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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 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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807898246
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 04/15/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 392
File size: 3 MB

About 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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From the Publisher

Sicherman's meticulous, elegantly written study is a major contribution to the history of the book and thus to a richer version of American social and cultural history. A rewarding exploration of the purposes reading served in the lives of prominent Progressive-era women, it also moves toward recovering the role of print in the lives of less-privileged individuals. We do not have another book like this.—Joan Shelley Rubin, University of Rochester

Through extraordinary archival research and careful reading of diaries, letters, autobiographies, and other writings, Sicherman provides a thoughtful, well-documented, and original account of how young women's 'deep reading' in fiction, biographies, and histories enabled them to think their way into different, quite unprecedented lives. Elegantly written and a delight to read.—Janice A. Radway, author of Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature

Barbara Sicherman's gripping, moving history of women's voracious reading is a manifesto for the importance of books in helping people—not only women—dare to dream beyond their current constraints.—Linda Gordon, New York University

Barbara Sicherman has gifted us with a treasure! This is an extraordinary book that explains, quite simply, how we got to be us: women who read across all our differences; beyond all barriers. Women like Jane Addams, Rose Cohen, Ida B. Wells who seek to understand deeply, learn profoundly, build community in mean and difficult times. This is a timely, marvelous book for this moment of change, danger, hope.—Blanche Wiesen Cook, John Jay College and Graduate Center, The City University of New York

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