Thursday, February 8, 2018

"instruction which she should avoid": Reflections on 1830s Theater Manager Thomas Hamblin in the #MeToo Era

Check out my recent post on Nursing Clio, and open-access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog project that ties historical scholarship to present-day issues.
In June 1838, actress Josephine Clifton canceled an engagement in Lexington, KY and rushed back to New York “in a state of mind bordering on distraction.”1 Her sixteen-year-old sister Louisa Missouri Miller, who had recently debuted on the same New York Bowery stage where Clifton’s own career began, was dead, as the coroner later determined, of an “inflammation of the brain.”2 She had died in the arms of playwright Louisa Medina, who was also the third wife of theater manager Thomas Hamblin. By all accounts, “she died almost a maniac” under extreme psychological distress. 3Hamblin had a known history of exploiting the debutant actresses whom he lifted from obscurity to star in his extremely successful New York theater. Clifton and her sister were both victims.
Read the rest of the piece here.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Historians Against Slavery and Teaching Modern Slavery

After coming back from the SHEAR (Society for Historians Annual Meeting) in Philadelphia, PA I was inspired to write a piece for the Historians Against Slavery blog. Check it out here: Thoughts on Teaching: Why Modern Slavery Belongs in a History of Slavery. I use the piece to explore my past approaches to History of U.S. Slavery and reflect on the need to bring the discussion of modern slavery into future courses on the topic. Shout out to my colleague Bridget Diamond-Welch and her students in the Spring 2017 Human Trafficking course for inspiring me with their work.

A photo of some of us from my Spring 2017 Race and Slavery in U.S. History course participating in the Red Sand Project installation.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thoughts on Wonder Woman

So, did I like the movie Wonder Woman? You betcha. But there is a lot more to say about it! Fortunately, I was invited to join Jackie Hendry on SDPB's radio program In the Moment to talk about the summer blockbuster and the history of the character.

From SDPB:  

Wonder Woman has been the subject of scrutiny since her comic book debut in 1941, from her costume to her feminism. So how does this summer's movie match up to the character's origins? Sara Lampert is assistant professor of history and coordinator of the women, gender and sexuality studies program at the University of South Dakota. She spoke with her former student, SDPB's Jackie Hendry, about the movie's relationship with history and gender politics.

Visit to list to the program. There's also an extended cut from the interview. And don't miss Jackie Hendry's fantastic interview with Vince Schilling of Indian Country Media Network about Native American representation in the film.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating character and her history, pick up a copy of historian Jill Lepore's The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014), which explores the work of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, and his partners and inspiration Elizabeth Holloway and Olive Byrne.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

“Dear Miss Cushman”: The Dreams of Eva McCoy, 1874

Cross-posted from
Explore Rural Women's Studies to learn more about rural women’s studies research and activism around the world and connect with scholars in the field. To learn more about the Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA), check out the website and visit RWSA on Facebook.

As an early republic historian working on the gender history of commercial entertainment, I am always on the lookout for Carrie Meebers, or women and girls who can open up the longstanding trope of the country girl seduced by the city. Carrie Meeber is the heroine of Theodore Dreiser’s turn-of-the-century novel. This is a quintessentially urban tale: Carrie is awakened to the seductions and possibilities of mass culture and urban life by her explorations of the city. Her rural girlhood and the dreams that brought her from Waukesha to Chicago are dispensed with in the first page as the rural landscape of her Wisconsin childhood rushes by on her train bound for Chicago. These gestures deploy familiar tropes, rural girlhood as ennui. Carrie releases a faint sigh for “the flour mill where her father worked by the day” and the “familiar green environs of the village,” but as then train picks up speed, “the threads which bound her so lightly to her girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.”[1]

Charlotte Cushman.  Half plate daguerreotype, ca. 1855.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division LC-USZC4-13410.

Dreiser does not give us a chance to spend more time with Carrie in Waukesha, to read her letters with sister Minnie in Chicago, survey the sheet music on her parlor piano or open the chest in which Carrie might have kept press clippings and women’s periodicals and catalogs. How might her rural girlhood have shaped her expectations about the world she would exit into at other end of the train line?
In Washington D.C. while researching 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman, I briefly stumbled into the world of Eva McCoy, a girl from rural Illinois who penned a piece of fan mail to her idol in 1874.[2] The letter survives today taped into a red bound volume in the Charlotte Cushman Papers in the Library of Congress. It is likely that the letter was received and read by Cushman’s life partner Emma Stebbins, and later saved by Stebbins, who took on the weighty task of managing Cushman’s legacy after the actress’ death from breast cancer in February 1876. The letter was preserved and later mounted, along with miscellaneous fan mail, much of it from the 1870s and much of it from other women.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Gender Politics, Rape Culture, and the 2017 Election

Recently, I had the opportunity to appear on SDPB Dakota Midday to talk with Lori Walsh about the Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies panel Gender & Politics, held on October 5. I was joined by  Dr. Emily Wanless, a political science professor at Augustana, to talk about how gender may be shaping this contest, and how gender shapes participation in politics more generally.

A week later, Lori invited me back to talk about the Access Hollywood footage of Donald Trump talking about sexually assaulting a woman, a conversation that he later insisted was merely "locker room talk." Here, I break down what, from a gender studies perspective, I would argue is really going on here. Listen for a discussion of rape culture and sexist double standards.

Very grateful for the opportunity to talk about these important issues on SDPB!
Trump and Secretary Clinton face off in the second presidential debate, October 9, 2016. 
Image Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Meditations on the "Black Swan," from 1850 to today

In 2002, while an undergrad History/Art History major at Rutgers College, I little imagined that over a decade later I would be an assistant professor of History at the University of South Dakota publishing my work on the mid-19th century black singer Elizabeth Greenfield, known as the "Black Swan."

I invite you check out my recent article with American Nineteenth Century History, coming out in Fall 2016 but available online: “Black Swan/White Raven: the racial politics of Elizabeth Greenfield’s American concert career, 1851-1855.”

(Email me if your research library does not have access to Taylor & Francis but would like to read the essay. I can provide a free download link.)

This coming year, another cohort of students at USD will be exploring possibilities for their research projects, whether for an honors thesis or capstone paper. The following post is a series of brief meditations on my early encounters with Elizabeth Greenfield, the questions that led me to her, the way her story continues to resonate in our culture today...

Monday, February 15, 2016

SD HB 1107

SB HB 1107 is also extremely discriminatory and is a distortion of US principles of disestablishment and religious freedom. I've included the text of the My Voices column from the Argus Leader. Please write to your SD State Senator and Governor Daugaard urging them to oppose this law!

My Voice: Say “no” to HB 1107: Protect 14th Amendment

As outlined in House Bill 1107, the lawmakers of the state of South Dakota want to permit public employees, public agencies and recipients of public monies, the right to discriminate on the basis of personal religious conviction against LGBTQ individuals, unwed parents, or individuals who engage in sex outside of marriage. This bill passed the South Dakota House and is currently being considered by the Senate. We must urge our South Dakota State Senators and Gov. Dennis Daugaard to oppose this bill.

S.D.’s HB 1107 is a flagrant violation of the 14th Amendment of our Constitution, which protects the civil rights of all citizens. HB 1107 would elevate the conscience of some above the civil rights of others. It suggests that this particular aspect of identity, faith, supersedes other aspects of our identities and can be used as a principle according to which we can discriminate against our fellow South Dakotans, based on gender and sexual identity, marital status, and family structure.

Consider how this law might affect citizens who seek public safety and medical assistance, marriage licenses, or public education. How might this law affect my ability as an educator at a public institution to pursue our vision of “inclusive excellence,” to fight for inclusiveness and against discrimination? How can I encourage my students to view diversity as a “tremendous benefit” to their educations and to pursue “equity and social justice” in their lives if our state law gives people with a particular faith, special privileges above anyone else in the state — namely the right to discriminate? According to this bill, police or emergency medical technicians could turn down requests for aid from gay or transgender individuals, single mothers, or unmarried co-habitating couples. It effectively allows S.D. Social Services to refuse aid on an ad hoc basis, based on religious convictions of employees. It means hospitals could turn away patients, or children could be barred from child care facilities. What about use of public facilities like parks and recreation areas? It means that some individuals could legally object to other citizens’ use of those spaces.

S.D.’s HB 1107 declares that some individuals, by virtue of matters of conscience, should be able to deny rights and privileges guaranteed to other citizens. This is more than an accommodation of religion. It effectively elevates the religious convictions of some and imposes them through law. We are an incredibly diverse and dynamic nation that has struggled to realize one of the most cherished principles of civil democracy, that the state as an entity distinct from religion should seek to protect the civil rights of all, including our individual rights of conscience and worship. This is a moment in which, while reflecting how much our nation has changed in 250 years, we can look to our founding principles for guidance. I want to live in a nation in which matters of conscience shared by some, do not disrupt the ability of others to enjoy the benefits of our civil society.

We must urge our lawmakers to vote against HB 1107. It does not stand for who we are as South Dakotans, or who we are as Americans.