Associate Professor of History Dr. Kyle Ciani has been at Illinois State since 2001. However, before entering higher education, she worked at nonprofit organizations that dealt with domestic violence and child abuse. Then, Ciani, who had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, returned to school for her Ph.D. in the history of women and gender.

“I realized that there needed to be a better understanding of the long history of domestic violence, child abuse, and family histories, and that’s what really sent me to the classroom,” said Ciani.

Senior Lindsey LaMorte knew that Ciani was the perfect candidate to advise a new registered student organization that LaMorte had founded, the Women’s History Club.

“My freshman year I had Dr. Ciani for History of the United States, and she talked about women a lot,” said LaMorte, a history-social sciences teacher education major from Mokena. “That’s what really inspired me and made me even more passionate about women’s history.”

Kyle Ciani

Dr. Kyle Ciani (Photo: élan Studios)

The group met for the first time last fall. Meetings have featured several guest speakers. For example, Associate Professor Dr. Katrin Paehler, an expert in German history, spoke about photojournalist Gerda Taro, an instrumental yet overlooked figure during the Spanish Civil War. Additionally, Associate Professor Dr. Georgia Tsouvala, a historian of ancient history, talked about female athletes in ancient Greece. During their first Zoom presentation this September, Associate Professor Dr. Christine Varga-Harris presented on women’s issues in the mid-20th century Soviet Union.

Whether the topic is broad or specific, the club offers diverse and interesting presentations on all aspects of women’s history.

“We didn’t want people to feel as though the meetings were another class that they had to attend,” said Ciani. “We invite experts in subjects related to women’s history, and we all talk together and ask any questions we’re interested to know more about.”

Junior Kaylee Combs is the current president of the Women’s History Club. History has always been Combs’ favorite subject, and her interest was further sparked after taking a U.S. women’s history course with Ciani.

“What I love about our club is that we get a chance to learn about women in history because we usually only learn about one side, and unfortunately in history the winners tell the story, and most of the time the winners have been men,” said Combs, a history-social sciences teacher education major from Peoria.

Combs still shares some responsibilities with previous president LaMorte, who will be graduating next spring.

“My biggest goal is to have a steady group of people that meet more frequently,” said LaMorte. “I’d also like to see increased student involvement so that members can present on things they learn about in their major classes and share that with the group. I think there are a lot of ways we can expand and incorporate the entire ISU community.”

The club’s first year was challenging due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but it has not drastically impacted the number of students attending the meetings.

Women's History Club members examine archival items.

Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the move to all-virtual meetings, presenters often brought in archival items for students to examine.

“When we were having in-person meetings, there were always 40 to 50 people that would come, so I was a little nervous going into an online format this semester,” Combs said. “We were very happy when the turnout for our first Zoom was near what it was before.”

Combs sees many benefits of joining the Women’s History Club, including educational and leadership opportunities. She also appreciates that the club offers professors the opportunity to share their knowledge with students who may never take a history class at Illinois State.

Being a transfer student, the club especially helped Combs feel a sense of belonging on campus.

“This club is a community that I really enjoy being a part of, and taking on the presidential role gave me a new sense of confidence that I never knew I could have,” said Combs.

Club meetings are held on the second Monday of every month via Zoom. All majors, genders, and ages are welcome. They are always looking for new members to grow their group.

“Our students are hungry to learn more,” said Ciani. “People are showing up to meetings for the pure joy of wanting to learn more, and that’s exciting to me.”

Find the Women’s History Club on Facebook and Instagram. To get involved, email Kaylee Combs or register on the club’s page on Redbird Life.

Explore opportunities to get involved in Illinois State student organizations at