From colonial times, women have been at the forefront of significant developments in the literary community and the book world. Despite this important history, no single publication has provided an overview of women’s roles in writing, publishing, bookselling, and librarianship. With Women in the Literary Landscape, in honor of its Centennial, the WNBA breaks new ground with a narrative connecting women’s contributions in these fields with the relevant social history.
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WOMEN, LITERARY PURSUITS, AND THE BOOK WORLD
Milestones and Trends
Since the earliest times in U.S. history, women shaped the literary community and the book world. It was in the realm of the home, to which most women were confined in our country's infancy, that their talents as authors, readers, and teachers were bred. And it will come as no surprise that some of women's first forays into the professional book world were connected to education and literacy: Women found outlets and, in many cases, led the way in the development of libraries and children's literature in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They also found fertile ground as editors in the world of such periodicals as Godey's Lady's Book, tailored to women and the home, and as taste-makers in their coverage of books and other cultural trends of the day.
Along with the growing women's rights movement during the Progressive Era, there were other advances in the early decades of the twentieth century, including Women's National Book Association cofounder Madge Jenison's Sunwise Turn Bookshop and Blanche Knopf's leading role in the 1915 establishment of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Throughout the twentieth century, many women broke through the confines of the male-dominated business of book publishing as publishers, editors, and marketing and sales professionals. In today's book world, it's safe to say that, while women's roles — and yes, incomes — are not fully commensurate with that of men, they now lead the way in many areas. This first section of Women in the Literary Landscape tells the story of women's hard work, leadership, and innovation in shaping the literary community and adding to the vital cultural landscape that defines the United States.
Colonial and Revolutionary America
A woman wrote America's first secular book: Without telling Anne Bradstreet, her brother-in-law took her poems from Massachusetts to London and returned with copies of The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America (1650). Bradstreet was the busy mother of eight, yet made time to write poetry that still stands up well today. No matter the field, women always have been there — and without women, history ends in a generation.
Moreover, until very recently, they did this without access to formal education. Harvard College had been established when Anne Bradstreet wrote, but more than three centuries would pass before women were allowed to study there. In fact, almost two centuries would pass between Harvard's 1636 founding and the admission of women to any college in the United States. The first was Oberlin College in frontier Ohio in 1833, and even there, women had to follow a "Ladies Course." Yet despite this and other routine discrimination, women were active participants in the literary community in America from the beginning.
They wrote of their own experiences, such as Mary Rowlandson's A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which told of her life when she was taken by Rhode Island's Wampanoag tribe. Published in 1682, it was reissued in at least thirty editions. Women wrote travelogues, such as Sarah Kemble Knight's account of her business trip from Boston to New York City in 1704, The Journal of Madam Knight, published in 1825. Her cheerful story of overcoming obstacles on the horseback journey also contained many economic and cultural observations.
Women were among the country's first publishers as they took the helm at several newspapers. Sarah Updike Goddard began Rhode Island's Providence Gazette in 1762 and moved on to Philadelphia, where she published the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Her daughter, Mary Katherine Goddard, used the Maryland Journal to issue the first copy of the Declaration of Independence that included the signers' names. Other women published newspapers from Boston down to Richmond, and the governments of several colonies appointed women as official printers.
Colonial women arguably had a higher status than would later be the case. Anne Catherine Hoof Green, for example, was named the official printer of the Maryland colony in 1767, and even as she was caring for her fourteen children, she also published the Maryland Gazette. Clementina Rind, a widow like Green, published the Virginia Gazette, and that colony's House of Burgesses made her the official printer in 1774. Nor did these women hesitate to express their political opinions. Most supported the revolution, but Margaret Green Draper advocated for the established government in her Boston News-Letter. Her conservative views were popular enough that she drove six competitors out of business before the British evacuated and she had to flee.
Mercy Otis Warren, who lived south of Boston, anonymously wrote plays that satirized the British enemy; she later published a three-volume military record of the war that is much esteemed by historians. In 1780 in Philadelphia, Esther DeBerdt Reed argued in Sentiments of an American Woman for both the revolution and for women's right to participate in it. Other Philadelphia women joined her in raising substantial money to support the rebel army. Her political leadership is particularly striking in view of the fact that she was a British native who hadn't lived in America for very long.
George Washington appreciated the activism of these natural democrats and wrote thank-you notes to many women. He also took time to formally accept poetry from Phillis Wheatley, a young black woman born in Gambia, who was sold into slavery at a very young age. Her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, was published in London in 1773, the same year she was emancipated by the Wheatley family of Boston.
New Ideas in a New Nation
Books sold during the nineteenth century in numbers that seem astonishing today. The reason, of course, was that people spent much more time reading than now. There were no movies, televisions, or phones to distract, and in a largely rural nation, theaters and opera houses usually were beyond traveling distance. Clergymen often frowned on card playing, and other games were rare. A few families owned pianos, and singing was treasured entertainment, but when people wanted to relax at the end of the day, most had no option but to open a book.
Even for women whose days did not end when the sun went down, it was not uncommon to enjoy a book in the evening: A woman merely picked up her darning or knitting and continued to work while her husband read aloud by the fireside. Even in the daylight, some women worked out systems whereby an older child read aloud while she did her kitchen work. Mothers, in fact, were the most likely teachers of reading, and American literacy owes more to them than is acknowledged.
Free public education was slow to develop, and the urban women who ran "dame schools" supported themselves by charging tuition. A few families, especially in the plantation South, employed governesses, but most teaching was done mother to child. When their children became teens, affluent families sent boys to prep schools or colleges to be taught exclusively by male professors. Privileged girls went to finishing schools, where the faculty could be male or female.
But mostly readers taught each other. Laws in the South made it a crime to teach an enslaved person to read, but some nonetheless learned by absorbing words and text they were sometimes exposed to — or because a master or mistress found that households ran more efficiently if a slave could recognize rudimentary words. Trusted (male) slaves even became preachers capable of reading at least parts of the Bible. Women and men in the new nation were readers, and the percentage of the middle-class population who bought books puts today's publishing market to shame.
Excerpted from "Women in the Literary Landscape"
Copyright © 2018 Women's National Book Association, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of C&R Press.
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Table of Contents
Foreword, by Blanche Wiesen Cook 8
Letter from the WNBA President:
A Century of Progress for Women in the World of Books 10
Chapter 1: Women, Literary Pursuits, and the Book World:
Milestones and Trends 16
Colonial and Revolutionary America 18
New Ideas in a New Nation 19
The Post–Civil War Years 28
The Progressive Era 36
The Interwar Years 55
World War II and the Postwar World 74
The Era of Second Wave Feminism 94
A Networked World, A Fast-Changing World 117
Notes on Sources, Doris Weatherford 141
Notes on Sources, Rosalind Reisner 149
Chapter 2: Bookselling Then and Now 156
“Bookselling as a Profession for Women,” Reprint of 1926
Article by Madge Jenison 159
Response to Jenison’s Article by Joyce Meskis 166
A Quiz for Bookwomen, from The Bookwoman 170
Bookwomen Speak About Bookselling 173
Chapter 3: From the Archives 176
The Founding Story 177
The Early Dinners 180
The WNBA Takes on the Status of Women in the
Publishing Industry 184
Male Reaction to Women in the Publishing Industry 187
Publishing and Literature Courses Offered
by the WNBA 190
Chapter 4: Supporting Literature and Literacy 194
The WNBA and the United Nations 197
The WNBA Award 203
The WNBA Pannell Award 208
The Eastman Grant 210
National Reading Group Month and Great Group
Reads—Celebrating the Joy of Shared Reading 210
The WNBA National Writing Contest 216
The Afghan Women’s Writing Project and the Afghan 217
Friends Network Affiliation,
WNBA San Francisco Chapter
Marking Milestones and Honoring Women’s Voices 221
The WNBA Second Century Prize Honoring Little
Free Library 224
Chapter 5: WNBA Chapter Histories 226
WNBA Presidents 255
WNBA Award Winners 258
WNBA Pannell Award Winners 261
WNBA Writing Contest Winners 266
Contributors and Credits 269
Acknowledgments and Supporters 278