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Scott, Anne Firor (1921–) - U.S. Southern History

women university college scholars

Anne Firor Scott was born on April 24, 1921, in Montezuma, Georgia, of German, Scotch-Irish, English, and Polish ancestry. Her father was a college professor, her mother a full-time homemaker. Her parents lost their savings in a bank failure the year she was born, and they had difficulty paying the doctor who delivered her at home. Since she was born nine months after the suffrage amendment was passed, Scott reports that she never has to count on her fingers the number of years women have had the right to vote. Anne was influenced early by reading; her father read aloud to the children, choosing his favorites rather than children’s stories. Growing up the only girl among four siblings, Scott did not learn that girls were inferior. In fact, she states, it was not until she was twenty-one and in college that she was told, by a favorite professor, that being female might limit her opportunities in the world.

Scott attended the University of Georgia, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. She did not, however, immediately pursue education or employment as a historian. In her autobiographical essay, “A Historian’s Odyssey,” Scott reads back through her journals, which by 1984 approached twenty volumes, examining her choices and realizing that she began to do history by chance. “If my journal is to be believed,” she writes, “I went out into the world in 1940 in search of fame, fortune, and a husband, in no particular order. As to how that search was to be conducted the journal is significantly silent. It was very much a matter of what might turn up.”

She held a job at International Business Machines (IBM) and briefly entered a graduate program for personnel managers, but a United States Congressional internship, during which she had the opportunity to write speeches and listen to politicians talking, had the greatest impact on her. These experiences, she later wrote, “made me so painfully aware of my ignorance that I went back to school.”

Scott attended Northwestern University, earning a master’s degree in political science. After a job with the National League of Women Voters, Scott married and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she contemplated going to Harvard. “The program in American Civilization seemed to have few requirements but plenty of scope,” Scott remembered later. But before she could finish her dissertation, she followed her husband, who had already finished, to Washington, D.C., where he had secured a job. “All our planning was for his career; it did not occur to me to think this odd,” Scott later mused. Seven years and three children later, Scott finished her dissertation and took a job teaching history at Haverford College.

“If I came to history by indirection,” she writes, “my decision to study the history of women was not, in retrospect, accidental.” Her maternal grandmother had worked for the League of Women Voters, and Scott herself had decided at age twenty-three to write a history of women, beginning with Eve. Her interests led her to research the history of southern American women, “a study for which there was almost no historiographical tradition and no network of established scholars. My temerity rested not on courage but on ignorance; if I had known what was involved I might never have begun.”

After temporary appointments at Haverford College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Scott took a job as assistant professor of history at Duke University. She remains at Duke, having earned in 1980 the distinguished rank of W. K. Boyd Professor of History, and in 1991 W. K. Boyd Professor of History Emerita. She has been the recipient of many fellowships, prizes, and honorary degrees, including a University Medal from Duke in 1994, a Berkshire Conference Prize in 1980, and honorary degrees from Queens College, Northwestern University, Radcliffe College, and the University of the South.

In addition to her ten books and more than twenty-five articles, Scott has written chapters for books and introductions to the work of other scholars. She is best known, though, for her work as one of the first historians of U.S. women. “Dismissed as political or ignored completely by many colleagues,” she wrote of her cadre of young women scholars, “we responded by forming a community of scholars that cut across generations, ideologies, race and class.” Scott went on to write social histories of white and black women in the South. The Southern Lady , her first such work, brought Scott to the attention of southern historians and those who hoped to do women’s history, and Making the Invisible Woman Visible is considered a classic in the field of women’s history. In her most recent book, Unheard Voices: The First Historians of Southern Women , Scott looks back to the women who came before her: “It is impossible to measure the cost to the world of scholarship of their marginality (and that of so many others),” she writes in that text, “or the cost to themselves.”

Among her most significant contributions outside of teaching and research, her appointment, from President Lyndon Johnson, to the Citizens Advisory Council on the Status of Women, in 1965, surely stands out. She also served as president of the Organization of American Historians and president of the Southern Historical Association, and on the advisory boards of the Schlesinger Library, the Princeton University department of history, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Anne Firor Scott married Andrew MacKay Scott in 1947, and they are the parents of a daughter and two sons and the grandparents of four children.

When she writes in “A Historian’s Odyssey” that the field of women’s history is now so full that “it will require considerable skill to make use of it in our teaching and our textbooks,” Scott is wrong only in not attributing to herself significant credit for that development.

Scott, Joan Wallach (1941–) - French Social History, History of Gender [next]

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