Student: Simone Watson
Hometown: Pensacola, FL
Advisor: Nancy McLean
Can you explain goal of your research? I will be studying evangelical feminists during the 1970s, and I’m interested in how they combine their faith with activism. There was this crop of evangelical feminists who said, “God loves you, and He wants you to meet your fullest potential, [and] that’s not just for men, that’s for women.” I find that combination fascinating, because on the reverse side there are people like Phyllis Schlafly who use their faith to reject feminist movement. I’m interested in both of those sides, and how American women used their faith to advance what they thought would be a better future for women.
My research is going to be focused on the South in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where Christian values served as the backbone of society. I hope to prove that there are moments when feminism and religion intersect.
What advice would you give for someone trying to find the appropriate sources on a research subject such as this? Duke’s Special Collections Library has a ton of great primary sources. There are times when my ideas are transformed by randomly discovered files in the library. Duke is also great in providing online resources, but I prefer seeing a text in person. I like opening a book, smelling a book, and reading a book. With the archives, I love being able to touch letters from Thomas Jefferson, or, in my current project, to hold pamphlets from the Miss America pageant protest from in 1968, or even letters from Gloria Steinem to some little-known feminist group.
Who is your faculty mentor? Dr. Nancy McLean is my faculty advisor. When you first declare your major, the history department gives you a faculty advisor, so when I realized I wanted to apply for the Mellon-Mays program, I asked Dr. McLean to be my mentor. She’s intelligent, approachable, and she provides innumerous insight to my ideas. Duke’s faculty members are all incredibly open and engaging with undergraduates. I realized that one of greatest resources Duke has to offer is meaningful faculty interaction.
How has your involvement with research affected your future plans? Before I came to Duke, I was prelaw. I wanted to go to law school, so I volunteered at a nonprofit legal service in my hometown, Pensacola. The service offers free legal assistance to those who absolutely cannot afford a lawyer to represent them. One of the reasons I thought I would be a lawyer is because I’ve always been interested in legal research. Now, however, I realize that I’m more interested in historical research.
What has surprised you about this entire experience? The most surprising thing was when we discussed social movements in my history class, and how activists publicized their movements. The things I find in my archival research are so diverse. At Duke we post flyers, and we have Facebook, but people didn’t have that in the 1970s, so they tried to reach people through as many different means as possible. Not only were there brochures and pamphlets, people also used parades and movie guides to spread information about their issues. Feminists would figure out how to use cameras to make movies over women’s issues. Finding out about those different media, those items, was extremely interesting to see.
Where do you see yourself heading in the future? I’m very interested in going to graduate school in history and eventually to teach at a university. I hope that when I teach I will be approachable to my students, as mentors were in inspiring me to love history as much as I do. Now, when people say, “Oh my gosh, I hate history. It’s so old!” I wonder how that’s even possible. I hope to be able to change peoples’ mindsets on history one day and allow them think about things they hadn’t thought about before.
What advice you would you like to offer undergraduate students interested in research? I would just say, Go for it. You really have to be devoted to it, you have to have a project that you’re passionate about and that really interests you, so really just go for it, be devoted, and find something that just, like, the lightbulb turns on, a wow moment, and [then] you keep feeling that throughout your research.