Sharon Sievers, Historian and Women's Studies Activist at Cal State- Long Beach, May 27 1938-April 5 2010
It is with great sadness that I report the death of Sharon Sievers on April 5, 2010 after a long illness in Long Beach, California. Sharon was the chair of the History Department (for over twelve years!) and sometime director of Women's Studies for forty years at California State University Long Beach. In the early 1980s, together with the ACLU she helped save the newly-nascent Women's Studies program by suing the university which was bowing to public pressure from neo-conservatives in the area. Eschewing more money and fame at more prestigious universities, she chose to remain at CSULB to serve as friend and mentor
to thousands of young women and men who otherwise might not have remained in college or gone on to academic careers.
She made thousands of phone calls on behalf of students, fellow faculty members, (especially the scores of adjuncts that she hired for one or two semesters over the years) abused women, homeless waifs, and even an occasional administrator. The story is told that a former dean complained about the phone bill for the department until he was told that he owed his own position to a phone call Sharon had made in his defense. Sharon never turned away anyone in need. She couldn?t solve every problem, but she was willing to make that phone call to someone who might.
Sharon was brilliant, but never dismissive or condescending of any of us who were not. Her ribald sense of humor is legendary. She loved to laugh, occasionally at herself, but seldom in mockery of others. I have often told the story of her defusing a very tense situation at Tokyo's Narita Airport. Standing amid a very angry group of travelers who were intent on strangling a particularly obtuse airline factotum, Sharon said in sotto voce "Leave him alone, the guy is a soup short of a teishoku!" We laughed until it hurt.
Never at a loss for words, when asked about a particularly dark, peaty, single malt scotch, she opined that it "Tastes like it was aged in an old sweat sock."
She always claimed that she was "far too busy living" to write much more than her award-winning seminal work Flowers in Salt: Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan (Stanford University Press, 1983 --still in print!). A generation later she penned a popular women's history textbook with fellow historian Barbara Ramusack, Women in Asia: Restoring Women to History (Indiana University Press, 1999). When asked why she chose to write the half of the textbook devoted to the women of China, Japan and Korea (Ramusack wrote the half devoted to South and Southeast Asia) she sighed and said "I guess I got tired of waiting for someone else to do it." Hundreds of my students have read Sharon's half over the past decade.
Sharon was also a poet and photographer, a fan of classical music and raconteur. She always laughed that she was a "Plain Plains Girl." She was born May 27, 1938 the Daughter of the late Celia (Pahl) and Edwin Walter Sievers of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. She began her education with a bachelor's degree at Augustana College in South Dakota, then a Master's in History at the University of Nebraska, finishing with her doctorate at Stanford University in 1969, a year after she began her teaching career at CSULB.
She is survived by her life partner Eugenia Odell of Long Beach, sister Beverly Hall of Tacoma, WA, dear friend Maylene Wong of San Francisco, and many grieving friends, former students and colleagues all over the world. We'll not see the likes of her again.
A memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m., Saturday, May 8, 2010, at St. Luke's Episcopal Church of Long Beach, 525 E. 7th Street, Long Beach. Interment will be in her native Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Donations in Sharon's memory may be made to the Sievers Scholars Program, c/o Department of History, CSULB, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840.
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