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Jessica Wilkerson

Associate Professor, Joyce and Stuart Robbins Chair

Teaching Fields

  • Appalachia and the South 
  • Women, Gender, and Sexuality 
  • 20th Century America 
  • Labor and the Working Class


  • Ph.D., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 2014 
  • M.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 2006 
  • B.A., Carson Newman College, 2003

Research Interests

Dr. Wilkerson specializes in the histories of Appalachia and the South, modern America, women and gender, and labor and the working class. Her first book, To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice (University of Illinois Press, 2019), traces the alliances forged and the grassroots movements led by women in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and 1970s. She shows how white Appalachian women acted as leaders and soldiers in a grassroots war on poverty--shaping and sustaining programs, engaging in ideological debates, offering fresh visions of democratic participation, and facing personal political struggles. Their insistence that caregiving was valuable labor clashed with entrenched attitudes and rising criticisms of welfare. Their persistence, meanwhile, brought them into coalitions with Black women, disabled miners, and others to fight for causes that ranged from poor people's rights to community health to unionization. The book received Honorable Mention from the Philip Taft Prize in Labor and Working-Class History, and the dissertation on which it was based won the OAH Lerner-Scott Prize and the Labor and Working-Class History’s Herbert Gutman Prize.

Dr. Wilkerson has collaborated on or co-founded several oral history and public history projects, including the Long Women's Movement Project at the Southern Oral History Program, the Invisible Histories Project-Mississippi to document LGBTQ+ history in Mississippi, and the Black Families of Yalobusha County, MS Oral History Project at the University of Mississippi. She looks forward to continuing community-engaged collaborations and projects at WVU. 

In her next book project, In Sisterhood, In Struggle, Dr. Wilkerson explores the understudied yet expansive women's movements throughout the South and Appalachia from the 1960s through the 1990s. Along with scholarly projects, she has written regularly for popular media outlets including 100 Days in Appalachia, Boston Review, NPR, Rewire News, Washington Post, and Longreads. 

Personal Website:

Courses Offered

  • HIST 459: U.S. History, New Deal to Great Society
  • HIST 773: Readings in Appalachian History



To Live Here, You Have To Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice, published in The Working Class in American History Series (University of Illinois Press, 2019).  

Journal Articles, Book Chapters, and Essays:
Introduction, Southern Cultures, "The Women's Issue" (fall 2020). 

“Oral History and Testimony in Histories of Women, Gender, and Sexuality,” in Companion to American Women's History, Second Edition, edited by Nancy A. Hewitt and Anne M. Valk (Blackwell Publishing, forthcoming). 

“The Appalachian War on Poverty and the Working Class,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). 

“Mill Mother ‘Just A’waiting for a Strike’: Ella May Wiggins” in North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, eds. Michele Gillespie and Sally McMillen (University of Georgia Press, 2015). 

“The Company Owns the Mine But They Don’t Own Us: Feminist Critiques of Capitalism in the Appalachian South,” Gender & History 28, no. 1 (April 2016): 199-220. 

“Mountain Feminist: Helen Matthews Lewis, Appalachian Studies, and the Long Women’s Movement,” from an interview by Jessica Wilkerson, compiled and introduced by Jessica Wilkerson and David P. Cline, in Southern Cultures 17, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 48-65.

Grants and Awards

  • College of Liberal Arts Mike L. Edwards New Scholar Award, University of Mississippi, 2020.
  • Honorable Mention, Philip Taft Prize in Labor and Working-Class History, awarded by IRL, Cornell University, 2020. 
  • A. Elizabeth Taylor Prize for best article in southern women's history, Southern Association for Women Historians, 2017. 
  • Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2016-2017. 
  • Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in women’s history, Organization of American Historians, 2015. 
  • Herbert G. Gutman Prize for Outstanding Dissertation, Labor and Working-Class History Association, 2015. 
  • American Fellowship, American Association of University Women, 2013-2014. 
  • Moody Research Grant, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, 2013.