MOOC is inspired by Kessler-Harris’s book, Women Have Always Worked: A His­tor­i­cal Overview, first pub­lished by the Fem­i­nist Press in 1981 and com­ing out in a new­ly updat­ed edi­tion also in 2017 from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, pub­lish­er of Kessler-Harris’s land­mark Gen­der­ing Labor His­to­ry (2007). The orig­i­nal book brings forth a mil­lion gems of knowl­edge and analy­sis in text and images; the online course brings for­ward video and audio and doc­u­ments and arti­facts such as few media can accom­plish. Intel­li­gent Tele­vi­sion had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­duce many of the video inter­views, con­ver­sa­tions, and tes­ti­mo­ni­als.

The strug­gle of women at work is the strug­gle of all who seek a bet­ter and more just world. The course is a lit­tle mir­a­cle alight with­in it.

Peter B. Kauf­man runs Intel­li­gent Tele­vi­sion (www.intelligenttelevision.com) and twice served as Asso­ciate Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Teach­ing and Learn­ing at Colum­bia.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Women’s Suf­frage March of 1913: The Parade That Over­shad­owed Anoth­er Pres­i­den­tial Inau­gu­ra­tion a Cen­tu­ry Ago

Odd Vin­tage Post­cards Doc­u­ment the Pro­pa­gan­da Against Women’s Rights 100 Years Ago

Down­load Images From Rad Amer­i­can Women A‑Z: A New Pic­ture Book on the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nism

The First Fem­i­nist Film, Ger­maine Dulac’s The Smil­ing Madame Beudet (1922)

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

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