Jody (Jo Ann) Carrigan came to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) in 1970, and became the first female full professor in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1971. Within a year or so, she became an advocate for women’s issues. A self-described “late-comer to feminism,” Jody became active in the movement only after coming to UNO. As an historian interested in medical and social history, she has brought insight and her own unique perspective to both the UNO and University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) campuses. She is now Professor Emerita of History.
Jody was born and raised in a small town called Washington, Arkansas, which had been the Confederate capital of Arkansas after Little Rock was taken over by the Union forces. She grew up “in the midst of history,” hearing stories from her grandmother about the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. Having enjoyed history from childhood, she had a good high school history teacher who turned her on to being an historian. She eventually decided to make history her focus of study during undergraduate school.
Jody graduated in 1953 with a B.A. in history from Henderson State Teachers College in Arkansas. With enough education hours to be certified to teach in Arkansas, she took a job teaching at Sheridan High School. Her salary was quite good for that time, as she recalls, $2,000 for nine months of work. Only twenty years
When Jody graduated with Ph.D. in 1961, most university history departments were not hiring women and were very open about their wish not to. Jobs were usually obtained through word of mouth, and thankfully, Jody had two prominent historians working on her behalf. Even with their help, she didn’t find a job that year, but was awarded a one-year Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh in 1961. When a position in state history opened up back at LSU the following year, she was hired because they knew she could handle it. Although temporary initially, it became a tenured post.
Jody has spoken often about the difficulty that existed for women trying to work in academia in the sixties and seventies, claiming that rejection based on someone’s gender is far more devastating than rejection on the basis on one’s
In 1969, Jody was invited to chair a session at the Missouri Valley History Conference in Omaha, where she was informally interviewed for a position at UNO. She didn’t realize that she had been interviewed until a couple of weeks later when someone from UNO’s history department called her in Baton Rouge and asked where her curriculum vitae and application papers were. Excited by the opportunity to pursue teaching medical history and other interests beyond survey courses, she sent in her materials and accepted the position when they offered it to her.
Because she had been on sabbatical when she accepted the job offer at UNO, Jody was required to teach for the fall semester at LSU. This means that she moved up to Nebraska in January of 1970 right after a snow storm. With no snow tires or a good
Jody had never been interested in family or women’s history, and in all her time at Henderson and LSU, she had never had a female history professor. The only books she had read on the history of women dealt with the movement for woman suffrage. A history department colleague and friend, Jackie St. John, feminist and founder of Omaha’s National Organization for Women chapter, developed and lobbied for a two-semester course in the history of women in America that the department and College both finally accepted. UNO was among the first colleges to offer a course in women’s history. Jody doubted there would be sufficient material for two semesters of women’s history, or perhaps even one semester, but Jackie assured her there was plenty!
The course was set to begin in the fall of 1973, but Jackie became seriously ill at
During this time, gender roles were undergoing a massive restructuring. Jody remembers when women couldn’t wear shorts or pants at LSU unless they were going to the gym. In the early 1970s, women started wearing pant suits at UNO. Several older male history faculty were worried that too many women were being hired, four women in a department of twelve. They were also concerned about women teaching at night: “Women can’t teach night classes…Who’s going to walk them to their car?”
These experiences encouraged Jody to become active in women’s issues on campus.
During International Women’s Year, one of the committees on which she served had arranged for Angela Davis, a controversial speaker, to come and speak in May of 1975. Davis was interested in visiting and making connections with the black community in Omaha, but as it turned out would be
Overall, Jody’s experience at UNO has been a very positive one. She talks about the freedom to teach a variety of classes on diverse subject matter and to develop different kinds of courses. At LSU, she was limited in what she could teach. UNO did expect her to teach surveys and develop a class on urban history, but she also originated a course in the History of American Medicine and Public Health, which she taught regularly. She taught women’s history several times, as well as historical research methods. Her graduate seminars were almost all in medical history, but she did offer one on history of “the family” and one on quantitative methods in history, experimentally.
Jody also speaks of the opportunities working at UNO has afforded her, including teaching at two Air Force bases in England (RAF Bentwaters and RAF Lakenheath-Mildenhall)
Her major work, The Saffron Scourge: Yellow Fever in Louisiana, 1796-1905, was published in 1994. In addition to this, she has published more than twenty articles and book chapters, served as editor of books and journals, was Program Coordinator of the Missouri Valley History Conference, served on many M.A. and Ph.D. committees, and participated in a number of professional organizations and honor societies. She was president of the Southern Association for Women Historians, 1981-1982. Jody has traveled in the U.S. and Canada to present papers and as a visiting lecturer; in the local community she has also presented lectures at a variety of places including high schools, the Omaha Genealogical Society, and the History of Medicine Group. She was awarded one of the UNMC College of Medicine Volunteer Faculty Awards in 2004. Her nominator commented “Dr. Carrigan teaches us about
In recent years as adjunct professor at UNMC, Jody was involved in team teaching “Issues in Public Health, Past and Present” with Andrew Jameton, a bioethicist, and she has also taught medical history to students as an independent study course from time to time. She has served and continues to serve on several UNMC interdisciplinary doctoral committees, still goes to history conferences and gives presentations, and reads and critiques manuscripts that are being considered for publication in history journals. Most recently, Jody finished work for a forthcoming 2014 paperback reissue of The Saffron Scourge, which is to include her new chapter on yellow fever historiography since the book’s original publication in 1994. Still, nearly 20 years after her retirement from UNO, Jody continues to learn and teach. She likes learning new things—especially Yoga and Tai Chi.
Jody’s life and work are