America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines
  • America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines
  • America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines

America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines

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by Gail Collins
     
 

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America's Women tells the story of more than four centuries of history. It features a stunning array of personalities, from the women peering worriedly over the side of the Mayflower to feminists having a grand old time protesting beauty pageants and bridal fairs. Courageous, silly, funny, and heartbreaking, these women shaped the nation and our vision of

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Overview

America's Women tells the story of more than four centuries of history. It features a stunning array of personalities, from the women peering worriedly over the side of the Mayflower to feminists having a grand old time protesting beauty pageants and bridal fairs. Courageous, silly, funny, and heartbreaking, these women shaped the nation and our vision of what it means to be female in America.

By culling the most fascinating characters -- the average as well as the celebrated -- Gail Collins, the editorial page editor at the New York Times, charts a journey that shows how women lived, what they cared about, and how they felt about marriage, sex, and work. She begins with the lost colony of Roanoke and the early southern "tobacco brides" who came looking for a husband and sometimes -- thanks to the stupendously high mortality rate -- wound up marrying their way through three or four. Spanning wars, the pioneering days, the fight for suffrage, the Depression, the era of Rosie the Riveter, the civil rights movement, and the feminist rebellion of the 1970s, America's Women describes the way women's lives were altered by dress fashions, medical advances, rules of hygiene, social theories about sex and courtship, and the ever-changing attitudes toward education, work, and politics. While keeping her eye on the big picture, Collins still notes that corsets and uncomfortable shoes mattered a lot, too.

"The history of American women is about the fight for freedom," Collins writes in her introduction, "but it's less a war against oppressive men than a struggle to straighten out the perpetually mixed message about women's roles that was accepted by almost everybody of both genders."

Told chronologically through the compelling stories of individual lives that, linked together, provide a complete picture of the American woman's experience, America's Women is both a great read and a landmark work of history.

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Editorial Reviews

People Magazine
"Masterful...Collins’ sly wit and unfussy style makes this historical book extremely accessible."
Linda K. Kerber
“Gail Collins knows how to tell a story. Lively, witty, and dead serious, this wise history is a fascinating read.”
People
“Masterful...Collins’ sly wit and unfussy style makes this historical book extremely accessible.”
Oprah Magazine
“A fascinating compendium”
Huntsville Times
“This is one of the most fascinating American History books I’ve ever read. I learned something new on every page.”
Chicago Tribune
“Though America’s Women is an easy and entertaining read, it also fulfills the radical promise of women’s history.”
The Washington Post
In her lively and readable survey of women in America, Gail Collins shows how ideology about gender roles always gives way to economic necessity. Women who are considered constitutionally unable to do men's work do men's work as soon as war comes and men are needed to fight it...Collins has an eye for such ironies and a good-humored way of presenting them.—Phyllis Rose
The New York Times
It is in grappling with that contortionism that Collins, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, reveals her evenhandedness. The 19th-century obstetrician bungled as much because of women's modesty as because of the constraints of his profession. If there is a villain in this tale she may just wear a skirt; as Collins sees it, we have repeatedly tripped ourselves up. The enemy is not so much the other half of the human race as the mixed messages, our love-hate relationship with hearth and home. — Stacy Schiff
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. Agent, Alice Martell. (On sale Sept. 23) Forecast: National print ads, appearances on the Today show and the CBS Early Show, a 25-city radio satellite tour and lecture tie-in appearances will help Collins reach the masses. Her book deserves a wide readership and is smooth enough to engage almost any kind of reader, academic or not. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From the first woman to serve as editorial page editor at the New York Times. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Illuminating cultural history of American women from the first colonists to the present day. New York Times editorial page editor Collins (Scorpion Tongues, 1998) has turned a veritable mountain of research into an exceptionally readable, lively account of the contradictions and conflicts that have shaped women’s roles in the US. Her central theme is "the tension between the yearning to create a home and the urge to get out of it." Both sexes, she states, have accepted mixed messages about women’s proper role, and our history is full of about-faces on the subject. In an anecdote-laden text often relying on diaries and other contemporary records, she recounts how colonial women were not just housewives, midwives, and innkeepers, but religious dissidents (Anne Hutchinson) and Indian fighters (Hannah Dustin). During the Revolution, some donned men’s clothing and joined the army, but more traveled with their soldier husbands, doing the cooking and washing, or stayed home and ran the family farm. Juliette Brier, who walked 100 miles through Death Valley carrying one child on her back and another in her arms while leading a third, epitomizes the endurance and spirit of pioneer women. But it’s not all heroics and hardship. Collins fills her pages with fascinating details of everyday life over four centuries, including how women dressed, managed personal hygiene, and raised children. The roles they played in the temperance, abolition, and suffrage movements, the effects of the Civil War on southern women, white and black, the lives of 19th-century immigrant women are all explored. Collins shows how women, kept out of the workplace during the Depression, were brought into it by necessity duringWWII. Their retreat to the home in the ’50s, the subsequent sexual revolution, and the rise of feminism may be more familiar dramas than the earlier history, but the details are no less absorbing. Informative and entertaining, full of vivid stories that reveal not only what women were doing but how they felt about it. Agent: Alice Martell

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061227226
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/24/2007
Series:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
608
Sales rank:
167,928
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.97(d)

What People are saying about this

Linda K. Kerber
“Gail Collins knows how to tell a story. Lively, witty, and dead serious, this wise history is a fascinating read.”

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