Jessica Wilkerson, assistant professor of history and Southern Studies, received the 2015 Organization of American Historians Lerner-Scott Prize for best doctoral dissertation in US women’s history.
She accepted the award for her dissertation, “Where Movements Meet: Women’s Activism in the Appalachian South, 1965–1980,” at the organization’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
The prize is named for Gerda Lerner and Anne Firor Scott, both pioneers in women’s history and past presidents of the OAH.
Professor Wilkerson’s research interests include southern history, U.S. women’s history, Appalachian history, twentieth century social movements, and oral history. She earned her M.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She is currently working on her book manuscript, Where Movements Meet: From the War on Poverty to Grassroots Feminism in the Appalachian South. The manuscript, based on her dissertation, traces the alliances forged and the grassroots movements led by women in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and 1970s. The women she writes about were key leaders and foot soldiers in what contemporaries called the Appalachian Movement, which intersected with civil rights organizations and had its roots in the War on Poverty. Consulting a wide variety of sources, from film archives to manuscript collections and oral history interviews, the manuscript shows that women shaped the federal War on Poverty at the grassroots and then used the skills they learned in antipoverty programs to foster social justice activism, from welfare rights to labor and women’s rights.
Wilkerson has also worked on several oral history projects at the Southern Oral History Program (UNC), including the “Long Women’s Movement in the American South” and the companion digital humanities project “Mapping the Long Women’s Movement.” She is currently working on an edited volume of oral history interviews that document the lives and histories of southern women in the twentieth century. She has published articles in Southern Cultures and Working U.S.A.: The Journal of Labor and Society, and she contributed to North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times—Volume 2.