OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Jen Manion

Portrait of Jen Manion
Image Credit: Code Purple Photography

Jen Manion is an associate professor of history at Amherst College and the author of Liberty's Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (2015), which received the inaugural Mary Kelley Best Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Manion is also a coeditor of Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism (2004) and has published nearly three dozen essays and reviews in U.S. histories of gender and sexuality. Manion is the recipient of over a dozen fellowships, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities for research at the American Antiquarian Society on a current project about transgender histories in the long nineteenth century. Prior to joining the faculty of Amherst College, Manion worked for ten years at Connecticut College as a faculty member in the history department and the founding director of the LGBTQ Resource Center. Manion is committed to the advancement of LGBTQ history and participates in numerous projects to that end, currently serving on the steering committee for the Boston Seminar on the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the Schlesinger Library / Massachusetts Historical Society, the advisory board of the University of Pennsylvania LGBT Center History Project, and the editorial board of www.OUTHISTORY.org. Previously, Manion served on the governing board of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History (an American Historical Association affiliate) from 2008 to 2011 and as an adviser on the pioneering 2014 exhibition, That’s So Gay: The Not-So-Hidden History of Gayness in Early American Culture, at the Library Company of Philadelphia. 

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

People who were assigned the female sex at birth and lived as men throughout the 19th century often feared and avoided doctors. Doctors might ruin their lives by reporting them to the authorities for living in a gender that was different from their sex. Even after death, coroners who reported the sex of their subjects threw the lives of surviving family members and friends into a frenzy of chaos and speculation. James Allen and Abigail Naylor married in 1807, living together until Allen’s death in a workplace accident at a London shipyard in 1829. What can we learn from this dynamic past about current struggles for transgender rights and the future of gender?
Between 1848 and 1864, a dozen U.S. cities passed laws prohibiting cross-dressing. Scholars have connected this development to broader public decency campaigns aimed at wrestling control of thriving urban centers from workers, immigrants, and vagrants. But these laws can also be linked to enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act before the Civil War and growing attempts to restrict the movement of free blacks afterwards. This talk examines connections between black freedom, gender nonconformity, and the expansion of American Policing in the nineteenth-century.
The penitentiary system in early America exploited racist ideologies, gender norms, sexual desire, and antipathy towards the poor to justify its existence and expansion. The use of incarceration grew as women, enslaved people, and indentured servants—those previously with no legal standing— increasingly claimed their own right to life, liberty, and happiness. In this pattern, we see a precursor to the dramatic growth of the US prison system in the last forty years. 
This talk explores how the language scholars use in crafting histories simultaneously reveals and constitutes an epistemology of the LGBTQ past. It will chiefly grapple with how a modern lexicon informed by transgender studies and community practice offers scholars an expansive new way of understanding the lives and histories of a group designated by gay and lesbian historians in the 1970s as "female soldiers" or “passing women."