Mary Ritter Beard

Mary Ritter Beard

One of the first female historians and one of the first historians to focus on women in America, Mary Ritter Beard left a lasting influence on the discipline of history.  Born and raised in Indianapolis, she attended DePauw University, where she met her husband Charles Beard.  He shared her interest in history and became an influential economic historian.  While they both attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York, Mary became heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement.  She joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and became editor of  The Woman Voter, the publication of the New York Woman Suffrage Party.  In 1913, she co-founded the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage. 

Professionally, Mary, like her husband, was a historian who belonged to the "New History" movement that critiqued traditional interpretations of American history by arguing that social and economic factors are significant in history.  Mary's early contributions to this movement included Women's Work in Municipalities (1915) and A Short History of the American Labor Movement (1921), in which she analyzed women's role in the labor force.  With her husband, she next co-wrote a two-volume history of the U.S. called The Rise of American Civilization (1927).  Three of her most important historical contributions were her later works: On Understanding Women (1931), America Through Women's Eyes (1933), and Women as Force in History (1946), all of which challenged the widely held viewpoint that the rise of American and global civilization had been solely by men.  She argued that women have played an indispensable role in the advance of civilization that historians cannot overlook.  Mary Ritter Beard died in 1958, but her works helped open the way for women’s history scholars in the following decades to turn women’s history into a respected field of study. 

 

Works Cited:

  • Mary Ritter Beard. A Woman Making History : Mary Ritter Beard Through Her Letters / edited and with an introduction by Nancy F. Cott, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).
  • Mary Ritter Beard. Mary Ritter Beard: A Sourcebook / edited by Ann J. Lane, (New York : Schocken Books, 1977).
  • Bending the Future to Their Will : Civic Women, Social Education, and Democracy / Edited by Margaret Smith Crocco, O.L. Davis, Jr., eds., (Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).