Alice Kessler-Harris: Becoming a Feminist, Becoming a Labor HistorianHistorians in the News
tags: feminism, interviews, labor history, womens history, Women historians, feminist history
Lara Vapnek is Professor of History at St. John's University. Her books include Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Modern American Revolutionary, and Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920.
For the past forty years, Alice Kessler-Harris has been on the vanguard of labor history and of women’s and gender history. Last summer, I joined Tony Michels and Annie Polland in a wide-ranging conversation with Kessler-Harris about her life and work. She explained how growing up in a family of Hungarian-Jewish refugees in Wales shaped her identity and her values. We discussed her path to becoming a historian, and we learned how her participation in the women’s movement gave her a new vantage point on to labor history. In the course of our conversation, Kessler-Harris articulated some of the ideals that she brings to her teaching, her scholarship, and to mentoring a diverse group of students and making us all feel like we are part of her community.
The following excerpts are adapted from Tony Michels, Lara Vapnek, and Annie Polland, “An Interview with Alice Kessler-Harris,” Jewish Social Studies 24, no. 2 (2019): 82-105.
In this section of the interview, Kessler-Harris describes discovering the anarchist Emma Goldman while researching her dissertation on Jewish workers. Kessler-Harris explains how she began to read sources differently due to her participation in the women’s movement and she describes how the labor history community responded to her early scholarship. She mentions Anzia Yezierska, author of the 1925 novel, Bread Givers, which Kessler-Harris would become instrumental in republishing.
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