Meet the Fellows: 2019 Women’s Studies Fellow Hannah Frydman
The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies is the only national dissertation award for doctoral work on issues of women and gender. The 2019 Fellows include Hannah Frydman, is a doctoral candidate in history at Rutgers University whose dissertation uses Parisian women’s classified ads to question traditional economic, political, and social historical narratives.
The award will support Hannah’s final year of dissertation writing. She shares some of the inspiration for her research:
I learned early in life that history—and especially women’s history—is political. In junior high and high school, I participated in the National History Day competition, creating documentaries that put me behind the wheel of historical narration and allowed me to look beyond the stories about white American men I was memorizing at school. My earliest projects on the Holocaust, Native American boarding schools, and the internment of Japanese-Americans were well-received—I once even won third place at nationals. This changed when I began to work on topics in women’s history. The indifference or disdain directed at the projects I presented at my Kansas regional competitions disappointed me, but also inspired me. Why had I never before heard about the Jane Collective’s pre-Roe v. Wade abortion network? about women’s rights activists Alice Paul or Clarina Nichols? Why did these stories seem to make people uncomfortable?
As an undergraduate at Smith College, I found an abundance of classes on women’s and gender history. I took in diverse new historical narratives that strove to be inclusive, that showed just how much whom we write histories about impacts how we tell history. In the classroom, my fellow (female, LGBTQ, non-binary) students and I learned that we could be historical actors.
At Rutgers, where I am completing my Ph.D. in history (with specializations in modern European history and women’s and gender history), I realized that I wanted to know more about the history of women who are more difficult to see as heroes, and about those less able to leave traces of their lives for the historian to find. In the classifieds, I found fragments of women’s writing and of their lives (and livelihoods). I am writing a dissertation about the way in which these Parisian women (and especially sex workers, abortionists, and fortune tellers) used cheap advertising to create businesses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Very little has been written about classified advertising in France or elsewhere, and so my dissertation aims to write these small ads and their authors back into history and to show the way in which unconventional businesswomen, as advertising innovators, sources of revenue, and objects of political debate, played an important role in the development of mass society. Sex workers, abortionists, and fortune tellers shaped history just as much as elite white men, and considering how they did so (and continue to do so) is crucial for thinking about how to confront the future.