Sonya Orleans Rose, age 84, of Sarasota, Florida, died at home on October 15, 2020, her daughter, Laura, and her dog, Misty, at her side. Throughout her years’ long treatment for lung cancer, she dedicated herself to caring for her beloved husband Guenter and maintained her zest for good food and inspiring music. She is survived by Guenter, her daughter Laura Orleans, her step-children Mark Rose, Shawn Rose, Jennifer Benitez and her grandchildren Emma and Isaac York, Kara, Blake, Cole, and Christopher Rose, and Michael and Justin Macias and great grandchildren Gavin and Layla Macias. She was predeceased by her son Marc Orleans ’90 and stepson Dana Rose.
Born on December 30, 1935 to Hannah (Rosing) and Louis Razinsky, Sonya grew up in Far Rockaway (Queens), New York and Warren, Ohio, nurtured by her grandmother Minnie Rosing. She studied piano from the age of five and remained a musician at heart throughout her life. It gave her much joy that her son Marc became a professional musician. She received her B.A. from Antioch College in 1958, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University in 1962 and 1974, respectively. From 1977-92 she was on the faculty of Colby College, where she also served terms as Associate Dean of Faculty, Associate Dean of the College, and Chair of the Sociology Department. She was a Fellow at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute at Radcliff College from 1989-90. Sonya joined the University of Michigan faculty as Professor of History and Sociology in 1993. In 1995 she received an additional appointment as professor of women’s studies; and in 2002 she was appointed the Natalie Zemon Davis Collegiate Professor of History, Sociology, and Women’s Studies. At Michigan, she served terms as Associate Chair and Chair of the Department of History.
One of the leading historians of modern Britain, Sonya became a renowned analyst of culture, an archivally-based historian who comfortably joined attention to details with precision in elaborating social theory. Her books include Limited Livelihoods: Gender and Class in Nineteenth-Century England (1992), in which she analyzes industries ranging from metalworking and lacemaking to the manufacture of chocolate, to consider the ways in which gender distinctions and gender relations influenced the development of capitalism. Which People’s War: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1939-1945 (2003) examined how British national identity was envisaged in the public culture of the World War II home front. Other books include Gender and Class in Modern Europe (1996); Gender, Citizenship, and Subjectivities (2002); and At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World, (2006), co-edited with Catherine Hall. In 2010, Sonya published What is Gender History?, providing an introduction to the field and highlighting the intersection of race, class, ethnicity and gender and their effects on society, culture, and politics. Most recently, Sonya turned her attention to the impact of empire and decolonization on British metropolitan life. Throughout her academic career, she was a dedicated teacher of undergraduate students and mentor to graduate students. Never one to promote herself, she generously supported the work and careers of emergent and established colleagues.
After retiring in 2006, Sonya and Guenter relocated to Walthamstow, London where Sonya remained active as a Visiting Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She loved their decade in London, visiting museums, attending plays and concerts, sharing her scholarly work with distinguished British colleagues, among them Catherine and Stuart Hall, and traveling with Guenter across Europe and as far away as Nepal and Shanghai. In 2017, they returned to the States and took up residence in Sarasota.
Throughout her life, Sonya’s smile dazzled everyone who knew and loved her. Sonya was a truly authentic person and a source of unconditional love. She had a way of making people feel known. A spritely figure, given to ready laughter, she was dedicated to civil rights and social justice and politically engaged throughout her life, casting her ballot in the 2020 presidential election days before her death.