Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women

Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women

by Barbara Sicherman
     
 

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In a compelling approach structured as theme and variations, Barbara Sicherman offers insightful profiles of a number of accomplished women born in America's Gilded Age who lost—and found—themselves in books, and worked out a new life purpose around them.

Some women, like Edith and Alice Hamilton, M. Carey Thomas, and Jane Addams, grew up in households

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Overview

In a compelling approach structured as theme and variations, Barbara Sicherman offers insightful profiles of a number of accomplished women born in America's Gilded Age who lost—and found—themselves in books, and worked out a new life purpose around them.

Some women, like Edith and Alice Hamilton, M. Carey Thomas, and Jane Addams, grew up in households filled with books, while less privileged women found alternative routes to expressive literacy. Jewish immigrants Hilda Satt Polacheck, Rose Cohen, and Mary Antin acquired new identities in the English-language books they found in settlement houses and libraries, while African Americans like Ida B. Wells relied mainly on institutions of their own creation, even as they sought to develop a literature of their own.

It is Sicherman's masterful contribution to show that however the skill of reading was acquired, under the right circumstances, adolescent reading was truly transformative in constructing female identity, stirring imaginations, and fostering ambition. With Little Women's Jo March often serving as a youthful model of independence, girls and young women created communities of learning, imagination, and emotional connection around literary activities in ways that helped them imagine, and later attain, public identities. Reading themselves into quest plots and into male as well as female roles, these young women went on to create an unparalleled record of achievement as intellectuals, educators, and social reformers. Sicherman's graceful study reveals the centrality of the era's culture of reading and sheds new light on these women's Progressive-Era careers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Sicherman's study of female reading is as inspirational, entertaining, and comforting as the books her subjects pursued and celebrated. This is truly a text to be reckoned with as both a model and resource of the complicated ways that readers make sense of their texts.—Reviews in American History

Each chapter in this book could serve as a stand-alone essay for the reader who was looking for resources on these particular women. . . . A valuable resource for understanding Progressive Era women's culture.—Women and Social Movements in the United States

Well-Read Lives deftly balances the big picture of Gilded Age literary culture with the specificity and uniqueness of its individual subjects. With nuance and insight, Sicherman makes a convincing case that private reading practices had a profound impact on Progressive women's public endeavors.—Journal of American History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807833087
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
04/15/2010
Edition description:
1
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Sicherman is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Institutions and Values Emerita, at Trinity College. She is author of Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters and The Quest for Mental Health in America, 1880-1917 and coeditor of Notable American Women: The Modern Period.

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