Nancy A. Walker Papers
Scope and Content Note
The collection is comprised of letters exchanged between Nancy A. Walker, the late Vanderbilt English Professor and the Director of the Women's Studies Center, and her childhood friend, Charles "Jeff" Howie date from 1959 to 1995. The vast majority of letters were exchanged during the 1960s as Walker studied English at Louisiana State University and completed her Ph.D. at Kent State. The collection solely comprises of her outgoing mail.
The letters are deeply personal and colloquial in nature. The earliest correspondence during Walker's time as a high school student in Shreveport reveals her growing enchantment with literature as well as her concerns about gossip, high school dances, college, and sororities. As an undergraduate at LSU, Walker keeps close touch with Howie, who studied law close-by at Tulane at this time. She discusses her studies and sorority activities in depth. She also elaborates on her readings and recommends several books. Walker sends several letters from London during her time abroad in the fall of 1965. She enters a relationship with her first husband, Jack Hand, around 1966 and correspondence falters until 1967 when she reopens conversation with Howie about her Ph.D. program and—rather candidly—her doubts about her marriage with Hand. Walker keeps close contact with Howie as she graduates from Kent State and begins her professorship at Stephens College in the early 1970s.
Contact becomes intermittent as her relationship with Hand falters, resulting in their divorce in 1974. Although Walker's letters become few and far between following this time, they remain incredibly frank. Her letters in the late 1970s reveal the difficult longdistance relationship with her second husband, Bert Augst. Walker terms this as a "midlife" crisis, highlighted by an affair with a "friend/lover" in Columbus, Missouri while Augst works in Alaska. Walker and Howie's correspondence slows to annual holiday letters between 1987 and 1995. During this time, she reveals her excitement upon accepting a position at Vanderbilt, and also her satisfaction with the growth of the Women's Studies Program in 1990.
The collection, as a whole, unveils Walker's maturation as an English professor and her focus on Women's Rights, contrasted with her experience as a professional female from the 1960s to 1980s.
Nancy A. Walker Biography
Born in 1942, Walker grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. A budding academic in high school with a passion for literature—as expressed in her letters—she matriculated at Louisiana State University, where she continued to study English. After studying abroad in London, Walker earned her Ph.D. in American Literature at Kent State in 1971. She taught English at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri for several years before accepting a position as an associate professor of English at Vanderbilt University and as the director of the burgeoning Women's Studies Committee in 1989.
Upon arriving at Vanderbilt Walker expanded the Women's Studies Committee into a full-fledged undergraduate academic program eligible as a minor in the School of Arts & Sciences. Over the course of her career, Walker published several acclaimed works on the role of women, humor, and pop culture, in American Society. Her most notable include A Very Serious Thing: Women's Humor and American Culture and Women's Magazines, 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press. She also edited countless works of women's literature from Kate Chopin to Eudora Welty.
In her personal life—largely disclosed in the correspondence—Walker kept close touch with the recipient of these letters, Charles "Jeff" Howie throughout her life. Walker married her first husband, John Hand, in the late 1960s. They divorced in 1974. Not long after, Walker married Bert Augst. Walker's correspondence with Howie reveals her difficult, but supportive, long-distance relationship with Augst in the early years of their marriage as he worked in Alaska.
Walker continued to teach as a professor of English and the director of the Women's Studies Program until she passed in December 2000.
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Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville TN 37203 United States