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ISU students' dedication to sharing women's stories

December 20, 2023

Rachel Dietz and her peer partner, Bex Phillips, review each other’s work in class. Pictured in the box on the right is Emily C. Boone, the delegate Rachel is researching.

Under the guidance of History Professor Marie Stango, students enrolled in the Women in US History course at Idaho State University are engaged in a project aimed at unearthing the untold stories of women who attended a pivotal 1977 women's conference in Houston.

This project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and led by the University of Houston, involves researching 2000 delegates that attended the conference in celebration of international women’s year. ISU students have partnered with the University of Houston to conduct research on delegates. 

“Historically this conference is significant because it was remarkably diverse, both racially and politically,” Stango says. “It’s an interesting moment in time when women of many different beliefs came together.”

Students in this general education undergraduate course get a unique experience that students at this stage of their education often don’t get. Many of the students in the course are freshmen and their majors are widely varied. 

The course involves meticulous research and peer review of biographies, culminating in the submission of finalized biographies which Stango will forward to project managers at the University of Houston who lead a specialized team with fact-checking, editing, and formatting before publication on the Sharing Stories website.

Students are focusing on delegates from Kentucky who attended the conference. Each student is dedicated to researching one individual. Many of these women have largely been overlooked by historical documentation. The students' research draws heavily from documents preserved in the National Archives, predominantly the application forms submitted by the women attending the conference. Further research is conducted using newspaper databases.

"Our aim isn’t just to remember women who generally do not appear in history textbooks but to construct resources for future researchers," Stango said. “ “Scholars studying the 1977 conference will turn to these biographies, written by our students, to assist in their research. The students are creating new knowledge about the feminist movement in the 1970s. This is something that undergraduates, especially in a general education course, rarely get to do.”

Stango finds the students to be invested in their project: Efforts have been made to reach out to living delegates by students eager to share their findings and reconnect these women with their historical legacies.

Rachel Dietz, a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in gender and sexuality studies, expressed her engagement with the project. Dietz wants to go into private practices and therapeutic clinical services. Dietz says she finds a connection with researching social worker Emily C. Boone. 

“What has been interesting is learning all of the history of someone that I think could’ve been lost to time had there not been research done,” Dietz says. “Doing this research now is very insightful for future generations and to increase the need for women’s studies.”

Dietz was also able to get in touch with her delegate, who is still alive. She conducted an oral history interview which was recorded and will also be housed by the Sharing Stories project. 

Jovany Leyva, a freshman double majoring in secondary education and history with history and geology endorsements, says that the project has helped expand his perspective. “There are different perspectives of how people think, and there has to be justice for everybody,” he says. “This project gives me an open mind instead of thinking the world is this box that I always thought of it as.”

Another participant, Spencer Peck, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, enrolled in the course to fulfill his general education requirements. He is researching Ellen Ewing, one of the first women judges to be appointed in Jefferson County, KY. “It’s important to learn about different groups’ history so you know why they are how they are and to better understand,” he says.

At the end of the project, students’ biographies will be posted on the Sharing Stories website, which will create opportunities for researchers to continue the work.

“The end goal isn’t a paper students will never look at again,” says Stango, “but something that researchers in the future will use and that students can share with pride.” 


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