Transgender Advocacy and Activism in the Midwest: A Partnership

Following up on our previous post about building relationships between academic programs and community partners, this week’s post highlights an exciting new partnership between Saint Mary’s College faculty and students and TREES, Inc., a grassroots organization that promotes inclusion of transgender individuals in small towns and rural areas.

Transgender Advocacy and Activism in the Midwest: A Partnership

by Jamie Wagman, Meghan Buell, Jordan Lolmaugh and Alex Shambery


How can Gender Studies majors learn about transgender history, rights, and activism beyond the college classroom? How can students apply their knowledge of feminist theory and methods to practical problems? What does being an ally and an activist look like? These are the questions we are asking and answering in creating a Transgender Studies internship program at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, a program we will discuss at the May 2018 Rural Women’s Studies Association conference.

Jamie Wagman, Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and History at Saint Mary’s College; Alexandria Shambery, rising senior and political science and Gender & Women’s Studies double major at Saint Mary’s; Jordan Lolmaugh, rising junior and Gender and Women’s Studies and Psychology double major at Saint Mary’s; and Meghan Buell, founder and president of TREES Inc., a Transgender Resource, Education and Enrichment Services non-for-profit established in 2015 to combat transgender suicide and murder rates, will be presenting a panel entitled, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”: Promoting Transgender Inclusivity and Visibility in Policy and Training Programs in the Heartland. Their presentation is slated for 2:15-3:45 on Friday, May 18.


We will be discussing our new Transgender Studies internship program within the Gender & Women’s Studies major at Saint Mary’s, a one to three credit internship program that assigns texts from leading historians and scholars Susan Stryker, Leslie Feinberg, Anne Balay and Transgender Studies Quarterly journal articles and then pairs a student major to come up with a project with the help of Wagman and Buell. This fall, for example, Shambery will be examining the language, practices, and policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (DOA) and making recommendations by creating new sample materials. “Through my research I hope to gain a better understanding of how the DOA provides a welcoming workplace for Trans people,” Shambery explains. “I believe our government should lead the way in efforts toward a loving and inclusive environment for the LGBT community. I see my research as a way to hold the DOA and the U.S. Government accountable for how they train, educate, and treat their employees.”

Lolmaugh will be working on a transgender-inclusive sexual assault prevention and education brochure, which will be used by regional non-for-profits Buell works with when she travels throughout the year to small towns to educate corporations, higher education institutions, hospitals, and non-for-profits on transgender inclusivity. Lolmaugh said she is hoping to gain more knowledge about how to be an ally to transgender people. “I’m very passionate about working with survivors of violence, and through my studies I’ve noticed a lack of research regarding intimate partner violence and transgender people. The narrative regarding IPV is very heteronormative and cis-gender based. Hopefully with this internship, I can not only provide some much needed research, but also provide TREES with information to better assist and inform people,” Lolmaugh said.

Buell and Wagman began working together and designing student service learning assignments in the fall of 2016, and three students that semester worked with Buell to design a local memorial to honor transgender people who died from fatal violence, create content about transgender-friendly children’s books, and research the policies regarding the participation of transgender student athletes in high school sports throughout the Midwest. After the completion of these projects, Buell and Wagman agreed to keep collaborating on student-designed internships. Buell values the work of Saint Mary’s students. “As a nonprofit organization working in rural communities, TREES, Inc. is glad to have the Gender and Women’s Studies program at Saint Mary’s College as a local resource from which to gain a national perspective of transgender inclusion,” she explained. “Each student we have had the opportunity to work with has shown us that communities from all over the United States are as diverse as the individuals within them.  We are glad to have such a strong working relationship with the college.”

We’re excited to share our ongoing experiences in this project at the May conference.



Pedagogy in Public: Academic Programs and Community Partners

Pedagogy in Public: Academic Programs and Community Partners

Elyssa Ford, Northwest Missouri State University

For many public history programs, it is important to maintain close relationships with community partners.  Such relationships offer ways for faculty to remain involved in the community and in the field, real-world projects and experiences for students, a source of internships and assistantships, and the hope of full-time job opportunities post-graduation.  Yet sometimes these projects leave someone “on the edge” — the students who may be unprepared or uninterested in the project, the community institutions who may have not been included as equal partners or who might find themselves left with an unfinished or unusable project, and even the theoretical basis of the class, which may get pushed to the side in order to complete a client-based project on time.

This working group was held at the 1025 National Conference of Public History.  It addressed an array of issues that often arise in class projects and relationships with community partners, and it aimed to establish a set of best practices to help academic programs and cultural institutions move forward in creating these relationships in a more mutually beneficial way.  To do this, we wanted to avoid getting stuck in the cycle of individual project “show and tell” and instead pushed participants to think about larger questions, including how to initially find community partners and create those relationships, how to maintain those partnerships in a healthy way, and what to do when problems arise.  In addition, we focused on the central question of what is and should be the purpose of projects and partnerships like this.  Is the focus bringing hands-on experience and practice to students?  Is it fulfilling a professional, usable end product for a client?  Is it based more broadly on the idea of civic engagement and offering a service to our communities?  These are important questions and certainly will promote discussion among academics and perhaps encourage cross-university relationships as a way to form a support system.  However, we wanted to think not just about these relationships from the viewpoint of the college or university, but to extend this conversation to the community partners themselves.  These partners are often left “on the edge” or the periphery of project formation and completion, so it is important to bring them to the center of this discussion.  What are you looking for in these relationships?  Are they worthwhile to your organization?  From your viewpoint, what needs to be done to promote better relationships and communication streams?

The working group included approximately 15 members from academia, from cultural institutions, and from the graduate student community.  With this mix, we were able to see how academics already engage with community partners or who are considering reaching out to the community and establishing partnerships, how community partners have viewed these relationships or what questions they have in trying to set up these relationships, and what students who have completed class/individual projects and internships have gotten out of the projects and to assess their readiness to undertake the project.

While on the surface this may seem to have little relevance to RWSA members, it closely aligns with an interest at the last conference, which was to how to form better and stronger and closer relationships with community members and community activists.  Perhaps organizations like the RWSA should look to the public history field for guidance as public historians have long grappled with how to best form these ties and to overcome the town-gown barriers.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Advocate

In our previous post, we highlighted an exciting new volume from the South Dakota Historical Society Press, Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal (2017).   In this post, we highlight an essay that appears in that volume that we think will be of particular interest to our readers, regarding Laura Ingalls Wilder as an advocate for farm women and farming.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Advocate

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books immortalized her family’s efforts to build homes and farms on the nineteenth-century frontiers of Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota. In my small town in southern Minnesota, my grade-school teachers read to us from Wilder’s novels almost every day after recess. Her words changed my life. She described the beauty of the prairies, from the tiniest flowers to sweeping vistas and enormous skies. Her words and appreciation of place helped me articulate my love of the grasslands. Wilder’s reflections on family, memory, and time (along with its passing) laid the foundation of my personal principles for the study of history: individuals matter; everyone has a story to tell; human nature, personal history and experience, and circumstance profoundly shape the lives of everyone.

Laura Ingalls Wilder began her writing career as a farm columnist long before she became a novelist. Laura and Almanzo settled in the Missouri Ozarks in 1894 and lived on their Rocky Ridge Farm until their deaths. Laura was known regionally as a successful chicken farmer. In 1911, the editor of the Missouri Ruralist read her paper on chickens and promptly offered her a job as columnist for the publication. Laura began a long career as an ardent advocate for farm women, their families, and farming as a way of life and a calling.

Wilder and Almanzo (left) posed with neighbors near Mansfield, Missouri, circa 1920. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Wilder wrote her columns during a time of crisis and rapid change. World War I, woman suffrage, the changing roles of women, rapid industrial change, mass migration from the countryside into the big cities, automobiles, radio, mass advertising, and the birth of consumer culture—all posed challenges to traditional ways for farmers and their families. Wilder wrote as a steadying force for her farm audience. She believed that farm wives had the opportunity, more so than in any other occupation, to be full partners in the enterprise, as she and Almanzo were.  Some of her ideas might surprise her modern fans. She saw suffrage for women as an obligation rather than a right and opposed it. She feared the impact of the vote, and of politics generally, on women’s most important role, rearing the next generation of children to be good, productive citizens. Wilder did not share the suffragists’ belief that women voting would bring wonderful social reforms. In her opinion, women were not a class apart but instead were individuals who would vote according to their personal inclinations. When suffrage became law, however, she urged women to do their duty and vote.

Wilder’s columns in the Ruralist resonated with her love of the farm. Love of nature, the changing seasons, the birth of livestock, birds, flowers, the rhythms and rituals of farm work animated her days. Even as the mass movement from farms to cities continued, Wilder extolled the beauty in nature to remind women that their most important and primary duty to their communities and the nation was raising the next generation of farmers and citizens.

Wilder’s vision of farm life continues to be a lodestone for me. Since first hearing a Little House novel, I have frequently dreamed of being a farmer in Wilder’s time.


Cross-posted by permission of Paula Nelson and the South Dakota Historical Society Press.

Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder

To celebrate the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder in 2017, the Pioneer Girl Project of the South Dakota State Historical Society has released a new book on the writer’s legacy.

pioneer-girl-perspectives_frontcoverIn 2014, the South Dakota Historical Society Press released Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, which became a national bestseller. The new book, Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder takes a serious look at Wilder’s working life and at circumstances that developed her points of view. This rich source book from these Wilder scholars from across North America also explores, among other topics, the interplay of folklore in the Little House novels, women’s place on the American frontier, Rose Wilder Lane’s writing career, the strange episode of the Benders in Kansas, Wilder’s midwestern identity, and society’s ideas of childhood.


The book’s contents include:

  • “Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder,” an Introduction by editor Nancy Tystad Koupal
  • “Speech for the Detroit Book Fair, 1937,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • “The Strange Case of the Bloody Benders: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Yellow Journalism,” by Caroline Fraser
  • “‘Raise a Loud Yell’: Rose Wilder Lane, Working Writer,” by Amy Mattson Lauters
  • Pioneer Girl: Its Roundabout Path into Print,” by William Anderson
  • “Little Myths on the Prairie,” by Michael Patrick Hearn
  • “Her Stories Take You with Her: The Lasting Appeal of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” an interview with Noel Silverman
  • “Laura Ingalls Wilder as a Midwestern Pioneer Girl,” by John E. Miller
  • “Women’s Place: Family, Home, and Farm,” by Paula M. Nelson
  • “Fairy Tale, Folklore, and the Little House in the Deep Dark Woods,” by Sallie Ketcham
  • “The Myth of Happy Childhood (and Other Myths about Frontiers, Families, and Growing Up),” by Elizabeth Jameson
  • “Frontier Families and the Little House Where Nobody Dies,” by Ann Romines



When Scholars Collaborate: New Book on Rural Women

When Scholars Collaborate: New Book on Rural Women

Linda M. Ambrose, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Canada




There’s a new book about rural women and it’s hot off the press! We are very pleased to announce the release of: Women in Agriculture: Professionalizing Rural Life in North America and Europe, 1880-1965, edited by Linda M. Ambrose and Joan M. Jensen and published by University of Iowa Press, 2017.



The book consists of ten chapters written by contributors from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. In addition to Ambrose and Jensen, the authors are: Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester; Margreet van der Burg, Wageningen University; Cherisse Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University – Jonesboro; Amy L. McKinney, Northwest College; Anne L. Moore, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Karen Sayer, Leeds Trinity University; and Nicola Verdon, Sheffield Hallam University.

We are very excited to say that this publication is the result of collaborations that were nurtured at the Rural Women’s Studies Conferences and Agricultural History Society meetings over the past few years. The book reflects our ongoing transnational conversations, which have expanded the history of rural women from the United States to other countries, and continues to grow by uncovering previously untold stories and contributing to discussions and debates about feminism in rural settings. The collection advances our understanding of female experts, women’s collective action, and the local responses to advice offered from state and educational authorities. We focus as well on rural women’s greater participation in postsecondary education, paid work, and public roles.

The essays in this volume profile women whose work was embedded in specific national contexts and together they form a collective biography of women who graduated into a world that was not always prepared to welcome them into the public life that professions demanded. It was also a time when various academic social sciences—economics, sociology, and political science—were emerging. Middle-class men were already creating these new disciplines and prescribing more traditional gender roles for these New Women. Professional women contributing to food sciences, commodity production, and community outreach sometimes encountered opposition from men (a resistance we call the “new patriarchy”). At times, however, these women received important assistance from men, especially those who shared a common rural background and an interest in rural life and agricultural production. Given the complexity of this history of women entering rural professions related to food, it is important to explore both practice and policy through a lens that is gendered. Thus, a primary goal of our book is to emphasize the intersection of food studies and gender studies.

The scholarship of these authors forms part of the ongoing conversations within various disciplines of history—agriculture, gender, education, and public policy. By joining these ongoing scholarly discussions to food studies, we introduce new issues not always recognized as crucial to food studies. We framed our book as a discussion of the work done by various rural professionals who made major contributions to food production, food security, and food science. The essays recover untold stories of women who were significant to history in various ways, but most importantly, the collection emphasizes how food studies can be enriched by paying close attention to gender. The volume is listed in the Food Studies and Women’s Studies series from the University of Iowa Press.

A session dedicated to the story behind Women in Agriculture will be held on June 10 as part of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Agricultural History Society in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The editors, several of the authors, and two reviewers of the book will participate. For details on the AHS program see:


Berks Panels of Interest, Part V

We’re highlighting panels of interest at the upcoming Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities to be held June 1-4, 2017, at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, USA.  While these panels do not necessarily bill themselves as being about rural women, all of those we’ve chosen to highlight will examine issues of rurality in significant ways.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part V

s1093 – American Empire through the Eyes of Indigenous Women: Paradigms, Sources and Challenges

Sunday, June 4, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM

SC 143 (Hofstra University)


Kathryn Kish Sklar, Binghamton University

Resistance in the Highlands: Activism among Mayan Women and Interpretations of the Guatemalan Civil War, 1960-1996
Rachel O’Donnell, York University

The Historical Internalization and External Manifestations of Trauma Among African American and Native American Women 
Christine W. Thorpe, NYC College of Technology

Indigenous Women’s Leadership on the Columbia Plateau: Community Activism, 1900-2000
Laurie Arnold, Gonzaga University

Women’s Activism and the Colonial State in the Philippines, 1898-1930
Febe Pamonag, Western Illinois University


Cynthia Enloe, Clark University

Session Abstract

This interdisciplinary session explores the creation of a useable past for activists and historians that embraces both indigenous and imperial women in territories dominated by the United States, 1898-2000.  Its three case studies are also offered as paradigms for the study of women in modern empires comparatively and globally considered.  Focusing on examples of indigenous women’s responses to American imperial power since 1898—in North America, the Philippines and Central America–the papers address questions designed to help us analyze and understand the options that indigenous women chose in their interactions with imperial coercion.  Our commentator will compare those options.

The papers ask:

  • How did Native traditions of women’s leadership promote the survival of Native people in North America, 1900-2000? by Laurie Arnold of Gonzaga University;
  • How did the adoption of women’s rights agendas by Philippine women enable them simultaneously to support and oppose American colonization, 1898-1930? by Febe Pamonag of Western Illinois University;
  • How did Mayan women’s participation in resistance movements in Guatemala limit American colonization, 1960-2000? by Rachel O’Donnell of York University, Toronto.

Using indigenous language sources, the papers explore patterns of cultural revival, assimilation and resistance.  Each pattern was present to some degree in all the cases, but each paper helps us understand why one pattern prevailed as indigenous women adopted different strategies in different circumstances.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part IV

We’re highlighting panels of interest at the upcoming Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities to be held June 1-4, 2017, at Hostra University in Hempstead, New York, USA.  While these panels do not necessarily bill themselves as being about rural women, all of those we’ve chosen to highlight will examine issues of rurality in significant ways.

Berks Panels of Interest, Part IV

s1355 – Black Women and their Property: comparing 18th and 19th-Century Brazil and Africa

Friday, June 2, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM

BRESL 28 (Hofstra University)


Mariana L. R. Dantas, Ohio University

Ironies of Brazilian slave society: African freedwomen, freeborn, and freed Afro-descendent women and their slaveholding, c. 1750 – c. 1850
Douglas C. Libby, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Female Landowner Strategies in Pre-colonial Saint Louis, Senegal, 1758-1819
Lindsey Ann Gish, Michigan State University

Black Women’s Labor and Property Ownership in Rural Brazil, 1860-1930
Mary Ann Mahony, Central Connecticut State University

Women and Property in Nineteenth Century Luanda
Vanessa dos Santos Oliveira, York University

Session Abstract

The scholarship on African and African-descending women within the Atlantic world has often emphasized the role they played in local commerce as market women and peddlers of foodstuff and other regional commodities. Indeed, historians have more than once attempted to link the commercial activities of slave and free African-descending women in Brazil to the known predominance of women in market activities in pre-colonial and colonial West and Central Africa. Yet these women were important economic agents in ways that exceeded their involvement in commerce. As the papers in this panel argue, African and African-descending women in Brazil and Africa often owned land and slaves and engaged in the dominant activities of their local and regional economies. Moreover, these women’s ownership and claims to property placed them at the center of legal and social negotiations of rights and privileges that challenged societal expectations of how property holding and economic power should be circumscribed by race and gender. The comparative discussion of Black female property holding proposed by this panel will thus explore parallel ways in which these women helped to shape patterns of ownership of property in Brazil and West and Central Africa. It will also promote a discussion of potential Atlantic connections between these women’s experiences as property owners and economic agents who influenced much more than local commerce.