This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on June 16, 1992
Rutgers University history professor Susanne Lebsock, a prizewinning scholar and former director of the women’s studies program at Rutgers, is among this year’s winners of genius grants from the MacArthur Foundation. Lebsock, whose work focuses on the role of women in politics and society throughout American history, will receive $265,000 with no strings attached. She is among 33 winners of this year’s grants.
“I’m delighted,” she said yesterday. “It’s an enormous privilege and it grants a person a kind of freedom that is really rare.”
The MacArthur Fellowships, nicknamed “genius grants,” began in 1981 with funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. They are intended to reward creativity, and range from $150,000 to $375,000.
Fellows receive the money over five years along with health insurance. They are free to use award money as they wish.
Another New Jersey woman, Ingrid Daubechies, 37, of New Brunswick, will receive an award of $240,000. Daubechies is a mathematical analyst and physicist working on wavelets, which may revolutionize manipulation and storage of some kinds of data.
Lebsock, a 42-year-old mother of two young children, said the money won’t change her immediate plans. The family is moving this month from Highland Park to Chapel Hill, N.C., where her husband, Richard McCormick, has just taken over as provost of the University of North Carolina campus.
“The first thing I’m going to do is to do what I was going to do anyway, which is to write a book … about a murder mystery,” she said. “I want to try to write history that reads like fiction.”
Lebsock said historians have been growing more concerned that their academic writings interest only others in the profession.
She’ll try a different tack with a planned book about a Virginia murder of a white woman. A black man and three black women from the neighborhood were convicted. The man was hung, but the women later were exonerated.
“The suspense in the story is what happens to them and who really did it,” she said. “There’s also a story about a society in which racial prejudice is extremely overt, yet some justice was ultimately achieved.”
Lebsock came to Rutgers as an assistant professor of history in 1977 and advanced to professor in 1986. In 1985, she won another major honor, the Bancroft Prize, for one of her books, “The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1869.”
She will remain on the staff at Rutgers for one year, continuing to oversee research of graduate students in her charge, and expects to join UNC’s faculty next summer.