This week we kick off the first of our Tommie Questionnaires – a regular post that will profile UST Historians. It is only fitting that we begin with our most senior member of the History Department, Dr. Anne Klejment. Last year St Thomas honored Dr. Klejment’s 30 years of service to the University. She received Ph.D. in U.S. History from the State University of New York at Binghamton.
What inspired you to become a historian?
From childhood, I was fascinated by the past. My mom told stories of what it was like to grow up in the 20s and 30s and I had her repeat them over and over. I loved historical novels, documentary films, presidential history. Every Sunday we watched “Twentieth Century” on tv—Walter Cronkite hosted it. My great aunt gave me a “Meet the Presidents” game that my best friend and I loved. We played it so much that we had to make up our own questions. Chris and I were Kennedy fans. We made our own scrapbooks—for JFK, RFK, and Teddy. When Bobby ran for the Senate, we were in the crowd with our homemade signs. Grade school and high school history classes were terrible—one teacher in particular invented her own history stories that we had to memorize (she always blamed the English and Communists for every problem)–but somehow I survived. I double majored in history and political science in college.
Why U.S. History?
I loved nineteenth century European history and Russian history in particular. But in my junior year in college, I took US government, US constitutional history, and US diplomatic history. I surprised myself by loving US history, which I had studied very little. Again, the nineteenth century riveted me: the abolitionists, the Marshall court, imperialism—I couldn’t get enough of them. I knew nothing of social history, women’s history, African American history, or immigration history as an undergraduate. How sad! I guess I decided to make up for that lack…. Actually, in grad school, I did have minor fields in modern Russian history and comparative political thought. I wasn’t permitted to teach it here at UST.
What is exciting you with your current research?
For a long time I have been researching various aspects of the life of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She died in 1980. I had started with serious research on Daniel and Philip Berrigan, the two antiwar priests of the Vietnam era. My dissertation advisor was a SDS activist at Cornell, so she was great in helping me to network with people who knew Dan when he was there. And she understood the value of trying to decipher who these activists were and how they moved from conventionality to radicalism. So I was doing very recent history. But I wanted to get at the roots of Catholic social activism, even radicalism, in the US. So I had to study Dorothy Day. I am fascinated by her pacifist stand and have traced its origins to World War I, before she converted to Catholicism. Her suffrage activism in 1917, during the war, had nothing to do with women suffrage but with supporting political prisoners, and advancing her career as a writer, and in opposing the war by making trouble for President Wilson. She was one of the women who understood that “making the world safe for democracy” assumed that our imperfect nation, which denied people of color and women the vote, could be a model for others. She was a bit heterodox in her politics then—a left wing socialist or anarchist. After her conversion, she was a Christian anarchist; her views were biblically rooted but in synch usually with the papal encyclicals. I’m very motivated to learn more about her and to continue my research because she has been designated a “servant of God.” So she is on her way to formally canonized sainthood. I’m studying her activism during Vatican II and also her hopes for family life as a new Catholic, before she broke with Forster Batterham, the father of her child. I also have a project on the history of Catholic Digest magazine, which was once owned by UST—and before that by a few priests. I was reluctant to take on that project, but my research has actually enhanced my Dorothy Day scholarship. Pure serendipity!
What is your favorite thing about teaching history?
My favorite thing about teaching history is walking into a classroom and starting up a discussion of the past! I love the courses I teach—African American History, US Catholicism, US Women, Vietnam, etc., but I also love the students. Generations of students last four or five years. Then there’s a new generation to learn how to teach—they have different values, different experiences, and use technology in ways unimaginable when I was an undergraduate! I thought copy machines (we called them Xeroxes) were fantastic. Now I can’t imagine teaching without scanning and power point. And, of course, students are always several steps ahead on using new technology. But I ask them to question it! I want my students to reflect not just on the past, but also on the present!
What are you up to when you are not on campus?
You really don’t want to know what I am doing when I am not on campus! Replacing a broken microwave. Finding a new computer before minetotally goes kaputz. Walking the dogs. I love genealogy, old movies (especially Italian and French ones), and am a fanatic over my day lilies. You can probably find me eating in an ethnic restaurant or enjoying an art exhibit or listening to Chopin, Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Ellington, or one or another of my favorites. You can see that I like old things a lot! But I am open to the new as well.