Paula Giddings

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Paula J. Giddings (born 1947 in Yonkers, New York) is a writer and an African-American historian. She is the author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement and Ida: A Sword Among Lions. She is currently[when?] the Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor Emerita of Africana Studies at Smith College, subsequent to her 2017 retirement. Prior to joining the faculty at Smith, she was on the faculty at Spelman College, where she was recognized as a United Negro College Fund Distinguished Scholar. She also was a faculty member of the Douglass College at Rutgers University where she held the Laurie Chair in Women's Studies. Giddings has also taught at Princeton University, North Carolina Central University and Duke University. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. During her career, she made contributions to American history, Women's Studies, and African American Studies that center African American women in order to offer greater inclusion and representation. These works have been foundational in the study of African American women's feminism, history, and activism.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Paula J. Giddings grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Yonkers, New York, where she regularly and systematically experienced isolation and racism from her white neighbors. These experiences would deeply shape her entree into activism as a teen and young adult. One example of this is through her participation in Freedom rides in the 1960s.


Giddings enrolled in the historically Black college, Howard University in 1965, to gain a sense of community that she was denied in her hometown.[3] It was at Howard that she gained insight into her Blackness as it shaped her writing, politics, self-esteem, pride, and appearance in ways that continued after she graduated and throughout her career.[3] It was also at Howard that Giddings launched her literary career, working on the university's newspaper beginning in her first year and subsequently becoming editor of the university's literary magazine,The Promethean, in 1967 and earning a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1969.[3]


As a teen in Yonkers, Giddings personally experienced and witnessed the racism and violence against African Americans that lead to and occurred in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. This led her to participate in the movement as a Freedom Rider. According to Giddings, this set the stage for her desire to understand both oppression and resistance to it, a theme that would recur through her own activism and writing.[3] As a student at Howard, Giddings was part of a group of students who worked against sexism, colorism, and classism that they saw as rampant on their campus. These students used their activism--including protests and a takeover of the administrative building--to push the relatively conservative Howard University into adopting a number of changes and policies around greater inclusion and representation of Black culture and Black students across skin color, gender, and social class.[3] Her activism continued after she graduated and was also international in its reach. As one example, in 1975, she travelled to South Africa where she had the opportunity to meet leaders of the Anti-Apartheid Movement.[1] She continues to be described "as an agent for change[4]" based on her commitment to ensuring the inclusion of African American women in discussions of American history and feminism in particular.


Giddings is a former book editor at Random House and journalist who has written extensively on international and national issues and has been published by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeune Afrique (Paris), The Nation, and Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, among other publications.[5]

In 1984, Giddings published When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. The title of the book was derived from the work of African American activist, feminist, educator, and sociologist, Anna Julia Cooper. In an often quoted passage, Cooper states:

"Only the black woman can say 'when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole . . . race enters with me'".

Giddings' book uses this quote as a framing device that allows it to explore the ways that African American women's histories of activism against the interlocking realities of sexism, racism, classism and other forms of oppression have been both foundational to fights for liberation of African American people and often ignored, trivialized, or maligned by white men and women and African American men. It tracks this long history of African-descended women in the United States from the first African child born in what would come to be the United States through the 1970s and the confluence of the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements. Shortly after its release, When and Where I Enter was named an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, It was also deemed "A labor of commitment and love" and "a jarringly fresh interpretation" in The New York Times by author Gloria Naylor. The Women's Review of Books hailed it as "the best interpretation of Black women and race and sex that we have".[5] This book has been pivotal to understanding African American women's lives. Though the term intersectionality was created and used by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw years after When and Where I Enter's publication, the book presents one of the first academic studies of intersectionality. A 2016 two-day Feminist Legacies Symposium at Smith College was held to note and reflect on the book's importance and lasting influence. Called “When and Where I Enter: Celebrating Legacies, Envisioning Futures”, it was attended by scholars, students, and activists and was designed to honor Giddings in particular and her life's work of highlighting the often unheralded art, activism, and lives of African American women as well. This symposium was featured in an issue of Ms. Magazine published that same year.[2]

Giddings' next book built upon this foundation as she offered a history of the African American sorority she is a member of, Delta Sigma Theta. Her 1988 In Search of Sisterhood is a detailed look at both Delta Sigma Theta as it celebrated its 75th anniversary. It also focused on the women who founded and joined it. This book has been recognized for its depth and its focus on the cultural, economic, historical, social, and political influence of Delta Sigma Theta and its members [6][7].Reviews in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times described Giddings' In Search of Sisterhood as “a hearty cheer for bringing to the fore yet another piece of overlooked black women’s history” and a success "as a detailed study of an organization that has touched the lives of some of the most prominent black women in America” respectively.[8]

Ten years later, Giddings received many accolades upon the publication of her 2008 Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching within the academy as well as in the popular sector. Ida received the 2008 Letitia Woods Brown Book Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians, the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book Award, and was the 2009 Nonfiction winner of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award. In addition, it was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2008 and was named a Best Book of 2008 by both the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. Additionally, the book was recognized as the inaugural Duke University John Hope Franklin Research Center Book Award winner in 2011.[9][10]

Giddings' work is recognized and takes place outside of the classroom. Giddings served as a consultant on the PBS MAKERS: Women Who Make America documentary series. In this role, she recognized that the series producers failed to recognize African American women feminists as she reviewed lists of names that classified feminists as white and civil rights activists as Black. She stated that made her realize "why so many of the feminist intellectuals and activists of color I recommended had no place in their version of women’s history[8]”. In 2017, she was a National Book Award Judge for nonfiction works, based on her own prowess in that arena.[11] From 2004 until her 2017 retirement, Giddings served as the senior editor of Meridians, Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, a peer-reviewed, feminist, interdisciplinary journal that publishes traditional scholarship and creative works produced by and about women of color in the United States and internationally.[12] A member of its council, in 2017, Giddings was inducted in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[6][13] In addition, Giddings has been named a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, has received fellowships by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and received Honorary Doctorates from Bennett College and Wesleyan University.[14]

After a distinguished career in academia that included teaching at colleges and universities including Princeton University, Rutgers University, and Spelman College, Giddings joined the faculty of Smith College in 2001. At Smith, Giddings served as the department chair and honors thesis adviser of the Africana Studies Department. In 2018, as a recognition of the legacy she built in her career, Giddings was invited to deliver the Charter Day Convocation Speech[10] at her alma mater, Howard University.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching (Amistad/Harper Collins, 2008, ISBN 0060797363)
  • Burning All Illusions: Writings from The Nation on Race 1866-2002 (Editor) (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, ISBN 1560253843)
  • In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement (William Morrow & Co, 1988; Quill Publishers, 1995, ISBN 0688135099)
  • When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (William Morrow & Co, 1984; Bantam Press, 1985; 2nd: William Morrow Paperbacks, 1996, ISBN 0688146503)

Selected honors and awards[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Paula Giddings, Scribe of Her Sisters". Washington Post. 1985-02-28. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  2. ^ a b "When and Where We Enter: Ms. Writers Reflect on a Feminist Legacies Symposium - Ms. Magazine Blog". Ms. Magazine Blog. 2016-10-20. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Interview with Paula Giddings". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  4. ^ "Paula Giddings as an agent for change | The Clayman Institute for Gender Research". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  5. ^ a b "Paula Giddings - MasterMedia Speakers Bureau - a full-service lecture bureau". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  6. ^ a b "Sanders Wins AERA 2017 New Scholars Book Award; Giddings Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences". Association of Black Women Historians. 2017-05-09. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  7. ^ Edds, Margaret (1988-07-31). "The Sorority Behind Black Feminism : IN SEARCH OF SISTERHOOD: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the BlackSorority Movement by Paula Giddings (William Morrow: $16.95; 336 pp.)". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  8. ^ a b "Acclaimed Author Dr. Paula Giddings Highlights Black History Month at Berea College - Berea College". Berea College. 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  9. ^ a b "Duke Libraries Announce Winner of John Hope Franklin Book Award". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  10. ^ a b "Alumna and Author Paula J. Giddings Will Serve as the Howard University 2018 Charter Day Convocation Speaker on March 2". Howard Newsroom. 2018-02-26. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  11. ^ "2017 National Book Awards". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  12. ^ "History – Meridians". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  13. ^ "Newly Elected Fellows". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  14. ^ "Smith College: Study of Women and Gender". Retrieved 2018-09-28.
  15. ^ "Alumna and Author Paula J. Giddings Will Serve as the Howard University 2018 Charter Day Convocation Speaker on March 2". Howard Newsroom. 2018-02-26. Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  16. ^ "Charter Day Achievement Awards | Howard University". Retrieved 2018-09-27.
  17. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Paula J. Giddings". Retrieved 2018-09-28.