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

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 ...

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2010 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 380 p. Contains: Unspecified, Illustrations, black & white. Audience: General/trade.

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

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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] writes beautifully, evoking the culture and milieu of late 19th-century America with sensitivity and great depth. . . . Sicherman's scholarship is particularly laudable because of the nuance she brings to the individual women portrayed. Hers is not a volume of sweeping generalizations, but of careful representations of the desires, values, and personal mythologies each of these women cultivated to become the kind of heroine each desired to be.--Books & Culture

Beautifully evokes a world in which women read to construct identity and build community. . . . Elegantly written essays . . . represent a significant contribution to the history of print culture in America. . . . [An] invaluable monograph.--Indiana Magazine of 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

An important book for those interested in issues of gender, literacy, or nineteenth-century American life. . . . A fine example of how historical scholarship about these issues can move between specific case studies and generalized trends or patterns.--Clio

Beautifully written and meticulously researched.--Publishing Research Quartely

An elegant historical survey. . . . Sicherman's well-chosen examples . . . make a good case for her argument that reading mattered crucially.--American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807833087
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 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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