Interview with Jeannine Blackwell


Interview with Jeannine Blackwell


Congresses; Germanists; Feminism


Interview between Jeannine Blackwell and Beth Muellner


Teams digital recording


Beth A. Muellner


June 9, 2022


Muellner; Jeannine Blackwell


Release Form signed






Oral history of experience in Women in German


Jeannine Blackwell Interview
June 9, 2022

Transcribed/Edited by Elizabeth Heatwole, summer 2023

Muellner: Please introduce yourself. Name, affiliation, country of residence and origin. We'll start with that.

Blackwell: OK. I'm Jeannine Blackwell. And I'm professor emerita at the University of Kentucky and I still live in Lexington, Kentucky. I’m a U.S. citizen and live in America in Lexington, Kentucky.

Muellner: Okay. So now, what year did you first join WiG and how did you first hear about it?
Blackwell: Well, I can't even remember, but I think it was either in the fall of 1976 or in the spring of ‘77. And I heard about WiG from the other graduate students who were leftists at Indiana University, where I was starting the PhD program. And among the people, there was my co-student at the time was Biddy Martin, and Marc Silberman was one of the older grad students and he was the one who was the leftist with all these connections to Madison. And in the spring term- yeah, I started there in ’75, ’76, I heard about WiG, and then in the spring of 1977, I took a semester as a traveling scholar and went to Madison for the semester. And that was definitely when I started getting involved with both Women in German and New German Critique, which sort of went together in those days. I mean you were in one, you were in both at the same time. And so that was when I started. Yeah, it didn't take much to join WiG, you just signed up for the newsletter. That was it.

Muellner: And there was no fee, as of yet. Right.

Blackwell: No fee, and newsletter was mimeographed.
Muellner: Ah, the good old days, yeah. So, it's interesting that a lot of this revolves around Madison.
Blackwell: Yeah, yeah.
Muellner: So why was it that you did this scholar in residence in Madison? What was special about that?

Blackwell: Well, when I started to graduate school at Indiana University, I was not yet doing research focus on women or on feminist issues. I was a feminist, and I was involved, deeply involved, in a whole lot of extracurricular activities, but I made that turn in that year, working with Biddy at- partially, it was just Biddy and me, and there were no courses, of course, in women's studies in the German department. There was one woman faculty member who was not a feminist, or she was not teaching feminist issues. Indiana had, in the English department, Gilbert and Gubar [ed: Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar] were there, and so there was already a lot of foment going on, and I wanted to focus on German women's literature, and they didn't have any, and I petitioned to have a semester in Madison so that I could have courses in German about feminist and women's issues. And that's what I did, and I went up there and had a course with Evelyn Torton Beck. And mostly, I just hung out with all those graduate students who have always been the source of my knowledge and support and- and, you know, generating ideas and stuff like that. So that semester really helped me establish that I really was going to work in feminist German studies from then on.

Muellner: Wow, okay. So, the feminist German studies kind of was already established, then, at the German department at Madison.

Blackwell: Well, I wouldn't say it was established. But Evelyn was there, and the graduate students were there, and so that was the base. And a lot of those graduate students, then of course, graduated, moved on into other positions, like Karen Achberger and people like that. So, they were there as graduate students. Nancy Vetter Schultz. And so, they were sort of the core of WiG, Although Pat Herminghouse, who already had a faculty position, was an assistant professor at Washington University, was also deeply involved, and I got to know her. I can't remember exactly how, but she's always been very supportive of me, so.

Muellner: That’s great, yeah. Those names all resonate with WiG. You know, so I guess you kind of came to WiG during your graduate student years. So, was there really a career before WiG or what?

Blackwell: It was an adventurous life and there and there was a little bit of a German career there. I went and taught in a gymnasium for a year. I went to Spain and taught English as a second language for a year. I went back to the United States and then decided to go to graduate school in German at Duke, which was my undergraduate institution. And there I had always been active in the anti-war movement, civil rights stuff. Just a lot of those same kinds of issues and equity issues, and so I was already primed in my personal life for this. But the research that I was doing on my master's thesis was on [ed: Rainer Maria] Rilke and I started turning, edging, a little bit that way when I decided that I was interested in expressionist women poets, who are not exactly a hotbed of feminism. But that's where I started, and I did a lot of research on them. But that was all that I had done up until I started the PhD program, and of course, women's studies didn't actually exist yet in those years as a formalized discipline at universities. Even at Indiana University, where the English department and history department had a sizable number of people involved in women's studies, they didn't start teaching women's studies until, I'm going to say, that it was 1977 or ‘78, and I was a TA in that first intro to women's studies course at Indiana.

Muellner: Wow. That is very cool.

Blackwell: So, I was like in it from the get-go.

Muellner: Yeah, yeah. That was one thing I was talking with Angelika Bammer about, because she was …

Blackwell: Oh yes, she was at Madison. She was one of the Madison people.
Muellner: Exactly. And I think Sara Lennox was there for a time, too. So, there's a lot of convergence on Madison. So, I'm hearing a lot of similar, kind of, origin stories, and Madison is really sort of a central location for that. And I think that she was mentioning that she thought that
University of Wisconsin, Madison was one of the first women’s studies departments in the country.

Blackwell: Yeah.

Muellner: Yeah. So, I have to kind of look that up to confirm.
Blackwell: You know, a lot of these things were beginning to spring up and there might not have been a formalized department, but there were certainly a program. We got one at University of Kentucky pretty early, as well, but not as early as the big Midwestern leftist schools did.
Muellner: Right. Okay. So, you did a lot, and then now can you describe the first WiG event you attended?

Blackwell: Yes. And I had to really try hard to remember this. And it was at that convent that was north of Milwaukee; Racine, Wisconsin. And, I didn't know very many people, and I think it was 1980. I'm not sure, but I think it was 1980. It was one of the years at the Racine conference and the first thing was – you're going to a convent. And it was like, oh, shit, what have I gotten myself into here? Because I had been to the conference and, you know, I knew all these people and hung out with them at other conferences, but this was the first WiG that I went to, and it was an incredible experience, because, who did I meet there? Susan Cocalis. And Susan Cocalis had read all the same 18th century German women novels that I had. I had never met anybody who had ever read any of this stuff.

Muellner: Wow.

Blackwell: Most of the people who were working in feminist German studies were doing 20th century, contemporary stuff, knowing authors, doing GDR stuff. There weren't that many people that were working on the historical side of things. And Susan and I stayed up all night just talking about Julchen Grunthal and Sophie von Sternheim and all of these very obscure 18th century writers. But it was so much fun. And that's what I recall from that first conference that I went to. It was incredibly energizing.

Muellner: Wow, that's awesome. I can imagine that would be something, yeah, you don't just find anywhere.

Blackwell: Right.

Muellner: So, very cool. At the convent. So, what role then did WiG really play in your career?

Blackwell: Well, it was the keystone for everything that I did for all of my projects. I would sound them out at WiG meetings, at WiG conferences. I would talk to people about ideas that I had. And so, it was a real sounding board for me, but it was also this incredible sense of support and generosity of people sharing research and not hoarding research, and that proved to be so incredibly important and formative for me. I tended to be that kind of a person anyway. Like, here, here's what I'm working on. Would you like to have some of it? And that's sort of the way that I've operated in my research since then. I'm a highly collaborative person and WiG incorporated that kind of collaboration. It was approved of, and you really need that in competitive academic atmospheres. You’ve got to be able to find people to work with, and so the people that gave me that kind of incredible support- I cannot praise Jeanette Clausen enough. Jeanette Clausen was ahead of me, just barely ahead of me, at Indiana University. She had already gone to her first position as an assistant professor, but I got to know her through WiG. She was not only a support and a friend, she served on my dissertation committee.

Muellner: Wow.

Blackwell: And I had to petition the IU German faculty to get her onto my committee. Although she was in the IU system, they didn't think a whole lot about having her be on the doctoral committee, and I had to petition to get her to be on my committee. It was one of the best things I ever did, because she gave me such good feedback and support while I was working on this dissertation- my dissertation was the feminist Bildungsroman. They did not want me to say there was a such a thing as a female Bildungsroman. They did not. And so, I needed Jeanette there, giving me all this support in the background and whispering arguments to me. So, she was an important friend. Sandy Frieden, who was then from University of Houston- we didn't have that much in common because she worked on film and 20th century stuff, but she became a longtime friend. And, of course, Susan Cocalis. And then other people that I met, not exactly at WiG, but via WiG. Or because I was running WiG panels at other places, people like Barbara Becker Cantarino and others. Helga, whose name I'm not going to remember, from Cincinnati.

Muellner: Gerstenburger?
Blackwell: No.
Muellner: Or Kraft?

Blackwell: No. You're not going to remember her. But beyond that, I met because of WiG, not through WiG, my two major life collaborators: Susanne Zantop and Shawn Jarvis. And now I'm going to try not to get choked up here. I organized a WiG session at the Midwestern MLA, and
Suzanne Zantop did a paper at that conference, and that's when we met, and she was freaking out because she had been tapped the way that many of us got tapped: “Oh, you're a woman. Why don't you teach our women's course?” And she felt like she didn't know anything about it. And it was supposed to be 18th- 19th century. She was a nagelneue assistant professor. And she said, what should I teach, Jeannine? And so, I said, okay, here's what you should do. And I went down this list and, she says, “is any of this stuff in English translation?” I said no, it's not in English translation, and she says, let's do an anthology. And that was the beginning of Bitter Healing.

Muellner: Wow.

Blackwell: And at that conference, we stayed up all night. This is a recurring motif, me staying up all night yapping with people. And that was, of course, the beginning of the long collaboration with Susanne, and of course, she had many, many other interests besides women's studies. But women's studies was clearly a part of her oeuvre, and so that was a really rich and ongoing friendship until her death, her untimely death. And Shawn Jarvis, I got to know through Ruth Ellen Boetcher Joeres, who was also very much of a Wiggy, you know. She was there a lot
of the time Sean was not there. She was Ruth Ellen's graduate student at Minnesota. But I got to know her because of our combined interest in fairy tales. And so that was the beginning of this anthology that we did called The Queen's Mirror. So, all of these connections have always fed into how successful I was in my career and all of the people that I hope that I was providing reading material to that they were going to love. And as my husband always likes to laugh about it, you read all of this stuff and wrote the article on it so they wouldn't have to. Like, all those women Robinson Crusoe stories that were in high- in low German you know and- and really, really bad Fraktur print, you know? Yeah, I read it all. I explained it to you, and you didn't have to read it.
Muellner: Yes, thank you for your service. I have read a lot of your scholarship on some of those early writers. For sure. I mean, those were really important foundations for the rest of us. And frankly, students nowadays, they don't even want to read Fraktur or anything. You know, it's like a whole another generation.

Blackwell: Okay.

Muellner: But yeah, laid a lot of foundation there. That’s great. But one of the things that you mentioned early on about WiG panels or like WiG at other conferences- so, I wondered, could you talk a little bit about when that started?
Blackwell: That started very, very soon and because I was still a graduate student, I wasn't actively involved in organizing this stuff until after prelims, and then I was organizing stuff, and that was an incredible way to publicize WiG for Wiggies to get together in other corners of the universe, and also to find new collaborators and new people that were maybe not interested in going to the conference every year, but were interested in the topic and in the research, and so I loved organizing panels like that. And I did it- of course, at the University of Kentucky, we have the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference every year. And because Linda Worley were colleagues at UK, we had lots of feminists and lots of feminist panels. And it was our own conference, and we could do whatever the hell we pleased and have whatever kind of panel. And somebody would call and say, “can we have a panel on this,” and we’d say “sure,” you know. And it was in April every year, so the MLA season was over. It was a fun conference, and so there was always at least one, and usually two or three, feminist panels at the KFLC and at the MLA. And then WiG started trying to get serious about every year we're going to have a panel at the MLA and the GSA. And one of the big issues with the GSA was they did not want to have graduate students presenting.

Muellner: Okay.

Blackwell: And we thought this was utterly idiotic, of course.
Muellner: Right.
Blackwell: And so, it wasn't exactly a plan to infiltrate the GSA, but that's sort of what happened. And so, a lot of us got onto the board, and people like Pat Herminghouse were- and and Lynn Tatlock were very much at the forefront of changing the attitude of the MLA and the
GSA toward how graduate students could collaborate and participate in collaborative work should be presented, not single presenters only.

Muellner: Yeah, okay.

Blackwell: It was tremendously important, particularly for the people that didn't go to the annual conference, who felt uncomfortable with the kind of loosey-goosey stuff that went on at the cabaret, and …

Muellner: Right.

Blackwell: …it was just a little bit too much for some people who were shy or who were from an older generation, or their research didn't quite jibe right, but they were still interested.
Muellner: Okay. I think that would be the interesting comparison: the early years of WiG conferences, you know, with how it's evolved over the years. You know, this next question, what role did you play in WiG? Maybe you can talk a little bit more about like how those WiG conferences were at the beginning, and then like, you know, this clear moment of crisis when you were elected as the president.

Blackwell: Yeah, well, an almost endemic problem with the way that the WiG conferences are organized was that everybody wanted to have an artist, a filmmaker, a poet there at the conference. This was extremely energizing to a large section of the people who were there. The problem with that is, then the whole conference skewed toward contemporary literature. And so people like me that didn't have a bone to pick in that, the conference didn't have that much intellectual input. Now, that shift began probably four or five years in when people started specializing. Before that you read anything and everything you could get your hands on because there wasn't that much that was available at the time. And so, you just read everything. Everybody read Christa Wolf. But as the specialization began to happen and a lot of that was people choosing dissertation topics, then there was just this sort of tension. Those of us who did early literature. There wasn't that much there for us. And so, what was there for you at the conference was the camaraderie, the fun, the other connections where you would go out walking and talking. Like, I don't know how many hours I have booked talking to Carolyn Hodges from the University of Tennessee, and ironically enough, she also became Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Tennessee. And so, we continued our walks at graduate school dean conferences – and just talking about anything and everything. And I think that that was sort of an ongoing tension with WiG, and the other part that was, I think, an underlying tension that's probably still there, and that is that there are a lot of people who had been harmed in Germanistik, in academe, and felt undervalued. And the WiG conference was a place to get renourished and to have a more psychological approach to some of the town-gown, public, private political issues. You know, that this notion that there needed, there had to be a sort of personalized session at every single WiG, usually the first night of WiG- some people found that very off-putting and some people thought that that absolutely had to positively be a part of WiG going forward–that this kind of emotional nurturing just had to be part of it. And so, there are these tensions that were just always there, and people always tried to overcome them, always have a personalized session, try to have something about medieval or 18th century or something like that. And usually, the only way you could do it is like, “Oh, well, we'll do witches,” you know, “everybody can relate to that.” But those were some of the things that were seeds of issues and sometimes people wandered away from WiG because they were too much on one side or the other of those issues, or the conference was so far away and expensive to get to that people just couldn't do it anymore.
Muellner: Yeah, that- that makes a lot of sense. I mean, sort of just the way things morphed into the format that we find ourselves in now, which I think works for the most part. A lot of people get their areas covered. We have the teaching, we have all the, sort of, workshoppy, you know, professionalization. And that personal wellness moment at the very beginning that everyone checks in. So, can you talk a little bit about it when you became president?

Blackwell: Right. Well, I was on the Steering Committee first, and then there was a contingent of people who said, look, we've got to get more institutionalized in order to have one person who's sort of speaking for the organization, because it was always, “well, huh? I don't know. I'm not in charge. I'll have to ask the Steering Committee,” and getting the Steering Committee to agree on anything was just mind boggling. And I didn't really care one way or the other. You know, I’d keep going with WiG with a steering committee, but I did understand the need as the organization became more prominent and had a larger membership, and was actually- people were moving into positions of authority who were WiG people, and they were department chairs, and they didn't have time for, “oh, we'll touchy feely this in a year,” you know. It was like, “chop chop, we need a decision” and I let myself be talked into running for President, partially because sort of, you know, everybody knew me and they knew that I wasn't, you know, bloodthirsty for power or anything like that. And I thought, okay, I can do this sort of transitional year without scaring the horses. And little did I know that we were going to need a president because of Susanne's murder, and I was President when Susanne was murdered. And all of a sudden, newspapers were calling up and wanting statements and stuff like that, and they were calling up people who were just like “oh no, not me. I'm not- talk to Jeannine,” and it was particularly poignant- I hope I'm not talking out of school here- in the early days after the murder, the entire German department was under suspicion. And they weren't allowed to make statements.

Muellner: Wow.

Blackwell: And they asked WiG to make statements in German for them, because, of course, the Dartmouth PR people couldn't do it in German. And so, we helped with that, we helped the department over that short time period while they were still suspects. Or, not suspects, but you know, under questioning, incommunicado in a variety of ways. And Bruce Duncan was the chair then, and he was a contributor to Bitter Healing, so we knew him very, very well. And so, that was sort of a very tragic need at a time when we hadn't planned that anything like that would be necessary. I never really had that much to do as President. And of course, you were probably not around yet as a grad student, I don't know. It would have been in Florida. And this was when I became president, and they made this into a Miss America pageant thing.
Muellner: I missed that, unfortunately. I was in Florida, but I didn't. You know, either that, or I just wasn't paying attention.

Blackwell: So anyway, true to WiG, it's like you've got something that you think is controversial and people are going to be upset about, let's put it in the cabaret. So, I played the Statue of Liberty Miss America with a sash.

Muellner: That’s awesome. So that would be leading into the next question about an anecdote that embodies WiG for you. Maybe it was at that moment when you were standing there as the Statue of Liberty/new president, but do you have another story of …
Blackwell: Oh, there are so many stories. My favorite WiG was one- and I'm going to try to remember where it was, I think it was in Saint Augustine in 1996.

Muellner: Okay.

Blackwell: I think that's when it was, and it was about the presidential election. You know, how many times the cabaret is about recent political events. I don't know how they're doing it in the age of Trump, but it was the year that Clinton was going up for reelection. And everybody was in this. Everybody got roped into it. Even Sara Lennox, who never was in the cabaret, was made to play Jennifer Flowers, the floozy. And Dennis Sweet [ed./JB: formerly of Bates College] played Bob Dole. Ruth Ellen, who also absolutely refused to be in the cabaret, was hornswaggled into being Barbara Bush. And Stephanie Ohnesorg, who you probably know, was Al Gore. And- and oh gosh, I can't remember who was Tipper. Oh, I can't remember her name. I've got her face [ed/JB: Edith Waldstein]. Anyway, everybody was in it, and it was when I was H. Ross Perot. And I wore a bathing cap and overdid the Southern accent and had my charts with the pointers and everything. And my favorite chart that I did was, “hear that giant sucking sound? That's jobs in critical theory going to Mexico.” And I had so many charts and so much to say as H. Ross Perot, that they finally had to drag me off the stage.

Muellner: That’s great.

Blackwell: That was one moment. But the anecdotes, there are two things that I wanted to tell you that aren't that funny, but I think are really indicative about how we've changed over time as their research matured and it was appearing in more and more venues. I remember being at one WiG and you know, we just all know each other and we're- “well, Ruth Ellen,” and so new graduate students who would turn up at this- one of them said to me, “it was like walking through an anthology” being at a WiG conference, and I thought, I've never thought of it like that, but for the next generations it must seem that way. And it's like all of these women whose work that you've fed off of for these years are here, acting out like absolute idiots in this cabaret. It must have been so strange. One thing that I remember is at Rio Rico in Arizona- and this would have been probably 2002, 2001. Yeah, it was the first time that we met since Susanne’s murder, and we had a small ceremony, anybody who wanted to, that was just an appreciation of Susanne, that was outside in this beautiful desert setting in Arizona. And then at the end we were just going to have three minutes of silence, and this hawk started circling over it and soaring overhead for that whole three minutes, and then landed. And it was just like, “oh my God.” So those are my two moments from WiG conferences that I remember, but the cabaret, of course, has always just been a hoot. Just a hoot. And Susan Cocalis, she used to write it up every year and write-ups were as funny the cabaret was.

Muellner: So, when did those cabarets really start? I mean, was that like from the very beginning or like as long as you can remember?

Blackwell: As long as I can remember, I mean, you know, when I went to my first conference, I guess 1980, they were already started improvising. It was improvised. And there were some years where it just didn't quite come together, and people would just throw stuff together and drag people up from the audience and stuff. But yeah, I think it was pretty much instituted by then. And the Germans that would come- and, you know, a bunch of Germans have always come whenever they were in the country or something, they were always so shocked at this cabaret because it was so unacademic and like, unprofessional. And when Frauen in der Literaturwissenschaft got started in Hamburg–and they invited a bunch of us up for– Susan Cocalis and me and Jeanette Clausen and I can't remember who else was there. And we went to their first conference, and I think that was in 1985, and they wanted to do something, but they just didn't have the moxie to do it. They just didn’t have that the va-voom that WiG people had, and so instead they said, “we'll have a talent contest.” Or a talent show. And what it was, was people reading very sad poetry. Most graduate students. And it was like, no, this is not a cabaret, kids.
Muellner: That is kind of funny thinking of, you know, that cabaret kind of comes out of Germany.

Blackwell: I know, I know, but not out of the academe side.

Muellner: That's for sure. That's it.

Blackwell: Yeah, you asked about other times of sort of dissent or discussion within WiG. And one of those was starting a journal.

Muellner: Okay.
Blackwell: You- have you heard about this from anybody else yet?
Muellner: No. No one's talked about the journal yet.
Blackwell: Okay. Well, we had the newsletter. And the newsletter kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And people had book reviews, lots of book reviews, you know, all the books would come in and everybody would review them, and they would have long reviews. The newsletter, 40 pages long …

Muellner: Wow.

Blackwell: …it was like, okay, what should we do? Should we have just a separate book reviews section over here? And what about our research? And of course, people have been trying to get into Monatshefte, German Quarterly. PLMA, AATG, GSA, so that they had the right credibility. But then there comes a point where you say, okay, why don't we showcase our own stuff? And the other thing was interviews with all these authors and filmmakers that came to WiG. These are important documents for people's research, and they needed to be in a more permanent home, that was accessible through libraries, than just a newsletter. When you've got these folks there and you're interviewing them, that's a real document that needs to be showcased. And so, there were those, there were the reviews, and then there was the actual scholarship. So that, too, was one of those moments of institutionalization that people found worrisome, or troublesome, that undercut that whole notion of WiG as this cozy, supportive family kind of a thing. Because if you have a journal, the articles have to be vetted and they have to be ranked and some people are going to get rejected and you have to have editors, you have to have an editorial board. And so, when that got started, and it was the Women in German Yearbook, there was, of course, a huge controversy about what to call it. A lot of people said, “Women in German Yearbook is idiotic, don't call it that.” But that's what it was. Even though we had articles by men and some people didn't want to call it feminist Germanist because that was it, had its own history. Rick McCormick as “Herr Stuhlmann,” the chair of the German department. Yeah, to the German department. He was always in the cabarets as Herr Stuhlmann. So anyways, starting the journal was one of those things where people worried about whether or not this is going to be yet another layer of hierarchy for WiG. And of course, it was, and I don't know anybody, personally, that's had an article rejected by WiG, because it's a blind submission process. But I was on the board, and I vetted a lot of articles while I was on the board and then afterward as well. So that was 1/3 of a problem when the journal came in, but it was also a real boon for young feminists to have another venue where they could get really important and good feedback that was going to be positive and feminist, and they knew that from the get-go. It wasn't going to be some grumpy old man telling them that they needed to do Goethe, you know, and and so that was- and also as a first step. Of course, we published a lot of other stuff that was much more important and by major scholars and stuff, but also the stuff by first timers. And so, it was an easier first step for some people to get into the publication side of things.

Muellner: Yeah, that was an important development for sure. And now you've heard, obviously are you still getting the Feminist German Studies journal?
Blackwell: No, because I stopped paying dues.

Muellner: Well, it's understandable. Life goes on and you have other things. But yeah, the name has changed. And it's, of course, a very professional venue and it always has been, really. But they wanted to change the name to kind of get away from The Yearbook because they didn't really think that title specifically defined what it was, and so- And I think they're publishing now two times a year.
Blackwell: Oh, cool, that is cool. Well, I got out of going to WiG after the three years that we ran the conference in Kentucky, and I was- it was us, it was a very small German department and basically Linda Worley and me. And then I was dean, and it was just so overwhelming to try to run that conference and be dean at the same time that I just had to get out of it. And I thought, okay, I'm not going to go to the conference now, I'm just going to sit out and rest for a bit, but then I was real dean, and then I was associate provost, and I was all of this other stuff piled on, and so, it just never happened again. And I wasn't doing research anymore. And I thought that I was going to. I thought I was going to retire, and I was going to get back to working on these projects. And I just, you know, when you retire, it's over and it's not as important as you thought it was.

Muellner: Right.

Blackwell: And then I had a big research giveaway on that e-mail listserv, and I said, “who wants this, who wants that?” I gave away all of my research. I gave away huge chunks of it, and the only thing that people did not want is all the research that I've done on German women pietists movement because that's still something that nobody's really all that interested in.

Muellner: Okay. But that's really an interesting WiG gesture at the end of your career to give away all this material on areas of research that you had done, laying the groundwork. That's really an interesting gesture, I feel.

Blackwell: And I thought we were going to have a bidding war over all of those Robinson Crusoes. “Can you send me the Robinson Crusoe stuff?” And now I bet they regret it now. See ya. But that brings up some of the other people that have been so important to me. Annegrete Pelz, who is from Hamburg, and she was a close friend and she got interested in travel literature. And so, the Robinson Crusoe stuff and her interest in 19th century German women's travel literature crossed paths many times, and she and I got to be good friends. And other people whose names I wanted to mention who’ve been extremely supportive of me. I mentioned Pat Herminghouse, but Valerie Greenberg, who you may not have ever heard of. I don't think she was ever in WiG, but she was my mentor when I was a master’s graduate student and she was a PhD student at UNC. She has always been so supportive of me. Natalie Zemon Davis, who was at Princeton in history, who from afar just mentored me and put me in contact with all these people that worked on women's travel literature in the 17th and 18th century in Holland [ed./JB: Rudolf Dekker of University of Rotterdam, an expert on ego documents, adventure travel, and cross dressing in the early modern era] and Jack Zipes, of course, has been a lifelong friend and supporter of Shawn's and my work in fairy tales, Wolfgang Mieter the same way- he was another guy, just generosity. He had a huge archive of fairy tale jokes, like from The New Yorker and everything. He gave the whole thing to me to use for a fairy tale course, and Siegrid Weigel, who was not that close of a friend but was always a colleague, and particularly when I was a Fulbright professor in Hamburg there. So that was somebody else who was really supportive. So, WiG gave me a research agenda, freed my creativity, provided me with networks, and honed my leadership skills. I was already a leader, been a leader all my life, but it gave me the confidence to be a leader in academia. And I think that's probably the same kind of confidence that WiG has provided for a lot of people to help them understand that they can be bosses, they can run, like, you know who. Uh, that you have that skill set and you can use it, and don't feel bad about using it.

Muellner: Right, yeah. That is very true. I mean, a lot of the things that you said really resonate with just that space to grow. They provided that for a lot of us and so, are those, kind of, the three summative words that you would use to kind of summarize when you think of WiG?

Blackwell: Yes, and so here's what I put as my three words: generosity, community, and creativity.

Muellner: Great.

Blackwell: And the other thing is, it helps you raise a feminist child. My daughter, Bettina, is now project director at the Appalachian Regional Commission, and she's involved in solar energy projects and electrical energy projects and small business administration and nonprofit groups. She's really turned into a wonderful woman and I'm so proud of her. And she was, of course, named after Bettina von Arnim. As people at WiG said- I think it was Sandy Frieden who said this, “Fine Jeannine, name your daughter Bettina after your author. Then she'll have something to talk about in therapy twenty years from now.”
Muellner: Ah, yes. Well, Bettina von Arnim was not a bad person.

Blackwell: No, she wasn't. She was a great person, and she did a lot of wonderful things. So, we we were really glad. And Bettina’s last name is Jones. And so, we wanted to have something that was a little bit different.

Muellner: Yeah, yeah. No, that's a great name. Well, that's such a wonderful story. What amazing stories of WiG. Really, you have covered so much. Any, like, final words? Final wisdom?

Blackwell: I'm sure that there's going to be some internal contradictions here and people say no, no, no, that's not when that happened. That's not how that happened. And yes, you're going to be stuck with it because you're going to find all of this stuff where people's memories haven't quite worked right, but it still is a wonderful project. I think it really is definitely important, because a bunch of the founding mothers are getting on up there, and I hope that you can get to them while their memory is still good and their minds are sharp, and just recording their voices is going to bring back such memories for a lot of people, too.

Muellner: Absolutely.

Blackwell: Who have you interviewed so far?

Muellner: Well, so we've interviewed Pat Herminghouse. We interviewed Sara Lennox. We've interviewed Ruth Ellen. We interviewed Jeanette Clausen.

Blackwell: Okay.

Muellner: We’ve interviewed Angelika Bammer. And now we have interviewed you. So, who else would you recommend that- I mean, I would love- we've been trying to get in touch with Susan Cocalis, but she is, like, on another planet.

Blackwell: She would be good, and I understand that Ruth Ellen is not in great health now, so that might not work either. And some of the other folks are probably too old. I'm thinking Ursula Mahlendorf, who was around, but she was mature when I was a graduate student. So, there are some folks that I imagine you aren't going to be able to swoop in and get. Sandy Frieden stopped coming to WiG when she got into administration stuff, you know, but she was very operative when we first started doing film and bringing in filmmakers. She was very, very important in that phase of WiG, and so that might be something- somebody you want to talk to and Marjanne. And Marjanne Gooze has been around.

Muellner: I have contacted her. We're going to set up an interview later in the summer, I think.
Blackwell: Yeah, great, great. And I'm sure I'm forgetting about a whole lot of other people. Unfortunately, Sarah Friedrichsmeyer has died in the meantime, Helga Slessarev, I knew this
name would come to me. She was at the University of Cincinnati. But I'm sure she's well into her years.
Muellner: Okay.
Blackwell: And she was very supportive woman German professor at the University of Cincinnati and important for a lot of people. And was a mentor for Sarah Friedrichsmeyer, as well.

Muellner: Okay. I mean, it's good to know these names because some of the names you mentioned are not familiar to me. A lot of them are, but it is good to- I think with these interviews too, we'll be able to fill a lot of gaps in …

Blackwell: Right.

Muellner: …institutional memory and history. And as I'm doing these interviews, I'm really learning that, in many ways, WiG is like part and parcel to the history of women's studies in the US. So interconnected to, sort of, more progressive leftist academic history. And so, it's an important part of it.

Blackwell: Right, right. And first, the- the people that ran New German Critique were the sort of mirror image of all of this stuff that was going on. You know they were doing something similar, but in a much more aggressive traditional but leftist style, still competitive, not having their own conferences, not goofing around.

Muellner: Yeah, that name of the organization has come up many times, so we're going to have to dig into that a little bit, and I would love to talk to you about like favorite visitors and guests and all those kinds of things, but if something comes up and you remember and you want to share, just let me know.

Blackwell: Okay.

Muellner: You know, we can talk about that too, but for the time being, this has been really wonderful.




“Interview with Jeannine Blackwell,” Women in German Herstory Project, accessed July 15, 2024,