April 7, 2022
The Organization of American Historians (OAH) announced that Hannah Srajer, Yale University, is the recipient of the OAH’s 2022 Louis Pelzer Memorial Award, which is given annually for the best essay in American history by a graduate student. The Award was presented during the OAH’s 2022 Conference on American History.
Srajer’s work, “Imperfect Intercourse: Sexual Disability, Sexual Deviance, and the History of Vaginal Pain in the Twentieth Century United States,” examines the legal and medical history of vaginal pain in the United States.
Opening a conversation about disabled (hetero)sexuality in the twentieth century, it not only expands the field of disability history to include vaginismus but also explores its implications for the medico-legal construction of marriage. The manuscript first analyzes divorce and annulment suits that involved the litigation of female impotence in the twentieth century. It then charts the development of “psychosomatic gynecology,” illuminating the impact of Freudian approaches to vaginal pain from the 1930s to the 1960s. Finally, it maps the turn away from psychoanalytic conceptualizations toward behavioral models for the management of vaginal dysfunction. In so doing, this manuscript reveals how the U.S. medical community has often conflated sexual disability, particularly genital disability that prevents vaginal penetration, with gender and sexual queerness. The Pelzer Committee described this manuscript as “beautifully done.” In the committee’s assessment, the manuscript offers an extraordinary “shift in the way we think about law and marriage. The dominant paradigm has been coverture. This changes the framework.” One committee member added, “The historical narrative is crystal clear. I could see the shifts and transformations.” Another enthused, “I was blown away.”
For the full list of OAH 2022 award and prize recipients, please visit the OAH website.