Every year, UMKC University Libraries offers the Martha Jane Starr Library Research Award, a grant of up to $1000 for graduate student research expenses. The scholarship gives preference to research topics focused on Women’s and/or Gender Studies.
This year, Creative Writing and Media Arts Master Student Mary Henn received the award for her project “Constructing a Schoolgirl’s Experience: A 1926 American Scrapbook and Yearbook.” Here, Henn explains her topic, the award and the process of crafting the piece.
Q: What is your research project about?
A: My research looks at a scrapbook constructed by Dorothy Mary Headley, a 13-year-old schoolgirl from Los Angeles, California, in 1926. Headley’s artifact presents a window into her life and the life of her peers at McKinley Junior High School. Her scrapbook represents a mode of self-narration and serves, not only as expressive of a girl’s individual identity, but as a glimpse into an environment that is historically unusual. McKinley was an early-integrated public school. Unlike other scholarships on scrapbooks, my research examines Headley’s narration in relation to documented, official history as recorded in McKinley’s yearbook.
Q: How did you get the idea for your topic?
A: Last semester, I had the privilege of taking Dr. Jane Greer’s course on Girls & Print Culture, and Dr. Greer encouraged me to engage in a research project on Dorothy Mary Headley’s scrapbook, which is housed in the LaBudde Special Collections Department. The scrapbook has been held in special collections for a number of years, but little research had previously been conducted on the artifact. I was especially struck by its captivating photographs showing girls of diverse ethnicities engaged in activities together in a time and place where we have often been led to believe that integration was not the norm.
Q: How did you draw parallels between the 1926 yearbook and your scrapbook?
A: While cross-examining Headley’s scrapbook with the McKinley yearbook from 1926, I looked at things like aesthetic organization and construction strategies. When compared to the McKinley yearbook, explication and analysis of Headley’s artifact reveals differences between the self-recording of a girl’s individual, colloquial history and an institutionalized history: a personal history strategically recorded against the public record.
Q: How did you find out about the scholarship?
A: Dr. Greer announced the opportunity to graduate students enrolled in her course.
Q: What do you plan on using the scholarship for? What do you plan on doing with your research project once it’s completed?
A: Ultimately, the objective of this research is publication in a journal such as Peitho or Rhetoric Review. I will submit my work to the 2019 Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference: Redefining Feminist Activism. The School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication at James Madison University is holding the 12th Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in November. The conference is a gathering of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CFSHRC), the largest scholarly organization dedicated to advancing historical studies of feminist literacy practices. Hopefully, sharing my work in this venue will showcase the rich resources held in the LaBudde Special Collections and the strong traditions of feminist scholarship arising from UMKC’s Women’s and Gender Studies program.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out you had won? Why do you feel like this topic is important to share with readers?
A: I was grateful and excited. The initial objective of my research was to recover and engage with the voices of girls. It is no secret that the voices of young girls are often overlooked. Studying the scrapbook of a schoolgirl from the 1920s helps to write an otherwise forgotten history and highlights how girls responded to the opportunities available to them to partake in literacy practices. Receiving the award helped to validate my efforts and to voice the experiences of Dorothy Mary Headley and her peers.