OXFORD, Miss. – For her research on women activists in Appalachia, a University of Mississippi history professor has been awarded the prestigious Lerner-Scott Prize, which the Organization of American Historians gives annually for the best doctoral dissertation on U.S. women’s history.
Jessica Wilkerson, an assistant professor of history and Southern studies, was honored for her dissertation on “Where Movements Meet: From the War on Poverty to Grassroots Feminism in the Appalachian South.”
“I am honored to receive an award named for two of the trailblazers in U.S. women’s history, Anne Firor Scott and Gerda Lerner,” Wilkerson said. “I am also so satisfied to know that my work on Appalachian women is resonating with scholars in the broader field of U.S. women’s and gender history.”
Wilkerson’s recognition isn’t surprising, said Joseph Ward, UM professor and chair of the Arch Dalrymple III Department of History.
“This award is a terrific testament to the high quality of Dr. Wilkerson’s scholarship, and it will be a great encouragement to her future research,” Ward said.
The OAH calls Wilkerson’s work “a beautifully written, nuanced study of the alliances forged and the grassroots movements led by women in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and 1970s.” The group also says her dissertation is “engagingly presented and captivating” and it deserves wide readership.
Wilkerson drew from a wide variety of sources, including oral history interviews, archival film footage, memorabilia, local and underground publications and manuscript collections. Her research shows how women shaped the federal War on Poverty in Appalachia and used the skills they acquired in antipoverty programs to foster social justice activism, which continued during the 1970s and beyond.
The group, which was founded in 1907 and is headquartered at the historic Raintree House on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, is described as the world’s largest professional association dedicated to American history and scholarship. It has more than 7,800 members from the United States and abroad, who help with the group’s goal of excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, encouraging wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of history practitioners.