UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When National Public Radio (NPR) picked up an academic hashtag going viral on Twitter, it also reached out to Kathleen Kennedy, associate professor of English at Penn State Brandywine, for further information.
The hashtag #ThanksForTyping, which recently trended on Twitter, showcased the unnoticed work of wives, left unnamed, who typed and edited manuscripts for their husbands in the mid-20th century — often husbands would thank "my wife," but not identify her by name. From there, the conversation expanded into a dialogue about uncredited female labor in publishing and academia.
Kennedy joined the dialogue through a professional Twitter account that she maintains.
“Twitter is interesting as a platform,” said Kennedy. “It can be almost intimate — just you and the six other people in your conversation — but at the same time, since it’s a public platform, a small comment can go viral at the most unexpected time.”
As part of #ThanksForTyping, Kennedy shared a photograph of her former undergraduate adviser, Margaret Hamilton, standing next to a stack of NASA computer code that she typed herself.
“Men in her era had wives or secretaries to type for them, but the women still typed for themselves,” she said. “It’s the hidden labor of academia. One unpaid woman is typing, editing and doing other work for her husband — and she might be getting dinner on the table simultaneously.”
NPR included Kennedy’s comments about the hashtag in its article and reached out to her for further information. Rather than vilify mid-20th century male authors, the article approached the #ThanksForTyping stories as little-known history with modern significance.
“NPR crafted this hashtag’s subject matter as a narrative,” she said. “They are always looking for ways to highlight work that hasn’t been highlighted yet.”
As Kennedy stressed in the NPR article, part of understanding any narrative is understanding the historical perspective surrounding it.
“The 21st-century perspective is ‘Why doesn’t the author’s wife get a name? It doesn’t sound like she’s getting paid,’” she said. “But from the male authors’ perspectives, this was a gesture of respect and kindness. Yes, the wife was left nameless, but he was trying to give credit where credit was due.”
To read the NPR article featuring Kennedy, click here.