Carnegie Mellon University

Lisa Tetrault

Lisa Tetrault

Associate Professor


Professor Tetrault specializes in the history of gender, race, and American democracy, with a focus on social movements and memory.

Her first book, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (University of North Carolina Press, 2014) won the Organization of American Historians' inaugural Mary Jurich Nickliss women's history book prize. The Myth uncovers the politics behind the manufacture of an origins myth for feminism. Typically, the beginning of a women’s rights movement in the United States is dated to 1848, to the first women’s rights meeting in Seneca Falls, NY. This origins story, however, did not become commonplace until much late, born of the politics of Reconstruction. A handful of women created this story in response to Reconstruction-era politics, some forty to fifty years after the actual meeting, with broad-reaching implications for the content and direction of the movement.

Tetrault is currently at work on two book-length projects. The first, A Celebrated But Misunderstood Amendment, is a genealogy of the Nineteenth Amendment, which supposedly gave women the right to vote. Focusing not on the movement, it focuses on the long life of the amendment itself.

The second, Enter Woman Suffrage: A New History of Reconstruction, 1865-1878, investigates the broad and frequent debates about women’s voting, most of which are unrecognized, during the Reconstruction Era. Departing from previous scholarship, it too decenters the suffrage movement as its main unit of analysis. Rather it explores how ordinary and elite Americans engaged with the issue, which they did repeatedly. And it ties those debates to the main debates of Reconstruction, uniting two histories that still remain unnaturally separated.

Tetrault also lectures on the U.S. suffrage movement, broadly construed, and is active as a public historian. In 2019, she delivered the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Votes for Women Exhibit keynote address.  She currently serves as an historical consultant for the National Constitution Center’s Nineteenth Amendment Exhibit, the Woodrow Wilson House’s Women’s Suffrage Initiative, the documentary “The Vote” (upcoming on PBS’s the American Experience), and Ancestry dot com’s new Women’s Suffrage Project.

Tetrault’s work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, the Newberry Library, and the Smithsonian Institution. The American Historical Association and the Library of Congress awarded her the 2007 J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship, then given for the most promising book by a young historian. She has also received funding from the Huntington Library, the Schlesinger Library, the Sophia Smith Collection, and many others.

In 2018, Tetrault was awarded the college's Elliot Dunlap Smith Teaching Award.

Listen to Lisa Tetrault:


Ph.D.: University of Wisconsin-Madison



Articles & Op-Eds

  • "What Right to Vote? There's a Lie at the Heart of American Democracy." New York Daily News, (August 22, 2020). 
  • Interchange: Women's Suffrage, the Nineteenth Amendment, and the Right to Vote,” roundtable in the Journal of American History (Dec 2019).
  • Lessons from the Constitution: Thinking Through the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments,” Lessons on the Law feature in “Social Education,” National Council for the Social Studies (Nov/Dec 2019).
  • "Winning the Vote," Humanities Magazine, National Endowment of the Humanities, 40:3 (Summer 2019).
  • “‘The Real Meaning and Value of a Vote’: A Reappraisal of Reconstruction-Era Suffragists' Demands," under review.
  • “To Fight by Remembering, or The Making of Seneca Falls,” in Votes for Women: An American Awakening, 1840-1920, Kate Lemay, ed. (Princeton: Smithsonian Institution, in conjunction with Princeton University Press, 2019). Exhibition catalog for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Votes for Women centennial exhibit.

  • “Reconstruction and Women’s Rights,” a forum on Reconstruction for the Journal of The Civil War Era (March 2017)

  • "We Shall Be Remembered: Susan B. Anthony and the Politics of Writing History," in Christine Ridarsky and Mary Huth, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights (University of Rochester Press, 2012)
  • “The Incorporation of American Feminism: Suffragists on the Post-Bellum Lyceum,” Journal of American History 96:4 (March 2010)
  • “A Paper Trail: Piecing Together the Life of Phebe Hanaford,” Historic Nantucket 51:4 (Fall 2002)

Book Reviews 

  • “Purists vs. Pragmatists,” book review of Carol Faulkner, Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Penn, 2011) & Faye Dudden, Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (UNC, 2011), in Women’s Review of Books (May/June 2012)
  • Book review of Ellen Carol DuBois, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), in Law and History Review 20:2 (Summer 2002)

Courses Taught

  • How We Vote: Investigating an American Tradition
  • Body Politics: Women and Health in America
  • Women, Politics, and Protest: Women’s Rights Movements in the U.S.
  • Women in America: A Women’s History Survey
  • #metoo: Naming and Resisting Gender Violence
  • Development of American Culture
  • The Civil War in American Memory
  • U.S. Pro-Seminar (graduate course)
  • Transnational Gender Seminar (graduate course)

Department Member Since: 2005