Cott, Nancy F.

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COTT, Nancy F.

Born 8 November 1945, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Daughter of Max F. and Estelle Hollander Falik; married LelandCott, 1969; children: Joshua, Emma

Nancy Falik Cott is a historian, educator, editor and writer specializing in women's history. She is recognized as an influential feminist scholar and is credited with contributing a great deal to the body of knowledge on women's roles, both social and political, throughout the history of the United States.

Cott received her B.A. from Cornell University in 1967 and her Ph.D. from Brandeis in 1974. She held teaching positions throughout the early 1970s, including at Wheaton College, Clark University, and Wellesley. In 1975 she joined Yale University as an assistant professor and has remained there, rising to full professor of both history and American studies. She has served as the chair of both the American studies and women's studies programs at Yale, where she helped establish the latter. She also lectures at other colleges and universities and at the Boston Public Library.

Cott's first book was Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women (1972), which was reissued in 1996 in an edition coedited with Jeanne Boydston, Ann Braude, Lori D. Ginzberg, and Molly Ladd-Taylor. Cott's second book, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835, was based on research conducted while she was a student at Brandeis.

In 1979 Cott coedited, with E. H. Pleck, A Heritage of Her Own: Towards a New Social History of American Women. The book gathered 20 popular and scholarly essays by women from many periods of U.S. history and from diverse walks of life; many of the essays are considered classics in the field of American women's history. The selections included Cott's "Passionless," which held that Victorian society's demand that women be sexless may have offered advantages and rewards, contrary to the dominant view that the period was predominately negative for women. A Heritage of Her Own was praised for its carefully chosen essays, its range and variety, and its focus on controversial milestones.

Cott's The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1987) offers a historical context for modern feminists, presenting a discussion of the factionalism that developed within the women's movement even before the 19th amendment was passed. Critics praised the book. Nation wrote, "Nancy F. Cott has given us a new way to understand the paradoxes of modern feminism. Her brilliant book literally grounds feminism in history, both as an ideology and as a social movement, and clarifies its inescapable dilemma." Joanne Meyerowitz, in the Journal of American History, added, "Cott's complex work stands among the most important books on United States women's history. It recovers the broad range of the early 20th-century women's movement and uncovers the neglected roots of contemporary feminism. Spiced with insight and irony, this is subtle and sophisticated fare." Joan Scott, writing in Ms. magazine, agreed: "Yale historian Nancy Cott traces the history of this period in an engaging and intelligent book, packed with fascinating details, new information, and wonderfully pointed quotations. She also offers a profoundly important interpretation crucial for understanding contemporary feminism."

In A Woman Making History: Mary Ritter Beard through Her Letters (1991), Cott compiled 141 letters from more than 30 correspondents, gleaned from a number of archives, which provide an overview of Beard's life from 1912 to 1955. The letters are chronological and enhanced by Cott's notes explaining the historical context surrounding each missive. The book offers a rare glimpse into the life of Beard, who was often overshadowed by the attention paid to her husband.

Cott also edited an 11-volume series of books for young readers, The Young Oxford History of Women in the United States (1995). In addition to her book-length works, Cott has published articles on women's social issues and feminist history in a number of publications, including Feminist Studies, William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of Social History, Psychohistory Review, Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Journal of American History, Yale Review, American Quarterly, and American Historical Review.

As a reviewer and essayist, Cott has written for Yale Review, American Quarterly, New York Review of Books, American History, American Bar Foundation Research Journal, American Quarterly, American Historical Review, Business History Review, Intellectual History Newsletter, International Labor and Workingclass History, Journal of American History, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, New York Times Book Review, Pacific Studies, Signs, Times (London) Literary Supplement, and Women's History Review.

She has contributed essays to historical compilation books edited by others, including What is Feminism? (1986), A New Perspective: Southern Women's Cultural History from the Civil War to Civil Rights (1989), Women, Politics and Change (1990), One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement (1995), Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (1990), Conflicts in Feminism (1990), La Storia Delle Donne (1992), Suffrage & Beyond (1994), U.S. History as Women's History (1995), and Justice and Injustice (1996). She has also supplied essays on Mary Ritter Beard and other women to various biographical anthologies and contributed afterwords, introductions, editorials, interviews and commentary to a range of scholarly books and journals.

Cott has earned numerous honors throughout her career, including fellowships, grants, and awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, Harvard Law School, Radcliffe, Yale, the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment of the Humanities.


Reference Works:

CANR (1998).

Other reference:

Journal of American History (Dec. 1988). Ms. (Sept. 1980, Oct. 1987, Mar./Apr. 1995). NYTBR (2 Mar. 1980, 24 Mar. 1991). Nation (6 Feb. 1988). PW (18 Jan. 1991).