Professor who wrote UI's first women's studies textbook to retire after 41 years


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University of Iowa Professor Linda Kerber read from her book Women's America to her class in Schaeffer Hall one last time on Thursday.

"The next time you hear a generalization, I want you to pick it up, pick it up and shake it," Kerber told her final Human Rights and U.S. Women class. "Then ask yourself, what does this have to do with me?"

After 41 years of teaching history, law, and women's studies, the noted historian will retire from her current teaching position at the UI at the end of this semester. Kerber, who wrote the university's first book on women's studies, has seen the program grow since its inception.

When the Columbia University-educated professor and her husband came to Iowa from California in 1971, Kerber said she found the university's women's studies field somewhat underdeveloped. Nor, she said, was there an official syllabus or official textbook.

"One of the things [women's studies teachers] did in the '70s was flip through the textbooks and say, 'Where are the women?' " she said.

Kerber began working at the UI after husband Richard Kerber was approached for a cardiologist position at the UI Hospitals and Clinics. Yet he said he would not consider the job unless his wife could work at the UI as a historian.

"Iowa was then one of the very few institutions in the country that would contemplate hiring a husband and wife," Kerber said. "When I was hired, I was hired because I was interested in teaching the [women's studies] course — like the one in Action Studies."

Action Studies was a UI program developed in 1968 to ensure variety in course offerings.

"At the time, the first course of women's studies was taught by a grad student, in Action Studies," she said. "When I first taught this course here, we had maybe four paperbacks."

The Women's Studies Program was established in 1974. After seeing the limited sources for women's studies students, Kerber collaborated with University of North Carolina Professor Jane Matthews.

"So by 1980, Oxford [University Press] came to me and a friend who taught at the University of North Carolina then and said, 'We need a [book], you know — put these things together,' " she said.

The result, Women's America, was published in 1982 and became the UI's first women's studies official textbook.

UI law Professor Ann Estin said Kerber's interest in law came from her concerns about women's equality.

"I really liked the teaching we did together. It was a special experience to get to share a class with someone," Estin said. "We could go back and forth between historical perspectives and legal perspectives."

Stephanie Soliday, a student in Kerber's Human Rights and U.S. Women class, said she learned a lot about women's equality pertaining to law under Kerber's instruction. And Soliday said Kerber is very knowledgeable in her field.

"It's a little bit of a sad time because she's leaving, but I can almost guarantee that she is not done contributing to Iowa," she said. "I am sure she will return for speeches or even guest lectures."

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