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Nora Kassner awarded John D’Emilio LGBTQ History Dissertation Award

Nora Kassner headshot

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) has awarded Nora M. Kassner, who recently completed her PhD in our department, the 2024 John D’Emilio LGBTQ History Dissertation Award, which recognizes the best PhD dissertation in U.S. LBGTQ history. The Award was presented during the OAH’s 2024 Conference on American History.

Kassner’s, “Hard to Place: Gay and Lesbian Foster Families and the Remaking of U.S. Family Policy” (completed under the direction of Alice O’Connor), with an incisive and personable voice, makes a stunning intervention in scholarship on queer family formation and the historiography of U.S. family policy in the twentieth century. Spanning the 1970s through the 1990s, with a regional focus on foster care systems in Florida, New Jersey, and California, Kassner’s dissertation argues that foster parenting was an essential and understudied catalyst for securing state recognition and protection for gay and lesbian parents. Kassner deftly braids together extensive archival research and oral history to craft a granular study of the day-to-day decisions of foster parents, social workers, and activists. In doing so, she accounts for the hyperlocal, idiosyncratic practices that gradually amounted to more inclusive parent licensing nationally. Kassner also captures the racial politics that fueled the selective liberalization of U.S. family policy in the late twentieth century. The committee was especially impressed by Kassner’s application of Black feminist theory to critique the sinister co-dependency between state divestment in Black families, which produced an influx of “hard to place” children in U.S. foster care, and state investment in the white gay and lesbian foster families who fostered and adopted them.

Congratulations, Nora!