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West Virginia Univ. Researcher Wins Carnegie Award for Study of Appalachian Feminism

essica Wilkerson, associate professor of history at West Virginia University, wants to change the narrative surrounding feminism. Specifically, Wilkerson wants to acknowledge the fight for women’s rights was built on the shoulders of women of color, the working class and women in the south and Appalachia — not just white-collar urbanites.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York has acknowledged Wilkerson’s pursuit, as it named her a recipient of the prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, also known as the “brainy award,” for 2021. Wilkerson is the second WVU researcher to earn that designation; the first being English Professor Stephanie Foote in 2018. 

For this year’s class, Wilkerson is one of 26 fellows selected from 311 nominations across the country. The fellowship grants each member $200,000 to fund significant research and writing in the social sciences and humanities that address important issues confronting society. 

Wilkerson’s project, “Feminisms in the American South,” will include a book, public history exhibit and series of articles to be published in 100 Days in Appalachia. Her goal is to integrate the stories of the unsung heroes into the history of women’s progressive activism since the 1960s.

“There’s the image of white women burning bras and marching in city streets,” Wilkerson said in a release. “But it’s much more nuanced and complicated. The women's movement unfolded everywhere in the United States and fundamentally changed society. The very notion of what constituted the most pressing ‘women’s issues’ was contested.” 


As an undergraduate student, Wilkerson read an article titled “Disorderly Women: Gender and Labor Militancy in the Appalachian South” by her future mentor, historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. The article opened her eyes to another dimension of the history of women’s activism for gender equality. The article told the story of young women workers at a Tennessee textile mill who led a labor strike in the 1920s. Their actions helped spark a wave of strikes for workers’ rights across the South. 

“That was one of the first times where I understood that women’s movements didn’t happen only in big cities outside of the South,” Wilkerson, a Tennessee native, said in a release.

Read entire article at WVNews