Biography

PHIT shoot for Peace in the Garden - 1990.pdf

Here, Melissa Hield is seen helping with a photoshoot for "Peace in the Garden": the story of Zilker Park Oriental Garden and master gardener Isamu Taniguchi for the PHIT (People's History in Texas). Melissa is on the far right.

         Melissa attended Smith College, which is one of the Seven Sisters of the Ivy League. She started in the fall of ’68 and graduated in the spring of ’72. There she received an outstanding education, one she defined as “phenomenal." This is due to the fact that the faculty believed women deserve education… that they should learn how to think… how to use their brains. This contrasted greatly with the overwhelming conservative notion that women should be confined to the domestic sphere. In other words, these professors actively encouraged these women to be thinkers, artists, and scientists—to be anything they desired to be. Here is where Melissa discovered that she not only wanted to learn women’s history, but teach it.

         As a result, Melissa pursued her love for women’s history in a master’s program at the University of Texas. She came with the desire to receive her Ph.D., so she could share her passion with students. As a part of the American Studies program, Melissa felt incredibly fortunate; she was among the first women in the program. At the time the department had no female faculty, with the exception of a visiting master’s student. Melissa claims she wasn’t treated any differently than the men, but they had an interesting perception of her. They believed she thought “like a man” and respected her for her intelligence. 

         This odd compliment stuck with Melissa throughout her education journey. She finished her master's and began teaching courses on women’s history in the fall of ’75, while still in pursuit of her Ph.D.. Her courses focused specifically on the history of women’s work within the United States. Only one woman had come before Melissa in teaching these courses. 

PHIT - Southern Tradition in Texas literary tradition - Rockdale Reporter newsclip 2-14-1985.pdf

Melissa Hield interviewing famed Texas novelist, Geroge Parry Sessions, for the PHIT (People's History in Texas). She is on the far left.

         Semesters passed and Melissa still had not finished her dissertation. She deeply desired to finish it and show the department her capabilities, but they failed to take her seriously or extend their support. Although Melissa loved teaching and interacting with students, she found that she enjoyed collaborative work the most. She and a few other UT students founded People’s History in Texas, which sought to preserve and elevate the history of ordinary people through primary sources. Finding this work more fulfilling and overall much more supportive, Melissa ultimately never finished her dissertation. Her participation in the People’s History in Texas introduced her to Ann Richards, a governor of Texas. Melissa then followed her to state government and spent the entirety of her career there.

         Ultimately, Melissa did spend her career helping people, but not in the way she originally anticipated. As she put it herself, she just wasn’t built for the academic world, but did something else that fulfilled her and allowed her to make contributions to the public.