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America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines Hardcover – September 23, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 222 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Well researched and well written, America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines is a powerful and important book. Starting with Pocahontas and Eleanor Dare (the first female colonist), this lively and fascinating history records the changes in American women's lives and the transformations in American society from the 1580s through the 2000s.

A history of the oft-marginalized sex must often draw from diaries and journals, which were disproportionally written by whites; as a result, African-American and Native American women are not as well represented as white in the earlier chapters of America's Women. However, Gail Collins writes about women of many races and ethnicities, and in fact provides more information about Native Americans, African-Americans, and Chinese, Jewish, and Italian immigrants than some general U.S. history books. She writes about rich and poor, young and old, urban and rural, slave and slave-owner, athlete and aviatrix, president's wife and presidential candidate--and, of course, men and women. And some of these women--from the justly famous, like Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman, to the undeservedly obscure, like Elizabeth Eckford and Senator Margaret Chase Smith--will not only make any woman proud to be a woman, they will make any American proud to be American.

An editor at the New York Times, Gail Collins has also written Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity, and American Politics and, with Dan Collins, The Millennium Book. --Cynthia Ward

From Publishers Weekly

The basis of the struggle of American women, postulates Collins (Scorpion Tongues), "is the tension between the yearning to create a home and the urge to get out of it." Today's issues-should women be in the fields, on the factory lines and in offices, or should they be at home, tending to hearth and family?-are centuries old, and Collins, editor of the New York Times's editorial page, not only expertly chronicles what women have done since arriving in the New World, but how they did it and why. Creating a compelling social history, Collins discovers "it's less a war against oppressive men than a struggle to straighten out the perpetually mixed message about women's role that was accepted by almost everybody of both genders." These confusing messages are repeated over 400 years and are typified in the 1847 lecture of one doctor who stated that women's heads are "almost too small for intellect and just big enough for love" (ironically, around this time Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from an American medical school). The narratives are rich with direct quotes from both celebrated and common women, creating a clear picture of life in the 16th through 20th centuries, covering everyday (menstruation, birth control, cooking, cleanliness) and extraordinary (life during war, the abolition movement, fighting for the right to vote) topics. Beginning with Eleanor Dare and her 1587 sail to the colonies and ending with the 1970s, Collins's work is a fully accessible, and thoroughly enjoyable, primer of how American women have not only survived but thrived. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (September 23, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060185104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060185107
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (222 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gail Collins was the Editorial Page Editor for the New York Times from 2001-2007--the first woman to have held that position. She currently writes a column for the Times' Op-Ed page twice weekly.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In writing the history of America's women Gail Collins tells us that " the pendulum swings wide." In this fascinating book Ms. collins lays out for us 400 years of the history of American women from 1587 to the mid-1970s. The pendulum swings not only through time but it also swings from North to South, from the very poor to the very rich, from the enfranchised to the disenfranchised, from the illiterate to the women of letters, from the vomen desperate to create a home to the women desperate to leave a home.
In the book the author presents us with the history of American women, both the obscure and the celebrated. Who, for example, knew that during World War II Maya Angelou's great ambition was to be a street car conductor? To accomplish her goal she had to spply and re-apply because of the great reluctance to hire a black woman as conductor.
Free from strident ideology Ms. Collins has written 452 pages of text (and 104 more of notes, bibliography and index) with impeccable even-handedness and tongue-in-cheek humor. As a result, reading the book is a highly enjoyable journey during which one meets our very often hardworking, often brave, sometimes extraordinary foremothers. We meet Hannah Dustan who, in 1697 as a captive of a local tribe, scalped her captors and returned home to a herone's welcome.
We meet the visionary Grimke sisters, Southern abolitionists, and we see how they transformed their extraordinary vision, seemingly having arisen from nowhere, into a powerful and far-reaching voice for Emancipation...and we meet many others. We see the pendulum swing of women from Dorothy May Bradford who in 1620 took one look at the wild, uncultivated Plymouth forest and jumped from the ship to Betty Friedan who in 1970 took one look at the thousands of women pouring onto the sidewalks of New York to demonstrate on behalf of themselves. Whereas Dorothy took to the water, Betty took to the street. Indeed, the pendulum has swung wide.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Last September in Fast Company magazine, there was a brief commentary on this book which caught my eye. It cited a number of historical facts of which I had previously been unaware. For example:
1. In 1637 in Virginia, Ann Fowler was sentenced to 20 lashes after she suggested that Adam Thorowgood (a county justice) could "Kiss my arse." The state's General Assembly then ruled that husbands would no longer be liable for damages caused by their outspoken wives.
2. During the 18th century in Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley, impoverished single women with children were required to wear a P (for pauper) when appearing in public.
3. In the 19th century during Civil War era, about 80% of the reading public was female.
4. "In World War II, 1,000 women pilots flew 60 million miles -- mostly in experimental jets and planes grounded for safety reasons --and often towed targets past lines of inexperienced gunners. Then [they] would get arrested for leaving base wearing slacks after dark."
As Collins examines four centuries of historical material, much (most?) of it is probably unfamiliar to most readers. In process, she focuses on various "dolls, drudges, helpmates, and heroines" and their diverse contributions -- both positive and negative -- to the evolution of American history. Although Collins is renowned for her work as a journalist (editorial page editor of the New York Times), she displays in this volume all of the skills of an accomplished historian as well as those of a cultural anthropologist. Also, she's a terrific storyteller.
I wholly agree with Ellen Chesler (who reviewed this book in The New York Times) that "vast scholarship on women has dramatically reshaped academic thinking about American history....
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Format: Hardcover
WOW! I love this book. It is enjoyable to read -- not all dry like so many history books. It is interesting and informative. I am using excerpts from the book in my Psychology of Women course. I've recommended this book to my friends and requested the library order it. Great read and I'm learning a lot.
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Format: Hardcover
Forget Hillary Clinton, Madonna, Queen Latifah, and Diane Sawyer. Today's media magnets are nothing compared to the forthright ladies and rustic women who helped create the United States of America. The names we should know are Eleanor Dare, Temperance Flowerdew, the Brent sisters, Mary Johnson, Susan Blunt, Eliza Lucas, Phillis Wheatley, Deborah Sampson Gannett, Sarah Hale, Katy Ferguson, Maria Chapman, Mary Ann Bickerdyke, and Jane Addams, to name just a few of the thousand women Gail Collins has put on display in the seductive and sprawling historical romp AMERICA'S WOMEN. From the Victorian age to the Age of Aquarius, this ambitious volume brings to life the brave, selfless and patriotic ladies who stood in front of, on top of, in spite of and sometimes even behind the men America still stubbornly celebrates as the sole defenders of freedom.
So richly filled with newly uncovered historical fact and biographical detail, the book is a fantastic time machine, beginning in braless 1587 and ending in the bra-burning era of 1960-1970. Collins's effort is unique because it is not just another encyclopedic listing of famous women of the ages that choke our library shelves. With a diary quote opening each section, AMERICA'S WOMEN relies on the original sources to tell the tales, interspersed with spicy and informative editorialization from Collins. "One of the tricks to being a great historical figure is to leave behind as much information as possible," the author explains, revealing that primary source material was drawn from the New Englanders' "winning habit of keeping diaries.
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