A Merrimack Tradition

The Last Lecture was created in 1999 and, after a period of dormancy, was resurrected by the honors program in 2013.

The Last Lecture is a tradition at Merrimack and many other colleges and universities that allows a faculty member to speak on any subject as if it were his or her final class.

2019 Speaker

Debra A. Michals, Ph.D.                                   
Assistant Professor,
Department of Women and Gender Studies            

Dr. Debra Michals

Dr. Michals is a feminist historian and activist who became a member of the Merrimack faculty in 2016, as assistant professor and director of Women’s and Gender Studies – a position that she considers her dream job. Her relationship with the college began much earlier as an adjunct  instructor, and over the years she has created several of the courses that have become staples in the WGS curriculum, including the popular WGS 3300 US Women’s History. 

Dr. Michals sees the teaching and writing of history as an “insurgent act,” an effort to reshape the dominant narrative so that our national story is more reflective of all people, particularly those long excluded — women, people of color, LGBTQ Americans, and Native Americans. In January 2019, she was a Wikipedia/National Archives and Records Administration Scholar, joining an effort to expand coverage of women in Wikipedia, particularly women’s suffrage as the centennial for the suffrage amendment (2020) nears. Her research and teaching interests focus on how “out groups” – those existing outside or on the margins of mainstream US society – survive, thrive, and bring about social change. This includes the study of civil, women’s, and LGBTQ rights movements of the 20 th  and 21 st centuries.

She is currently completing a book entitled She’s the Boss: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs since World War II, which includes an emphasis on the ways entrepreneurship has served as a form of activism for marginalized groups (forthcoming from Rutgers University Press). Her future work will focus on feminist movement-based businesses in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a look at the representation of the woman entrepreneur in films from 1934 to the present.

Dr. Michals’ interest in the social history of feminism includes an essay which explores the impact of the women’s movement and single-father sitcoms in the 1960s and 1970s on the making of modern fatherhood that will be published in Feminist Fathers/Fathering Feminists: New Definitions and Directions (Demeter Press, February 2020). She also produced an essay entitled, “From ‘Consciousness Expansion’ to ‘Consciousness Raising:’ Feminism and the Countercultural Politics of the Self” that was published in Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s; and “The Stealth Feminist Generation” (a term she coined) in Sisterhood is Forever, the third volume in renowned feminist Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood trilogy (Sisterhood is Global, Sisterhood is Powerful, and Sisterhood is Forever).

Prior to joining the Merrimack faculty, Dr. Michals worked as an independent scholar and museum professional. She was a consultant to the online National Women’s History Museum for many years, where she wrote or edited 50 biographies of notable women in US history and co-authored an exhibit on the history of women’s entrepreneurship (http://entrepreneurs.nwhm.org/). In 2016, Dr. Michals was part of the scholar group authoring an advisory report to the Congressional Commission about the need for the proposed American Museum of Women’s History in Washington, D.C. She previously served as the content director for the first national women’s museum, the now defunct Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future in Dallas, TX.Before becoming an academic, Dr. Michals was a journalist for national magazines, including Ms., W, Women’s Wear Daily, Harper’s Bazaar, and BusinessWeek. Her early writing career focused on the fashion industry, where she encountered and was inspired by the complex gendered aspects of that business.

Previous Speakers




Title Notes
2018 Alicia Malone Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice  
2017 Kevin Salemme Director, Media Instructional Services  
2016 Laura Hsu Associate Professor, Human Development  
2015 Christina Hardway Associate Professor, Psychology  
2014 Vance Poteat Associate Professor, Computer Science  
2013 Marcia Walsh Associate Professor, Health Sciences  
2011 Cynthia McCowan Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Professor of Chemistry Video
2010 Patricia Sendall Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Professor of Management