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Caroline Acker (left) and Katherine Lynch (right) stand with Dawn Winters after she receives her award from the National Society of Colonial Dames.

March 2013

History Ph.D. Candidate Wins Award From National Society of Colonial Dames

Dawn Winters, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History, has received a $5,000 award from the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in recognition for her research. The society gives four awards each year to recipients in alternating regions of the U.S.

The society has been a leader in the field of historic preservation, restoration and the interpretation of historic sites since 1897. Its members are ancestors of those who immigrated to an American Colony prior to 1750.

In January, members of the society’s Pennsylvania and Southwestern Pennsylvania chapters joined History Department faculty members for a ceremony and reception honoring Winters.

Caroline Acker, head of the History Department, called the award a wonderful opportunity for Winters and thanked the society for their support.

"The Society's work to support local historical societies around the country is the kind of effort we historians depend on,” Acker said. “Only when people's letters, local newspapers, and other sources have been collected and preserved can historians begin to reconstruct the past."

Winters, who moved to Pittsburgh to pursue her doctoral degree after a career in healthcare administration, is a women’s historian. Her dissertation focuses on women’s local activism during the mid-19th century Temperance Movement. She chose this area to study because of the lack of historical work that exists on local women during the period involving state enacted prohibition laws.

“There were widespread cases of collective violence – women arming themselves, targeting liquor establishments and destroying liquor items,” Winters said. “These women were arrested and in court, and my work looks at how they interacted with the court system.”

Her dissertation includes 115 cases of this type of violence from 1852-1872 that she uncovered during research. Liquor was a hot topic in the mid 1800s due to pervasive alcoholism, the middle class changing and changing demographics across the country.

“They weren’t isolated actions,” she said. “They were very choreographed and there was widespread reporting of them in newspapers from Maine to California. However, most cases were in the Midwest – in small villages and up and coming towns, not urban areas.”

Lisa Tetrault, associate professor of history and Winters’ adviser, praised her work saying, “She also challenges conventional stories of women’s reform in this period by focusing on local, Midwestern women, working at the grassroots. Historians, by contrast, have focused on the Northeastern United States and on relatively high profile women. So, Dawn is also shedding light on a hitherto unknown group of women and their efforts to have a voice in the progress of the nation.”

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