In Memoriam: Lois Green Carr, 1922-2015

Lois Green Carr was a pioneer in both social history and women’s history. Originally from an upper-class family from Massachusetts, Carr made her greatest impact in studying the history of women from the seventeenth-century Chesapeake. Carr’s mother, Constance McLaughlin Green, was a well-respected historian, who had received her PhD from Yale University. Carr attended Swarthmore College before enrolling in the graduate program at Harvard in 1943. Along the way, life happened. She got married in 1946, moved with her husband to New York in 1947, and had a child in 1952. In 1956, she accepted a job as a junior archivist at the Maryland Hall of Records. Family responsibilities and then difficulties at the end of the decade had rendered her progress toward completing her PhD quite slow. In fact, by that point, she said, “I had done no work for years on my PhD dissertation because I could not get to New England for needed research.”[1] Her solution was to switch her research focus to Maryland and find an advisor willing to take her on, which she did. In 1961, Bernard Bailyn became her advisor and by 1968 she had finally graduated, twenty-five years after starting graduate school. By the end of 1967, she had taken a job as the historian for the St. Mary’s City Commission. a post she would hold for nearly five decades.

Carr’s work is known to many readers of this blog, as it should be. Her groundbreaking article, co-authored with her longtime collaborator, Lorena S. Walsh, “The Planter’s Wife: The Experiences of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland,” appeared in The William and Mary Quarterly in 1977, and, in 1993, was voted by the journal’s readers as one of its eleven most influential articles.[2] Carr and Walsh showed the impact of demographics in the early Chesapeake on gender roles and women’s lives, drawing what was then a relatively stark contrast between the Chesapeake and New England. Carr’s other major work, Robert Cole’s World: Agriculture and Society in Early Maryland, was published in 1991 and won multiple awards.[3] It, too, was co-authored with Lorena Walsh as well as, early American economic historian, Russell Menard.

Lois Green Carr’s legacy, however, goes beyond just her scholarly contribution to our knowledge of early America. Her extensive collaboration with Walsh and others should serve as an example to historians in any field. Furthermore, though she never held a faculty position at a university, she took educating the public to be a fundamental task of the historian. Her simultaneous and interrelated commitment to both scholarly research and public history should also serve as an example. She concluded a “Personal History” she had written for the Maryland State Archives by saying, ” I was born into a relatively privileged life and have had far fewer difficulties to overcome than most people. I can only hope that my work in research and writing of early American history and my efforts to teach its meaning through museum program represent at least a partial repayment for the opportunities that have been handed me.”[4] No one “handed” Carr anything. But, even if they had, they should consider themselves paid in full.

____________________

[1] Lois Green Carr, “Personal History,” Maryland State Archives website, 3. Much of the biographical information for this piece derives from this document.

[2] Lois Green Carr and Lorena S. Walsh, “The Planter’s Wife: The Experience of White Women in Seventeenth-Century Maryland,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 34, no. 4 (1977): 542-71. See In Search of Early America: The William and Mary Quarterly, 1943-1993 (Williamsburg: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1993).

[3] Lois Green Carr, Russell R. Menard, and Lorena S. Walsh, Robert Cole’s World: Agriculture and Society in Early Maryland (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[4] Carr, “Personal History,” 3.

One comment on “In Memoriam: Lois Green Carr, 1922-2015

  1. Emily M. says:

    I am so sorry to hear of her passing. I had the great privilege of knowing her when I worked at the Maryland State Archives in the 1990s. She had a brilliant mind and a huge heart, and she will be deeply missed.

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