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Meet the Fellows: 2016 Women’s Studies Fellow Julia Bowes

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This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies supports the final year of dissertation writing for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences whose work addresses women’s and gendered issues in interdisciplinary and original ways. The 2016 class of Fellows includes Julia Bowes, a doctoral candidate in history at Rutgers University. Below, Ms. Bowes shares how growing up in Australia shaped her work:

I come to American history as an outsider. I was drawn to American history from my fascination with American politics. As Hillary Clinton commenced her first run to be the first female president in 2007, I decided to write my undergraduate honours thesis at the University of Sydney on her political idol, Eleanor Roosevelt. In my thesis, I explored how Eleanor Roosevelt used the traditional, gendered expectations that the First Lady should be a model mother and wife as as a platform for her own political agenda that ultimately defied gendered expectations about the role women should play in politics. I discovered that by combining feminist theory and historical research I was better able to make sense of women’s place in politics and public life in contemporary times. Consumed by the issues raised by my thesis about how gendered ideas about the family, authority and politics intersect, I decided to move abroad to pursue graduate studies in the United States to continue working through these questions.

Now in my final year of graduate school, my dissertation considers the role men were expected to play in governing their families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States. During this period, former household dependents, including women, children and former slaves, all gained legal rights as individuals that were separate from, and more important than, those of the family unit. Despite this, the white male-headed household survived well into the twentieth-century as the normative model of familial relations, supported and protected by the state. My dissertation addresses this apparent paradox by tracing the rise of a gendered anti-statist ideology rooted in the defense of the patriarchal family. This movement, I argue, led to the invention of a constitutionally protected zone of “family privacy” which reconstituted but reinstated men’s standing as head of the household. As Hillary Clinton launches her second run to be the first female president, I’m fascinated in how these issues will play out in the forthcoming general election. I’m interested in how gendered ideas about authority and leadership continue to shape how Clinton is presented and received as a candidate, and in particular, how the Republican party came to be the defender of the “traditional family,”  local government politics and disproportionately supported by white men.

Ms. Bowes’ dissertation title is The Government of the Family:  The Child, The Growth of the State and the Remaking of Patriarchal Authority 1850–1930. For more information on the 2016 Women’s Studies Fellows and a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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