HIST 3349
3 credits/Fall 2003
T/Th 12:45-2:00
HHH 35


Professor Barbara Welke
752 Social Sciences Tower
Office Hours:
T/Th 2:15-3:30 (or by appt)
tel: (612) 624-7017

U. S. Women's Legal History

Syllabus | Schedule | Assignments | Internet Resources



Although American law generally has been framed in generic terms incumbent on all citizens, male and female, many aspects of the law have been experienced differently by men and women. Claims of right and obligatory duties have been constructed differently for women of different races, classes and ethnicities. Political and reform movements have often attempted to reconfigure laws that affect gender relations. Thus, the history of suffrage for men is different than the history of suffrage for women; and the vote for white women was achieved, in many states, only when accompanied by a political understanding that African American women and men would be denied the opportunity to vote.

This course is an examination into the gendered aspects of American legal history, emphasizing those themes in which women’s relationship to the law has been different from men’s relationship to the law. The course is intended for advanced undergraduates. It assumes no knowledge of the law; it does assume a knowledge of U. S. history more generally.

Legal history involves not only the history of statutory law and of lawsuits and trials which test those laws, but also the social history of the impact of the law and the political history of efforts to change laws. The required reading for this class includes documents -- statutes, legal briefs, and opinions -- as well as important monographs and articles. We will listen to arguments before the U. S. Supreme Court and watch Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearings in the U. S. Senate.


Students are responsible for all assigned readings, regular class attendance, active participation in class discussions, and timely completion of all writing assignments. Most classes will combine discussion and lecture. You should always bring your assigned readings to class because we will often refer to them. Course grades will be based on the following formula: 25% informal writing assignments, 25% class participation, 40% research paper, 10% final reflective essay.


The following texts and course packet (as well as web-linked documents) are required reading. Students may purchase the books (listed in the order in which we will use them in class) and course packet at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union.

1. Ann Taves, ed., Religion and Domestic Violence in Early New England: The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1989).
2. Michael Grossberg, A Judgment for Solomon: The D’Hauteville Case and Legal Experience in Antebellum America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
3. Leslie Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
4. Alice Kessler Harris, In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
5. Clara Bingham & Laura Leedy Gansler, Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson & the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harrassment Law (New York: Doubleday, 2002).
6. Course Packet.
7. On-line Documents.

Course Packet: The bookstore generally does not make enough packets for every student in a course because of the cost to them of unpurchased packets. If all the copies of the packet have sold before you get one, just request one and they will have it ready in 24 hours. That does mean though that you can’t wait until the last minute to get the packet.


The complete syllabus including lecture schedule, assignments, announcement page, and internet resources page are on-line. The on-line syllabus will be my principle means of communicating with you as a group outside of class, so please check the course website every week before class. You also will be getting access to web-linked readings on the schedule page. All this means that you should familiarize yourself with the course website:


For the hours and locations of all University computer labs, please contact Academic & Distributed Computing Services at http://www1.umn.edu/adcs/ or by phone at 612-625-6817.


Writing and History: An Important Introduction. Historians rely heavily on written documents, as well as on material artifacts and oral history, to understand the past. Especially important for us this term will be legal documents: court opinions and transcripts from trials, lawyers’ arguments to courts, statutes, and the constitution itself. In turn, writing is critical to the historians' craft; historians communicate with one another and with the broader public through books, articles, and conference papers. We will be reading several books as well as articles by historians which will provide examples for us of how historians use primary historical sources to make a historical argument, that is, a reasoned and persuasive interpretation (often embedded in a good story) of a historical event or process. One of the goals of our writing this term will be practicing the historians' craft.

A second, but related, goal of all the writing we will be doing this term is understanding. In fact, writing for our own understanding necessarily comes before writing to communicate. Much of the reading we will be doing this term will be challenging either (or both!) in terms of how the author expresses ideas or the ideas themselves. Legal opinions are often models of poor, rather than good, writing and we'll have to struggle through them. Moreover, many of the issues we will be addressing this term are emotional ones. Writing is, then, a tool for processing our own thinking. We learn what we think, in part, by trying to write about it.

To achieve these two goals, we will be doing several different kinds of writing this term, as follows:

Weekly Informal Writing (25%). Over many years of teaching I have discovered that informal writing assignments elicit some of the most thoughtful, engaged, insightful student reflection on the subjects of a class. This has led me to put credit where credit is due.

Each week, I will ask you to reflect on some aspect of the week’s readings. These assignments will take a variety of forms, including open-ended reflection where you chose the specific focus; thought letters in response to more specific questions, persuasive writing where I ask you to argue for a particular point of view, “meeting of the mind” dialogues between people with opposing views, reflection on a class discussion, etc. I am not especially concerned in this informal writing with mechanics (spelling, grammar, paragraph and sentence structure). These will be short assignments – not more than 1-2 pages. These assignments can be handwritten or typed (I generally assume 250 words to a typed page). What I am looking for in this writing is whether you are seeing complexities, delving into puzzles and problems, confronting inadequate explanations, interrogating the sources, and responding to them. The question I will be asking as I read what you have written is: “To what extent does this piece of writing reveal engaged thinking about this topic?”

Please write/type on three-hole punched paper so that you can turn in your writing at the end of class each class period. I will evaluate these assignments using a minus/check/plus system. A minus indicates unsatisfactory work, a check indicates work that meets expectations, and a plus indicates strongly engaged, high-quality thinking or exploration. Remember, that the point of these assignments is not that you agree with whatever you think my or your classmates' ideas might be on a particular question, but that you are thinking in an engaged way with what you are reading. I will not accept late papers. If you're not in class, you will receive a "0" for the assignment.

I will do my best to return each day's writing the next class period. You should save all written work, so that as the semester progresses you can return to your earlier writing assignments to refresh your memory,to consider how your ideas or thinking process may have changed over the course of the term, and as may be useful to either your research paper or final reflective essay.

Participation and In-Class Writing (25%). I will also be regularly asking you to do very brief (1 to 5 minutes) writing exercises in class. These may take the form of responding to a document we are using in class that was not part of the assigned readings, or constructing a debate, or thinking through a classmate's idea, or summing up the main point or points you learned in a class, or even questions you left class with that you hadn't had when you walked into class, or any of a number of other brief writing exercises. Form, in terms of writing mechanics, is not what's important. Rather, I'm asking you to think -- hard -- on paper. This thinking will add to our classroom discussions.

I have weighted class participation heavily because we will spend a good part of our classtime in discussion. Speaking can be as important a source of understanding as writing. You will learn more about what you think and even about what an author was trying to say by trying to explain those ideas orally to others. Moreover, listening to what your peers have to say can help you to clarify your own thinking. Finally, and frankly, class is simply a lot more fun if everyone contributes and you will find that time passes more quickly too when you are actively engaged in a class.

So, what does it mean to participate in class? It means, first, that you carefully read all assigned materials and thoughtfully complete the informal weekly writing assignment before class. From there, it means contributing your voice and your “reading” of assigned materials to the discussion. It means raising questions about readings, responding to questions I raise and to other students’ comments. It means respectfully listening to what a classmate has to say even when you strongly disagree with her or his point of view! It means offering your thoughts even when you think that many, some, all of your classmates will disagree with you. Diversity of viewpoints enriches the learning process and is at the heart of both the university community and our democracy.

Current Events. A final element of class participation will be the opening “news clipping” discussion. Each day we will spend the first few minutes of class discussing news stories that you bring in that relate to women and the law. Here’s what I ask – bring a copy or the original of a newspaper, magazine, internet story, etc., or your notes from a story on the television or radio news or commentary program taped to a sheet of paper with your name at the top ("news story introduced by: [your name]"). This is intended to do two things. First, to get all of us thinking about women and the law today. And, second to provide us with an archive of possible paper topics. I do not intend, as an initial matter, to assign individual students to bring in a clipping each day. Rather, I’d like to see how it goes and if we’re getting overwhelmed or getting nothing, we’ll resort to an assignment system. I will strictly be limiting our discussions in the interest of getting to the topic and readings posted on the syllabus. I will keep a notebook of all the clippings that you can peruse to help you think about your topic for your Research Paper.

Final Reflective Essay (10%). This short essay (3-5 pages) is intended to provide you with an opportunity to reflect more deeply on an issue of particular interest to you in the readings we have done this term. I will provide more details on this assignment on the Assignment page web-link early in the term. This paper can be completed at any time during the term, provided that you must have completed all readings related to the paper before writing it, and it must be turned in no later than the time scheduled for the Final Exam for this class.

Research Paper: Cases in Context (40%). I have provided the details of this assignment on the Assignment page web-link. Briefly, this 8-10 page paper is intended to give you the opportunity to trace, through primary and secondary research, the historical antecedents of a contemporary debate relating to U. S. women's legal/constitutional status and rights. The final draft of the assignment will be due Thursday, December 11th. For details of the assignment, interim due dates, and grading guidelines, see the Assignment page web-link.


I follow University-wide grading standards, which are:

  • A - achievement that is outstanding relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements
  • B - achievement that is significantly above the level necessary to meet course requirements
  • C - achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect
  • D - achievement that is worthy of credit even though it fails to meet fully the course requirements
  • S - achievement that is satisfactory, which is equivalent to a C- or better
  • F(or N) - Represents failure (or no credit) and signifies that the work was either (1) completed but at a level of achievement that is not worthy of credit or (2) was not completed and there was no agreement between the instructor and the student that the student would be awarded an I (see also I)
  • I - (Incomplete) Assigned at the discretion of the instructor when, due to extraordinary circumstances, e.g., hospitalization, a student is prevented from completing the work of the course on time. Requires a written agreement between instructor and student
  • Academic dishonesty in any portion of the academic work for a course shall be grounds for awarding a grade of F or N for the entire course.


Creating an environment that fosters learning for every student is essential to the mission of the University. It is my mission too. Below I have outlined the policies and services that are most important to building and sustaining a learning community for this class in which every student is asked to do their best work supported by services and rules to help make that happen. Some of the University policies noted below are matters of federal law. They can sound like just so much legal boiler-plate. It's important for you to know that behind that legal language is real meaning for the University, for me as a teacher and scholar, and for you as a student.

DISAGREEMENT AND UNDERSTANDING: We will be reading about and discussing topics this term which touch some of our most deeply held beliefs and about which members of our classroom community may well profoundly disagree. They include marriage, abortion, even the meaning of equality. What is important to remember as we read and as we debate in class is that disagreement and dissent are as fundamental to the life of a university as they are to a democratic society. I value that diversity and I ask you to value it as well. It can sometimes make learning less comfortable, but it can also make it more engaged, meaningful, and even fun. In all, I think it makes us think more deeply and gives us practice in the kind of debate that lies at the heart of a democratic society.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: Academic integrity is also a key element in a positive teaching and learning environment. The University expects, as do I, that all students enrolled in courses will complete coursework with fairness and honesty. For most students academic integrity is a given. In fairness to them, it must be a given for all students. The University Student Conduct Code defines scholastic dishonesty as submission of false records of academic achievement; cheating on assignments or exams; plagiarizing; altering, forging, or misusing a University academic record; taking, acquiring, or using test materials without faculty permission; acting alone or in cooperation with another to falsify records or to obtain dishonestly grades, honors, awards, or professional endorsement. In the context of this course, the most important elements of the University policy relate to plagiarism and interfering with another student's access to course/research materials. I know that plagiarism is especially something about which students are sometimes confused, so we'll go over what it means in class. I will follow the policy of the College of Liberal Arts of giving a failing grade for any plagiarized assignments. A second offense would result in a failing course grade. For more information on academic conduct, contact the Office of Student Academic Integrity107 Eddy Hall (612-625-5900).

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: Diversity in persons as well as viewpoints makes for a richer learning environment. The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, religion, color, sex, national origin, handicap, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation. For further information, contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in 419 Morrill Hall (612-624-9547).

DISABILITIES: It is important to the University that every student, regardless of disability, be provided with the tools that will make the University a productive learning environment. Please let me know if this may apply to you. You should also contact Disability Services which is part of the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Another element of equal opportunity is the right to a learning environment free from sexual harassment. It is the right of every student to a learning environment free from unwelcome sexual advances/demands, sexual conduct, and sexual suggestion. As a faculty member, I, as well as other University supervisors and administrators, am both legally and ethically obligated to take appropriate action to prevent sexual harassment. For further information, contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action in 419 Morrill Hall (624-9547).

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