Michelle Purdy

Associate Professor of Education
Director of the Undergraduate Program in Educational Studies
Michelle Purdy

Dr. Michelle A. Purdy is an Associate Professor of Education in Arts and Sciences, Director of Undergraduate Educational Studies, Chair of the Department of Education Curriculum Committee, and an affiliate faculty member of the Interdisciplinary Program in Urban Studies and the Center on Urban Research and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. With research, teaching, and service commitments to race, culture, and equity in education, her specialties include the history of U.S. education, the history of African American education, the history of school desegregation, and the history of policy, access, and opportunity. Her book, Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools (University of North Carolina Press), has been awarded the 2019 New Scholar’s Book Award from Division F (History and Historiography) of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). She also is a past recipient of a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award from the Graduate Student Senate at Washington University in St. Louis, and other awards and recognition.

In Transforming the Elite Purdy analyzes how and why historically white elite private schools, or the most prestigious independent schools, opted to desegregate when not legally obligated to so during the mid-20th century. Combining social history, policy analysis, and oral history, Purdy examines the desegregation of the well-known The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia alongside national efforts to diversify independent schools and argues that independent school leaders blurred notions of public and private as they contended with desegregation. Further she details how the first African American students to desegregate Westminster courageously navigated institutional and interpersonal racism in a contradictory and complex school culture.

Transforming the Elite has garnered national attention. Scholars and practitioners have invited Purdy to present on her work throughout the country including at Washington University in St. Louis, Teachers College-Columbia University, Yale University, Stanford University, The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, the Dalton School in New York City, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi. She has also held book talks at The Potter’s House Bookstore in Washington, DC, Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri, Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, and Seminary Co-Op in Chicago, Illinois. She has been interviewed by Joe Madison. Don Marsh of St. Louis Public Radio, and Virginia Prescott of Georgia Public Broadcasting and was a featured author during the 2019 Mississippi Book Festival’s panel on Civil Rights, School Desegregation, and African American Educational History.

Purdy is also co-editor of Using Past as Prologue: Contemporary Perspectives on African American Educational History and “African American Education, Civil Rights, and Black Power,” a special issue of The Journal of African American History. She has authored articles in History of Education Quarterly and The Journal of African American History, book chapters in The Power of Resistance: Culture, Ideology, and Social Reproduction and The Crisis of Race in Higher Education: A Day of Discovery and Dialogue, and other scholarly writing including book reviews and encyclopedia entries. Purdy has written for The Washington Post and has been featured in Teen Vogue.

Purdy teaches The American School, History of Education in the United States, and the Capstone Seminar in Educational Studies, and she has mentored both undergraduate and graduate students. She has served in numerous capacities at the department and institutional levels and in professional associations. Currently she is co-Program Chair of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and a board member for the History of Education Society (HES).

Purdy earned her A.B. in educational studies and African and African-American studies and M.A. in history from Washington University in St. Louis, and Ph.D. in educational studies from Emory University. She has previously held administrative, instructional, and research positions at Michigan State University, Emory University, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and Exploration Summer Program at Yale University.

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