Anna Leigh Todd

Anna Leigh Todd Photo

Ph.D. Candidate

My primary research interests concern colonial and early American history with an emphasis on family, gender, sexuality, race, and law. I am currently undertaking a dissertation, titled "A Defect of Birth: Illegitimacy in Early America," which explores the varied meanings, expectations, and experiences of extramarital birth status in British North America during the long eighteenth century. Drawing together case studies from New Hampshire, Philadelphia, and South Carolina, my project aims to unpack the inherent messiness of birth status, which relied as much on local demography, family idiosyncrasy, and racial dynamics as it did on shared legal and cultural scripts. My project aims to extend the conversation regarding the significance of extramarital sexual behavior beyond the moment of unsanctioned birth and to interrogate the limits of biological kinship and the meaning of family, broadly defined. I am honored to further fine-tune this work as a 2021-2022 Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. 

In addition to my dissertation work, I have also explored the failure of Philadelphia's proposed foundling hospital, the phenomenon of formal name changing, and the gendered politics of Philadelphia's Progressive-Era public baths movement. Prior to my arrival at Penn, I studied female sexual recidivism in colonial New England as a lens through which to view issues of agency, sexual vulnerability, and the nature of law. My work has been presented at the William & Mary Graduate Research Symposium, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the CUNY Early American Republic Seminar, and the Society of Early Americanists Biennial Conference. 

In addition to my research, I am also invested in the cultivation and practice of higher education. I have worked extensively with Penn's Center for Teaching and Learning as both a trainer and Humanities and Social Sciences Coordinator for the center's summer TA Training program. Additionally, I was honored to be named a 2019-2020 Graduate Fellow for Teaching Excellence through CTL. I was also a 2019 participant in the National Humanities Center's Graduate Student Summer Residency program, "Objects and Places in an Inquiry-Based Classroom," and was a 2020 fellow with the Online Learning Initiative, facilitated through the CS Career Exploration Fellowship.

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