Kathy Peiss

Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History

(215) 898-2746

College Hall 215D


Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at Penn, where she teaches courses on modern American cultural history and the history of American sexuality, women, and gender.  Her research has examined the history of working women; working-class and interracial sexuality; leisure, style, and popular culture; the beauty industry in the U.S. and abroad; and print culture and cultural policy during World War II.  She is particularly interested in the ways that commerce and culture have shaped the everyday life and popular beliefs of Americans across time.

Peiss is the author of Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986) and Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1998), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and named one of Amazon's 1999 top ten books in Women's Studies.  Her most recent book is Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style (2011), which received the 2012 Millia Davenport Publication Award of the Costume Society of America.  Other publications include Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, co-edited with Christina Simmons (1989); Men and Women: A History of Gender, Costume, and Power, co-authored with Barbara Clark Smith in conjunction with a Smithsonian Institution exhibit (1989); Love Across the Color Line: The Letters of Alice Hanley to Channing Lewis, co-edited with Helen Horowitz (1996); Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality (2001); and articles in Daedalus, Library Trends, Business History ReviewEnterprise and SocietyGendersAmerican Literary History, and Social Problems.

Peiss has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, NEH, ACLS, Smithsonian Institution, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.  She has been elected a Fellow of the Society of American Historians and is a member of the Society’s Executive Board.  She has also lectured at the University of Sydney as a Fulbright Senior Specialist.  In addition to writing and teaching, she has served as a consultant to museums, archives, and public history projects, and appeared in the documentary films New York and Miss America.

Her current research concerns American librarians, book collectors, and information specialists in the World War II era, a project spurred by the discovery of the hidden life of a family member.  It explores the uses and meaning of print culture in a time of war and devastation, and addresses the history of open-source intelligence gathering, mass acquisition projects, the restitution of book collections, and the problems of cultural reconstruction.  A second long-term project is a cultural history of the mass middle class in the mid-twentieth century, its material culture, aesthetics, and sensibilities.

At Penn, Peiss served as Chair of the History Department from 2008 to 2011.  She is a member of the affiliated faculty of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program and the graduate group in the Department of History and Sociology of Science. She received the Ira H. Abrams Memorial Award for Distinguished Teaching for Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences in 2013.