OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Jane H. Hunter

Portrait of Jane H. Hunter

Jane H. Hunter has taught for the past twenty years at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she has also served as associate dean and interim dean. A modern social and cultural historian of the United States, she has taught courses in the history of race and ethnicity, consumerism and the culture of personality, women’s history, and the American war in Vietnam. Her first book, Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-Century China (1984), won the Yale University Press Governors’ Award, and her second, How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood (2002) won the History of Education Society's Outstanding Book Prize. A former Radcliffe research scholar and an Eccles fellow at the University of Utah Humanities Center, she has also received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. During 2012-2013, she was a Fulbright distinguished chair, teaching in the world history department of Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, and speaking widely at other universities throughout China. She is currently working on a book project tentatively entitled, "Peace Corps/Philippines: Gender and Public Relations on the New Frontier."

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Past American and Chinese scholars have harshly judged missionary activity in turn-of-the-century China for its cultural arrogance. In this talk, I suggest another way of assessing the work of women missionaries—arguing the importance of measuring missionary work in terms of the Chinese interests they served as much as the American ambitions they represented. I link these thoughts with a less-discussed but important contemporary development--the presence of thousands of evangelical American missionaries teaching English in the Chinese hinterlands today. Both Chinese and American authorities prefer not to publicize their presence, making this a largely unacknowledged yet consequential new chapter in the history of American-Chinese relations.
At the time that Kennedy’s new team was rushing the Peace Corps into the field in 1961, no-one seems to have thought much about gender. From the beginning, however, the arrival of young American women and men in the developing world was significantly about sex and gender, and in no place perhaps as conspicuously as the Philippines. Women volunteered and were enlisted especially heavily for the positions of teachers’ aides envisioned for the archipelago. Their letters home focused on the reception they received as young, single American women with a still-vague job description arriving to live and work in barrios at an age of sexual vulnerability and marital eligibility. This talk sketches some of the discrepancies between the visions of Peace Corps volunteers and of their hosts, and the consequences for everyone.
During much of the 19th century, the polite term for female students over the age of puberty was “young ladies.” When writers for school newspapers first referred to female classmates as “girls,” they did so with apologies for their rudeness. Yet the use of the term girl suggested an evolution in culture in the coeducational high school. Documented in rich diary and paper collections, girls competed with boys in a meritocratic classroom, and sometimes won. In more than holding their own, girls made a case for their sex—and for the New Women who they would become.
Well after the triumphant return of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Indian woman on the journey played little role in its mythology. She emerged as a named heroine and the expedition’s guide only in the next century when she appeared in popular history offering up the continent—and the world farther west-- to her companions. At the same moment, another constituency also claimed her. Oregon supporters of woman suffrage commissioned a statue of the Indian mother and her baby for the centennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition in Portland. Susan B. Anthony helped to unveil it. Today, Sacagawea presents both inspiration and challenge to those seeking native exemplars—including writer Sherman Alexie.