RWSA 2018 Call for Presentations and Papers

UPDATE: SUBMISSION DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JUNE 15, 2017!!!

 

The Triennial Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA) conference is only about a year away! Check out the Call for Presentations here and on our web site. The deadline for proposal submissions is May 31, 2017, so put on your thinking bonnets, and start working on your proposals right away! We want the 2018 meeting to be the best one yet!

Amish thinking bonnets

 

RWSA 2018 Call for Presentations & Papers

Surviving and Thriving: Gender, Justice, Power, and Place Making

Rural Women’s Studies Association Triennial Conference

Hosted by Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
May 17-19, 2018

The theme, “Surviving and Thriving: Gender, Justice, Power, and Place Making,” emphasizes the role of gender in rural community formation and survival. It allows for exploration of the ways that gendered identity (as women, men, or bi- and trans-) and raced identity (within separatist communities, segregated neighborhoods, or integrated spaces) affected personal power, individual choice, and community development. These subjects lend themselves to exploration of rural activism, business development, cultural expression, self-governance, and collective experiences—both historical and contemporary—locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

RWSA is an international association founded in 1997 to promote and advance farm and rural women’s/gender studies in a historical perspective by encouraging research, promoting scholarship, and establishing and maintaining links with organizations that share these goals. RWSA welcomes academic scholars, public historians and archivists, graduate students, and representatives of rural organizations and communities as conference participants and members.

Presentations take many forms at RWSA conferences, including workshops, panel sessions, tours, interactive sessions, roundtable discussions, poster presentations, open-mic discussions, performances, readings, and audiovisual presentations. The RWSA encourages inter-, trans- or multi-disciplinary approaches that connect rural women’s/gender history and present-day political, ecological, or social and economic concerns, worldwide. The RWSA seeks to integrate creative work with the conference theme, and we encourage artists working in visual, film, performative, and literary genres to submit their ideas to make the conference most dynamic.

The theme: Surviving and Thriving encourages exploration of several sub-themes:

  • coping with change using creative and alternative strategies
  • ecofeminism; natural resources; environmental legacies, livelihoods and politics
  • sustainable development, feminism, activism and social justice
  • rural economics; gendered and spatial analysis of poverty, economic inequality, and wealth
  • folkways, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and cultural identities

Please submit the following information by 31 May 2017.

  1. Title of paper/panel/poster/workshop/performance (working title is acceptable).
  2. 200 word description/abstract of paper, panel, poster, workshop, performance, etc.
  3. Brief vita/bio of presenter or panel participants and complete contact information for all.

Please indicate if your proposal does not fit in the regular session time of 1.5 hour with three presentations and discussion. We will contact you if your proposal has been accepted.

Submissions should be sent electronically (as a single word document) to: RWSA2018@gmail.com

If it is not possible to send your proposal electronically, please send by regular mail to:

Cherisse Jones-Branch
Professor of History
Department of History
P.O. Box 1690
Arkansas State University, AR 72467
USA
870-972-3291
crjones@astate.edu

Program Committee Co-chairs: Cherisse Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University, and Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford (Dearborn, Michigan)

Program Committee Members: Mary Larson, President of the Oral History Association and Oklahoma State University; Maggie Weber, Iowa State University; Suzie Acord, Athens County Rural Action; Amy McKinney, Northwest College; Rebecca Montgomery, Texas State University; Catherine Wilson, University of Guelph, ex officio member.

For information on travel grants and letters of invitation, contact Katherine Jellison at jellison@ohio.edu. For additional information on the RWSA, please go to the organization website.

“Dear Miss Cushman”: The Dreams of Eva McCoy, 1874

“Dear Miss Cushman”:

The Dreams of Eva McCoy, 1874

Sara Lampert, University of South Dakota

 

As an early republic historian working on the gender history of commercial entertainment, I am always on the lookout for Carrie Meebers, or women and girls who can open up the longstanding trope of the country girl seduced by the city. Carrie Meeber is the heroine of Theodore Dreiser’s turn-of-the-century novel Sister Carrie. This is a quintessentially urban tale: Carrie is awakened to the seductions and possibilities of mass culture and urban life by her explorations of the city. Her rural girlhood and the dreams that brought her from Waukesha to Chicago are dispensed with in the first page as the rural landscape of her Wisconsin childhood rushes by on her train bound for Chicago. These gestures deploy familiar tropes, rural girlhood as ennui. Carrie releases a faint sigh for “the flour mill where her father worked by the day” and the “familiar green environs of the village,” but as then train picks up speed, “the threads which bound her so lightly to her girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.”[1]

ambition3
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma02/volpe/theater/theater/ambition3.jpg

 

Dreiser does not give us a chance to spend more time with Carrie in Waukesha, to read her letters with sister Minnie in Chicago, survey the sheet music on her parlor piano or open the chest in which Carrie might have kept press clippings and women’s periodicals and catalogs. How might her rural girlhood have shaped her expectations about the world she would exit into at other end of the train line?

 

3g13410v
Charlotte Cushman.  Half plate daguerreotype, ca. 1855.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZC4-13410.

 

In Washington D.C. while researching 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman, I briefly stumbled into the world of Eva McCoy, a girl from rural Illinois who penned a piece of fan mail to her idol in 1874.[2] The letter survives today taped into a red bound volume in the Charlotte Cushman Papers in the Library of Congress. It is likely that the letter was received and read by Cushman’s life partner Emma Stebbins, and later saved by Stebbins, who took on the weighty task of managing Cushman’s legacy after the actress’ death from breast cancer in February 1876. The letter was preserved and later mounted, along with miscellaneous fan mail, much of it from the 1870s and much of it from other women.

In 1874, when McCoy wrote to Cushman, she was living in Thomson, Illinois, a town on the Mississippi River that by 1880 counted a population of only 390 people. McCoy painted a portrait of financial depravation matched by frustrated ambition. At only twenty-three, she was “‘alone in the world’ having my own resources to depend upon for existence.” Like Cushman’s other correspondents, McCoy balanced appeals to necessity with testimonial to her passion for the stage. She explained, “Since I was a very little girl, I have been desirous of becoming an actress; however, I have never had an opportunity of becoming educated for the Stage.”

Here was the reason for her letter. McCoy wanted instruction, but not from the “gentlemen…managers of the Stage.” Though she readily admitted to an “adventurous and courageous nature,” McCoy feared for her virtue: “strange men may be ‘hideous monsters’.” Instead, she fantasized about coming to live and study with Cushman. She promised, “I will love you as a darling sister, or a mother,” “be obedient,” and “become your own.” Whether as a “servant or companion,” McCoy only hoped to “sustain a relation” to Cushman in “whatever capacity it may please you to place me.” She enclosed a photo.

McCoy’s desperate and passionate appeal was not unusual. Other women and girls who wrote to Cushman struggled to frame professional desires and naked worship of their celebrity object in a more socially acceptable narrative of economic necessity, often describing poverty and family need. Like McCoy they collapsed the fantasy of student in the role of devoted servant to their desired object. As Cushman’s biographer Lisa Merrill has demonstrated, throughout Cushman’s life and career, women were drawn to her, whether because of her performances and the inspiration and lessons that they read from her life and career. Cushman’s determination to be breadwinner for her widowed mother and siblings was an established feature of her biography, which also shaped her reputation as a true woman who was both virtuous and charitable. Merrill points out, however, that some women may well have read the “code” of female erotic desire in Cushman’s relationship with Stebbins or her performances of male roles like Romeo.[3]

Correspondents like McCoy dreamed that Cushman would be moved to aid them. McCoy’s letter in particular reminds us that Cushman’s publics included girls and women who had never seen her perform, would never see her perform, but for whom Cushman’s celebrity held significance and inspiration.

But was Eva McCoy exactly as she appeared? Was her careful appeal actually a careful manipulation of sympathy or did it conceal an even sadder truth?

McCoy had lived in rural Illinois her entire life. Her parents John Vallette and Clarinda (Walker) Vallette came to DuPage, Illinois from the Northeast in 1839 during a period of rampant land speculation in the Big Woods.[4] Their daughter Evaline was born a decade later, the eldest of three. In 1860, her father was earning a living as a “homeopathic physician” with only $100 to his name owning real estate worth $1000.[5] After serving briefly as a hospital steward with an Illinois regiment toward the end of the war, he seized the opportunity of new settlement made possible by postwar railroad construction.[6]

In 1866, he went into partnership in the dry goods business with the widow of a local physician and druggist. Their new home would be a small village laid out by the Western Union Railroad in a valley on the banks of the Mississippi River at the western edge of the state.[7] The new partnership and move to Thomson was a boon to the family fortunes. In 1870, Vallette boasted a personal estate worth $5000 and $3000 in real estate. The former “homeopathic physician” now titled himself “medical doctor” on the federal census. His son clerked in the family business and his daughter was married to a young lawyer, Daniel McCoy.[8]

The couple had married in November 15, 1865. He was twenty-two, she eighteen.[9] By 1870, Daniel possessed a respectable personal estate of $1000. After 1870, he disappears as does Eva McCoy, though we know that in 1874 she was writing Charlotte Cushman hoping for…something.

Where was Daniel McCoy in 1874? Born in Ohio, he was one of the many Daniel McCoys who served in Illinois regiments in the Civil War. Was he the Daniel McCoy who had served with the 45th Illinois Infantry and died March 18, 1873, laid to rest in Peoria, Illinois?[10] Perhaps he had been mustered out for the very injury that would cause his death eight years later. Perhaps Eva’s loneliness was not that of a widow but of a deserted wife. Most likely he died and she hauled stakes. Though its unlikely she received a reply from Cushman, perhaps writing the letter gave her the courage to leave the comfortable estate her father had built for himself in Thomson and try her luck in Chicago, travelling by the Western Union Railroad, a little bit older and perhaps with a bit more saavy, though less ultimate success, than Sister Carrie Meeber.

 

[1] Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (Penguin Books, 1994), 3.

[2] Eva McCoy to Charlotte Cushman, November 15, 1874, Charlotte Cushman Papers, Library of Congress.

[3] Lisa Merrill, When Romeo was a Woman: Charlotte Cushman and her Circle of Female Spectators (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999).

[4] The History of Carroll County, Illinois (Chicago: H. F. Kett & Co., 1878), 425.

[5] 1860 U.S. census, Wheaton, Du Page, Illinois, page no. 195, dwelling 1451, family 1494, John O. Vallette, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com).

[6] Rufus Blanchard, History of Du Page County, Illinois (Chicago: O.L. Baskin & Co. Historical Publishers, 1882), 121.

[7] History of Carroll County, 365.

[8] 1870 U.S. census, York Township, Carroll, Illinois, page no. 36, dwelling 278, family 278,  John O. Vallette, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com); 1870 U.S. census, York Township, Carroll, Illinois, page no. 34, dwelling 257, family 257, Daniel McCoy, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com).

[9] Illinois State Marriage Records, Illinois Marriage Index 1860-1920 [database online], Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com) based on Illinois State Marriage Records.

[10] Daniel McCoy, Pvt. Co. C, Regt. 47, Illinois Infantry, date of death March 18, 1873, digital image, Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database online], Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com) based on Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903.

Cowgirls and the Discourses of Patriarchy and Feminism in Country/Western Music

 

Editor’s note: In the months leading up to the 2017 “Big Berks” conference (the triennial Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities, which will be hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, USA, on June 1-4, 2017) , we will be highlighting research on rural women that will be presented at that conference.  This week, we share another abstract from a session focused on rural women, “The Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture,” that will include several members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association.

 

Cowgirls and the Discourses of Patriarchy and Feminism in Country/Western Music

Renee M. Laegreid, University of Wyoming

 

“Cowgirls” emerged on the music scene as singers/songwriters and as the subject of songs by both male and female artists in the mid-1930s. The popularity of western music helped create an image of western women who, despite stepping outside traditional feminine boundaries, retained traditional attitudes toward sexual purity and domesticity. The emergence of Honky Tonk music in the 1950s blurred the distinction between cowgirls and working class women; Western music became increasingly identified as Country, and lyrics featuring cowgirls shifted away from the innocent pleasures of riding across the range to drinking in bars, cheating on spouses, and flaunting sexuality. While some female Country Music artists wrote songs protesting patriarchal attitudes toward women, in the heavily male-dominated music industry, since the 1970s songs about cowgirls have become increasingly fixated on their demimonde world of cowboy bars, beer, and sexual license. The emergence of Western Music Association in 1988 provided a forum for singer/songwriters to counter this stereotypical cowgirl image with songs that speak to the diversity of western women.

danielle_klebanow_photography-12

This lightning session presentation combines music history and theory with gender studies, examining the popularization of country western music in the 1920s, the historical development of this musical genre related to women—more specifically, cowgirls—as the subject of songs, and individual composers whose songs interrogated the evolving discourse over women’s changing roles in society. This presentation addresses a significant gap in western women’s and gender scholarship by connecting the cultural significance of cowgirls with an analysis of country music history.

 

Other presentations as part of the “Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture” session will include:

Gender, Rurality and Imaginary for National and Commercial Purposes

Editor’s note: In the months leading up to the 2017 “Big Berks” conference (the triennial Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities, which will be hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, USA, on June 1-4, 2017) , we will be highlighting research on rural women that will be presented at that conference.  This week, we share another abstract from a session focused on rural women, “The Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture,” that will include several members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association.

Gender, Rurality and Imaginary for National and Commercial Purposes,

with special emphasis on the Netherlands from 1870s onwards.

 

Dr Margreet van der Burg, Wageningen University

 

My interest for the portrayal of rural life and culture has been awakened by researching the late 19 C worries about the extinction of long lived national cultures in many European countries. Though, the attempts to preserve these cultures as being essential to a nation’s culture, have also reinforced the objectification and stereotyping of rural cultures. They are largely deprived from being part or voice in a dynamic historical process.
In my work so far I showed how this objectification turned into stereotyping and images that were eagerly used for branding and packaging of national pride, national inclusiveness, purity and innocence, cleanliness, harmony – with nature. When showing rural people, esp. in farm sceneries and /or (extended) farm families, the imaginary is often symbolically associated with well-respected virtues such as reliability, and used for both national and commercial purposes. Although some campaigns also focused on gaining the support of rural people, most are symbolically oriented to getting the goodwill of foreign or urban inhabitants who are supposed to value the packaged meanings of rurality without being part of these rural cultures themselves. This applies also to ‘others’ gendered meanings. Ruralism still directly affects rural women and men when encountering urban biased stereotypes in their lives.

In my work I systemized the set of features in rural iconography often used; what mismatches between the actual portrayal and reality seem to be most powerful in various cultural contexts and how their symbolic meanings are culturally connected to the various techniques applied. I am working on identifying various forms and intersecting hierarchies of meaningful misrepresentations and connecting these to how they are exploited in various systematic ways over time. In my contribution I will present this work in progress with illustrations from especially Dutch origin.

 

 Other presentations as part of the “Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture” session will include:

Pioneer Mother Monuments and the All-American Family

Editor’s note: The triennial Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities – will be hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, USA, on June 1-4, 2017.  In the months leading up to the “Big Berks” conference, we will be highlighting research on rural women that will be presented at that conference.  This week, we share an abstract from a session focused on rural women, “The Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture,” that will include several members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association.

 

Pioneer Mother Monuments and the All-American Family

Cynthia Culver Prescott, University of North Dakota

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bryant Baker, Pioneer Woman, 1929, Ponca City, Oklahoma

In the early twentieth century, communities throughout the United States erected commemorative monuments to their white forefathers sculpted by prominent artists.  Both scholars and the wider public have largely ignored the numerous monuments commemorating white settlement of the American West that were erected after the supposed closing of the frontier in the 1890s.  Even less scholarly and public attention have focused on postwar monuments to white settlers erected in response to more recent social change.

During the 1920s, changing gender norms, xenophobia, and rural nostalgia combined to produce a common iconography of a sunbonneted white woman carrying white “civilization” westward, armed with either a Bible or rifle.  Despite the growing popularity of cowboys and Indians in film and television, public interest in these “pioneer mothers” declined after World War II.  Centennial celebrations inspired small towns to erect statues by local artists depicting frontier families.  Most western urbanites largely ignored these pioneer monuments in their midst.

manuel-promised-land
David Manuel, The Promised Land, 1993, Portland, Oregon

Yet even as interest in older monuments waned, the New Western History and the rise of heritage tourism collided to inspire a new wave of more varied pioneer monuments beginning in the 1990s.  Assessing public reception of the monuments erected from the 1890s to the present uncovers the ways that Americans used western mythology to enshrine particular notions of white civilization, to define American nationhood, and to grapple with social change.

 

 

Another abstract from the Berks “Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture” session is available here

 

Rural Cambodian Women as the Recipients of Education and NGO Focus

Rural Cambodian Women as the Recipients of Education and NGO Focus

 Elyssa Ford, Northwest Missouri State University

Few Cambodian women, especially those from rural areas, have been able to reach positions of leadership in the workforce or government.  Rural youth receive much lower levels of education than those in urban areas, but young women particularly struggle to compete with their rural male counterparts and urban females.  All women face restrictions because of geography, cost, safety, and tradition, but those in rural regions, which generally is considered anything outside the capital, face an even greater struggle in each of these areas.  Furthermore, poor, rural women encounter additional hurdles because they must succeed in college and the workforce on their own merit.  This is difficult due to widespread corruption that controls much of the ability to advance.  Several non-profits have begun to address the issue of education and are helping rural women attend college and potentially gain leadership positions.  At the 2014 Berks conference, I discussed women’s education in Cambodia and provided an explanation of why many of the limiting factors still exist even though women’s education leads to dramatic changes in family economies, access to jobs, and marital relationships.  My personal contribution to this area of study was an examination of what these non-profits are doing and how successful it has been for poor, rural women in the face of the present-day Cambodian state.  The basis of this research comes from an on-going study of a group of women as they move from Cambodian universities to study in the U.S. or graduate school elsewhere and eventually to jobs and marriage in Cambodia.

Putting Women in a Man’s World: Making a Conscious Effort to Include Women in Museum Exhibits

Putting Women in a Man’s World: Making a Conscious Effort to Include Women in Museum Exhibits

Leah Tookey, New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum

History museums are created to tell a certain story about a place, a time, a people, or a way of life.  How we tell that story determines whether or not we fulfill our mission.  Gender may not be a determining factor when museum staff decides how they tell the story, but it should be.  For example, in an exhibit that tells the story of Cowboys in New Mexico, where do women fit in?  Are they part of that story?  Should they be included?  This is the question that was asked when the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum prepared to install a new exhibit, “Cowboys: The Real Deal.”  The answer seems like an easy one; of course women were important to the cattle industry in New Mexico. Women lived on ranches, they cared for livestock, worked cows, fixed windmills, and did all the other jobs cowboys did, but are women cowboys, do they fit in the story?  What about an exhibit on bees and beekeeping?  Beekeepers can be women, but should a museum pay particular attention to women beekeepers? Is it important to tell their story?  This paper will examine how a museum that tells the story of rural and agricultural life in New Mexico attempts, and succeeds, in putting the story of women into its exhibits, even when they may not seem a natural fit.

 

Editor’s Notes:

Leah Tookey will present this paper as part of a panel on “The Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture” at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in June 2017.  We hope that you’ll join us for this panel, which features work by several members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association.  Can’t make it to New York for the conference?  Stay tuned for additional abstracts from this session coming soon on this blog.

Long-time RWSA members will remember that Leah’s institution, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum co-hosted a joint conference of the RWSA and the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums in Las Cruces, New Mexico in February 2003.