Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943

WMQ Prize Lecture Series

The William and Mary Quarterly Prize Lecture series features authors of award-winning articles published in the William and Mary Quarterly (WMQ). These lectures are supported by a bequest from the late Michael (Mike) McGiffert who served as editor of the WMQ at the Omohundro Institute from 1972–1997 and also taught at William & Mary.

On Tuesday, October 4, 2016, the first lecture took place in Blow Memorial Hall, Room 201, and featured Lester J. Cappon Award winner Sarah Barringer (Sally) Gordon with her talk titled “The First Wall of Separation between Church and State: Slavery and Disestablishment in Late Eighteenth-Century Virginia.”

Professor Gordon is the Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies the legal history of religion in America, especially the history of constitutional protections of religious liberty and separation of church and state. Her first book, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, 2002), was followed by The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (Cambridge, MA, 2010). She is currently at work on a study of separation of church and state from independence through Reconstruction, titled “Freedom’s Holy Light: Disestablishment in America, 1776–1876.” Her talk at the OI was drawn from that project, and designed to revisit and revise long-accepted narratives of how separation of church and state became politically popular in the 1780s.

For more information on the WMQ Prize Lecture, contact Martha Howard at or 757-221-1115.