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2023 Distinguished Annual Lecture by Sara Dubow

"I Always Pick the Losing Cause": Dorothy Kenyon, the ACLU, and the Development of Feminist Jurisprudence

April 20, 2023, 4pm | UMass Amherst Herter Hall Room 601 | Free and Open to All

In 1945, twenty-five years after its founding, the American Civil Liberties Union established a Committee on Discrimination Against Women. This committee represented a victory, and a launching pad, for Dorothy Kenyon, a lawyer who had joined the Board of Directors of the ACLU in 1930. As chair of this committee, Kenyon led the organization’s fight for women’s rights until her death in 1972. This talk explores how Kenyon convinced the ACLU to put women’s rights on their agenda, and how she developed the ACLU’s earliest legal strategies to fight sex discrimination, strategies that would be successfully deployed in the 1970s by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

Sara Dubow is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of the Faculty at Williams College, where she teaches courses in women’s and gender history, recent U.S. history, and legal history. Her first book, Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America was published by Oxford University Press in 2010, and won the 2011 Bancroft Prize. She has published articles on the history of conscience clauses in recent U.S. history, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of Dorothy Kenyon.

The Distinguished Annual Lecture

The Department of History’s Distinguished Annual Lecture celebrates the 1996 establishment of the UMass/Five College Graduate Program in History. Combining the faculty and resources of the University of Massachusetts Amherst with those of four of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges -- Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges -- this collaboration provides graduate students with an extraordinary depth of intellectual resources. Offered every academic year for more than 20 years, the program’s signature annual lecture has been delivered by some of the nation’s foremost historians.

The Distinguished Annual Lecture in History is presented by the UMass/Five College Graduate Program in History with support from the UMass Amherst History Department and Five Colleges, Inc. It is co-sponsored by the UMass Amherst Center for Justice, Law, and Societies; Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Legal Studies Program and by the Five College Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice Certificate and the Reproductive Politics Faculty Seminar.

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Recent Distinguished Annual Lectures

2021-2022 | Regina Kunzel, In Treatment: Psychiatry and the Archives of Modern Sexuality

2020-2021 | Mike Davis, California Burning: The Apocalyptic Trinity of Climate Change, Alien Plant Invasion and Exurbanization

2019-2020 | Erika Lee, Xenophobia in America: How We Got Here and What's At Stake

2018-2019 | Martha Newman, Assigned Female at Death: Joseph of Schönau's Disruption of Medieval Gender Binaries

2017-2018 | Scott Bruce, The Dark Age of Herodotus: Shards of a Fugitive History in Medieval Europe

2016-2017 | Talitha LeFlouria, Chained in Silence: A History of Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South

2015-2016 | Antoinette Burton, The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism 

2014-2015 | Tom Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past

2013 | Ned Blackhawk, Indigenous Reckonings: American Indians and the Remaking of U.S. History

2012 | Thavolia Glymph, “Slavery is Not Dead: Black Women and Children on the Civil War’s Battlefield”


Book signing with Talitha LeFlouria following her 2016 lecture