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Perkin, Joan



  • Existence: 1926 - 2015


Joan Griffiths Perkin was born on July 27, 1926 in Smallthorne, Staffordshire, England. Her father, Henry Griffiths, kept a corner store and was a lay preacher in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Her mother, Jane Walker Griffiths, was a nanny and governess, and died in 1938 when Joan was 12. From age 11 to 16, she received formal education at Brownhills School for Girls. She left school to help her ill father. At age 17 in 1943, she began volunteering for the Youth Forum for Post-War Reconstruction in the Potteries, England. She worked in the Civil Service during War World II in the Ministry of Health Insurance Division and Ministry of National Insurance. She met her future husband, Harold Perkin, while attending the Stoke-on-Trent Youth Conference on Post War Reconstruction in the fall of 1944. Joan and Harold Perkin were married on July 3, 1948. Joan left her job in 1951 to follow Harold to Manchester, England. From 1951 to 1958, she worked as a secretary to the Industrial Relations Adviser in the rayon industry and as acting adviser when her boss was promoted. She left her job to start a family and gave birth to her first child, Deborah Jane, on November 9, 1958. She gave birth to Julian Robert on May 17, 1964 in Manchester.

Joan and Harold moved to Lancaster, England in 1965. While Harold taught at the University of Lancaster from 1965-1984, Joan managed their household, was active in public service and benevolence, researched, and wrote. She was an active member in the Labour Party from 1952 to 1980, including serving as Ward Secretary and Constituency Vice-Chairman in Lancaster. Joan served as a Justice of the Peace from January 1975 to September 1982, a school governor, governor of Lancaster Adult Education College and Caton County Primary School, and founder of the St. Paul’s Primary School Parent Teacher Association and Caton pre-school playgroup. She was active in the Lancaster University spouses’ association.

Joan attended the University of Lancaster from 1976 to 1979 and completed a B.A. in Social Administration and Organization Studies with honors at the age of 53. After she graduated, the couple temporarily moved to Princeton, New Jersey, for Harold’s one year research fellowship. She wrote It’s Never Too Late: A Practical Guide to Continuing Education for Women of All Ages while living in Princeton, which Harrap Limited, Impact Books published in June 1984.

Joan moved to the United States in mid-February 1985 after Harold accepted a tenured position at Northwestern University. Joan worked as a part-time, non-tenure-track lecturer in Northwestern’s History Department from 1986 to 1997 and the Women’s Studies Program from 1993 to 1997. She taught courses on British and American women’s history, women’s studies, feminism, and families. Joan served as secretary of the Organization of Women Faculty, was involved in benevolent work with the University Settlement and was active in women authors’ discussion groups and Les Femmes Savantes. She researched and wrote three books, Women and Marriage in Nineteenth-Century England (1988), Victorian Women (1993), and The Merry Duchess (2002).

In 1997, Joan retired from Northwestern University at age 70. She and Harold moved to London, England, on September 1, 1997 to be closer to their children, grandchildren, and British friends. The couple annually visited Chicago and Evanston. She served as a governor of St. Saviours Primary School in London.

Joan died on July 27, 2015 in Croatia while on a Mediterranean cruise with her granddaughter, Hannah Smithies.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Harold (1926-2004) and Joan (1926-2015) Perkin Papers

Identifier: 11/3/16/27
Abstract The papers of British social historians Harold and Joan Perkin fill 61 boxes and contain 6.28 megabytes of born-digital files. The collection documents their academic careers and personal lives in England and the United States, spanning dates 1905-2015, with bulk dates 1970-2015. Harold Perkin was one of the leaders in the British social history movement of the 1960s-1970s and a professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University from 1985 to 1997. Joan Perkin was a lecturer in...
Dates: 1905, 1930s-2015; Majority of material found within 1970 - 2015