Gwendolyn Fowler MA ’17

Gwendolyn FowlerCan you tell us a little about yourself and your background before you joined the Women's History Program at Sarah Lawrence?

I guess I would be considered a nontraditional student. I did one year of undergrad after high school, then took two years off and worked. I went back to school part time at a community college and then transferred to Rutgers University‒Newark after two years. I graduated from there with a BA in history in 2014 and then started at Sarah Lawrence in 2015.

What made you interested in this field of study, and what prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

I was able to take women's history courses in undergrad, and I always found those more interesting than my other history classes. I also knew that I wanted to at least get an MA after I graduated and possibly get my doctorate after that.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for your graduate studies?

I think I did a Google search of MA programs in history, and Sarah Lawrence popped up. I decided to apply because I did not need the GRE, and when I started the application I was contacted by Priscilla Murolo, and things kind of moved swiftly from there. The location was also ideal as I was working part time in NYC and lived in Jersey, very close to the George Washington Bridge. Being able to commute to and from campus was important to me.

Describe the Women's History Program in three words.

Intimate, driven, historic.

Who influenced you most during your time in the program?

I assume you mean faculty, so in that case Dr. Mary Dillard.

What was your thesis title, and why did you choose this topic?

“Maybe We Poor Welfare Women Will Really Liberate Women in This Country: Tracing an Intellectual History of Mrs. Johnnie Tillmon-Blackston.” I discovered Tillmon in undergrad and was kind of baffled as to why I couldn't find a lot of information on her or the welfare rights movement. I really wanted to write a thesis centering on Tillmon as an organic intellectual, but I could not find enough primary sources, so I pivoted to comparing her to Black women activists from earlier time periods, which allowed me to circumvent my lack of sources.

Describe your career path and what you are doing now.

I am about to start my second year at Rutgers University in their doctorate of history program. The goal is to become a tenured professor.

How did your Sarah Lawrence degree prepare you for what you are doing today?

It really helped me with my writing and research and is the reason I was able to get into a doctorate program. It also prepared me for academia in the sense that as a Black woman, I will often be underrepresented but still need to be able to produce and participate in discussions. Sarah Lawrence was the first time I can remember being surrounded by white students, and I had to learn how to reconcile that while also excelling in course work.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

Definitely getting into a doctorate program. I felt a huge sense of relief and accomplishment because I felt like I was finally on the pathway to my career.