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Cott, Nancy F. (1945–) - U.S. Social, Intellectual, and Women’s History

university american studies professor

Nancy F. Cott, one of the founders of the field of U.S. women’s history, was born on November 8, 1945, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of Jewish, Austro-Hungarian ancestry. Her father was a textile manufacturer; her mother was a full-time homemaker. Cott attended public schools in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, before attending Cornell University as an undergraduate. She received a bachelor’s degree in history, magna cum laude, in 1967. Her graduate work in history of American civilization was at Brandeis University, where she earned a master’s degree in 1969 and a Ph.D. in 1974. Cott was motivated to become a historian because of her involvement in the women’s movement. Feminism, in combination with the new social history movement, encouraged her to study women’s lives in the United States.

Nancy Cott taught as a part-time instructor at Wheaton College, Clark University, and Wellesley College while in graduate school. She then taught for a year at the Boston Public Library as a lecturer in the National Endowment for the Humanities Learning Library Program. Cott was appointed assistant professor of history and American studies at Yale University in 1975. In 1979 she was named associate professor, and in 1986 she was named professor. Since 1990 she has been Stanley Woodward Professor of History and American Studies at Yale. Cott also served as chair of women’s studies from 1980 to 1987, and since 1994 she has served as chair of American studies.

Cott is the author or editor of five books, author of nearly twenty scholarly articles and seven review articles, and editor of the twenty-volume series History of Women in the United States . The series includes nearly 500 outstanding articles that cover women’s history from the Revolutionary War era through the 1960s. Cott’s most recent book, A Woman Making History: Mary Ritter Beard Through Her Letters , explores the life and thought of the woman who founded the field of women’s history. “There is much here to ponder,” historian Anne Firor Scott writes about Cott’s work. “All one can do is to urge the book upon all manner of historians with the assurance that they will not be disappointed.” Cott has also written on family life in the Colonial period, the growth of and tensions within feminism in the early twentieth century, and nineteenth-century notions of female sexuality. She is also currently editor of an eleven-volume series for junior high and high school students. This series, the Young Oxford History of Women in the United States, treats young readers, according to Elaine Tyler May, “with the respect they deserve and does not avoid controversial issues.”

Cott is the recipient of numerous honors, awards, and fellowships. She has been a fellow with Harvard University Law School, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She has served on the editorial boards for many publications, including American Quarterly, Feminist Studies, Journal of Social History, Reviews in American History, Gender and History , and American National Biography . She has provided professional service to the American Studies Association, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and the Organization of American Historians. Cott currently serves on advisory boards for Northeastern University Press, the University of North Carolina Press, and the Princeton University Program in Women’s Studies. She has been a consultant on many film projects and regularly serves on national prize and fellowship selection committees.

Nancy Cott married Leland D. Cott in 1969. They have two children, Joshua Michael Cott, born in 1974, and Emma Janet Cott, born in 1979. Cott’s hobbies include reading, bicycling, skiing, and tennis.

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