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Rebels in White Gloves: Coming of Age with the Wellesley Class of '69

Rebels in White Gloves: Coming of Age with the Wellesley Class of '69

by Miriam Horn

From the Introduction

Theirs was a generation that imagined it would reinvent the world. Self-conscious iconoclasts and pioneers, the women of '69 would experiment boldly with sex and work and family and religion and politics. They would also develop the habit of seeing their own lives in historic terms. In recounting their histories, each of these women


From the Introduction

Theirs was a generation that imagined it would reinvent the world. Self-conscious iconoclasts and pioneers, the women of '69 would experiment boldly with sex and work and family and religion and politics. They would also develop the habit of seeing their own lives in historic terms. In recounting their histories, each of these women has made a story of her life. They have not kept many secrets.

* * * *

"Freak out, Suzy Creamcheese. Drop out of school before your brain rots," urged Frank Zappa. "Protest boxy suits! Protest big ugly shoes!" exhorted the Wellesley News. "Get your ring before spring," cooed the women's magazines. Reject "inauthentic reality" in favor of "a more penetrating existence," advised Hillary Rodham to her fellow graduates. Whipsawed by these conflicting mandates, the Wellesley Class of '69 were women on the cusp, feeling out the new rules. Rebels in White Gloves is their story.

When these women entered Wellesley's ivory tower, they were initiated into a rarefied world where the infamous "marriage lecture" and white gloves at afternoon tea were musts. Many were daughters of privilege; many were going for their "MRS." Four years later, by the time they graduated, they found a world turned upside down by the Pill, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Roe v. Wade, the Vietnam War, student protests, the National Organization for Women, and the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment. "Coming of age at a rare moment in history and with the equally rare privilege of an elite college education," writes Miriam Horn, "the women who graduated from Wellesley in 1969 were destined to be the monkeys in the spacecapsule, the first to test in their own lives the consequences of the great transformations wrought by the second wave of feminism."

For the thirtieth anniversary of the Class of '69—"Hillary's class"—Horn has created trenchant, remarkably nuanced portraits of these women, chronicling their experiments with sex, work, family, politics, and spirituality. Horn follows them as they joined SDS, tumbled into free-love communities, prosecuted pot growers, ministered to Micronesian natives, fled trust-fund security, forged and surrendered marriages, plumbed the challenges of motherhood, and coped with the uncertainties of growing older. As Horn writes, "The women of '69 have come out as debutantes. They have also come out as lesbians, as victims of domestic abuse, as alcoholics." In all their guises, these are wise, well-spoken women who look back on the last thirty years with great eloquence and humor, and whose coming of age mirrors all women's struggles to define themselves.

On Commencement Day at Wellesley thirty years ago, Hillary Rodham told her classmates, "We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us understands and attempting to create within that an uncertainty. The only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives." In Rebels in White Gloves, Miriam Horn has created raw and intimate portraits of women on the verge. Their tumultuous life paths—wild, funny, heartbreaking, unforgettable—are a primer in women's history of the past fifty years and a timely attempt to make sense of the increasingly blurred line between the personal and the political.

Editorial Reviews

Dorothy Rompalske
...[The book] expands upon its fascinating character studies with related...information and...provides even more insight into some of the most pressing social issues of our time.
Jill Abramson
Horn's book benefits from her subjects' almost comical willingness to blather intimately about their every milestone, from marriage to menopause.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Viewing Wellesley College as a hothouse in which the cultural changes of the womens movement took root, Horn, a journalist for U.S. News and World Report, probes the experiences of the 1969 graduating class of 400 women, which included Hillary Rodham Clinton. Contrasting the lives of the class members whom Horn interviewed with those of their mothers, who were largely confined to traditional roles, this account is a good but not groundbreaking anecdotal social history rather than a rigorous sociological analysis. At her graduation, Rodham delivered a speech justifying social change, which foreshadowed her classmates subsequent pursuit of radical politics, career success and marriages predicated on equality between the partners. Horn has competently edited a compelling collection of self-portraits of these Wellesley women, who mostly, but not entirely, came from wealthy white Protestant backgrounds. Dorothy Devine describes her experiment with collective living and Cynthia Gilbert relates how she helped organize fellow flight attendants into a labor union, while Kathy Smith Ruckman explains why she chose to stay home and raise her children. Kris Olson Rogerss story is of particular interest: a lawyer, wife and mother, she thought for 22 years that she had the perfect egalitarian marriage until her husband told her he was in love with another woman. Despite the differing paths the women of 69 took, according to the author, 80% of them consider themselves feminists and have examined their choices within that context.
Library Journal
U.S. News & World Report writer Horn presents an intriguing and yet annoying snapshot of the privileged women, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, who graduated from Wellesley during a tumultuous time. The most intriguing sections concern women who have found satisfaction and fulfillment in their lives--whether married or not, employed outside the home or focusing on family life--and the stages of growth they have gone through. The more annoying feature contradictory life histories--a woman whose husband left her for another woman and a woman whose marriage dissolved because of her own infidelity are juxtaposed with no correlation other than the fate of women after divorce. One comes away thinking that most of these women had very high expectations to begin with and that not all of their expectations were met. It would be interesting to see how they fared compared with the less privileged. Primarily for public libraries or exhaustive women's studies collections.--Julie Still, Rutgers Univ., Camden, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Wendy Kaminer
This is primarily a book for Hilary groupies. She appears only indirectly (people talk about her), but she hovers over every page....This story of feminist progress is driven by a regressive fascination with celebrity....If one goal of feminism was to dismantle stereotypes of femininity...then the erection of female icons is a sign of its failures.
The Atlantic Monthly
Ann Prichard
Rebels offers great personal tales—inspiring, bizarre, riotous, moving and sad...Even without the first lady there is some great material...Her commentary is sometimes dry and ponderous, and thus [the book] is best enjoyed by dipping rather than reading straight through. Each story builds on the next, creating an appealing class portrait of complex and terrifically bright Everywoman.
USA Today
Kathy Young
[A] laudably even-handed account in which feminism's friends and foes alike will find grist for their mill...Whether or not one agrees with Ms. Horn's interpretations, she does an excellent job of covering her subject.
Wall Street Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Articulate, analytical social history of a defining era in 10th-century America. It's been 30 years since Hillary Rodham Clinton stood before her Wellesley graduation class and extemporaneously berated the graduation speech previously given by Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, and the class of '69 is still struggling to define womanhood today. Horn, who writes for U.S. News & World Report, methodically chronicles that internal and external debate as she weaves the personal stories of Hillary's classmates with insights and facts from the outside world. The result is a fascinating, thorough portrait, not only of a collegial group but of a society battling to understand shifting gender and social roles. Surprisingly, for an institution that prided itself on its collective intellect, Wellesley was behind the times. Freshmen in this era still wore white gloves for special events, listened to marriage lectures as part of their curriculum, and lived in racially and religiously segregated dorms. Alumna Nora Ephron summed up the college's stance at her tenth-year reunion in 1972: "[Wellesley wants] for us to avoid the extremes, to be instead that thing in the middle: an example to the community, a Samaritan." Wellesley women, then, had to learn to break out of their own protected bubble before they could challenge the world at large. Although set in a larger social context, this is a very personal book. Many of the women are remarkably candid about their difficulties in trying to find their way through uncharted territory and the inevitable frustration that comes from being first. Although Hillary Clinton was obviously a prime impetus for the writing of this book, she isrefreshingly absent for much of it. Instead, other women speak out, and if society is wise, it will listen hard to what they have to say. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.21(d)

Read an Excerpt

"He waited a long time to leave my mother, feeling it a bad thing to do, a great taboo. He's a pretty tightly bound person. He wouldn't be in the vanguard, but then the changes initiated by our generation rippled upward. He finally left, and moved into a one-room apartment, and has been married three times since, not so happily. His second wife died. His third was a disaster: He was with her when I had cancer, which seemed to make no impression on them at all. His fourth, well, with her he seems pretty happy. He's certainly ended up in a far better place than he ever would have with my mother, which I guess is an argument for people to make the changes necessary to try to keep some happiness for themselves. He calls a lot now, and I go to see him.

"My parents are in their eighties, but there's this funny bond, like we're all old people wondering how much longer we have. I drew up my will and then made sure my mother's was in order. I jumped into their generation. Everyone will enter this place in time. But somehow a young person faced with her mortality, well, I speak from a place most people my age don't know.

"I never thought I'd go back to a Wellesley reunion, but for the twenty-fifth I sought them out. I was apprehensive, but wanted to understand why I'd hated it so badly, why it had been so traumatic. I ended up loving it, and came to think less about how fucked-up the college had been and more about who I was when I arrived there. I saw myself as a victim: that they were privileged and I was not, which I now think was mostly my inherited paranoia. And as much as I wish it had been happier, given who I was and my family, it was the only experience I couldhave had.

"In many ways, the sad tone of my life was set there. I hoped I'd find a place, and didn't. To me it felt like a cul-de-sac, that things were closing down instead of opening up. Other people whose families thought they were great had a stronger sense of themselves, and just flowered. Martha Teichner knew she was a good storyteller and found her place in TV and . . . zoom. I wish I'd had that sense of myself early on, but I couldn't have: My father was too critical of who I was, and what he told me about life was too poisonous and frightened. I thought you had to sell your soul to have a secure life. I felt alienated and lost, and that feeling stayed with me.

"At reunion, I stood up and said, 'Here's the most important thing that's happened to me,' and told them about my cancer. People were really moved, which moved me to tears. I thought, How kind to give me that recognition, to offer courage. And what a shame I had felt so isolated as a student, when I feel so close to these women now. What a terrific community I might have found. All the time I thought we had nothing in common, that they all had it made. Now I see they've struggled, too, that their lives played surprises on them, that everyone has endured grief. No one has gone unscathed. We had more choices than we knew how to deal with, and most of us still are confused. Should I be doing this, or that?"

What People are Saying About This

Cokie Roberts
In her fascinating and poignant account of the Wellesley Class of '69, Miriam Horn gives us a vivid and often humorous capsule history of the women who helped revolutionize America in the last quarter of the twentieth century. I must say, however, that I never remember those young women wearing white gloves.

Meet the Author

Miriam Horn is a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report.   She spent her twenties working  for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado and now lives in New York City with her husband.

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