Carnegie Mellon University
Skip navigation and jump directly to page content

April 12: Carnegie Mellon History Ph.D. Wins Two More National Dissertation Awards


Shilo Raube             

Carnegie Mellon History Ph.D. Wins
Two More National Dissertation Awards

rameyPITTSBURGH—Jessie B. Ramey, who received her doctor's degree in history from Carnegie Mellon in 2009, has won two additional national dissertation awards, the Organization of American History's (OAH) Lerner-Scott Dissertation Prize in Women's History and the Herbert G. Gutman Dissertation Prize from the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA), for her dissertation "A Childcare Crisis: Poor Black and White Families and Orphanages in Pittsburgh, 1878-1929." Ramey previously received the National Academy of Social Insurance's (NASI) 2010 John Heinz Dissertation Award.  
Her winning dissertation re-conceptualized orphanages as a form of child care and explored the development of institutional child care. Her research examined working parents and their struggle to combine employment and child rearing and revealed how they used child welfare institutions for their own purposes — as a family survival strategy.
"I was thrilled to win the first award from NASI and absolutely ecstatic to receive two additional prestigious prizes," said Ramey, who accepted the OAH and LAWCHA awards at the annual OAH conference April 10 in Washington, D.C. "I am especially pleased to have my work and the topic of child care recognized from so many different perspectives. The issue continues to be critical for working families, particularly women, who often bear the disproportionate burden of child care responsibilities in our country."
Ramey's three dissertation awards are unprecedented for the History Department. "To have Jessie's ideas and work recognized by three different organizations is a significant accomplishment for her and our faculty," said Joe Trotter, the Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice and head of the Department of History.
Carnegie Mellon History Professor Steven Schlossman co-directed the dissertation with Tera W. Hunter, formerly of Carnegie Mellon and now professor of history at Princeton University. Lisa Tetrault, assistant professor of history at Carnegie Mellon, served as the third reader.
"What makes Jessie Ramey's research truly stand out for historians is its integration of bold conceptual innovation with methodological rigor and resourcefulness," Schlossman said. "It was not self-evident at the start that Jessie could execute the dissertation she had imagined, and in a research area where archival sources, especially on African-American families and institutions, are meager and incomplete. But, she located caches of previously unknown qualitative and quantitative data, while never losing a big-picture, policy-oriented perspective, and probed them with meticulous sensitivity for their broader social and cultural implications. Combine those analytic virtues with a graceful literary style and the result is a dissertation that, quite extraordinarily, has been judged the best in three discrete fields of women's history, labor history and social welfare history."
While several historians have studied orphanages in the early 20th century, Ramey was the first to think about them as child care and to consider the ways in which assumptions of gender, race and class got built into these early institutions. Her project is also the first full-length comparison of black and white child care in the United States. Ramey traced more than 1,500 orphanage children - nearly all of whom had at least one living parent - and was surprised to find how many fathers were involved in their children's care. "These orphanages were the predecessors of modern day care, foster care and the social welfare system, and the way that the institutions developed had long-term consequences for child care in the U.S. In many ways, working families today face conditions similar to those in Pittsburgh in 1880," Ramey said.
Wendy Goldman, professor of history and director of the department's graduate studies, agreed with Schlossman and believes that the History Department's focus benefits researchers. "Jessie's research is an excellent example of how we teach and study history at Carnegie Mellon," she said. "Our program encourages students to ask big questions, engage with the wider theoretical literature and do careful and deep research."
The OAH Lerner-Scott Dissertation Prize of $1,000 is given annually to the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women's history. It was named for Gerda Lerner and Anne Firor Scott, both pioneers in U.S. women's history and past presidents of OAH. The LAWCHA's Herbert G. Gutman Dissertation Prize is awarded to an outstanding dissertation in U.S. labor and working class history and is given in cooperation with the University of Illinois Press. Recipients of the Gutman Dissertation Prize receive  $500 and a publishing contract.
Ramey received her bachelor's degree in social history from Carnegie Mellon in 1991. She earned a master's degree in women's history from Sarah Lawrence College in 2002, and a master's degree in history from Carnegie Mellon in 2003. Ramey earned her Ph.D. in 2009. While at Carnegie Mellon, she was the founding director of the Undergraduate Research Office, which started, among many programs, the annual Meeting of the Minds Symposium that showcases the research findings of nearly 500 students each spring. Ramey is now a visiting scholar in women's studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
For more information on Carnegie Mellon's History Department, visit


Pictured above is Jessie B. Ramey, who received her doctor's degree in history from Carnegie Mellon in 2009.