Since 2015 marks the 95th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, I have been examining the topic of extending the right to vote to women. While investigating the regional perspective, I recalled the work of Helen Tierney, professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin (UW). A women’s studies scholar, she helped establish the program at UW-Platteville as the discipline grew out of the resurgence of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Scholarship was scarce “in the brand-new world of women’s studies” and what was available on “the other half of humanity” was scattered in various academic fields, Dr. Tierney observed. Thus she decided to publish the Women’s Studies Encyclopedia to meet the needs for an authoritative reference. When the title appeared in 1989, the Library Journal called the first edition a “best reference book,” adding that it “was a landmark achievement providing concise definitions and historical context for students and scholars alike.”
Upon retiring from academia in the mid-1990s as the dean of the history department, Dr. Tierney returned home to the Newark area. After a period, she started volunteering at the Historical Society of Cecil County about the time we reactivated the Society’s newsletter to provide members with a value added product. Dr. Tierney took on the task of managing our serial publication since we didn’t have an assigned editor and for a number of years she carefully produced a quarterly, bringing high quality, original articles to readers.
During her retirement she also decided to update and expand the Encyclopedia since research on women had proceeded rapidly, feminist thought had grown and branched out, and conditions for women had “changed markedly in some area of life, for good and for ill, and little in others.” While editing submissions, the professor added new entries to the expanding body of knowledge, and she was interested in how the women’s suffrage movement had evolved in Maryland and Delaware.
I recall Helen studying those old Delmarva newspapers to see what elusive leads could be uncovered. It can be challenging to find evidence of emerging social movements and civil disobedience that are centered outside the regional norms in local weeklies. Of course, the highly respected academic with a doctoral degree in ancient Greek history from the University of Chicago was fully aware of the limitations of her sources. But, research requires a careful study to validate or rule out the availability of traces to the past, and I remember those long ago conversations as she unearthed elusive pieces of surviving evidence.
Helen died October 31, 1997, just days after she penned the introduction to the new volume, but her colleagues, family and publisher arranged for the second edition, a three volume work, to be brought to term. The family donated Dr. Tierney’s papers to the Historical Society of Cecil County, so as my research interest turned to this civil disobedience movement, I recently examined her field notes to follow her line of investigation on the regional perspective. The data is scarce as anyone working with social movements in rural areas will recognize, but the surviving materials from Dr. Tierney’s labors nearly twenty years ago gave me the perspective of the nationally recognized scholar on this untapped regional subject. She would be pleased to see that her scholarship is tapped for regional studies.