Nonbinary since 1980

Why do you call us ladies?

The term ‘ladies’ itself has a history that illuminates how power, privilege, and oppression have functioned throughout American history. From early modern times through much of the twentieth century, the term ‘lady’ signified women with power and authority over others by virtue of their race, class, marriage, or ancestry. A lady was a queen or head of household who oversaw subjects, children, servants, and slaves.[1] As Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham notes, “Ladies were not merely women; they represented a class, a differentiated status within the generic category of “women.”” During Reconstruction, for example, married black women who didn’t work outside of the home and aspired to such status were socially condemned for even trying.[2] A lady was a quintessentially normative white woman who set the standards by which other women were judged.

Consider the story of Abigail Adams and her most famous quote. When Abigail Adams asked her husband John to “Remember the Ladies” as he drafted the Declaration of Independence, she was not advocating for the rights of American women who were predominantly poor, indentured, and enslaved. Rather, she called specifically for married women’s legal rights to property and protection from domestic abuse.[3] Abigail wrote, “I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the Hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.”[4] Despite the particular focus of her request, this sentiment has been celebrated as a broad call for women’s rights, and is considered a foundational moment in American feminism.

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Jen Manion (they/them) is a social and cultural historian whose work examines the role of gender and sexuality in American life. Manion is Professor of History and Sexuality, Women’s & Gender Studies at Amherst College, an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society, a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and a Council member of the Omohundro Institute.

Manion is author of Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (Penn, 2015) which received the Mary Kelley Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and Female Husbands: A Trans History (Cambridge, 2020) which was a finalist for the OAH Lawrence Levine Award for the best book in U.S. cultural history and recipient of the British Association of Victorian Studies best book prize. Jen is co-editor with Nicholas Syrett of a forthcoming two volume series, The Cambridge History of Sexuality in the United States, Vol. I: Early America and Vol. II: Modern America (expected 2024). Manion is co-editor with Jim Downs of Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism (2004) and has published nearly three dozen essays and reviews in U.S. histories of gender and sexuality.

Jen has been actively involved in countless efforts to promote LGBTQ history. Jen served on the board of the AHA committee on LGBTQ History, the OAH committee on the status of LGBTQ history and historians, the editorial board of, the program committee of QHC19, the steering committee for the Boston Seminar on the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, the advisory board of the Gale/Cengage Learning, “Sexuality & Gender Archives Project, and advisor on the exhibition, That’s So Gay: The Not-So-Hidden History of Gayness in Early American Culture at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The Organization of American Historians named Manion a Distinguished Lecturer in 2018.

Jen serves on the editorial boards of the William and Mary Quarterly, Early American Studies, University of North Carolina Press, Gender and American Culture Series and formerly, Amherst College Press. Jen has also served on committees for the American Antiquarian Society, the American Historical Association, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Jen has received numerous grants and awards including funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Jen received a PhD in history from Rutgers University and a BA in history with an English minor from the University of Pennsylvania, magna cum laude. Female Husband to Jessica Halem.

Jen Manion & Jessica Halem


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Amherst College
Professor of History and Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies
Box 5000
111 Chapin Hall
Amherst, MA 01002

email: jmanion at amherst dot edu
tweets: @activisthistory

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Headshot by Code Purple Photography. Background Photos by Jen Manion: Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitors Center, Eastham MA; American Antiquarian Society, Worcester MA; Paddington Station, London; Provincetown MA.