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Norton, Mary Beth (1943–) - U.S. Women’s History

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Mary Beth Norton was born on March 25, 1943, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, of English and Irish ancestry. Her father’s ancestors immigrated to the United States from England in the seventeenth century; her mother’s parents were immigrants from Northern Ireland. Norton’s father was a college professor; her mother was a high school teacher and then later a college professor. She attended public schools in Greencastle, Indiana, through high school. She was influenced to pursue history by her parents, both of whom had advanced degrees in history, although neither taught history. They took many trips around the United States when she was a child, and the family always visited historic sites. Mary Beth also read “constantly,” as she puts it, both historical fiction for children and biographies of great women and men. “My parents always encouraged my intellectual aspirations,” she recalls. “I probably would not have sought a Ph.D. in 1964 (i.e., so soon) without that, given societal pressures at the time versus such career choices by women.”

Norton attended college at the University of Michigan, earning a bachelor’s degree in history, with high distinction and high honors, in 1964. She pursued her graduate degrees at Harvard University, earning a master’s degree in 1965 and a Ph.D. in 1969. Her dissertation, written under the direction of Bernard Bailyn, won the Allen Nevins Prize for the best-written dissertation in American history in 1970.

From 1969 to 1971 Mary Beth Norton was assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut. In 1971 she joined the faculty of Cornell University as assistant professor. She was promoted up the ranks at Cornell and is currently Mary Donlon Alger Professor of History, a title she has held since 1987.

Mary Beth Norton is the author, editor, or co-editor of six books and the author of thirty scholarly articles. Her third book, Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800 , won the Berkshire Conference Prize for best book by a woman historian in 1981 and set Norton in the forefront of the emerging field of U.S. women’s history. She recalls that she was motivated to study history because of her parents’ encouragement and her own love for piecing together stories. Her participation in the feminist movement, however, and its impact on her life, provided her with a means to do history by looking at women’s lives and at gender.

Norton has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, including those from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the American Antiquarian Society. She is currently general editor for the AHA Guide to Historical Literature , member of the board of trustees for the National Council for History Education, and a member of the Historical Advisory Committee of the Commission on Preservation and Access. She has served as vice president for research for the American Historical Association, as co-organizer of the first meeting of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, chair of the Committee on the Status of Women for the Organization of American Historians, and president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians.

Norton has honorary degrees from Siena College, Marymount Manhattan College, DePauw University, and Illinois Wesleyan University. She has always been very active in campus and intercampus politics. She was the University of Michigan’s campus delegate to the National Student Association meetings and was an active member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in its early days. She was also head of the all-campus government as an assistant professor at Cornell University. Norton has been elected twice, and currently serves, as faculty trustee at Cornell.

Mary Beth Norton has no current partner. She has never been married and has no children. Her interests include Chinese cooking, guitar playing, reading mystery novels, and swimming and sailing.

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Norton, Mary Beth (1943–) - U.S. Women’s History