Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This subject explores the legal history of the United States as a gendered system. It examines how women have shaped the meanings of American citizenship through pursuit of political rights such as suffrage, jury duty, and military service, how those political struggles have varied for across race, religion, and class, as well as how the legal system has shaped gender relations for both women and men through regulation of such issues as marriage, divorce, work, reproduction, and the family. Our readings will draw from primary and secondary materials in American history. While we will read some court cases, the focus of the class is on the broader relationship between law and society, and no technical legal knowledge is required or assumed. There are no prerequisites for this subject.


The success of this class depends on the active participation of all students. Participation (15%) represents a substantial portion of the grade, and will be evaluated in terms of preparation, participation in large and small group discussion, active listening, collaboration, and overall contributions to the class experience during the term. Needless to say, if you do not attend a class it is impossible for you to contribute to it. In preparation for discussion, you may be asked to write short response papers (15%) or send me your thoughts and questions by email. Completion of these written exercises is required.

Each student will write one 5-6 pp. essay (20%) on an assigned question that draws from the first few weeks of reading. Additionally, each student will write a major 14-16 pp. research paper (40%). The paper should be on a topic that relates to the material in the seminar, and must be based on research in primary source material. Various preparatory writing exercises (10%) through the semester will help students develop a topic, a bibliography, and an argument in advance of the final paper itself. There is no midterm or final examination in this class.

Students may, on consultation with the professor, replace the short essay with a service learning commitment. Students must make a semester-long commitment of volunteer work with an organization or individual that does work on issues related in some way to gender and/or law, and write a brief response paper that connects your community service with the themes of the class. You may also choose to pursue a final research paper that combines your service interests with your historical interests.

Writing assignments are due on paper in person at the beginning of the class in which they are due. Extensions will be granted only for good reasons explained well in advance; computer malfunctions are never an acceptable excuse for a late submission. Adherence to standards of academic honesty is required; if you have any questions about how to go about your writing or cite your sources, don't hesitate to ask.

Course Readings

Readings should be completed by the beginning of the class under which they appear, unless otherwise stated.