Ann J. Lane, pioneer in women's history dies at 81

Historians in the News
tags: gender, obituaries, women's history, New York City, historians, Ann J. Lane

Ann J. Lane, 81, of New York City, died on May 27, 2013. She was born in Brooklyn on July 27, 1931, the daughter of Harry and Betty Brown Lane. Lane completed all of her schooling in New York City. She earned a BA from Brooklyn College in English in 1952, an MA in sociology from New York University in 1958, and a PhD in history from Columbia University in 1968.

Lane served as Assistant Professor of History at Douglass College of Rutgers University from 1968 to 1971, and then as Professor of History and Chair of the American Studies Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, from 1971 to 1983. She was a research fellow at The Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, Harvard University from 1977-1983.

Early in her career, Lane specialized in southern and African American History, the fruits of which appeared in two works published in 1971, The Brownsville Affair: National Outrage and Black Reaction, a monograph on a 1906 racial incident involving black soldiers and white citizens, and The Debate Over Slavery: Stanley Elkins and His Critics, an edited work on an important historiographical controversy for which she also wrote the introduction.

Like many young women academics of her generation, Lane responded to the women’s movement and its academic arm, women’s studies. She quickly emerged as an activist and a pioneer in women’s history and played a pivotal role in the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians throughout the 1970s. Her trenchant critique of a prominent sociobiologist who highlighted women’s biological limitations at the organization’s first national conference in 1973 electrified the audience and is still the stuff of legend.

Lane’s interest in advancing women’s careers and scholarship about them earned her appointments as Director of Women’s Studies and Professor of History at two formerly all-male institutions: Colgate University, from 1984 to 1990, and the University of Virginia. She arrived in Virginia in 1990 with two instructions from then-Dean of the Faculty, Raymond J. Nelson: establish Women’s Studies at the university and “make trouble!” These directives Lane followed with passion and commitment, as she worked to advance feminist scholarship and to champion the concerns of women at the University of Virginia and beyond. An outspoken advocate when circumstances required, Lane was also known for her warmth and for her vital interest in the people around her.

Lane’s most notable scholarly contributions were to the study of feminist theory and women’s biography. In The Mary Ritter Beard Reader, first published in 1977, she made a compelling case for the significance of Beard’s historical and theoretical work in reconstructing women as significant historical agents, insights that anticipated those of a later generation of scholars.

But it is her work on Charlotte Perkins Gilman that constitutes Lane’s most significant scholarly legacy. Her rediscovery of Gilman’s 1915 feminist utopian novel, Herland, (reprinted in 1979) followed by The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader the next year, helped direct the attention of literary scholars as well as historians to this neglected feminist writer and theorist. Lane’s extensive work on Gilman and feminist theory culminated in her innovative 1990 biography, To ‘Herland’ and Beyond: The life and work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Drawing on one of the fundamental insights of second wave feminism–-that the personal was political--this accessible and innovative biography was organized around Gilman’s relationships and their contributions to her feminist theory. A reviewer for the Journal of American History called it a “masterful biography … which explores the complex connections between Gilman’s private world and the public sphere.... Lane has superbly reconstructed the life and thought of one of our feminist foremothers.”

The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, Lane also won a Scholar Award from the Virginia Social Science Association. She stepped down as Director of Women’s Studies at UVA in 2003, but continued to teach until 2009, when she retired and moved to New York City to be near her children and grandchildren.

In the last years of her life, Lane was working on a book about the cultural history of consensual sexual relationships between professors and their students, titled Sex and the Professors. Her article on this subject for Academe, which was drawn from years of interviews and emphasized the troubling power differentials between professors and students, had a wide influence.

Professor Lane was married twice, first to the historian Eugene Genovese and later to labor leader William Haywood Nuchow. After her divorce she was partnered with Rolando Rodriguez Lopez for many years. She is survived by her brother, civil rights attorney Mark Lane, of Charlottesville, by her beloved daughters, Leslie Nuchow and Joni Lane, of New York City, by her dearly loved grandchildren, Declan Benjamin Nuchow-Hartzell, Adelaide Faust-Lane and Sascha Faust-Lane, and by her adored companion Wayne Roberts, also of New York City.

For information about memorial arrangements please email annlanememorial@gmail.com.

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