“Although there are a number of books that trace the history of women in the U.S., this is an exceptionally fine compilation that looks at the lives of American women in general and in particular. The introduction covers the role women had in building the country and explains the areas on which the authors have chosen to focus: health, paid work, home, education, beauty, amusements, and the arts. The book then proceeds in chronological fashion, beginning with the Revolutionary War. Throughout, it is filled with fascinating anecdotes about individual women and the lives they led, but it also sets these lives against the sweep of U.S. history. Consequently, this can be likened to a quilt, where both the individual pieces and the whole demand attention. This is an attractive offering as well, with historical art and photographs-color and black-and-white-enlivening each page. Most readers probably won’t read this hefty tome from beginning to end, but the material is so interesting, a few just might.” Cooper, Ilene.
The Amelia Bloomer Project of the American Library Association has chosen Women Making America to be in their top ten books of 2010. “The books [on the Amelia Bloomer list] show girls and women—past and present, real and fictional—breaking stereotypes to follow their dreams and pursue their goals, challenging cultural and familial stereotypes to gain an education, taking charge, and making plans for community, regional, national, and world change,’ says the Task Force. ‘We hope that these books inspire readers to make the world a better place for all.’”
The Amelia Bloomer Project creates an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18. They are part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. You can read more at http://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com/
From the NWHM: Here is what you can do to help.
H.R. 1700 Passed in House
On October 14, 2009, H.R. 1700 passed the House Floor on a voice vote. Click here to read the press release. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate. See below for how you can still help.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) said, “There are museums for stamps and spies, for news and for poetry–but today’s action by the House means women are on our way toward a ‘museum of our own’. What women have contributed to the building of our country is a story long overdue for the telling.”
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) re-introduced The National Women’s History Museum Act (H.R. 1700) with bipartisan support on March 25, 2009. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) will re-introduce the companion Senate bill shortly. We’ve launched the Right Here. Right Now. campaign so that you can make your voice heard on Capitol Hill. Help us urge Congress to pass The National Women’s History Museum Act immediately.
- Write to your Senator and ask them to pass The National Women’s History Museum Act now.
- Show your support by displaying our Right Here. Right Now. badge online.
- NWHM Media Page.
The Amelia Bloomer Project, a part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association, creates an annual book list of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18. Women Making America was nominated for the list on August 31.
To see the others nominated this year, check out
“A fascinating look at U.S. history, dividing it into nine chronological periods, this book combines an overview of major events and social trends with women’s lives, rights, responsibilities, and accomplishments. It includes racial and ethnic considerations as well as social movements. Each page has sidebars clearly set apart from the main text by bright colors or clear borders. If you like your history from the white male canon, this book is not for you. For the rest of us, it is a welcome view of how women were involved in creating history. Highly recommended for school, academic, and public libraries.”
Gr 6 Up—This hefty volume surveys the role of women in American history from 1770 to the present, focusing primarily on health issues, paid work, home, education, beauty, amusements, and the arts. Each chapter includes a brief summary of historical events and then examines the common threads. Photographs, reproductions, and numerous sidebars convey information on pages filled with bright colors and lively layouts. Quotes, biographical information, facts, and vignettes place women in the context of the times. Outstanding highlights are the “Did you know?” and “Have you heard of…?” sections. There is good racial, ethnic, and age diversity in the text and in the illustrations. The bibliography offers general histories and specific chapter references. The book concludes with the authors addressing their female readers by asking “How will your passion and hard work pave the way for those still to come?…The next chapter of American history belongs to you and your children and grandchildren. What will that story be?” The book’s innovative and direct approach is sure to capture the attention of young women. Classroom teachers can utilize the plethora of facts to liven social studies and history lessons, and the format is appealing enough to attract browsers.—Patricia Ann Owens, Wabash Valley College, Mt. Carmel, IL June 1, 2009
Women Making America was just favorably reviewed by Cindy Hudson, of Mother Daughter Book Club fame. Here is what she had to say on May 26:
I’ve been reading a book called Women Making America by Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage and I think many of you would find it both interesting and useful. First, it’s a great resource for finding information and ideas when your daughter is assigned an essay to write about a woman she admires or about an historical figure The book is organized so well you can open to any page and find some historical tidbit that you may want to follow up on.
Second, it’s the perfect guide to have when your daughter starts to realize that not many women are featured in her school history book. This may happen early in her school years, but it will certainly happen by the time she is in middle school or high school. Even better, don’t wait until your daughter questions it on her own; buy a copy and keep it out on your family room coffee table. Pique her interest by opening to any page and reading one of the boxed facts like this one from the New Ways of Living 1865—1890 section: “Employers justified paying women less by hiring them only for unskilled positions. This was impossible in the case of cigar makers from Bohemia. Women were the experts. A war in Europe led thousands to immigrate to America in the 1870s. Arriving with their own tools, these skilled workers quickly earned enough money for their husbands and children to join them.”
Women Making America is organized by era. There are nine chapters, and each covers several decades in American history. Each chapter also highlights different topics, such as health, paid work, at home, education, beauty, amusements and the arts. Sidebars on every page offer little bits of information in pull-out boxes.
There are several historical illustrations and photos on each page, and most of them are fascinating pieces of history that make you want to find out more. Women Making America is a resource you will want to have around for years to come. I highly recommend it for homes with daughters of any age.
You can find her posting at:
Our interview with Pamela Varkony on Voice America is posted here:
Catch us today from 4-5 (Eastern) for an interview about Women Making America.
We are doing a women’s history presentation at Woodlin Elementary tomorrow, and have excerpted the following portions of our 1890-1920 chapter to present as a readers theater to parents and children. The quoted portions will be read by our girls dressed in period clothing. We will flash images from the period behind.
Women in America: 1890-1920
America has long been a land of immigrants, but between 1890 and 1920, they poured into the U.S. in unprecedented numbers.
• “When I arrived in America, I was surprised to find out that the streets were not paved with gold. As a matter of fact, I found that they were not paved at all, and I was expected to pave them.” Italian American Lament
• “Ellis Island in Russian is called the “Island of Tears,” and in every way it merited the name. We all cried. . . . We cried because of fear and disappointment. We had come a long way: we had sold everything we had and spent every cent, and now we were afraid of being sent back. . . . All the way to America, we were scrubbed, cleaned, and examined by physicians and now dirt and squalor seemed everywhere. . .” Rahel Mittelstein, Jewish immigrant
Between 1900 and 1920, more than 20,000 Japanese women entered the United States as “picture brides.” Having seen only photos of their future husbands, these young women got off boats to marry Japanese men they had never met. These picture brides wanted to fit in.
• “ I was immediately outfitted with Western clothing. … Because I had to wear a tight corset around my chest, I could not bend forward. … I wore a large hat, a high-necked blouse, a long skirt, a buckled belt around my waist, high-laced shoes, and of course, for the first time in my life, a brassiere and hip pads.”
By 1910, one in four women worked for wages. Most worked out of necessity, not because it brought them great fulfillment.
• “I frequently work from fourteen to sixteen hours a day. . . . I am allowed to go home to my own children, the oldest whom is a girl of 18 years, only once in two weeks, every other Sunday afternoon—even then I’m not permitted to stay all night. . . . I see my own children only when they happen to see me on the streets. … Every day in the week I am the slave, body and soul, of this family. “ Domestic worker
• “Intelligent people set no stigma on factory workers who are well-bred and ladylike. These girls are received in good circles anywhere. Many women of wealth and standing are interested in these girls and even invite them to their homes. But no one has ever invited someone’s maid or cook to their home for afternoon tea or any other social affair.” –Factory worker
Until the late 1800s, society severely restricted the leisure activities in which women were allowed to participate. With the dawning of a new century, this began to change. Forward-thinking educators began to introduce sports into women’s schools.
• “I read in a small magazine that an indoor game was invented called Basket Ball. We no sooner tried it than we liked it.” Senda Berenson, Smith College
In the 1890s, bicycles seemed to be everywhere. As women took to the roads, the public debated everything from whether females should be allowed to ride bikes to where and how women should ride.
According to one Minneapolis newspaper:
• “Cycling is fast bringing about this change of feeling regarding woman and her capabilities. A woman awheel is an independent creature, free to go whither she will.”
Have you ever heard of . . . Ann Taylor? The first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was a woman. In 1901, Taylor, a childless widow, took the plunge while crowds watched. Although bruised and bleeding, she survived to tell onlookers:
• “Nobody ought ever to do that again.”
The moving picture was another popular new escape. In 1910, working girls who could not afford new outfits to go dancing or to go to amusement parks could usually muster the five cents it cost to attend a show. One Italian immigrant later remembered:
• “We’d go to the movies, the silent pictures, but . . . we didn’t know that these stories weren’t true. So we would cry and cry, if somebody died. We thought they had really died.”
At the turn of the 20th century, women had quite a job keeping up with the day’s fashions.
In 1905, a single page of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue offered seventy-five different styles of ostrich-feather decorations. With feathers adorning just about everything, many species of birds faced extinction. A group of Massachusetts women were dismayed and decided to take action. Forming the Massachusetts Audubon Society, they actively championed the cause of birds by convincing women not to wear clothing made with bird products. Their petition and letter-writing campaigns also led to laws protecting birds. Efforts like these led to the environmental movement of the twentieth century.
Ready-made clothing made fashionable clothes more accessible to the working girl.
• “We’re human, all of us girls, and we’re young. We like new hats as well as any other young women. Why shouldn’t we? … Sometimes a girl has a new hat. It is never much to look at because it never costs more than fifty cents, but it’s pretty sure spoiled after it’s been to the shop.” Clara Lemlich, garment worker
The close of the 19th century saw the beginning of the club movement. Educated middle class women first gathered to discuss ideas but soon began looking for ways to improve their communities.
Mrs. Himmelberger stood:
• “What I want most of all is for the Club to do something for this town. It’s time we were. Why, this body of women can do anything they make up their minds to—anything at all!”
She sat down flushed. . . .Mrs. Bell squared her shoulders.
• “I agree perfectly. It is time this Club was doing something about this town. . . . Up to now we’ve been just a study club. It is time we add something else.”
• “One felt the atmosphere of transition from culture to crusading, lady-like, a shade militant.” Diary of Elizabeth Dierssen
In 1870, a doctor addressing a group of medical experts stated that it appeared…
• “as if the Almighty, in creating the female sex, had taken the uterus and built up a woman around it.”
The Household Physician, a widely read book of medical advice, insisted that the health of adolescent girls was particularly vulnerable. One doctor advised young women in 1899:
• “Women beware. You are on the brink of destruction. You have hitherto been engaged in crushing your waists; now you are attempting to cultivate your mind. Beware!! Science pronounces that the woman who studies is lost.”
The 1910s saw the invention of a number of new appliances. Some well-to-do families also enjoyed indoor running water and gas lamps for the first time. Few of these technological advances eased the burdens of rural and urban poor women.
• “There was no telephone on the farm for years. . . . There was no plumbing. Water was carried in from the well in a bucket for the family needs. . . . There was no washing machine. The wash boiler, washtub, washboard and homemade soap were every Monday morning necessities. … There was no refrigeration, no ice maker, no ice.” Ella May Stumpe
• “My mom could . . . make a washboard sing, just sing. She had a knack. . . . She had a rhythm, just like someone a-strummin’ his guitar for a rhythm.” Edna Winter, Indiana farmwife
New domestic scientists pressured parents to raise children more “scientifically.” They tried to convince mothers that they were too sentimental and that their parenting instincts could be damaging. Parents of babies born in 1900 were warned against such foolishness as kissing and playing too much with their infants:
• “Babies under six months old should never be played with, and the less of it at any time the better.!!!!!”
Toilet training was to begin by three months and thumb sucking was to be discouraged by using aluminum mittens or pinning sleeves shut over the “offending hand.”
During World War I, physician Josephine Baker pointed out:
• “It’s six times safer to be a soldier in the trenches in France than to be a baby born in the United States.”
In 1900, one in ten white children—and one in five black children—died before the age of one.
• “It is woman, the dainty, the beautiful, the beloved wife and revered mother, who has by common consent been expected to do the chamber-work and scullery work of the world,” “All that is basest and foulest she in the last instance must handle and remove. Grease, ashes, dust, foul linen, and sooty ironware—among these her days must pass.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Women officially won the vote on August 6, 1920. It had taken seventy-two years of unrelenting labor to achieve the vote for women nationally. Why did it take so long? One might think that the greatest battle would be convincing men that women should vote. That was often the case; surprisingly, however, much of the time women themselves had to be convinced.
Annie Block, an antisuffrage activist warned:
• “Women voting interferes with the great plan of God.”
• “Woman is impulsive; she does not inform herself; she does not study; she does not consider the consequences of a vote. The ballot in her hands is a dangerous thing.”
• “Hark! The suffrage parade advances. . . . Men, awake! Rouse from your lethargy. Do you not already see the streets flowing with blood? I pray to God you will not help to bring a curse upon us.”
Reactions like these irritated suffragists.
• “Women in the laundries stand for thirteen and fourteen hours in the terrible steam and heat with their hand in hot starch. Surely these women won’t lose any more of their beauty and charm by putting a ballot in the ballot box.” Rose Schneiderman, working woman and union leader
Did you know? The word feminist first appeared in print in 1895 describing a woman who “has in her the capacity of fighting her way back to independence.”
• “Young people think that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possess always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women in the past” Susan B. Anthony
It is our honor to have Women Making America reviewed by the awesome Jo Freeman. Freeman is one of the founding mothers of second wave feminism and a founder of Chicago’s West Side group, probably the first Women’s Liberation group in the nation. She is an attorney, well-known feminist scholar, speaker, and author. Her most recent book is We Will Be Heard: Women’s Struggles for Political Power in the United States. Political buttons from her private collection appear in our book.