Biography

Fran Leeper Buss was born in 1942 and grew up along the bluffs of the Mississippi. She received a B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1964. In 1971, following a divorce, she joined with other single mothers and formed The Women’s Crisis and Information Center, one of the first women’s centers in the nation. She attended Iliff School of Theology and received a MDiv in 1976, then began her oral history career. She interviewed Doña Jesusita Aragon, an elderly midwife in Las Vegas, N.M, tape recording her story and assisting with births. That relationship resulted in the book, La Partera: Story of a Midwife, 1980.

Buss then interviewed seventy-two working-class women throughout the country for a book on their lives and the meaning they found in their labor. Dignity: Lower Income Women Tell of Their Lives and Struggles was published in1985. In the process, interviewees introduced her to the world of undocumented workers. She used that knowledge to write the award winning young adult novel, Journey of the Sparrows, 1991. She also created a photography exhibit of women’s portraits called, “Stepping from the Shadows.”

Buss received a PhD in 1995 from the University of Arizona Department of History, majoring in United States history and minoring in comparative women’s history. She emphasized racial and ethnic history. In 1992, her tapes and transcripts were placed in seven research libraries in a collection called Work and Family: Low Income and Minority Women Talk About Their Lives. In 1993 she compiled and edited, Forged under the Sun/ Forjada bajo el Sol: The Life of Maria Elena Lucas. Lucas was a migrant worker and United Farm Workers’ organizer. In 2009, Buss published The Moisture of the Earth: Mary Robinson, Civil Rights and Textile Union Activist.

Along with Josefina Castillo, she has completed, Spiritual Visions/ Border Lives: The Actions and Beliefs of Progressive Women Activists at the U.S.-Mexico Border. She also has recently written a retrospective called, Memory and Meaning: Oral History and Working-Class Women.

She worked as a campus/ community minister in New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Arizona and has taught women’s studies and history at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the University of Arizona, and Pima Community College. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband David, who is a UCC minister and a social worker with hospice. Her three children are grown. Throughout her life she has been active in women’s concerns, racial justice issues, poverty policies, and during the last twenty years, immigrant rights. Her journals and papers are to be archived in the Schlesinger Library of American Women with the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. In 1998, she won the first Coordinating Council for Women in History Catherine Prelinger Prize for her “outstanding contributions to the field of Women’s History."