Anna Leigh Todd

Anna Leigh Todd Photo

Ph.D. Candidate

My primary research interests concern colonial and early American history with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, race, and law. I am currently undertaking a dissertation which explores the complex legal, social, and cultural definitions of illegitimacy through several case studies drawn from across British North America. Examining the phenomenon of birth status in northern rural, midatlantic urban, and southern slave societies reveals illegitimacy to be a multifaceted and contingent category of analysis, heavily reliant upon local demography, legal idiosyncrasies, and racial dynamics. My dissertation aims to continue the work of historians of women and gender in early America by extending the conversation regarding the significance of extramarital sexual behavior beyond the moment of unsanctioned birth, taking seriously statistics regarding the frequency of such behavior to ask how complex legal and cultural ideas of legitimacy influenced the identity and experiences of illegitimate individuals themselves. My dissertation also aims to further the work of historians of the family by interrogating the limits of biological kinship and the meaning of family, broadly defined. 

Earlier iterations of this project include an analysis of print representations of illegitimacy in colonial and early national Philadelphia as well as an investigation into the failure of Philadelphia's proposed founding hospital. Previously I have studied the phenomenon of female sexual recidivism in colonial new England as a lens through which to view issues of agency, sexual vulnerability, and the nature of law. Other side projects include a narrative investigation of infanticide in colonial Massachusetts and a gendered analysis of Philadelphia's Progressive-Era public baths movement. 

In addition to my research, I am also invested in the cultivation and practice of higher education. I am currently serving as a 2019-2020 Graduate Fellow for Teaching Excellence through Penn's Center for Teaching and Learning and in affiliation with the History Department. I have also served as a trainer for CTL's teaching assistant training program and was a 2019 participant in the National Humanities Center's Graduate Student Summer Residency program entitled, "Objects and Places in an Inquiry-Based Classroom."

Courses for which I have graded and TA'd include the following:

  • HIS168: The History of American Law to 1877
  • HIS011: Deciphering America
  • HIS163: Modern American Culture
  • HIS346: Bodies, Race, and Rights. 


Advisor: Kathleen Brown

Committee Members: Kathy Peiss, Dan Richter, Sarah L. H. Gronningsater




M.A., University of Connecticut (2014)
B.A., summa cum laude, University of Southern Mississippi (2013)

Research Interests

Colonial and early American history, history of sexuality, history of the body, race, gender, class, cultural and social history, early American print culture