Wendy Gamber

Byrnes Professor, Department of History

Adjunct Faculty, Department of American Studies

Affiliate Faculty, Department of Gender Studies

Affiliated Faculty, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

Department of History

IU; IU Bloomington

Full Biography

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.  My most recent book, The Notorious Mrs. Clem, was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” by the New York Times Book Review and represents Indiana in the NYTBR's "50 States of True Crime."  It 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 the history of household hazards from the seventeenth century to the present. 

Honors and Awards

  • Finalist, (for The Notorious Mrs. Clem), 2017 Jon Gjerde Prize for Best Book in Midwestern History, Midwestern History Association
  • Editor’s Choice (for The Notorious Mrs. Clem), New York Times Book Review, November 3, 2016
  • Roger D. Bridges Distinguished Service Award, Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
  • Trustees Teaching Award

Research Interests

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


  • Ph.D. at Brandeis University, 1991

Courses Taught

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



  • The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Murder and Money in the Gilded Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 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.
  • "Tarnished Labor: The Home, the Market, and the Boardinghouse in Antebellum America," Journal of the Early Republic 22 (Summer 2002): 177-204.