Professor Purdy's specialties include the history of U.S. education, the history of African American education, the history of school desegregation, and the history of policy, access, and opportunity.
Michelle A. Purdy is an assistant professor of education in Arts & Sciences, director of undergraduate educational studies, and an affiliate faculty member of the Interdisciplinary Program in Urban Studies and the Center on Urban Research and Public Policy at Washington University.
With research, teaching, and service commitments to race, culture, and equity in education, her specialties include the history of U.S. education, the history of African American education, the history of school desegregation, and the history of policy, access, and opportunity. She is a past recipient of a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, and she has received other awards and recognition including the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award from the Graduate Student Senate at Washington University in St. Louis.
Purdy's recently published book, Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools (University of North Carolina Press), analyzes how and why historically white elite private schools, or the most prestigious independent schools, opted to desegregate when not legally obligated to so. Combining social history, policy analysis, and oral history, Purdy examines the desegregation of the well-known The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia alongside national efforts to diversify independent schools. Further she details how the first African American students to desegregate Westminster courageously navigated institutional and interpersonal racism in a contradictory and complex school culture.
Purdy is also co-editor of Using Past as Prologue: Contemporary Perspectives on African American Educational History and “African American Education, Civil Rights, and Black Power,” a special issue of The Journal of African American History. She has authored articles in History of Education Quarterly and The Journal of African American History, book chapters in The Power of Resistance: Culture, Ideology, and Social Reproduction and The Crisis of Race in Higher Education: A Day of Discovery and Dialogue, and other scholarly writing including book reviews and encyclopedia entries.
Purdy teaches The American School, History of Education in the United States, and the Capstone Seminar in Educational Studies, and she has mentored both undergraduate and graduate students. She has served in numerous capacities at the department and institutional levels and in professional associations. Currently she is Director of Undergraduate Educational Studies in the Department of Education and an incoming board member for History of Education Society.
Purdy earned her AB in educational studies and African and African-American studies and MA in history from Washington University in St. Louis, and PhD in educational studies from Emory University. She has previously held administrative, instructional, and research positions at Michigan State University, Emory University, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland, Mississippi, and Exploration Summer Program at Yale University.