Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has focused on the social and cultural history of American women in the twentieth century and includes studies of working women and everyday life, working-class and interracial sexuality, and the American beauty industry.
At the Radcliffe Institute, Peiss will pursue a study of librarians during and after World War II, their ties to intelligence-gathering agencies of the US government, and their work in postwar cultural reconstruction. The project began as a detective story about one of her relatives—a librarian at Harvard, student of philosophy, intelligence agent, and head of a mission for the Library of Congress in war-torn Europe. It has grown into an investigation of librarians’ roles in the organization and preservation of cultures of knowledge in the 1940s. This history raises important questions about the state’s investments in gathering and processing information, about ethical responsibility and cultural heritage in a time of war, and about the perceived relationship between the printed word and civilization.
Peiss has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, Smithsonian Institution, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. She was elected a fellow of the Society of American Historians in 1999. Her book Hope in a Jar: The Making of America´s Beauty Culture (Metropolitan Books, 1998) was a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.