With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

History Doyen: Linda Gordon

What They're Famous For

Linda Gordon has specialized in examining the historical roots of contemporary social policy debates, particularly as they concern gender and family issues. Her first book was a documentary history of working women in the US (America's Working Women, orig. 1976, revised ed. 1995). She then turned her attention to the history of birth control; her book on that topic, Woman's Body, Woman's Right: The History of Birth Control in America, was a runner-up for the National Book Award in 1976 and was re-issued in an up-to-date revision in 1990. Her 1988 book, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The History and Politics of Family Violence, winner of the Joan Kelly prize of the American Historical Association, examined the history of child abuse, child sexual abuse and wife-beating.

As a domestic violence expert, she serves on the Departments of Justice/Health and Human Services Advisory Council on Violence Against Women. More recently she turned her attention to the history of welfare. Her Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (1994), winner of the Berkshire Prize and Gustavus Myers Human Rights Award, explains how we ended up with a welfare program detested by recipients and non-recipients alike.

Her 1999 book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Harvard University Press) uses a narrative about a 1904 white vigilante action against the Mexican American foster parents of white children to illustrate how family values and racism can interact. It was the winner of the Bancroft prize for best book in American history. A more recent book, Dear Sisters, edited with Ros Baxandall (Basic Books, 2000), offers an historical introduction to the women's movement of the 1970s through essays and documents.

Personal Anecdote

I was lucky enough to be studying history when the ground was shifting beneath the older definitions of the field. The changes began for me with the French social history I read in college at Swarthmore from Paul Beik, and the Russian social history I read in graduate school at Yale from Firuz Kazemzadeh. I did not at the time register that these subjects and the methods of approaching them were new. But although I was already a "social" historian--my dissertation focused largely on runaway serfs--still the idea that historical questions could be framed and researched about women, let alone a new-to-me concept like gender, did not reach me until 1969. And then it arrived not through academic channels but through a social movement. 

In 1969 I was teaching at the University of Massachusetts/Boston where I was hired in the field of my dissertation and PhD, Russian history. But the women's movement had gripped me, as so many others, and I was a participant in an informal group of scholars who had the idea to examine what historical research might yield on questions of gender. We thought we were pioneers. We thought we were inventing new ideas. But then I went to Harvard's library and began to browse. To my surprise I found a few superb books–deeply researched, intellectually both analytic and synthetic. One example is Alice Clark's The Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century, published in London in 1919. From this work I learned more than from any other my understanding of gender as a material, not just a cultural, practice. 

The I looked at the library check-out slip pasted to the inside back cover. Clark's book had not been checked out since the 1930s. I soon found others equally dusty and forgotten.

I found this ominous. How could such a good book have been so neglected?  History-writing was supposed to progress, and to do so by standing on the shoulders of previous scholars, incorporating or challenging their work and moving beyond it. Soon the new women's-history scholars would learn that the number of female historians and university professors declined between 1920 and 1960. Their work was all but lost for five decades, and entirely lost in the training of new historians in this period. 

I hope my generation of scholars examining gender, and those that followed, through their prodigious publishing and teaching of the past three decades, have made a more lasting impact, but I don't take anything for granted any more. When I wrote a book on the history of birth control politics, published now 30 years ago, I assumed that reproduction control was an aspect of modernity and women's emancipation, a practice here to stay. How wrong I was. History must always struggle for independence from the present. And our resistance is needed not only against scholars defending "tradition." Sometimes we have to contest the interpretations of our allies. I remember being criticized by some activists in the movement against violence against women because they saw my emphasis on the "agency" of domestic violence victims as a form of blaming the victim. 

I was lucky in another regard: there were plenty of jobs when I finished graduate school. I enjoyed the fruits of a public and private welfare state, however modest, that paid for my undergraduate and graduate education (the National Merit Scholarship and National Defense Education Act programs) and supported the universities at which I taught (the universities of Massachusetts and Wisconsin). The economy was strong, taxation was less regressive than it is today, deindustrialization was not yet a largescale phenomenon, and Cold War competition was stimulating education spending. And because there were academic jobs, I could take the risk of changing my field of concentration, from early modern Russian borderlands to 19 th and 20th century US gender, labor, and social policy. I do not need to tell HNN readers how many extremely talented history scholars lack these opportunities today, but it is worth pointing out that we are all the losers for the mistreatment of this talent and dedication. 

Quotes By Linda Gordon

Linda Gordon in "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction," 1999

When the posse arrived at Margarita Chacón's house, George Frazer, supervisor of the copper smelter, banged on the door with the butt of his Winchester. Neville Leggatt, the only member of the posse who actually knew Margarita, cringed; when she opened the door he kept his hand away from his revolver and he hoped the others would do likewise.  The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction Although it was already 11 PM and raining, Leggatt knew exactly where to go because, he said, he knew every Mexican in North Clifton since he was delivery man for the company store, and he didn't think there would be any trouble from Margarita. She was familiar to most of Clifton: a schoolteacher who taught the Mexican kids in her own home, a devout woman who went to church every day, dressed entirely in black, her face hidden under her black shawl. Her husband Cornelio was a skimmer for the copper smelter, earning top wages for a Mexican. Frazer naturally did the talking for the posse. He said that she was to hand over the orphans the priest had given her. She asked "if I had an order from the padre to take the child; but I said, No ... the citizens of the town demand the children back ..." These children were 4-year-old Jerome Shanley and 3-year-old Katherine Fitzpatrick, Irish Catholic orphans from New York City; they had been shipped out to Arizona on an orphan train to their new home with Mrs. Chacón as arranged by the padre. Frazer testified (later, at the trial) that she was "very obliging and accommodating" to the four armed men. But that was when he was trying to avoid the impression that the children had been taken by force. It's true that after they had waited in the wind and rain a while she invited them in, seeing that they were already carrying three kids they had picked up from Francisco Alvidrez and from Lee Windham's Mexican wife whose name they didn't know. But Leggatt didn't find Margarita so obliging, and pointed out that she took 45 minutes to confer with her family and dress the two orphans before handing them over. In fact he said she was the only one who did not want to give up the children--as he also said that she was the only one who could speak English, without seeing any connection between his two statements. Afterwards they went to the home of José Bonillas so by the time they made their way back to the hotel the four of them were carrying and pulling along six kids through the rain.

Linda Gordon in a presentation at a panel discussion about 9/11 and anti-Americanism, NYU, spring 2003

"Historians could help us understand how Americans oppose Americanism to anti- Americanism, patriotism to dissent, loyalty to criticism. We need to scrutinize how high, middle and low-brow culture have all participated in constructing these oppositions and, perhaps, what cultural forms have tended to disrupt the polarities. Disrupting them has to be one of our major goals as Americans and historians."

Linda Gordon in a Speech, "The History and Politics of Family Violence," Louisville, March 8, 2000

I want to ask you to celebrate with me the construction of a crime. I realize that this request may seem perverse but it is a way to introduce an historical approach to the problem of family violence. The fact that child abuse, domestic violence, and rape are now crimes--no matter what the relationship between perpetrator and victim--represents a major victory for women, men, and children, for humanity and for democracy. 150 years ago, beating children harshly was not only commonplace but often praised; beating wives was widely considered a standard, inevitable and minor foible, like rape the subject of snickers among men and resignation among women. Today the criminalization of these practices should be seen as an achievement of the magnitude of compulsory education or woman suffrage.

It is not always easy to recognize progress when we see it, because it is human to look forward, focusing on the distance yet to go, rather than backwards. But if we don't see what we have accomplished we cannot accurately gauge the remaining tasks and, worse, we may lose confidence in the possibility of change.

Once we recognize change, we must also understand how it took place, who brought it about, or we may slip into thinking that it just happened, forgetting the people who made it happen, ignoring the many failures they experienced along with their victories, and, worst of all, misunderstanding how hard we need to work for change today. Delegitimating the once common parental prerogative to batter children and the patriarchal privilege to assault women did not just "happen" as an inevitable part of progress. It took protracted political struggle to criminalize such abuse. I would like to explain this process and to give these activists their due, to recognize the bravery, ingenuity, and perseverance not only of reformers but also of women and children often seen only as victims.

Linda Gordon, "Progressive Expertise: an Oxymoron?", for conference of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities, March 2002, published as "If the Progressives were Advising Us Today, Should We Listen?" Journal of Gilded Age and Progressive Era, April 2002.

To speak of "big government" as a unifying factor is to depoliticize Progressivism, just as that slogan today functions to shut down debate about what government should do. The slogan avoids the question on which Progressives were most divided: how democratic should government be? Some advocated democratizing reforms, such as woman suffrage, while others fought for antidemocratic reforms such as disfranchisement of the poor and people of color. When I was in high school in Portland, Oregon, studying civics, as we used to call it, my lessons included prominently the initiative and the referendum (because Oregon was the first state to adopt these quintessentially Progressive measures) and an annual field trip to Bonneville Dam where we saw the giant generators producing our cheap public electricity--and these were represented to us in Oregon as the highest achievements of democracy. But we did not learn about the widespread adoption of voter registration and other methods aimed at disfranchisement of the poor, African Americans and other people of color. In other words, we were taught a highly selective story of the development of government.

The nature of a state cannot be measured linearly, from small to large. A more accurate generalization about Progressives points to their conviction that government should rely on expertise. Expertise, I suppose, is what you get when you combine higher education with the notion of impartiality--that is, the idea of rising above politics. The symbol and the most influential application of this faith in expertise was the development of the modern social survey, notably by WEB Du Bois and Florence Kelley. Whether they were studying poverty, fertilizer, or prostitution, what was distinctively Progressive in this vision of expertise was the idea that the data thus collected and presented should form the basis of public policy--in fact, that expertise could resolve seemingly unresolvable political stalemates. Not only convinced that the social sciences could exclude bias, Progressives also thought that experts were more honest and less corruptible than politicians. Experts were to extend their responsibility not only to making recommendations and writing legislation and judicial decisions, but then to agitating for these policies. One mark of their success is the way that Congressional investigations and reports of Congressional Committees or special Commissions have become a standard part of our political process. Historians, of course, were much less able to show the necessity of their expertise to government, but they nevertheless absorbed the notion of expert impartiality into their scholarship.

Some of the increasing reliance on expertise derived from the goal of securing the public welfare. The practice recognized that industrial and technological development left consumers and workers defenseless without expert protection. How could the buyer know if the milk was adulterated when she was no longer in direct contact with the dairy farmer? How could the copper miner know that the hard-rock dust was giving him silicosis? And if they suspected these dangers, as many lay people did, how could they get their concerns onto the political agenda? By their very professional self-aggrandizement, experts not only built careers for themselves but made themselves political players who could generate legislation and legal decisions. Public health experts, armed with germ theory, proved that typhoid and diphtheria could not be confined to the slums and used this proof to agitate for public sewers and water treatment. It took engineering expertise to make sure that those who worked in the new taller buildings could be protected from fire and structural collapse, or that those who walked the sidewalks outside could still feel some sun and air. We all benefit from the work of scientists demonstrating the link between tobacco and cancer. We all benefit from the work of social and biological scientists who have demonstrated that empowering women works better than population control programs to lower birth rates, that condoms can prevent HIV transmission.

But the meanings and consequences of the use of expertise in government are themselves conflicting. Many Progressives--including both those we might today call liberal and those we might call conservative-- tended to view both the working class and the corporate owning class as corrupt, and as a solution sought to empower middle-class experts as super-citizens whose recommendations would supersede those of ordinary citizens. Many attempted to combat the corruption of partisan politics by moving large sectors of government outside the political arena, for example through hiring town managers rather than electing mayors. But not all Americans were equally able to become qualified as experts or to get experts to listen. In class, race and gender terms, Progressive expertise contributed not only to growing inequality but also to the decline of participatory politics even among white men.

Further complicating the story, it is not always easy to distinguish "good" from "bad" expertise. "Americanization" agents taught immigrant women to get their newborns immediately onto regular feeding schedules, never to feed them on demand; just as they also taught that babies shouldn't be fed spoiled cows' milk. Progressives did not always seek out ways to integrate expertise into democracy, and in fact many called on expertise to delegitimate democratic decision-making. The Progressive faith in supposedly nonpartisan professionals was often paired with deep-seated distrust of the uneducated, hard-drinking, allegedly easily corruptible immigrant or black or Mexican worker. But of course the uneducated are by no means always ignorant. In fact, miners did know that the hard-rock dust was making them ill, while the experts were still insisting that the disease was TB caused by the miners' own unhygienic living conditions; but the miners could not get their knowledge respected until the expert Alice Hamilton actually went down into the mines to sample the dust.

Yet at the same time Progressivism was characterized by extremely high levels of grassroots activism....

Linda Gordon, Social Movements, Leadership and Democracy: Toward More Utopian Mistakes," keynote lecture, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, 2000, Monday, May 22, 1933, Washington, DC

Charles Payne writes in his magisterial study I've Got the Light of Freedom, "I once heard a journalist who had covered the movement remark that two decades after its height the civil rights movement had inspired no great works of art--no great novels or films, no great plays. He rather missed the point. The movement was its own work of art ..."1 Payne is saying that a social movement is not just an emanation of beauty, or of justice, or of rage, but a product of art, even artifice--that is, of craft, skill, strategy, hard work and discipline. Social movement leaders are often master artists --note that we have no feminine word for mastery in that sense. In becoming social-movement leaders women face some of the same obstacles they face in becoming artists. As artists tend to be deprived of honor in our society, save for those few whose works become luxury commodities, so have social-change leaders. And in some ways, the more effective the leader, the less the recognition, because it may well be that the most effective leaders teach and lead in such a way as to promote others rather than themselves.

Payne also wrote of the civil-rights organizers he studied, "courage is the least of their gifts." Knowing their extraordinary perseverance in the face of power water hoses, aggressive dogs, police beatings, southern jails and marauding, sadistic killers, I found this an odd thing to say. Payne's comment is the essence of the book's argument, however: its insistence that social movements and their leaders are not "natural" eruptions of discontent, not expressions of an instinctive human drive for freedom and dignity, but rather complex intellectual projects, great political achievements.

Charles Payne's book reminds us that historians are underdeveloped in analyzing social movements and social-movement leadership. Sociologists have made a field of social movements and developed a large body of work analyzing, categorizing, defining them. By neglecting this project, historians have been derelict in a public duty. Although university tenure committees do not always agree, historians have a responsibility to the citizens of their countries, even of the world. Historians produce our collective memory. We are of course just as fallible and subjective as memory but no one else is going to do it better. Preserving, interpreting and communicating our legacy of movements for social change is vital to us all--even more vital to the younger among us. It is important because, first, we must honor those to whom we are indebted for the dignity and decencies we enjoy, even when we think we have far to go. Second, because failure to acknowledge these debts is a suppression of history and therefore of what we can learn from it. Third, failing to understand how we got to our present will certainly prevent us from understanding the present fully enough to change it. About a decade ago a Polish Solidarity activist friend visiting in the US heard a teenager say, dismissively, "Oh that's history, mother." When he learned the meaning of the slang, our friend was shocked because he knew that to Poles "that's history" would mean "that is of the utmost importance." This slang use of "history" is not a mere accident: American culture, of course, promotes this ahistorical perspective.

Linda Gordon in "Harry Hopkins Brings Relief," in "Days of Destiny," ed. McPherson and Brinkley (NY: Agincourt Press for the Society of American Historians, 2001).

"Harry Hopkins sits at his desk in the middle of a hallway in the Federal Security Building. The day is May 22, 1933. Heating pipes are banging, paint is peeling, footsteps are echoing on the uncarpeted floors. The building smells of antiseptic soap, mildew, and stale tobacco. Feet on the old scratched-up desk, his cigarette ash beginning to accumulate on the floor beneath him, Hopkins is writing a steady stream of telegrams and handing them to messengers to run to the Western Union office. He is giving away money....

In his first two hours on the job May 22, he spent $5.3 million ($65 million in 2001 dollars). By the time he left work that night, he had hired a staff, instructed 48 governors what they needed to do to get emergency relief, and sent out relief checks to Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas. The Washington Post headlined "MONEY FLIES."

Hopkins ignored accusations of hurried, slapdash decision-making. "People don't eat in the long run," Hopkins snapped to critics, "they eat every day."...

The press, unaccustomed to such governmental activism, immediately began to badger Hopkins, searching for corruption and/or boondoggling. Hopkins snarled back, "I'm not going to last six months here, so I’ll do as I please." In fact Hopkins' own operation was run on the smallest possible budget. At year's end, when a billion-and-a-half dollars had been distributed to 17 million people, the FERA's 121-person payroll was still just $22,000 a month....

Despite the best efforts of Hopkins and his staff, race and sex prejudice permeated the distribution of FERA aid. Direct grants went disproportionately to southern and western states, because they were poorer but also because they were more tight- fisted than midwestern and northeastern states when it came to helping the poor. Some, like Virginia, never contributed a single dollar to relief programs. These state administrations regularly excluded or short-changed people of color, principally African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans. Everywhere relief discriminated against women. Everywhere politicians, Democrats as much as Republicans, used the money to enhance their own political power through patronage.*** So the FERA "feds," led by the squeaky clean Hopkins, were continually clashing with the state relief administrations, sometimes winning, often losing.

At the same time the FERA battled a conservative social work establishment convinced that the poor needed moral supervision and surveillance lest welfare encourage them in laziness and dependence. This establishment included the major private charities, child-saving agencies, religious aid groups, as well as many state and local governmental agencies administering public assistance. By contrast Hopkins' logic, and that of the group of administrators he was rapidly recruiting, was that the moral character of its recipients was no more suspect than that of the rich or of those lucky enough to be in work. FERA policy was to distribute aid without humiliating and infantilizing surveillance. Why was it FERA's business if an aid recipient had a boyfriend or drank beer in a saloon?

Linda Gordon in "On Difference," Genders, Spring 1991, and "The Trouble with Difference," Dissent, spring 1999

I want to argue that the idea/slogan "difference," and its policy-talk analog, "diversity," are serving as inert placemarkers which reduce rather than enlarge analytic power to take in the complexity and trajectory of our world — not the first time that an advance at one historical moment has become limiting at another. This little essay is not intended as another attack on identity politics. I see no reason to regret anything about the elaboration of multiple and even contradictory social oppressions and identities. But I fear that difference- and diversity-talk are acting as substitutes for more specific and critical concepts such as privilege, contradiction, conflict of interest, even oppression and subordination, as well as obscuring bases for potential cooperation.

The difference talk I examine here developed in two streams within feminism: Difference I, gender difference, and Difference II, differences (racial/ethnic/religious/class/sexual) among women, the latter also called diversity. They are opposite meanings in some ways: the more we emphasize differences between men and women, the more we implicitly erase differences among women and among men. Yet the very strength of the first contributed to the development of second....

Worse, in both Difference I and Difference II the new multicultural feminism sometimes falls into an uncritical discourse of pluralism, a celebration of diversity. Political pluralism as a concept developed as a way of distinguishing democracy from totalitarianism; the argument was that interest groups and other civic associations were important to check state power. After World War II pluralism became an often smug legitimation of American anticommunism and as a result evoked scathing critique. Theorists such as Herbert Marcuse and C. Wright Mills exposed the ideological functions of the concept: masking power through the fiction of formal equality where there was no substantive equality. There's nothing wrong, of course, with an appreciation of multiple identities and civic associations, but we need to be wary of pluralist fictions about conflict among interest groups who begin from theoretically equal positions on a theoretically level playing field. Feminists should be the last to be taken in by the notion that scholarship, like society, is an open competitive field, a "free marketplace" of ideas.

About Linda Gordon

● "Gordon's effort to situate birth control in the material history of women's lives gives her history its analytical edge. In the end, Linda Gordon's revised history of birth control reminds us that women's bodies remain battlefields crossed by the ideological and property relations of the societies in which we live." -- Rosemary Hennessy, Science & Society reviewing "The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America"

● In this revised and updated version of a comprehensive history first compiled twenty-six years ago, the author traces birth control and the often controversial politics swirling around it during the past 200 years. The title comes from a phrase that the author heard used by the French prime minister of health nearly fifteen years ago, when he ruled that RU-486, also known as the abortion drug, could be placed on the market there. He called it "the moral property of women." (Gordon's 1976 version was titled Woman's Body, Woman's Right.)

Gordon begins with a prehistory of birth control-describing how Jewish women on the Lower East Side of New York City one hundred years ago tried to abort themselves by sitting over a pot of steam from stewed onions-and moves on through Victorian prudery and its reaction, the 1870s voluntary motherhood ideology, which had its roots in the early women?s rights movement. It?s sometimes difficult to follow the players-suffragists, moral reformers, free-love members, eugenists, socialists, sex radicals, the medical community-without a scorecard, but Gordon does a good job of pulling up blood-and-flesh examples of each. Ezra Heywood, for example, a free-love patriarch, endorsed male continence, a form of abstinence.

The social history moves chronologically; a large section is devoted to Margaret Sanger and the background of what was to become Planned Parenthood. Gordon, a professor of history at New York University, and author of The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, which received the Bancroft Prize in 1989, has extensively researched her subject, so she is often able to throw out hard-to-believe information; for example, during the Depression, one enthusiastic soul proposed by law to limit families to two children. -- ForeWord Magazine reviewing "The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America"

● "Gordon's book shows how cultural attitudes ... and governmental policies can inflame 'human foibles.' As such, her ... [book] is excellent cautionary reading for policymakers entrusted with making the American home safe." -- Laura Elliot in the Washington Monthly reviewing "Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960"

●  In this unflinching history of family violence, the historian Linda Gordon traces policies on child abuse and neglect, wife-beating, and incest from 1880 to 1960. Drawing on hundreds of case records from social agencies devoted to dealing with the problem, Heroes of Their Own Lives Gordon chronicles the changing visibility of family violence as gender, family, and political ideologies shifted.

From the "discovery" of family violence in the 1870s--when it was first identified as a social, rather than a personal, problem--to the women's and civil rights movements of the twentieth century, Heroes of Their Own Lives illustrates how public perceptions of marriage, poverty, alcoholism, mental illness, and responsibility worked for and against the victims of family violence.

Powerful, moving, and tightly argued, Heroes of Their Own Lives shows family violence to be an indicator of larger social problems. Examining its sources as well as its treatment, Gordon offers both an honest understanding of the problem and an unromantic view of the difficulties in stopping it. Originally published in 1988, when it received the Berkshire Prize and the Gustavus Myers Award, Heroes of Their Own Lives remains the most extensive and important history of family violence in America.

● "The study contributes to two debates: first, about the nature, mode and timing of the US welfare state; and second, about the utility of neo-institutionalist as opposed to society-centered perspectives to explain its origins. This study, which happily does not try to universalize American experience, provides an excellent basis for comparisons with policy and retrenchment strategies in other welfare states." -- Heather Jon Maroney in Journal of Comparative Family Studies reviewing "Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the Origins of Welfare"

● Particularly timely and instructive...thoroughly documented, balanced and often absorbing...Perhaps it will help us to take another look at the current thinking about both the needs and the rights of the poor before harsh, punitive policies critically injure children and their families for generations to come. -- Ruth Sidel, Nation reviewing "Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the Origins of Welfare"

● In her gripping book, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, Linda Gordon has written a model study of the creation and maintenance of race relations that manages to capture both the breathless sensationalism of the era's tabloids and the complexity of social status, shifting racial codes and the multiple uses of sex roles in social action... Gordon divides her story into six scenes, most of them devoted to some portion of the four days when the orphans' arrival engulfed Clifton-Morenci in a near riot followed by a mass kidnapping. Spliced between each scene is the history--long-term and proximate-- of the towns' sociocultural landscape. It is an ingenious narrative device that enables her to reconstitute the distinct social structures of the area while rendering a taut journalistic account of the unfolding drama...The magnificence of her achievement [is] her masterly assembly of historical detail and acute sensitivity to the intricacies of human relations as mediated by power, prejudice and the passing of time. -- Stephen Lassonde, New York Times Book Review reviewing "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"

● If Gordon's book did nothing more than redeem from obscurity the story of the Arizona orphans, it would be an extraordinary contribution to social history. But Gordon has gone beyond that scanty written record, mainly from the court proceedings, to explore the motives of the Mexican and Anglo women...Gordon's achievement is that she so effectively and fair-mindedly delved into the site and unearthed this appalling and poignant story. -- Michael Kenney, Boston Globe reviewing "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"

"Remarkably revealing window on past American attitudes towards religious prejudice, ethnic and racial identity, competing notions of the family, class conflict and ideologies of childhood." -- William Cronon reviewing "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"

●  Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction is a spellbinding narrative history--the kind of rigorous but engaging work that other academics dream of writing. Gordon here unearths a long forgotten story about abandoned Irish-Catholic children in turn-of-the-century New York who were sent out to Arizona to be adopted by good Catholic families. The hitch was that those families turned out to be dark-skinned Mexicans. What ensued was a custody battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The astonishing story Gordon has recovered considers vexed intellectual questions about race, class and gender in a dramatic, accessible fashion. -- Maureen Corrigan, Newsday reviewing "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"

● Gordon demonstrates the continuing vitality of the issues social historians have brought to the table – class, race, gender, family – in the context of a new commitment to a synthesizing narrative…Gordon's invocations of the many issues that have concerned social historians deeply enhances her examination of a particular time and place in this richly re-imagined history…Gordon has gone to such pains to guard the integrity of her historical subjects and to invest then with genuine depth and individuality. -- Paula S. Fass, American Historical Review reviewing "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"

● When America's War Relocation Authority hired Dorothea Lange to photograph the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942, they put a few restrictions on her work. Barbed wire, watchtowers and armed soldiers were off limits, they declared. And no pictures of resistance, either. They wanted the roundup and sequestering of Japanese- Americans documented—but not too well. Working within these limits, Lange, who is best known for her photographs of migrant farmers during the Depression, nonetheless produced images whose content so opposed the federal objective of demonizing Japanese-Americans that the vast majority of the photographs were suppressed throughout WWII (97% of them have never been published at all). Editors Gordon and Okihiro set this first collection of Lange's internment work within technical, cultural and historical contexts. Gordon (The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction) discusses Lange's professional methods and the formation of her "democratic-populist" beliefs. Okihiro (Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II) traces the history of prejudice against Japanese Americans, with emphasis on internees' firsthand accounts. But the bulk of the book is given over to Lange's photographs. Several of these are as powerful as her most stirring work, and the final image—of a grandfather in the desolate Manzanar Center looking down in anguish at the grandson between his knees—is worth the price of the book alone. -- Publishers Weekly reviewing "Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment"

Teaching Positions:

University of Massachusetts, Boston, instructor, 1968-69, assistant professor, 1970-75, associate professor, 1975-81, professor of history, 1981-84;

University of Wisconsin, Madison, professor of history, 1984-90, Florence Kelley Professor of History, 1990-2000, Vilas Distinguished Research Professor, 1993-2000;

New York University, New York, NY, professor of history, 2000 – .

Scholar in residence, Stanford University, summer, 1979, Dickinson College, summer, 1987;

Bunting Institute fellow, Radcliffe College, 1983-84;

Visiting professor, University of Amsterdam, 1984;

Bird Memorial Lecturer, University of Maine, 1986;

Invited residency, Bellagio Center, Italy, 1992;

Swarthmore College, Eugene Lang Visiting Professor, 2001;

Princeton University, Lawrence Stone Visiting Professor, 2004.

Twentieth-century U.S. social, political, and social policy history; women and gender; family; U.S. Southwest.

Swarthmore College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1961;
Yale University, M.A., 1963, Ph.D. (with distinction), 1970.

Major Publications:

  • Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America, (Viking, 1976), updated and revised edition published as The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, (University of Illinois Press, 2002).
  • Cossack Rebellions: Social Turmoil in the Sixteenth-Century Ukraine, (State University of New York Press, 1982).
  • Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, (Viking, 1988).
  • Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the Origins of Welfare, (Free Press, 1994).
  • The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, (Harvard University Press, 1999).

Editor, Contributor, Joint Author:

  • (Editor, with Rosalyn Baxandall and Susan Reverby) America's Working Women: A Documentary History, (Random House, 1976, 2nd revised edition, 1995).
  • (Editor) Maternity: Letters from Working Women ((originally published in London, England, 1915), Norton, 1979).
  • (Editor) Women, the State, and Welfare, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).
  • (Author of introduction) Taking Child Abuse Seriously, (Unwin Hyman, 1990).
  • (Editor, with Rosalyn Baxandall) Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement, (Basic Books, 2000).
  • (Editor, with Gary Y. Okihiro) Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment, (Norton, 2006).

Awards and Grants:

  • National Book Award in History nomination, 1976, for Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America,and 1988, for Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880- 1960;
  • National Institute of Mental Health grant, 1979-82;
  • National Endowment for Humanities fellow, 1979; American Council of Learned Societies travel grant, 1980;
  • Outstanding Achievement Award, University of Massachusetts, 1982-83;
  • Antonovych Prize, 1983, for Cossack Rebellions: Social Turmoil in the Sixteenth- Century Ukraine; Guggenheim fellowship, 1983-84, 1987;
  • American Council of Learned Societies/ Ford Foundation fellowship, 1985; 
  • University of Wisconsin graduate school research awards, 1985-95; 
  • Joan Kelley Prize for best book in women's history or theory of the American Historical Association; Wisconsin Library Association Award, 1988, for Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960; 
  • American Philosophical Society Research Award, 1988-89; 
  • Chicago Women in Publishing award, 1990, for Women, the State, and Welfare; 
  • Berkshire Prize for best book in women's history, and Gustavus Myers Award, both 1995, both for Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the Origins of Welfare; 
  • Bancroft and Beveridge Prize, 1999, and Banta Award, Wisconsin Library Association, 2000, both for The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.

Additional Info:

Gordon has given numerous academic lectures, presented papers, and participated in conferences and annual meetings throughout the world; manuscript and proposal referee for many national organizations and presses, including National Endowment for the Humanities, Temple University Press, Columbia University Press, University of California Press, Northeastern University Press, University of Illinois Press, Oxford University Press, American Council of Learned Societies, National Humanities Center, Woodrow Wilson Center, Harvard University Press, Yale University Press, Princeton University Press, university presses of California, Cambridge, Chicago, Columbia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Northeastern, Ohio, Oxford, Temple, Canadian Social Science Research Council, and U.K. Social Science Research Council.

Lecturer at numerous universities and colleges. Consultant/adviser to numerous local, civic, academic, media, and government organizations. 

Gordon has contributed to many anthologies and encyclopedias, including Encyclopedia of the American Left, Encyclopedia of American Women's History, and Encyclopedia of American History. Contributor of articles and reviews to numerous periodicals and newspapers, including New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Dissent, Chronicle of Higher Education, Against the Current, and Nation. Member of editorial board, American Historical Review, 1990-93, Contemporary Sociology, 1994--, Journal of American History and Journal of Policy History, both 1994-97, and of Signs, Feminist Studies, Journal of Women's History, Contention, and Gender and History; referee for many scholarly journals.

Gordon has also worked as a consultant and historian for television production and videotape productions, including Spare the Rod: the Politics of Child Abuse, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1988; War on Poverty, 1994-95, PBS; The Roots of Roe, Connecticut Public Television, 1994; The Troubled American Family, 1996; Family in Crisis, 1996; Children of the Great Depression, American History Project; Barbie!, KCTS-TV; History of Birth Control, Perini Productions; A Century of Woman, Paramount Studios; History Matters Web site; and Encyclopaedia Britannica Web site on women's history, 1998. Also guest on numerous television and radio programs, including those on PBS and National Public Radio (NPR).