Department of History

Wendy Gamber

  • Byrnes Professor, Department of History


  • Ph.D. at Brandeis University, 1991

Contact Information

Ballantine Hall, Rm. 819
(812) 855-5876


Wendy Gamber

My research centers on the social and cultural history of the United States, with particular attention to relationships between gender and economy. The Female Economy focused on the custom dressmaking and millinery trades, underscoring the gendered consequences of economic change—what was lost and what was gained as a nineteenth-century "female economy" largely controlled by women gave way to a twentieth-century clothing industry largely controlled by men. The Boardinghouse in Nineteenth-Century America examined how the ubiquitous but much-maligned boardinghouse helped to construct the very idea of home and the ways in which landladies and boarders negotiated powerful-if often illusory-dichotomies between home and market, public and private, love and money, boardinghouse and home. The Notorious Mrs. Clem, forthcoming in fall 2016, analyzes the social, cultural, and political consequences of a murder that dominated public commentary in Indiana (and at times, in much of the nation) from the late 1860s until the 1890s.  At its center is a remarkable figure, Nancy E. Clem—by turns a barely literate farm girl, respectable urban housewife, ambitious mother, supposed originator of the Ponzi scheme, alleged (and probably actual) murderess, itinerant peddler of patent medicines, and self-described “female physician.”  I use her story to illuminate the social history of capitalism, the political economy of nineteenth-century marriage, shifting constructions of social class, and changing configurations of urban space. 

I am currently at work on two projects:  a study that places the infamous Donner Party in the context of transnational and borderlands history and a book on gender, technology, and labor in the American home in the 1970s. 

Selected Awards

  • Trustees Teaching Award
  • Course release and research grant, College of Arts and Sciences Humanities Institute, Indiana University
  • Fellow, Lilly Freshman Learning Project, Indiana University
  • Short-term fellowship, Newberry Library

Research Interests

  • Nineteenth-century United States (social and cultural aspects)
  • Women and gender

Courses Recently Taught

  • The Nineteenth-Century United States
  • History of the American Home
  • Antebellum America
  • American History and the Environment
  • Fashioning America
  • American history to 1865

Publication Highlights


The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Murder and Money in the Gilded Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming, 2016. 

The Boardinghouse in Nineteenth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

[Co-edited with Michael Grossberg and Hendrick Hartog] American Public Life and the Historical Imagination. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.

The Female Economy: The Millinery and Dressmaking Trades, 1860-1930. Urbana and Chicago: The University of Illinois Press, 1997.


“The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Class, Gender, and Criminality in Gilded Age America,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 11:3 (July 2012): 313-343.

“'Furnishing Girls with Self-Supporting Trades:' Custom Needlework and Vocational Education, 1890-1920,” in Beth Harris, ed., Famine and Fashion: Needlewomen in the Nineteenth Century (Ashgate Press, 2005), 185-199. 

“Away from Home: Middle-Class Boarders in the Nineteenth-Century City.” Journal of Urban History 31 (March 2005): 289-305.