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Duke Flags Lowered: Women's History Pioneer Anne Firor Scott Has Died at 97

Across three decades of scholarship, Scott helped usher in the field of women's history.

Anne Firor Scott
Historian Anne Firor Scott did groundbreaking research that put women at the heart of the study of the American South.

Pioneering historian Anne Firor Scott, who helped establish the field of women’s history and taught at Duke for three decades, has died. She was 97.

Scott was awarded a 2013 National Humanities Medal. In making the award, the National Endowment for the Humanities praised Scott’s “groundbreaking research spanning ideology, race, and class.”

“In 1970, Anne Firor Scott of Duke University helped open the floodgates both for women historians and women’s history with ‘The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830-1930,’” the citation reads. “…Scott not only destroyed the myth of the perfect but powerless ‘southern lady,’ but demonstrated how southern women found their own roles in the public square.”

Born in Montezuma, Georgia, in 1921, a year after U.S. women won the right to vote, Scott went on to work alongside aging suffragists at the National League of Women Voters in Washington, D.C. during World War II.

Scott graduated from the University of Georgia at 19, earned a master’s degree at Northwestern and completed her Ph.D. at Radcliffe while raising three small children. She later moved to North Carolina with her husband, political scientist Andrew Scott, teaching part-time at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke before joining the Duke faculty full-time. Scott taught at Duke from 1961 to 1991 and became history department chair in 1980. She received the University Medal for Distinguished, Meritorious Services at Duke in 1991.

"The department is saddened by the news of Anne Scott's passing,” said John J. Martin, the current chair of the Duke history department. “Professor Scott was not only a courageous and pioneering scholar but also a major architect of our program, especially but not only in the area of women's history.

“She transformed the lives of generations of students. And she remained a great friend to our community throughout her retirement." 

Scott led the N.C. Commission on the Status of Women and served on President Lyndon Johnson’s Citizens’ Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She also received the Organization of American Historians Distinguished Service Award.  The Lerner-Scott Prize, named for Scott and historian Gerda Lerner, is awarded to the best doctoral dissertation on the subject of U.S. women's history by the Organization of American Historians. In addition, a scholarship in her name supports a graduate student’s work at Duke.

In addition to “The Southern Lady,” Scott wrote or edited eight additional books, including “Women in American Life,” “Making the Invisible Woman Visible” and the 2006 volume “Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White.” The Anne Firor Scott papers, which include correspondence, subject files and videos from 1963 to 2002, are housed at Duke University Libraries. “Writing Women’s History: A Tribute to Anne Firor Scott,” a volume of historical essays dedicated to Scott, appeared in 2011.

Historian William Chafe remembers Scott's warm welcome when he arrived at Duke in 1971.

"Anne Scott was a model colleague," Chafe said. "We became best friends, but even more important, colleagues in helping to make Duke a center for women's studies and feminist history.

"Anne cared passionately for students, colleagues and equal rights for women. She embodied the best that Duke has offered to its students."

Her daughter Rebecca Scott followed in her mother’s footsteps: She is a noted historian who teaches at the University of Michigan.

A celebration of Scott’s life will take place Sunday, March 3, at 2 p.m. at the Carol Woods Retirement Community, 750 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill.