Retired UI professor celebrated over the weekend


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Linda Kerber has arguably been the most influential pioneer in the field of women’s studies in the past 41 years.

At least that’s the thought behind those who organized a weekend event in celebration of her career.
In honor of the many books and articles that Kerber — a University of Iowa retired professor of women’s studies — has written, the countless classes she has taught, and her overall impact on the field, six of her former Ph.D. students, with assistance from the UI History Department, worked to organize the symposium.

“As soon as we found out that Linda was retiring, there were people all over the place that said this has to be acknowledged,” said Sheila Skemp, a UI graduate and a former student of Kerber’s who helped organize the event.

Kerber was the first regular member of the faculty to teach women’s history and wrote the UI’s first textbook on the subject. She has not only fought for women’s recognition in history but also in the field of studying history. The American Historian’s Association had zero women officers when Kerber started her career as a historian, and since then, Kerber has been president of not only that association but also the Organization of American Historians and the American Studies Association.

Kerber said she was honored and thrilled at the magnitude of the event.

“It’s hard to believe I could deserve something like this,” she said. “And I’m also thrilled because it is bringing together a remarkable community of people who have in common that they all know me, but also that they are going to be thrilled to meet each other.”

Kerber has been working on writing two more books to add to her list since retiring in the spring. One is Why Diamonds Really are a Girl’s Best Friend, which she is calling an alternative narrative of U.S. history. The other is not yet named but will focus on the concept of statelessness.

The symposium took place Oct. 5-6 and consisted of six panels of readings and three roundtables of speeches about women’s history and about Kerber herself.

Mary Kelley, one of the six former students who planned the event, said she felt she owed it to Kerber to celebrate her.

“Because of the debt I believe I owe her in shaping my career and for how much I admire her,” she said.

She is highly esteemed by many of her colleagues, including the chairman of the UI History Department, Stephen Vlastos.

“She is to the humanities at the University of Iowa what Van Allen is to the natural sciences in terms of their respective impact on their fields,” he said.

Expenses of the symposium were covered by many sponsors such as the UI Office of the President and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as a $25 registration fee by all attendees.

Attendees were also encouraged to donate to the Linda and Richard Kerber Travel Fellowship for the Iowa Woman’s Archives. The fund was established last fall, and students from across the country are eligible to apply for help from the fund in order to travel to the UI and use the archives for research. Thanks to many donations, the fund now stands at $25,000.

The event wrapped up on the evening of Oct. 6, and colleges, students, and friends all appeared pleased with the course of the symposium, excited for the chance to honor Kerber.

“It was something that really, really had to be done, and I think it’s worked out beautifully,” Skemp said.

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