Spinsters and Lesbians: Independent Womanhood in the United States

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Americans have long held fast to a rigid definition of womanhood, revolving around husband, home, and children. Women who rebelled against this definition and carved out independent lives for themselves have often been rendered invisible in U.S. history.

In this unusual comparative study, Trisha Franzen brings to light the remarkable lives of two generations of autonomous women: Progressive Era spinsters and mid-twentieth century lesbians. While both groups of women followed ...

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Overview

Americans have long held fast to a rigid definition of womanhood, revolving around husband, home, and children. Women who rebelled against this definition and carved out independent lives for themselves have often been rendered invisible in U.S. history.

In this unusual comparative study, Trisha Franzen brings to light the remarkable lives of two generations of autonomous women: Progressive Era spinsters and mid-twentieth century lesbians. While both groups of women followed similar paths to independence--separating from their families, pursuing education, finding work, and creating woman-centered communities--they faced different material and cultural challenge and came to claim very different identities.

Many of the turn-of-the-century women were prominent during their time, from internationally recognized classicist Edith Hamilton through two early Directors of the Women's Bureau, Mary Anderson and Freida Miller. Maturing during the time of a broad and powerful women's movement, they were among that era's new women, the often-single women who were viewed as in the vanguard of women's struggle for equality.

In contrast, never-married women after World War II, especially lesbians, were considered beyond the pale of real womanhood. Before the women's and gay/lesbian liberation movements, they had no positive contemporary images of alternative lives for women. Highlighting the similarities and differences between women-oriented women confronting changing gender and sexuality systems, Spinsters and Lesbians thus traces a continuum among women who constructed lives outside institutionalized heterosexuality.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Looks at the lives of 15 never-married women of the Progressive Era and 15 never-married lesbians of the post-WWII era. Their stories illuminate questions and issues that remain hidden when viewing the world through the norm of the heterosexual nuclear family. Topics include families and childhoods in the Progressive Era; growing up female, 1936-1965; independent womanhood after WWII; and lesbian identities and communities after WWII. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

A long-time political activist, Trisha Franzen is Director of the Anna Howard Shaw Center for Women's Studies and Programs at Albion College.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Progressive Era Spinsters
Contemporary Lesbians
Introduction: Spinsters and Lesbians 1
1 "What Are You Going to Be?": Families and Childhoods in the Progressive Era 11
2 "I Knew I Was Odd": Growing Up Female, 1936-1965 15
3 "O, the Glorious Privilege of Being Independent": Defining Independent Womanhood in the Progressive Era 47
4 "I Was Going to Have to Do It All on My Own": Toward Independent Womanhood after World War II 79
5 "Such Beautiful Lives Together": Community and Companions among Progressive Era Women 107
6 "We're Not the Only Ones": Lesbian Identities and Communities after World War II 133
7 Spinsters and Lesbians: Resisting and Surviving as Independent Women 159
On Methodology 179
Appendix: Tables 185
Notes 191
References 209
Index 225
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