Faculty Spotlight - Professor Susan Klepp Retires
By: Professor Gregory Urwin
When Susan E. Klepp, professor of Colonial American and American Women’s History, revealed her plans to retire last year, she took her colleagues by surprise. Klepp had long ranked as a leading figure in her fields of specialization, and she attained the summit of the historical profession when her 2009 book, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820, received the 2010 Joan Kelly Memorial Prize from the American Historical Association as the best title in women's history and/or feminist theory released during the preceding year. A popular undergraduate instructor and a beloved graduate mentor, Klepp leaves a gap at Temple University that will prove difficult to fill.
Klepp entered the historical profession when it was still largely a gentleman’s club. After teaching for three years at Delaware Community College, she moved to Rider University as an adjunct professor in 1975 and secured a tenure-track position in 1979. For many years, she was the only woman in Rider’s history department, and she became the first to gain tenure there. While Klepp launched her teaching career, she endured the rigors of the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 1980 with a Ph.D. in American Civilization. For the next 20 years, Klepp taught at Rider, rising through the ranks to full professor.
In 2000, Klepp accepted a tenured professorship at Temple University. Although Rider had been home for more than two decades, it possessed no graduate school, and she craved new challenges. The many bright doctoral students who became her advisees at Temple allowed her to stretch intellectually to serve their needs and keep up with the historical literature pertinent to her interests and theirs. As she quipped, the situation “kept me on my toes.” The caliber of Temple’s undergraduates impressed her, too, and she found them a bit more interested in the historical discipline than their counterparts at Rider. In addition to being a conspicuous fixture in Temple’s History Department, Klepp also became an affiliated professor of Women’s Studies and African American Studies.
Klepp received her doctoral training at a time when social history reigned supreme and scholars sought statistical evidence to buttress their findings. Her dissertation dealt with births, marriages, and deaths in 18th century Philadelphia. The first three of the seven books she has authored or edited thus far reflect that orientation. As Klepp matured as a historian, however, she grew more interested in questions of meaning – how early Americans understood their world, how they coped with it, and how they expressed themselves. Fortunately, her grounding in social history proved ideal for expanding into cultural history. Revolutionary Conceptions reflects a blending of both fields.
Retirement from Temple does not mean that Klepp is turning her back on scholarship. She has been increasingly drawn to biography and autobiography, particularly the life stories of working people – a chronically neglected group. Thus far, she has unearthed 30 autobiographies left by early American men and women. These accounts have turned up in all sorts of places. The people who produced these records tended to be long-lived, and also associated with somebody famous or a significant event. Once Klepp finishes synthesizing this evidence, she will open yet another window on a forgotten chapter of the past and show us how it speaks to the present.
In addition to Klepp’s books, she has placed articles in such leading periodicals as the Journal of American History, William and Mary Quarterly, and Early American Studies. She has also contributed chapters to essay collections put out by top academic publishers.
Despite the demands of teaching, research, and publication, Klepp made the time to be a good academic citizen, accepting many service roles at Temple and an impressive array of professional organizations. She sat on the editorial boards of the William and Mary Quarterly and Pennsylvania History, and on the advisory council of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture. A past president of the Pennsylvania Historical Association, Klepp created a committee to study the role of women and minorities in that organization. Appointed a senior research fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies in 2000, Klepp served on that prestigious entity’s executive council from 2006 to 2010. She also joined the consortium responsible for bringing the Journal of the Early Republic to Temple in 2009, which she has edited for the past three years.
As Klepp relinquishes her teaching duties, she leaves a proud legacy at Temple University. She is eager, however, to see Temple replace her with another specialist in early America. As she sees it, no respectable history department located in Philadelphia can afford to be without a colonialist. Her colleagues agree, and hope that the next colonialist this department hires will be as superb a scholar, instructor, and friend as Susan Klepp.