Robin Henry

History commentator

Dr. Robin C. Henry holds a Ph.D. in US history from Indiana University and is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections among sexuality, law, and regional identity in the 19th and early 20th century United States.

She is the author of the forthcoming book, Criminalizing Sex, Defining Sexuality: Sexual Regulation and Masculinity in the American West, 1850-1927, as well as numerous articles. Currently, she is working on her second book, The Progressives’ Lincoln’: Reform and the Intellectual Life of Benjamin Barr Lindsey.

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This month, we recognize the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. For many Americans, Stonewall is the beginning of the gay liberation and civil rights movements. But like many movements, the visible moments often rest on a foundation of small, but significant, social, political, and legal challenges.


On May 15, 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. While this would seem to have been cause for celebration, the NWSA resulted from a bitter divide between abolitionists and women’s rights activists over the 15th Amendment.

This commentary originally aired on April 4, 2017.

During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln believed that dissenters remaining within loyal states posed a threat to the Union. 

As the calendar changes from February to March, many of us are aware that we move from celebrating Black History Month to Women’s History Month. However, this abrupt shift reflects more the arbitrary way we mark the passage of time than lived experiences that more frequently push against arbitrarily drawn timeframes and structures of analysis. As a scholar of women and gender history, the move from Black to Women’s History months presents the perfect opportunity to discuss intersectionality.


When historians talk about the “trust-busting era” in US history, we are probably referring to the early 20th century when the federal government broke up several large, corporate monopolies in order to promote economic competition. However, the largest corporate breakup actually took place in 1982.  

On Nov. 30, 1804, the U.S. Senate opened its only impeachment trial against a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The House of Representatives’ charges against Associate Justice Samuel Chase stated that his partisanship affected his decisions. While Chase narrowly escaped removal from the court, his trial placed the court’s impartiality into question.

On October 16, 1916, Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The clinic distributed birth control and advice and information on birth control and sexual health. Just ten days later, Sanger and her coworkers were arrested in violation of the federal Comstock Act and in defiance of Section 1142 of the New York Penal Code. Both of these laws classified birth control information as obscene and forbade distribution of information or birth control devices in person and through the mail.

On September 12, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that states are bound by the court’s decisions and must enforce them, even if the states disagree. This decision in Cooper v. Aaron followed four years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that ordered public schools desegregated.

On July 24th 1959, U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took the Cold War into the kitchen. Later referred to as the Kitchen Debate, the heated conversation took place in the American exhibition in Moscow, at the U.S.-Soviet Cultural Agreement, a program of mutual, cultural exchange meant to promote understanding and friendship between the two nations. 

Every June, I leave Wichita to score US AP History exams for seven days. In a digital age, this is a thoroughly analogue event. This year, more than 450,000 high school students took the four-hour exam and produced more than 2.5 million essays. These essays are handwritten, with words and phrases scratched out and arrows directing you to where the “real” second paragraph can found on page four.

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