Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back to work!

Lynne Abraham on the right

For me, the Fall has always been associated with back to work, but not this year.

I love having the time to hang out that retirement brings, but in order to enjoy the time to play I need the counterpoint of work. Freud was right that a meaningful live includes both love and work; I would add to that love, work, and time for hanging out.

My plan was to go back to work this Fall in the sense that I would finally complete my history of the second wave feminist movement in Philadelphia

I have been doing some work on this off and on for a few years, but it became clear that I would never finish this project while working at both my paid job as Professor of English and Women’s Studies and Coordinator of Women’s Studies/Program at Community College of Philadelphia and my unpaid job as President of Philadelphia NOW.

I'm retired from the paid job and will be from the unpaid job as of this December, so my job will now be completing my history of second wave feminist movement in Philadelphia.

I am going to enjoy this project but it's also work. That's why I’ve been avoiding tackling it. Although my original plan was to begin in September, I didn't bring the box of archival material stored on my third floor down to my study until early October.

My initial plan was to write a history of Philadelphia NOW. However, my conception of this project has evolved from a chronicle of the struggles and victories of Philadelphia NOW to an analysis which places this history in a broader context.

Most of the published material on the second wave feminist movement focuses on a few major urban centers—e.g., New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The Philadelphia story has been missing from the major histories of second wave feminism.

The historians of the movement are just beginning to fill in the gaps. So much archival material about second wave feminism is in boxes in closets and basements of feminists now in their late sixties and seventies. Several women in Philadelphia NOW have entrusted me with their valuable archival material and I have promised to tell their story. I have interviewed many of the founding members of Philadelphia NOW, but sadly missed two key interviews as I was not able to arrange the interviews before their deaths. In many ways, this project is a race against time.

Historians of the movement have begun to complicate the story of second wave feminism, which has often been viewed as largely white, middle class and centered in major urban areas. These more recent studies have focused on the role of working class women and women of color, and also on geographical locations outside the epicenter of second wave feminism. Several of these studies explore work by grassroots women who did not identify as feminists but whose work is clearly part of the feminist project. At some point, probably decades from now, historians will have the necessary distance to try to synthesize all of this. I hope to provide one piece of the puzzle.

I made a discovery which should be of some interest to Philly folks. Our District Attorney,Lynne Abraham, not very popular among local progressives because of her aggressive pursuit of the death penalty turns out to have been a feminist pioneer.


  1. Karen, Is she a "pioneer" because she was a "first" as a female DA? Because over the years, she certainly has NOT reflected feminist values... Not only her pursuit of the death penalty..... Remember Miriam White, the little 11 year old mentally and emotionally disturbed girl she was hell bent on prosecuting as an adult? Or her treatment of protesters over the years? Or, from listening to tales of former DAs... her cruel and cut throat treatment of her staff???? Feminist? I think not!

  2. Good points, Jody. She was a "feminist pioneer" only in the most limited sense of the term.