Women of Mizzou: Medieval queens and graduate students’ dreams with Lois Huneycutt

Graduate alumni Heather McRae: “[Huneycutt] is incredibly open and honest. If you mix that with her ability to care about her students and get to know them on a personal level and not just a professional level, she ends up being an incredible advocate and resource for her students.”

Along the shelves of Lois Huneycutt’s office, you will find trinkets of times please ast and frames of awards previously won. Cases of books line the walls in organized chaos.

This room is a part of Huneycutt and her work as a medieval history professor at MU. However, the origins of Huneycutt’s work began far from MU.

“I started as a linguistics major in college [at the University of California, Los Angeles] and I thought maybe I would be a speech pathologist or speech therapist,” Huneycutt said. “I actually dropped out of college my junior year. I ended up taking off almost seven years.”

After dropping out, Huneycutt worked as a 911 operator in California. While the job paid well and she enjoyed the work, Huneycutt said that shift work soon became exhausting. She proceeded to go back to college, this time at the University of California, Riverside.

Huneycutt hoped to save her money during school and, during breaks, travel Europe for two months. Huneycutt said she decided that she needed a job that would pay for her to go to Europe. She had fallen in love with Europe and paid travel was the only way she could go to Europe while also be able to afford a house and groceries.

“I kind of fell in love with history, and I fell in [love with] English medieval history in particular,” Huneycutt said. “I had studied Latin in high school and so that was a plus. I was raised in a kind of fundamental Christian sect that I'm no longer a member of, but that gave me a lot of information about the Bible and religion, which is also really important for [a] medieval historian. So everything started coming together.”

Her love of history transcended into her future. Huneycutt decided to follow her intuition and took all her retirement money and put it into her schooling to become a historian.

“Actually, my husband was hired by the University of Missouri and I had a job out in California, which was kind of tough,” Huneycutt said. “We were making it work until we had our kid. There just happened to be just a series of coincidences that got me here. They [MU] lost an ancient historian right before the semester opened. And I mean, he was supposed to teach these classes. He had already ordered his books and the classes were full.”

Huneycutt taught ancient history classes for the year. By the time the next school year came around, Huneycutt said, a modern English historian was going on leave, and MU allowed her to take over his classes. Eventually, as new opportunities opened up, Huneycutt was able to apply for a permanent teaching position in medieval history.

Several years later, Huneycutt was working with graduate students as the director of graduate studies in the History Department. She made an impact on several students, including former graduate student Heather McRae.

“I think one of the biggest influences she has had on me was the way that she worked with me with professional and academic conferences,” McRae said. “I gave a lot of different papers and we would travel together, sometimes with other students. Her support has been really special.”

Her support of students was evident in her work. In fact, Professor and History Department Chair Catherine Rymph noted how Huneycutt’s commitment goes beyond the classroom. Huneycutt has nominated students for awards and, in the words of Rymph, has done her best to extend their careers.

“She was a wonderful director of graduate studies,” Rymph said. “She really cares about students and worked hard to make different processes work better and to advocate for students with the administration.”

McRae agreed on this subject, and went on to explain that she is incredibly supportive and successful at aiding students to become their own scholars.

“She will drive people to conferences so they don’t have to worry about transportation,” McRae said. “She does whatever she can to make everyone feel welcome and put their best professional foot forward as they work on their graduate degrees. That isn't something that directly benefits her or her career. She does a lot more than a lot of advisers do because she genuinely wants you to be successful.”

After 2015 budget cuts, Huneycutt was unable to take any more graduate students and turned to focus on undergraduate studies, now as an associate professor. She specializes in medieval history and currently teaches several courses at MU, such as History of England Before the Glorious Revolution and the Age of Vikings. Her work focuses specifically on medieval England, particularly on noble women.

“Most of my career I have spent looking at female aristocrats and queens and really looking at how these women serve their kingdoms and communities and families,” Huneycutt said. “I looked at queenship and how it changes over time.”

Huneycutt has wrote several articles and books. She recently published two book chapters and a biography of Henry I’s queen, Matilda of Scotland. The book is titled “Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship.”

“She is an important part of a network of scholars,” McRae said. “Her own work has been, in a lot of ways, foundational in looking at medieval queenship and women in the middle ages. She is an incredible scholar and has interesting points of view on her field.”

Huneycutt’s contributions on medieval England, particularly medieval queens, have been important in her field, but also important in viewing women of the future. Her work has shed light on the history of women.

“I think that destroying myths about women in the past is really important because we have this picture that says that, really up until recently, most women were housewives and they didn't do anything outside the home,” Huneycutt said. “Even if they were ‘just housewives,’ they're contributing a vast amount of the household economy. In fact, noble women of the European past were really involved with leadership.”

Huneycutt’s studies on women of the past and the study of historical women in general have, in McRae’s words, absolutely had an impact on women of the future. In fact, Huneycutt has opened doors for many young women at MU.

“There are a lot of graduate students that are women at Mizzou, and Lois has definitely been a big part of that,” McRae said. “The fact that she’s opened up one aspect of looking at women’s history with queenship of the middle ages is incredibly important. It allows for a place for women to talk to each other about their history in a good way, without the dialogue being controlled by males.”

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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