2013 Dorothy McGuigan Prizes for Best Essays on Women

Each year the Women’s and Gender Studies Department awards prizes for the best undergraduate and graduate essays on women written at the University of Michigan. The prizes honor the memory of Dorothy Gies McGuigan, a distinguished alumna of the University of Michigan who taught in the School of Business Administration and the Residential College.  Dorothy McGuigan was an early supporter of the Women's Studies Program and a founder and member of the editorial board of the University of Michigan Press series on Women and Culture.

Undergraduate Prize
Julianne Halsey
“Women Writers and Women’s Rights: Understanding the Relationship Between English Women Authors and American Women Readers in the Nineteenth Century”

In her winning essay, English and History senior Julianne Halsey explores mid-19th century American women's reading practices, arguing that feminist reformers were avidly attentive to the works of progressive women writers across the Atlantic in Great Britain. Major figures in early American feminism drew on these literary works as explicit role models for political emancipation rather than domesticity, and Halsey shows convincingly how literary ideas were also part of the antebellum women's movement. The committee was impressed with the use of primary sources and the blend of literary and political analysis in Halsey's essay.

Graduate Prize
Angela Pérez-Villa
“‘Vagabond Women’ and ‘Immoral Men’: Enslaved and Free Black Women and Men in Popayán Province, Colombia, 1780-1830”

In this essay History and Women's Studies Ph.D. candidate Angela Pérez-Villa makes a stunning case for both the agency wielded by slaves or former slaves and the limits placed on their agency in Colombian society at the threshold of independence from Spain. A close reading of the document traces that enslaved and freed women and men left in judicial archives allows the author to paint a remarkably complex portrait of politics and society in a Latin American slaveholding society. If we follow Francisca Collazos’s self-description, for instance, this freedwoman whose daughter lived as a slave was an “ignorant black woman.” Yet hers was a strategic statement issued in court to sway the judge in a law case about a loan that lasted for no less than 25 years. Through her active pursuit of social networks defined in part by lines of credits and debts, she and other female household heads like her skillfully negotiated the vicissitudes of a strictly hierarchical society and the gender asymmetries that shaped life in all classes. Through this informal economy under the aegis of economic decline as well as through erotic liaisons, the lives of the oppressed and the lives of the elites were inextricably enmeshed. After 1821, the elites responded to practices they saw as immoral by seeking to curtail and censure family strategies that had long served the poor and disadvantaged. The case of Francisca Collazos thus demonstrates powerfully “how ideas and contradictions about slavery and freedom that circulated in a slave society like Popayán were experienced on the ground."

Honorable Mention
Christina Najla LaRose
"Counter Fictions and Imaginary Topographies:  Auto/Biographical Methodologies and the Construction of Group Knowledge in Evelyn Shakir’s Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States"

English and Women's Studies doctoral student  LaRose expertly weaves together the important contributions of Evelyn Shakir’s Bint Arab (1997), a collection of auto/biographical essays, with the contributions of other feminist scholarship on standpoint, position, and marginality. LaRose uses this woven structure to argue that the emergent field of Arab American Women’s and Gender Studies has played an essential and under-recognized role in the development of feminist theorizing over the last thirty years. Bint Arab, LaRose argues, makes important contributions, not only to our understanding of Arab women’s diasporic experiences, but also to the field of Women’s and Gender Studies more broadly.