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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 922

Papers of Alice Kessler-Harris, 1962-2016


Collection includes labor historian Alice Kessler-Harris's speeches, writings, correspondence, photographs, course material, files from conferences and organizations with which she was involved, documents from the Sears case, and writing projects.


  • 1962-2016

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Alice Kessler-Harris is held by Alice Kessler-Harris during her lifetime. Upon her death, copyright will be assigned to the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


30.86 linear feet (74 file boxes)

The collection documents the professional career of Alice Kessler-Harris, one of the founders of the field of women's history and an accomplished historian of labor and gender. Included are files related to sex discrimination in employment; her teaching career at Sarah Lawrence College, Rutgers, Columbia, and Hofstra; as well as Kessler-Harris's tenure with various professional organizations such as the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Labor and Working-Class History Association. The collection includes speeches; writings; correspondence; course material such as syllabi and readings; files from conferences and organizations with which she was involved; documents from the Sears case; and writing projects.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, 1968-2016 (inclusive), 1988-2007 (bulk) (#1.1-12.10), contains professional and printed letters, notes, and memoranda between Kessler-Harris and fellow faculty members and colleagues in the field of women's studies, history and labor history, including Nancy A. Hewitt, Gerda Lerner, Linda Gordon, and Joan Scott. The bulk of the series contains letters and emails to Kessler-Harris related to conferences, publications, her thesis, the Sears case, requests from graduate students and colleagues, requests for comments and suggestions on the writing of others, reviews of other scholars' publications, and professional matters including her job applications. Personal postcards and greeting cards from friends and family members are also included. Kessler-Harris's original filing structure was retained. Loose correspondence was sorted and arranged chronologically and is mostly administrative in nature. The series is arranged in alphabetically order by correspondent or topic; and then chronologically.

Series II, TEACHING AND UNIVERSITY FILES, 1962-2013 (#12.11-30.6), includes correspondence, syllabi, course readings, and notes relating to courses taught by Kessler-Harris at Columbia, Rutgers, Hofstra, Sarah Lawrence College, State University of New York at Binghamton, and University of Warwick in England. University files include correspondence and working files for committees, commissions, events, and other projects during her tenure at each institution. Of particular interest are files from Columbia's Commission on the Status of Women which discussed resolutions on salary equity for faculty; and the Committee on Diversity which proposed techniques for successful recruitment of diversity faculty. Also included are files documenting student strikes and protests at Hofstra in which grievances were filed against the history department about student issues with grading, office hours, and the availability of more evening class times. Of particular interest are files documenting the creation of Hofstra's Labor Institute of Applied Social Science created in 1976 to extend working adults the opportunity for college education. Research materials consist of syllabi and copies of readings for courses taught by Gerda Lerner, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Sara Alpern, Nancy Cott, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn on women's history, gender history, and labor history; and other materials compiled by Kessler-Harris for preparation of her classes. Correspondence, reports, and notes related to her involvement with founding and directing the women's studies program at Rutgers are also included. Of particular interest are files regarding the Summer Institute in Women's History at Sarah Lawrence College organized by Kessler-Harris and Gerda Lerner and designed for leaders of national women's organizations to integrate women's history into their programs. The series is arranged alphabetically by title of institution, then chronologically thereafter.

Series III, PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES, 1971-2012 (#30.7-53.4), contains correspondence, minutes, reports, proposals, grants, drafts, research materials, and working files that relate to Kessler-Harris' involvement with various organizations and fellowships including Organization of American Historians, Association of University Professors, American Studies Association, and American Historical Association. The bulk of the series contains Organization of American Historians files documenting Kessler-Harris as member, then president (2011-2012), including administrative files, committee work, and correspondence. The series also contains administrative files related to her work on the American Studies Association's Task Force for International Women in American Studies to create a comprehensive directory of international women scholars. Correspondence with conference organizers about logistics, schedules, session proposals, notes, and papers related to speeches and talks given by Kessler-Harris is also included. The series is arranged alphabetically by organization title.

Series IV, EEOC V. SEARS, ROEBUCK AND COMPANY, 1984-1989 (#53.5-61.5), contains research for Kessler-Harris' testimony as rebuttal witness on behalf of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a sex discrimination case brought against Sears Roebuck and Company. Kessler-Harris disputed the testimony of Rosalind Rosenberg, associate professor of history at Barnard College. The series includes copies of legal documents, such as testimonies, dispositions, trial transcripts, and offers of proof; essays about the case by others, Kessler-Harris's response to others, and briefs prepared by Kessler-Harris's students about the case. The series is arranged in alphabetical order.

Series V, WRITINGS, 1973-2009 (#61.6-74.15), consists of drafts, notes, manuscripts, and reviews of newspaper and journal articles, essays, books, and conference presentations given by Kessler-Harris. Although most of the resources in this series relate broadly to Kessler-Harris' primary research area, women and labor history, there are also examples of Kessler-Harris weighing in on major political issues taking place between the 1970s through the early 2000s. These issues include the Watergate scandal, the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the class action lawsuit against Sears, Roebuck and Co., and the United States presidential election of 2008. Most items are in English, with a handful being in German or in Chinese. The series is arranged in alphabetical order.


Alice Kessler-Harris, labor historian, professor, and author was born in Leicester, England, on June 2, 1941. She received her bachelor's degree from Goucher College in 1961; and earned her master's degree in history in 1963 and Ph.D. in 1968 from Rutgers University. She began her teaching career at Hofstra University where she served as assistant professor (1968 to 1974), associate professor (1974 to 1981), and professor (1981 to 1988.) While at Hofstra, she co-directed the Center for the Study of Work and Leisure. In 1988, Kessler-Harris accepted a position at Temple University where she stayed two years. In 1990, she left Temple for Rutgers University. While at Rutgers, she founded the women's studies program. In 1999, she joined the faculty at Columbia University as a professor of history and in 2001 she became the R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History in Honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Kessler-Harris also held various visiting faculty positions at Sarah Lawrence College, State University of New York at Binghamton, and the University of Warwick in England.

Alice Kessler-Harris is considered the first historian to merge the fields of women's history and labor history in the United States. Her research interests include women and organized labor, and gender in the history of working people. Her works include Women Have Always Worked: A Historical Overview (1981), Gendering Labor History (2007), and In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America (2001), which won the Bancroft Prize. In the mid-1980s Kessler-Harris was called to testify on behalf of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a sex discrimination case brought against Sears Roebuck and Company. She has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and of the Labor and Working-Class History Association.

Alice Kessler-Harris married Bert Silverman in 1982; she is the mother of a daughter, Ilona, from her first marriage.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence, 1968-2016 (inclusive), 1988-2007 (bulk) (#1.1-12.10)
  2. Series II. Teaching and university files, 1962-2013 (#12.11-30.6)
  3. Series III. Professional activities, 1971-2012 (#30.7-53.4)
  4. Series IV. EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1984-1989 (#53.5-61.5)
  5. Series V. Writings, 1973-2009 (#61.6-74.15)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2016-M150

The papers of Alice Kessler-Harris were given to the Schlesinger Library in August 2016 by Alice Kessler-Harris.

Processing Information

Processed: February 2018

By: Amber L. Moore, with assistance from Ayoola White and Ashley Thomas.

Kessler-Harris, Alice. Papers of Alice Kessler-Harris, 1962-2016: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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