Christina Crosby, Feminist and Disability Studies Scholar and Writer, Dies at 67
Christina Crosby, Professor of English and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wesleyan University, died on January 5, 2021 of pancreatic cancer in Middlesex Hospital. A deeply beloved teacher and widely published author, Crosby was perhaps best known for her 2016 memoir A Body, Undone: Living on After Great Pain, which begins with the life-altering 2003 bicycling accident in which she broke her neck shortly after her fiftieth birthday. A courageous account of her life post-paralysis with her beloved partner Janet Jakobsen, caregivers Donna and Shannon, and “a network of caring friends,” the book emphasizes that “we are much more profoundly interdependent creatures than we often care to think.” It received praise in The New Yorker magazine for its avoidance of self-pity or “uplifting messages of hardship overcome,” and for daring to speak the unspeakable in its unflinching descriptions of the everyday, embodied experience of life and love in a “body undone.”
Christina Crosby was born on September 2, 1953 in Huntington, Pennsylvania. Her father, Kenneth Ward Crosby, was a Professor of History, and her mother, Jane Miller Crosby, a Professor of Home Economics, at Juniata College. In her early life, according to family members, Crosby was already known for being both intellectually and physically “brave, brazen, courageous, smart, and wild”; she was “always active, whether running, biking, ice-skating on a local pond, sledding, swimming, or terrorizing her brother Jefferson” (b. 1952).
After attending public high school in Huntington, Crosby received a B.A. in English from Swarthmore College in 1974, where she wrote a column called “The Feminist Slant” for the student newspaper, was active in Swarthmore Women’s Liberation, and helped found Swarthmore Gay Liberation. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in English from Brown University in 1982, where she studied with the renowned Victorian scholar Roger Henkel. From early on, she developed a reputation as a consummate teacher with a special talent for translating arcane and difficult theoretical arguments into terms for a broader community of learners. While in Providence, she immediately became involved with the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, which had just opened in the fall of 1975, and joined the socialist feminist caucus that met there, focusing on issues such as domestic violence. Out of these discussions a hotline and community outreach program developed, which would eventually become a shelter named Sojourner House, of which Crosby was a founding member (she is featured in an oral history of the shelter on its 40th anniversary, which can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/Z8DJF6JmM90). Those who knew Crosby at this time of her life recall being in awe of her “vitality, confidence, and swagger.” Crosby’s activist focus on women in the private sphere also influenced the topic of her dissertation, which would evolve into her first book, The Ends of History: Victorians and ‘The Woman Question’ (1990).
The English Department at Wesleyan hired Crosby in 1982, with the understanding that she would contribute to its nascent program in Women’s Studies, at that time run by a collective of faculty and students. Professor Emeritus Richard Ohmann, who helped organize the collective, recollects, “Having Christina join us was most fortunate: she had lots of experience working in collectives, and was deft in sorting out choices, listening to students, helping them think clearly and critically about political and educational questions, and achieving serious consensus. She was also wonderfully competent in feminist theory. These qualities quickly made her an influential teacher in Women’s Studies, as it began to have a distinct curriculum, and in a wide range of English courses. She was a splendid colleague. Not surprising, then, that the Faculty eventually elected her as its Chair in 2002.” Crosby played a key role in establishing Women’s Studies as a major, and later in redesigning the program as Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Crosby is survived by Beth Crosby, Kirsten Crosby Blose, Colin Crosby, Matt Blose, Andrea Crosby-Molina, Justin Blose, Alexander Blose, Annalia Crosby-Molina, Santiago Crosby-Molina, and Janet Jakobsen.
The Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University will host a memorial service for her this spring details to follow. Memorial contributions in her name can be made to Sojourner House (sojournerri.org), the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Wesleyan (give.wesleyan.edu), and Metropolitan Playhouse (metropolitanplayhouse.org). To share memories or send condolences to the family, please visit www.doolittlefuneralservice.com.