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Kessler-Harris, Alice (1941–) - U.S. Labor and Women’s History

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Born in Leicester, England, on June 2, 1941, of Hungarian and Czech ancestry, Alice Kessler-Harris attended school in Cardiff, Wales, at the Birchgrove School and then Cardiff High School for Girls. She completed her secondary schooling in Trenton, New Jersey. Her father was a shoe designer; her mother died when she was only forty years old. Kessler-Harris counts as her earliest and most significant childhood influences her refugee status and “foreign” parentage.

Alice Kessler-Harris attended Goucher College, receiving a bachelor’s degree cum laude in 1961. Rhoda Dorsey, one of her professors at Goucher, played a significant role in encouraging Kessler-Harris to become a historian, but as she puts it, “my own search for a past participated mightily.” Kessler-Harris then attended Rutgers University, earning a master’s degree in history in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1968. She has been awarded honorary degrees from Goucher College and the Uppsala University in Sweden.

Kessler-Harris’s first academic appointment was at Hofstra University, where she was assistant professor from 1968 to 1974, associate professor from 1974 to 1981, and professor from 1981 to 1988. While at Hofstra, Kessler-Harris was co-director of the Center for the Study of Work and Leisure from 1976 to 1988, and she held visiting faculty positions at Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Warwick, and Binghamton University, the State University of New York. In 1988 she accepted a position as professor of history at Temple University, and in 1990 she left Temple for her current position as professor of history at Rutgers University. From 1990 to 1995 she was also director of women’s studies at Rutgers.

Alice Kessler-Harris is the author or editor of ten books, author of twenty-five scholarly articles, and author of another twenty-five essays and miscellaneous pieces. She also holds contracts for two additional books, Gender Ideology in Social Policy , which will be published by Oxford University Press, and Gender and Culture: Re-viewing the Historical Paradigm , which will be published by the University of North Carolina Press. Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States , was awarded the Philip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History in 1982 and has been excerpted in three subsequent texts. One of her most recent works is a collection of essays in honor of Gerda Lerner that she edited with Linda Kerber and Kathryn Kish Sklar. Several reviewers have argued that this collection defines the state of the art of women’s history in the United States today.

Kessler-Harris is the first historian in the United States effectively to merge the fields of labor history and women’s history. She has been instrumental in changing both fields, looking forward to and helping to create a time in which “we would, for the first time,” she writes, “have to write books in which ‘workers’ meant women as well as men.” She regularly publishes in labor history and women’s history publications, bridging what has too often been an enormous gap in scholarship.

When asked about her accomplishments aside from teaching and publishing, Kessler-Harris cites developing the women’s studies program at Rutgers University and co-founding the Labor College for District 65 of the United Auto Workers, officially called the Institute of Applied Social Science. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Ford Foundations, a research associate at the New School for Social Research, and a winner of the John B. Commerford Award for Labor Education. She has been an invited lecturer at universities throughout the United States as well as in Tokyo, Berlin, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Stockholm, and Oslo. She also served as an expert witness and historian for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission v. Sears Roebuck and Company case before the U.S. District Court.

A member of both the American Historical Association (AHA) and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) since 1968, Kessler-Harris has served these professional organizations in several capacities, including chair of the Committee on Women Historians of the AHA and chair of the advisory board for the OAH newsletter. She has served on the editorial boards of many journals, including Journal of American History, Labor History, Gender and History , and Signs . A member of the nominating jury for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1987, Kessler-Harris has also served as consultant to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and on the evaluation teams for history and American studies programs at the University of Massachusetts, Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, and the University of Minnesota.

Alice Kessler-Harris has been married to Bert Silverman since 1982. She is the mother of a daughter, Ilona, from her first marriage, and the grandmother of Emma. She also has two stepdaughters, Julie and Devorah. Her hobbies include cooking, tennis, theater, and gardening.

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almost 7 years ago

I've been reading Out to Work for a class and find it very interesting.