Murray Wins Cynthia Pitcock Women’s History Award


St. Mary’s Episcopal School has announced that Prof. Gail S. Murray is the 2011 recipient of the Cynthia Pitcock Women’s History Award.  Founded in 2002, in honor of Cynthia D. Pitcock, a teacher at St. Mary’s, the award honors “extraordinary women who have made historically significant contributions to their communities through the power of their spirits.”  The award letter cites Prof. Murray’s long and distinguished career as a teacher, scholar, and mentor, as well as her passionate commitment to her students and her community.
As a teacher, Prof. Murray challenges her students to think about the distinctive place of women in the history of the United States.  She is perhaps best known on campus for her popular, regularly offered course, Black and White Women in the South, in which students explore how race and gender posed, as she puts it in her syllabus, “unique challenges, actions, reactions, and opportunities for women.”  Because it combines rigorous academic work with intense personal reflection, the course is a model for making the study of history relevant to the lives of students. 
As a scholar, Prof. Murray has recently focused on a number of topics pertaining to women’s experiences.  Her edited volume, Throwing Off the Cloak of Privilege:  White Southern Women Activists in the Civil Rights Era (2004), explored how middle and upper-class white women defied convention and joined the effort to fight segregation and economic injustice.  Her current research comes even closer to home.  Prof. Murray has just published a profile of Memphis activist Jocelyn Wurzburg in Tennessee Women:  Challenging Boundaries, Claiming Identities (2009) and is also working on projects on the history of the Metropolitan Interfaith Association (MIFA), the Young Woman’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) workers in Memphis.
As important as her formal work as a teacher and scholar, Prof. Murray has served as an informal mentor and role model to countless young women in the Department of History at Rhodes.  One of the first women to earn tenure as a faculty member in the Department, she later became the first woman to serve as department chair, a position which she held from 2005 to 2009.  As a teacher and mentor, she has directed a number of outstanding student research papers, including one essay that was ultimately published in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly.  A civically engaged member of the community, she serves on the board of Humanities Tennessee, works with a local workers’ rights advocacy organization, and is an active member of First Congregational Church.