March 12, 2013

America's Women by Gail Collins

First off, I experienced this book as an audio book.  The reader enunciated well and read at an acceptable pace.  Now on to the book itself.

American Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines really is a four hundred year history of American women in the United States.  It starts with the colonies, and the first European woman to give birth in America (Eleanor Dare), although obviously women had been having babies in America long before Eleanor and the Roanoke colony, all the way to the present and the women's liberation movement.  In between, it details suffrage, women in the workplace, women's place in the wars, and more.  And it goes into detail on certain women, like Annie Oakley and Harriet Tubman.  A lot of history is covered here.

With so many wonderful women to choose from its not surprising that Collins went with some of the obvious like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Betty Friedan.  But it was nice to learn about Eleanor Dare, who I'd never even heard of before and a few other women that led extraordinary lives but are rarely mentioned in popular history.  And it had stories about the average woman, and her reactions to the world around her and the restrictions placed on her life.  Stories that were as mundane as what the style was for women (big hair anyone?) to those little known histories of the first slaves brought over and their jobs selling produce on the streets.

There is a lot of history in this book.  400 years of it, although a bigger portion was spent on some areas of the book and it wasn't evenly doled out among the 400 years.  In fact, suffrage was probably the biggest part of the book, with women's liberation following closely behind.  While these are important topics, I would have loved to see as much detail go into the years before that as well.  Sure we got the story of Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, but it just wasn't as extensive.  This book actually did go into some details I didn't expect though.  In fact, it's the first book I've read where it actually talks about pads and tampons.  And while the book predominately focused on European woman, it did go a little bit into the history of Black women and their rights as well.  The introduction does apologize for not including other minorities on the basis of the history not being recorded as well.  But overall, the book was well written, chock full of details, and an enjoyable bit of history (a genre I'm normally not too fond of).

A very interesting book and well worth reading.  It definitely brought some new topics of interest to my mind that I might want to research further.

America's Women
Copyright 2007
Audio Book

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