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.
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