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Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines

Gail Collins’ America’s Women (400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines) reads like the women studies class I was never offered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It should be required reading for every US high school student today. Listen to some of this stuff:

tubmanThe most famous runaway slave…was [Harriet Tubman]…In 1849, when she was about thirty years old, she heard rumors that she was about to be sold and escaped. Making her way to Philadelphia, she cleaned houses until she had enough saved to finance a return trip…she made as many as 19 trips over the border. In one, using a hired wagon, she retrieved her elderly parents. In another, she led eleven slaves to freedom…She was expert at disguises, appearing as an old woman or a vagabond, or a mental disturbed man. She carried paregoric to quiet crying babies, and if anyone showed signs of panicking, she ominously fingers the revolver she always carried. Maryland slaveholders offered a bounty of $40,000 for her capture.

and

rankinThe great story about Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress, who four days later voted against the US going into WWI. Two years later the voters invited her home, but she wasn’t done, not by a long shot. In 1940 she was re-elected, just in time to vote against the US going into WWII.
Not sure this was exactly what Anthony and Stanton had in mind at Seneca Falls.

One of the recurring themes that Collins delights in is the instruction women received from the media on their behavior and place in society. Some of the crap women’s magazines were pitching in the 1950s could have been lifted whole right out of publications in the 1750s.
collinsThis is remedial womens’ studies with a vengeance, told with wit and style and a gift for picking exactly the right anecdote to illustrate an entire historical event. All the usual suspects are present and accounted for, from Prudence Crandall to Abigail Adams to Margaret Sanger (Thanks for the pill, Margaret!) to Elizabeth Eckford to Eleanor Roosevelt (Thanks for marrying Eleanor, Franklin!). A must read.

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