Ava Purkiss


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Professional Title

Program Co-Director, Black Feminist Health Studies; Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and American Culture, and Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology (by courtesy)


American Culture
Obstetrics & Gynecology
Women's & Gender Studies


Ava Purkiss’ research interests lie at the intersection of race, gender, and health. Her book, Fit Citizens: A History of Black Women’s Exercise from Post-Reconstruction to Postwar America (UNC Press, 2023), examines African American women’s physical exercise in the twentieth century, with attention to how exercise enabled Black women to express both literal and figurative fitness for citizenship. The book captures how African American women made exercise instrumental to their ideas of health, beauty, wholesome recreation, and ideal Black corporality. It prompts us to think more literally, and in effect more critically, about how African Americans actually “exercised citizenship.” Purkiss is at work on a second project about race and gynecology in the twentieth century.

Dr. Purkiss received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas at Austin and has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia, the American Association of University Women, and the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. She is the recipient of the 2017 Organization of American Historians Lerner-Scott Prize for best dissertation in U.S. women’s history and the 2018 Letitia Woods Brown prize for best article in African American women’s history from the Association of Black Women Historians. 

Research Interests