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Faculty and Staff

Leandra Zarnow
Assistant Professor


Phone: (713) 743-3124
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Leandra Zarnow earned a BA in American Studies and Government from Smith College and MA and PhD in US History with a Doctoral Emphasis in Feminist Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. Before coming to University of Houston, Zarnow taught at Stanford University as an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in the History Department. She has also held research affiliations with the University of Toronto’s Centre for the Study of the United States at the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Tamiment Library at New York University. Along with colleague Professor Nancy Beck Young, Zarnow recently received a National Endowment for Humanities grant to host a 2017 Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers entitled Gender, the State, and the 1977 IWY National Women’s Conference.


Professor Zarnow teaches undergraduate and graduate course in US women’s history, frequently offering a US women’s history survey along with graduate readings courses in this area. She also teaches courses considering the history of gender and sexuality, US law and policy, social movements in the US and transnational context, and contemporary US politics and society. Interested particularly in historical methodology, she frequently teaches courses on the craft of biography, research methods, and the historical profession. Zarnow also teaches interdisciplinary courses in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Research Interests

Zarnow considers how gender, sexuality, class, and race frame understanding and outcomes in law and public policy as well as ideas and representation in media and political culture.  Looking at the United States and transnational realm, she is particularly interested in how social movement activists’ use state institutions and global governance bodies to enact change as they reform these elite spaces.  Currently, she is completing Passionate Politics: Bella Abzug and the Promise and Peril of the American Left, forthcoming from Harvard University Press.  This study of New York Representative Bella Abzug’s political ideology and legacy is at once a history of the varied development and impact of New Politics Democrats at the height of influence between 1968 and 1976.  Tracing Abzug’s biography, Zarnow also explores her labor Zionist roots, Popular Front orientation, midcentury political lawyering, and peace activism prior to Congress, as well as how she transitions from domestic to global feminist politics.  With Katherine Turk of the University of North Carolina, Zarnow is also co-authoring a retrospective article considering the work of esteemed women's historian Gerda Lerner, and A Past of Our Own: Writing Women into History, an intellectual history of the field of women's history.  Zarnow's solo second project, In Defense of Citizenship: Women’s Legal Advocacy and the Development of Feminist Jurisprudence, considers how women lawyers at the periphery of the legal profession crafted innovative rights arguments in areas of the law not typically seen as gendered such as immigration, criminal justice, and civil liberties.  This study will trace the long and varied origins of postwar feminist jurisprudence while highlighting the domestic and international engagements of women lawyers at the forefront of framing legal definitions of human rights.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, and various libraries have supported Zarnow’s research.  She has also received research prizes from the American Bar Foundation, Association of Jewish Studies, and the National Women’s Studies Association.  

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Selected Publications

  • Passionate Politics: Bella Abzug and the Promise and Peril of the American Left (Harvard University Press, forthcoming in winter 2018). 
  • “From Sisterhood to Girlie Culture: Closing the Great Divide between Second and Third Wave Popular Feminism,” in No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, ed. Nancy Hewitt (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010).
  • “Braving Jim Crow to Save Willie McGee: Bella Abzug, the Legal Left, and Civil Rights Innovation, 1948-1951,” Law and Social Inquiry 33, no. 4 (Fall 2008), 1003-1041. 

            *Winner of the 2007 Law & Society Graduate Student Competition and the 2010 Judith Lee Ridge Prize. 

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