Monday, February 18, 2008

Professor notes importance of women in history

By Courtney Westlake

Though there weren't many women in the field, Deborah McGregor decided that she would get her Ph.D. in history when she was 12 years old.

She managed to finish everything but her dissertation when she realized she needed a change, so she got married and started a family. The move, though delaying her degree, ended up benefiting her, however, because when she returned to school to obtain her Ph.D., a focus on women's history began to surface from the overall field of history.

"At that time, women's history started to emerge, so I had that option for my emphasis. So I was actually fortunate," McGregor said. "It was not until the 1970s that people became aware of women's rights as an issue."

McGregor, who has been teaching at UIS since 1986, developed a strong interest in several topics within women's history, including health and healing, the history of medicine and the history of childbirth.

"In a very immediate sense, I have an interest in childbirth because it was part of what happened in my life," she said. "It was really interesting to think about the history of childbirth, and I had never really read about it. Childbirth was not really a topic in women's history for a while. But it was a connection for me between real life and scholarship; I'm glad I made that choice."

McGregor has written several publications about the history of childbirth in the 19th century, as well as the history of gynecology and obstetrics. She is also the author of the book, "From Midwives to Medicine."

McGregor, whose husband Robert McGregor is also professor in the history department at UIS, teaches a broad range of classes since she came to UIS with joint appointment in general history and women's history. Topics she has taught include 19th century history, history of the family, U.S. women's history, and minority women, as well as several general education classes and seminars for graduate students in history.

And though she has studied and researched women's history in depth, McGregor acknowledges that she is always learning more. While she was teaching the course "Who Am I?" for a class of Capital Scholars, she realized how closely related identity and history are, she said.

"History is about identity; I believe that more and more. We come out of our past -our family past but also social past, political past and economic past," she said. "Without women being in history, we'd have a hard time understanding who they were."

McGregor said throughout the years, she has noticed an increasing interest from students in women's history and related topics, especially this academic year, and she hopes it will continue.

"This semester, I feel so much interest, which is exciting. The feeling I get from my classes is very positive," she said.