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Three months into writing her senior honors thesis, Women’s and Gender Studies alumna Mel Neal learned that a crucial set of documents was not, as she originally thought, on campus at the Bentley Historical Library. It was in Poughkeepsie, New York.

“I realized that a chapter of my thesis really depended on seeing those files,” said Mel. “Thankfully, Women’s and Gender Studies helped make it happen!”

Mel received department funding to finance a trip to Vassar College’s Archives & Special Collections Library. The visit allowed her to examine the papers of Lucy Maynard Salmon, a Michigan alumna who founded the university’s first organization for women, the Quadratic Club, in 1872. Letters and photographs from Salmon’s papers helped illuminate the early history of female sociability on campus, which Mel explored in her thesis, “Gendered Spaces at the University of Michigan at the Dawn of Coeducation.”

“Many of these papers had never before been examined,” said Mel. “By visiting Vassar, I was able to expand the scholarship around women’s organizations and friendships at Michigan.”

Mel won the Virginia L. Voss Memorial Award and the John A. Williams History Award for her project. She is currently working as a third grade teacher in New Mexico with Teach For America.

“The funding I received from Women’s and Gender Studies made all the difference for my thesis,” said Mel. “I felt like a real researcher and like I was making a meaningful contribution to my field of study.”

To support students like Mel, consider donating to Women’s and Gender Studies on Giving Blueday, which will take place on November 27. Gifts from our alumni and friends provide students with opportunities to grow as scholars, activists, and individuals.