I’m off before dawn tomorrow morning to catch my flight to the Berkshire Conference, the triennial “Big Berks” that I’ve assisted in planning and organizing for the past two years. The following is excerpted from the 2008 program of the Fourteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, pp. 4-5:
“The Berks” did not always mean the triennial conference on women’s history. In fact, you may hear that gathering called the“Big Berks” to distinguish it from the original group, now known informally as the “Little Berks.”
The “Little Berks” is the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. It differs from the Big Berks—the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women—in three major ways. First, it is much older. It had its genesis when two women historians on the train home from the 1929 American Historical Association convention in Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina, spoke of how they had enjoyed talking to other women historians there and how they could create more opportunities for what we now call “networking.” By this time a few women were serving on AHA committees including the Program Committee; they had been allowed since 1917 to attend the “smoker” after the Presidential address, although few felt welcome enough actually to do so; and seven of them presented papers at the 1929 meeting. Nevertheless, they were excluded from other events, like the informal weekend retreats organized by Executive Director J. Franklin Jameson, and they felt the need for “comradeship in our craft” with other women. In May 1930 they began to hold weekend retreats at inns in New York State and Massachusetts for women historians teaching at women’s colleges in the Northeast.
In 1936, the group who had been coming to these meetings constituted themselves the Berkshire Historical Conference, later amended to the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. The second difference between the Big and Little Berks lies in the meaning of the word “conference” in each name. The Big Berks is a meeting at which people present papers; the Little Berks is a group. Its annual meetings are weekend retreats at which hiking, conversation, and socializing are among the main activities, along with a business meeting, discussions of issues in the profession, and traditionally a scholarly presentation from one of its members after dinner. Among the activities of the Little Berks is the planning and organization of the Big Berks, which it sponsors every three years. It also sponsors gatherings at major historical conferences throughout the year, and it awards annual prizes for the best first book and the best article in history written by a woman. It funds fellowships for graduate students through the Coordinating Council for Women in History (the CCWH/Berkshire Graduate Student Award). It advocates for women in academia in general and the historical profession in particular, and it works with regional women’s history organizations in order to do so. In 1989 the Berkshire Conference helped to coordinate the historians’ amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court in support of Roe v. Wade.
The third difference is perhaps the most obvious yet often overlooked. Not all scholars of women’s history are women, and not all women historians work on women’s history. The Berkshire Conference on the History of Women (Big Berks) exists to promote the study of women’s history by all historians of whatever gender, while the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians (Little Berks) exists to promote the status of women in the profession and to promote friendships among women historians, whatever their field of study.
Hope to see some of you in Minneapolis! Do introduce yourself if you happen to see me. For those of you who can’t come, check in with Tenured Radical, who will be posting through the conference. (She promises that “something good always happens at the dance” on Saturday night. We’ll see! Today, TR helpfully provided a gloss of some of the more recent history of the Berkshire Conferences, both Little and Big.) I probably won’t have the time to post, so consider this an open thread on the Berkshire Conference, and perhaps I’ll be able to stop by and leave some updates in the comments.