Mary McCune, associate professor of history, has a passion for and a doctorate in women's history and served as director of the gender and women's studies program from 2013-16 and as interim director in 2002-03.

How long have you taught at SUNY Oswego?
I've been here since 2001. My husband (history professor and chair) Frank Byrne was on a tenure track in history, so we moved here together. We met in our Ph.D. program at Ohio State University. We're both big supporters of public education. I grew up in Fredonia and with the SUNY system; I went to a SUNY school. Frank is from Kent, Ohio, and we both studied at Ohio State. So Oswego the institution was of interest to us, and the region is beautiful.

What is your educational background?
I graduated from SUNY Albany with an M.A. in Russian literature. I received a master's in history and a Ph.D. in women's history at Ohio State University.

What caused you to pivot from Russian literature to women's history?
After college, I worked in Albany for a lobbyist. He also had a small association-development wing. My immediate supervisor and I ran a couple of (interest-group) associations. Doing that work got me interested in how and why people organize, what motivates them to create organizations and to participate in politics to try and effect change. I'd always been interested in women's issues, so I thought of combining those through a study of American women and their activism.

What was the subject of your doctoral dissertation?
The dissertation -- it was published as a book -- is about Jewish American women during World War I and the relief work they were involved in, predominantly in Eastern Europe. There was a great deal of dislocation and famine. I looked at the postwar period as well; I was interested in what these women were doing, literally. Also, I looked at three different organizations that had different conceptions of what it meant to be Jewish and to be a woman: a Zionist organization, Hadassah; the National Council of Jewish Women, which at that time was not overtly Zionist -- sort of more middle- and upper-class, highly assimilated women; and a Yiddish-speaking socialist organization, the Workmen's Circle. I looked at not only what they thought about American Jewish identity, but Jewish identity in the world in terms of creating a nation-state in Palestine and keeping the Yiddish language and culture alive in Eastern Europe.

What are your current academic and research interests?
In terms of teaching, I used to do more on immigration and ethnicity, and now I've been influenced by students' interests to develop a course on the history of sexuality. A research project I've been working on is focused on settlement houses that started as Jewish-run institutions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but then over time, the communities where they were located became largely African American, which led to institutional changes as well. I'm looking at those institutions and thinking about neighborhood change and what it means to be a community. The most famous settlement house was started by Jane Addams, Hull House. These were typically middle-class women who would buy a house, a community center in a poor neighborhood, usually an immigrant neighborhood, and then help them with English, finding jobs, etc. I'm looking at ones that were initially created by Jews for immigrant Jews.

What do you think of SUNY Oswego students?
In some ways they teach me, or get me to think of new things about teaching. They can be so engaging. I like that they come from different places and bring different perspectives and you can tap into that and get them to engage. That's exciting. They have a lot of challenges, too. A lot of them work, so they're juggling.

What do you think of your colleagues?
We get along great. We have a very supportive department. The gender and women's studies community is also very supportive, collegial. We had a daylong Saturday retreat that all sorts of people came to and participated in, uncompensated -- it shows a real commitment to the development of the program. 

How has gender and women's studies evolved over the arc of your association with it? 
We're looking to revise the curriculum, to update it. There's a lot of great new faculty and a shift toward thinking about gender issues and sexuality issues. I think that another major element of the program that's grown into its own space is the Feinberg Lecture Series, which was really developed under Lisa Langlois' leadership. It started as a class on issues women face in the workplace. Robert Feinberg (a '78 alumnus) funded the class from the start, and then it developed into a lecture series. It's really grown over the past five years or more. Most recently, gender and women's studies and the Feinberg Family Fund co-sponsored campus-wide, high profile lectures

Why the poster of Eleanor Roosevelt with a quote on your office wall?
I actually found out that that quote -- "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent" -- might be apocryphal; it may not be an actual quote. But I really admire her in so many ways and I like the quote. I admire her both as a political figure and for the personal challenges she overcame. She grew up in a troubled childhood and had to overcome her own self-doubt. She was involved in so many civil and human rights actions of the 20th century.

Did you participate in the Women's March following President Trump's inauguration?
I did, but I went to New York, not to D.C. It was really crowded. It was exhilarating. It was amazing to see the signs and feel the energy of people of all backgrounds, genders, everything. My husband was in a meeting for SUNY, but I took my two sons, so it was great to see them participate and to see that kind of protest and social action.

What is your favorite history course to teach?
This is one I’ve just taught twice now: "History of Sexuality" in the United States. It has been fun to teach. The students bring a lot to it. It’s just interesting to think of something that wouldn’t seem to have a history, and then thinking about the ways it really does.

What are your interests outside of work?
I like to read women's history and I like to read novels. Like every other feminist in the country, I’m rereading Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid’s Tale." I like to run, though I'm not particularly good at it. I love listening to music.

What else can you tell us about your family?
We have one son, 14, and the other will be 13 in August. We like to travel. The younger one is into soccer, the older one is into band activities.