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Marilyn Ross with her daughters Bonnie and Janet

Marilyn Ross (1925-2013) with her daughters Bonnie and Janet
Photograph by Duncan Ross

Today is my maternal grandmother’s birthday. She passed away in June 2013, a year and a month to the day before her husband, Duncan Adam Ross, followed.

Marilyn Coe Ross was born in 1925 to single, working mother Marguerite Scott Coe, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, with her mother and younger sister Barbara (b. 1927). While she was unable to afford college or extended professional education, she was — among many other things — a lifelong lover of books and libraries. One of my most enduring memories of my grandmother is that a visit from her always meant new books to read. It was she who introduced me to such beloved childhood classics as The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill. When my grandparents relocated from Michigan to Oregon in the 1980s my grandmother began volunteering at the Bend Public Library, a relationship that lasted decades and endured even after a stroke left her partially paralyzed. Her active enjoyment and eager sharing of books and the act of reading within community remains one of my inspirations for pursuing a life of letters — of reading, writing, and sharing the life of the mind through librarianship.

This past spring, while Hanna and I were participating in our third year of Massachusetts History Day judging, I noticed that the special topical awards given out for student projects — labor history, local history, military history — didn’t include any awards for the history of projects related to women’s or gender history. Each year, many students do excellent work exploring the history of women and girls, gender, sex, and sexuality — and it seemed to me a shame that this work would not be recognized to the same extent that more traditional fields of historical inquiry would be.

So I decided to establish a book award in women’s and gender history — and I decided to name the award in honor of my grandmother. As I explained in the award letter:

Congratulations on winning this year’s Marilyn Ross Memorial Book Award. This prize is awarded annually at the state level to the best Junior or Senior individual project on the subject of women’s and gender history.

As an undergraduate student in history and women’s studies I was the recipient of several book prizes. It was very meaningful to me that faculty paid attention to my research and selected an award that fit my own particular scholarly interests. In establishing this book prize, it is my intention to support the work of the young scholars in my own field as I was once supported by my own mentors. I celebrate your hard work and encourage you in whatever direction your historical curiosity takes you!

…I award this prize in the memory of my maternal grandmother, Marilyn Ross (1925-2013), who was one of my inspirations for pursuing a career in librarianship and writing.

The inaugural award was presented in May 2014 to Gayatri Sundar Rajan for her individual documentary “Smile, Laugh, Charm: Expectations Placed on Women in the Work Force.”  

The idea of the book award is to reward and encourage the honoree in their continued work as a scholar by selecting a book that reflects the topic of their project but branches out in a tangential direction. This year I selected two titles (the second being an apology for an unwarranted delay in selection and presentation of the prize) in labor history:

  • Rocking the Boat:Union Women’s Voices, 1915-1975 by Brigid O’Farrell and Joyce L. Kornbluh. Rutgers University Press, 1996
  • Women Strikers Occupy Chain Stores, Win Big: The 1937 Woolworth’s Sit-Down by Diana Frank. Haymarket Books, 2012.

I look forward to presenting many more books to eager young scholars in the years to come!