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Stanford Report, May 21, 1997

Editors recall work on journal Signs: 5/21/97


When Gelpi and her team began digging into submitted manuscripts, they were staggered by the amount of work involved in editing a quarterly.

"We had so little notion of the process, and part of the trauma of those early months was learning how it all worked," Gelpi said. "Things got so scary at one point that I consulted the I Ching, but the answer was not helpful; it said, 'The roof beam is sagging and is about to break - get help!'"

In the era before personal computers, the editing team worked with index cards and manila folders and met upstairs in the CROW building to discuss manuscripts. At challenging moments they dreamed of a "golden drawer" that would overflow with articulate, carefully footnoted articles.

The first issue produced at Stanford carried an editorial that had this final sentence: "We plan to draw on our past connections to continue both the feminist commitment and interdisciplinary character of Signs."

"That was the first time the word 'feminist' had been used," Gelpi said. "And the University of Chicago Press called back to ask, 'Do you really want that?'"

Toward the end of the first year's operation, the community of faculty and staff who had coalesced around the journal were devastated by the death of Rosaldo in an accident while she was conducting field work.

"In some ways, I think feminist scholarship as a whole, and certainly Signs at Stanford, never recovered from Shelley's death," Strober said. "The editorial Nan [Keohane] wrote for the feminist theory issue, that she had been editing jointly with Shelley, in effect said that this was a loss that would never be made up."

Although Keohane would leave Stanford to become president of Wellesley College (and, eventually Duke), Gelpi's editing team went on to publish articles that provided a forum for discussion of provocative issues. They also produced a number of special issues that focused on themes, including "Women and Poverty," "Gender and the Law," "Women and Aging" and "The Lesbian Issue."

"As I went through back issues, I was struck by the paucity of feminist insight into economics in those days," Strober said. "In many other disciplines, feminism was really moving forward, but not so in economics.

"That raised questions for me: Why is it that certain disciplines picked up feminism so much earlier than others? What does it say about the strength of the paradigm? About the way in which we're trained?' "

As the editors had more conversations about the directions of feminist research in their respective fields, Gelpi said, the group dynamics were remarkable.

"In that brainstorming together, one came up with something much better than one could do working away at one's own computer in the library," she said. "I find the thinking is better in community, and that sort of shared work was something that gave me great joy." SR