OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Kimberly A. Hamlin

Portrait of Kimberly A. Hamlin

Kimberly A. Hamlin is a cultural historian specializing in women, gender, sex, science, and politics. A recent recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Public Scholar Award, Hamlin regularly contributes to the Washington Post and other media outlets, and she lectures widely on topics related to women and gender. Her latest book, Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener (2020), reveals the remarkable story of the “fallen woman” who changed her name, reinvented herself, and became the “most potent factor” in Congressional passage of the 19th Amendment as well as the highest-ranking woman in federal government. Hamlin is actively involved in local and national suffrage centennial activities including guest editing, together with Professors Cathleen Cahill and Crystal Feimster, a special suffrage centennial issue of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Hamlin’s previous book, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (2014), analyzes the U.S. reception of Darwin in terms of gender and provides the first full-length study of women’s responses to evolutionary theory. Hamlin has received the Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for Research on Women and Politics, the Margaret Rossiter Prize for Research on Women/Gender and Science (from the History of Science Society), and the Emerging Scholar Award from the Nineteenth Century Studies Association, in addition to research fellowships from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, the Huntington Library, the Sophia Smith Collection, and others. Hamlin has also published on the origins of the Miss America Pageant, the Girl Scouts, bearded ladies, women running for president, the Equal Rights Amendment, and contributed to various PBS documentaries. Since 2007, she has taught History and American Studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

After being outed in Ohio newspapers in 1876 for having an affair with a married man, Helen Hamilton Gardener reinvented herself and dedicated her life to securing women's financial, bodily, and political autonomy -- recognizing that the three were fundamentally intertwined. She joined the freethought movement, then worked to raise the age of sexual consent for girls (in 1890 it was 12 or younger in 38 states), became a famous speaker and author, and, eventually, the "most potent factor" in Congressional passage of the 19th Amendment and the highest-ranking woman in federal government. Her life story centers sex and race in the history of suffrage and issues an urgent call for the importance of women's history.
2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment and the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This talk focuses on the political and legislative history of the 19th amendment to argue that we must understand women’s suffrage in the context of the Civil War and Reconstruction. First introduced in Congress in 1878 as a corrective to the 15th Amendment (which outlawed race as a reason to bar citizens from voting), what became the 19th Amendment was understood by suffrage allies and their opponents in terms of the 15th from its very inception. Similarly, when Congressmen debated the 19th Amendment in 1918-1919 the overriding objection was race—they did not want to enfranchise black women in the South or prompt the federal government to enforce the 15th Amendment. When the 19th Amendment did pass in June 1919, it was not because Congressmen and white suffrage leaders thought it would enfranchise women of color – it was because they knew it would not.
In history textbooks and popular imagination the temperance movement often gets a bad rap – movement leaders such as Frances Willard tend to be depicted as prim, overly devout killjoys while Carrie Nation is dismissed as a hatchet-wielding huckster. This talk urges listeners to reconsider the temperance movement and what it stood for. At the core, temperance leaders fought not just alcohol but also “the degradation of women,” a pairing that Willard referred to as the “Siamese twins of vice.” Temperance leader’s critiques of the sexual double standard and their strategies to dismantle it increasingly resonate today.
First proposed in 1923 as a follow-up to the 19th Amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment has prompted heated debates about American womanhood for nearly 100 years. Are women people first, or mothers? Are women fundamentally equal to men, or fundamentally different from men? What would it look like for women to be both equal and different? This talk analyzes the evolution of ERA debates, highlights the fascinating women who devoted their lives to working for and against the ERA-- including Alice Paul and Phyllis Schlafly-- and brings the debate up to the present with the post-2016 resurgence of ERA activism.
This interactive talk imagines what the grand narratives of American history would look like if told from the perspective of women. What would our history books and monuments look like if they centered women’s experiences and contributions? What kind of nation would we be if, for example, our $20 bills featured Harriet Tubman instead of Andrew Jackson? Highlighting key moments in U.S. women’s history and several ongoing initiatives to commemorate women’s lives, this talk argues that the stories we tell about women’s history shape women’s opportunities today.