OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Jennifer Scanlon

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Portrait of Jennifer Scanlon

Jennifer Scanlon is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College. Her research interests include women's and feminist history, women's relationships to social movements, biography, and consumer culture. An award-winning teacher and scholar, she is the author of Until There Is Justice: The Life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman (2016), Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown (2009), and Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture (1995), and the editor of Significant Contemporary American Feminists (1999) and The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader (2000). She has also written many scholarly articles on women's and girls' cultural and consumer practices. Among other accolades, Bad Girls Go Everywhere was named a "Book of the Times" by the New York Times, "Book of the Week" by The Week, and Business Book of the Year by Marketplace.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Until There Is Justice tells the story of America’s black freedom struggles as seen through the life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman (1899-1990). Hedgeman was a remarkable—and remarkably understudied-- force for social justice for over fifty years. Through a commitment to faith-based activism, civil rights, and feminism, Hedgeman participated in and led some of the twentieth century's most important developments, spearheading advances in education, public health, politics, and workplace justice. A dignified woman and scrappy freedom fighter, Hedgeman upended conventions of the civil rights and feminist movements, and her efforts altered the civil rights landscape. Although she was frequently an outsider-- a woman among men, a black American among whites, and a secular Christian among clergy-- she was proud of her multiple and intersecting identities and cared deeply about the dignity and welfare of all people. This lecture explores key movements of the 20th century by placing Anna Arnold Hedgeman in a central, fitting role. TAGS: African American, civil rights, social movements, women
In the spring of 1963, the National Council of Churches, the headquarters of liberal Protestantism, determined that Protestant leaders had to both model and demand Christian responses to racism. "Words and declarations are no long useful in this struggle," they declared, calling upon white Christians to finally stand up and share in the experiences black Americans were subject to on the pathway to racial justice, including personal indignities, alienation, and actual physical suffering. The NCC formed the Commission on Religion and Race, and made a key appointment-- Anna Arnold Hedgeman-- as Coordinator of Special Projects. Hedgeman, who also served as the only woman on the organizing committee for the March on Washington, took it upon herself to recruit 30,000 white Americans to attend the March. This chapter of Anna Arnold Hedgeman's long life as an activist, politician, and feminist demonstrates both her outsider status (a woman among men, a black American among whites, a secular Christian among clergy) and her skills as an organizer. It also contributes to our efforts to better understand the long civil rights movement in its many manifestations. TAGS: African American, religion, women, social movements, New York City, 1960s
"Understanding and Interpreting a Life" explores magazine icon Helen Gurley Brown's life as well as the working-class roots of her controversial form of feminism. Both conservatives and feminists objected to Brown’s sex-positive take on women’s lives, but neither quite understood her message or her intended audience. Brown brazenly forged a path for women that claimed economic and sexual freedom, revolutionized women’s magazines and women’s lives, and complicated the ways in which we understand the relationships among women, men, money, and sex. This reading of a collection of letters from her fans expands our understanding of mid-20th-century American life, for men as well as women. TAGS: biography, capitalism, women, social movements topic
Women, sexuality, print culture, biography, social movements topic Historians and cultural critics have, to a degree, followed the lead of the media in declaring feminism’s second wave as anti-sex, or, perhaps, “anti-sexy.” Doing so provides a neat contrast between the second wave and the so-called “third wave” of feminism, but it also provides an incomplete, problematic narrative. Nearly four decades before Sex and the City provided television viewers with explicit permission to claim both femininity and feminism, Helen Gurley Brown’s primer, Sex and the Single Girl, became an immediate—and international—feminist sensation. In her book and then as editor of Cosmopolitan, the magazine that continues to foster the philosophy Brown first introduced in 1965, Helen Gurley Brown articulated a set of ideas about women’s bodies, desires, and behaviors. As this talk demonstrates, her influential and controversial approach provided one of the most significant blueprints for what has emerged in recent years as the third wave of feminism.
Women's print magazines are ephemeral, no doubt, but what of their messages? Are the messages they deliver as ephemeral as the magazine's own pages pages, not worth holding on to beyond the month of their release? This talk explores the role magazines play in women's lives-- historically and in contemporary life. Arguably, the ways in which magazines are constructed-- in small parts, mixed together, as an eclectic set of messages-- match the reading habits and the lifestyles of female readers and are a proven means of communicating gendered identity.
Until recently, scholars have taken an overwhelmingly "shop 'till you drop" take on women, viewing them as dupes of the advertisers and merchandisers who prey upon them. In such a reading, women waste their husbands’ or their own hard earned money because they aren't smart enough about finances to see through the hoodwinking of consumer culture’s invitations. Challenging that narrative, this talk explores the work of early 20th-century advertisers, who often asked women questions about their lives and desires that the culture at large failed to ask. They gathered information and then made promises to women, promises they couldn’t possibly deliver on but promises that actually related to women's longings. Women responded, contemplating mixed messages and their own divided emotions, purchasing the products that might provide at best an improved standard of living and at least a moment or two of therapeutic release. As they became shoppers, American women looked not for salvation but for inclusion, for some measure of beauty in their lives, and for respect. This talk explores the give-and-take of one of our significant gendered, economic and social practices. TAGS: capitalism, women, social and cultural topic