Storytellers: Generationality, working-class identity, and women’s personal narrative

Plan Author

  • Kelly Hickey, 2016

Fields of Concentration

  • History
  • Visual Arts

Sample Courses

Project Description

Exhibition of mixed media works investigating visual narrative.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Cathy Osman
  • Kate Ratcliff

Outside Evaluator

  • Lynne Yamamoto, Smith College


This Plan is a multimedia approach to understanding personal narratives, especially regarding class and gender, using printmaking, ceramics, drawing, and oral history accounts to explore the ways that people tell stories and share experiences. Much of my Plan deals with issues of class. Whether I’m interviewing feminist activists about class-consciousness within their organizations or drawing my great-aunt standing on a makeshift diving board on the pond, class is constantly on my mind. And how could it not be? I’m trying to carve a space for myself in an academic world that my family has never been a part of. I want to honor their experiences and ways of life in a manner that’s not entirely alien to that very existence. Academia has much to learn from the working class and poor, and I suppose that’s what I put forth with this Plan.


The only way to look at any of these movements is with a critical eye and compassionate heart. None of them worked as smoothly or effectively as desired. It’s so crucial to acknowledge their mistakes, particularly in homogeneity of membership and failure to address concerns of working-class women, women of color, and trans* women. Second wave feminism never became the overarching sisterhood its leaders, in one form or another, desperately hoped for. Perhaps if these groups of women had been included in a larger movement, we wouldn’t be facing supreme court rulings against women’s rights today.

Oral history can be a particularly useful frame for the rewriting of women’s history, when used carefully and in cooperation with narrators. Scholar Kristina Minister notes the difficulty of gathering women’s narratives in a larger public setting: “When one lacks realistic gender models and when self identity and social identity have been trimmed to ladylike size, anxiety floods one’s public speaking, especially in appearances before mixed-sex and large audiences.” Certainly some attempts at oral history fall into the trap of gender-dynamic reinforcement, and women feel unwilling or uninvited to share histories. For so long, women have been trained to speak about interpersonal relationships and aspects of their beings rather than things that they do.

From her artist statement: When I know my grandmother I’ll know myself. I will have a nest to live in. I’ll surround myself with pictures and memories and feelings, flowers, bugs, smooth stones, fingerprints. I love things that have been touched. I love things that are not special. The act of using an object over and over is one of devotion; of bearing witness. The value of these objects lies not in their form or function, but in the daily prayer of use.