Richard Hofstadter’s debt to his wife is suddenly a thing

Historians in the News
tags: Richard Hofstadter

... With the growing importance of feminism in academic culture today, the history of the domestic work of faculty wives has become more urgent. Last year on Twitter, academics using the hashtag #ThanksForTyping posted images of acknowledgments in which male academics thanked their wives for typing their manuscripts — a sexist trope that feminist scholars first called out in the early 1970s. As the conversation grew, the tweeted acknowledgments included gratitude to the wives who copy-edited and proofread their husbands’ manuscripts. Twitter users, then bloggers, began asking, not for the first time, to what extent these thank-you’s actually obscured women’s scholarly work. (The Rutgers historian Bonnie G. Smith wrote about such erasures in The Gender of History, 1998.)

I had been asking myself the same question about Beatrice Hofstadter since I read those sparkling acknowledgments as an undergraduate. But in the aftermath of the 2016 election, with Richard’s name on pundits’ tongues, it occurred to me that Beatrice might deserve some credit for the ideas and quotations being bandied about.

I wasn’t the only one. Last month the Society for U.S. Intellectual History Blog ran a post about "Mrs. Hofstadter," speculating that her editing, if brought to light, could bring down a collective illusion about the "Myth of the Heroic Lone Scholar." Comments on the post descended into rank chaos, with a few arguing that Beatrice probably deserved coauthor status, based mostly on Richard’s acknowledgments and a short obituary profile that quoted Sarah describing her mother as the "writer behind the throne."

Some comments insisted that it should be easy to establish Beatrice’s behind-the-scenes editorial prowess, even though she died in 2012, at age 90: Go to the archive and find her markup on Richard’s drafts. Evidence of extensive intervention could warrant a reevaluation of most of the Hofstadter oeuvre. It would also show that academic authorship is rarely the result of a single person’s efforts, that no one, not even so-called great men, can survive without collaboration, perhaps especially with their spouses.

I took a trip to Columbia last year to consult the Hofstadter papers, expecting to find obvious and extensive markup in Beatrice’s hand. I focused on the available research files, manuscript drafts, and proofs for three books: Social Darwinism and The Age of Reform, because of Richard’s striking acknowledgments in both; and the unfinished, posthumously published America at 1750, because Beatrice worked to bring it out in late 1971 with Richard’s student Paula Fass (who went on to a distinguished career at Berkeley). I consulted with Sarah Hofstadter on identifying handwriting and even the different typewriters her parents used. (There were at least four: one for each of them in New York and two more in Wellfleet.)

There was direct archival evidence that Beatrice influenced Richard’s writing, but not much. ...

Read entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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