U.S. Women’s history brought to SIUC

By Gus Bode

Course being offered the first time this semester

An easily overlooked aspect of history for some – the influence of women in the United States – has come to the classrooms of SIUC.

Women’s contributions to U.S. history are the focus of the new course at SIUC. The course, History 356, is taught by Assistant Professor Mary McGuire and surveys the roles of women from colonial times to the present. Students will learn about contributions made by women in U.S. society, culture and politics.

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McGuire said that this course is vital to the curriculum and provides female students with an understanding of their own past.

“Women’s contributions in all ways of life are important in understanding how this nation functioned at any given time,” McGuire said.

McGuire said that ideally the course would be offered in two sections:colonial times to pre-Civil War, then Civil War to present. But because of budget cuts and a short-staffed department, it can only be offered as a one-semester course.

“Almost all of the students who attend the course come from different disciplines and fields,” she said. “About one-third of the class is male, which is important to provide different perspectives for the course. This is a wonderful mix of students and I hope it continues to be in future courses.”

McGuire said most students took the course because it sounded interesting to them. Since most history courses don’t incorporate women into the teaching, this is the first opportunity for some of the students to take a history course that focuses on women’s contributions.

McGuire was surprised to see how few history majors are taking the course. She said students don’t have to be a history major to appreciate this course. McGuire was an undergraduate during the 1970s, when women’s history started to become noticed by fellow females.

Although she does not specialize in women’s history, she saw the need for the course. McGuire said that women’s history is a very legitimate part of the historical profession.

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Other history courses about women include the topics of gender in Europe and modern U.S focuses on gender and women.

The role of women in history is very diverse, said James Allen, who teaches a graduate course on law and social control of women in American history.

“There’s no single approach to the history group of women; they are complex and diverse, as any group,” Allen said.

History courses that focus on the contributions of women are not uncommon at other universities. Women’s history classes are also offered at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Western Illinois University and Texas A & M University .

The course began at Texas A & M in 1979 because of the woman’s movement of the 1970s, said Sara Alpern, a history professor at Texas A & M University who teaches the course.

McGuire said history is not complete without the study of women’s influence on events.

“Over the past 30 years, thanks to the efforts of some pioneering scholars for recovering and recognizing women’s roles in our history, we have more information and reasons to offer this course,” she said. “History is about people, people’s lives and contributions, but if we don’t recognize women’s roles in our history then we’re only getting part of the story.”

Reporter Carrie Roderick can be reached at [email protected]

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