Saturday, August 8, 2015

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines

The title: America's Women
The author: Gail Collins
Publication: HarperCollins, 2003
Got it from: Christmas 2014

Last fall when I bought Gail Collins' When Everything Changed at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Musuem I enjoyed it so much I asked for her other women's history book for Christmas.  Where Changed focused on the 1960s to present, this one covers over 400 years of history.  And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.  One reviewer called it "as readable as any Harry Potter adventure," and they aren't kidding.  

I am in absolute awe of the way Collins writes.  The depth of her research and knowledge is astonishing, but it's the way she can pinpoint the remarkable women of history and make their lives exciting that's really impressive.  Each chapter covers a different era in American history from the Pilgrims to the Women's Lib movement and honestly, each one could have been a whole book.  I'd find myself caught up in a mini-biography of some fascinating, forgotten woman of history and be disappointed when her section ended, only to find myself riveted in the next part by details of how ordinary women lived their day-to-day lives.  Of course she touches on the greats (Anthony, Tubman, Roosevelt, etc.) in a way that makes them accessible, but it's the way that she manages to make you feel as if you were a woman living that era that's truly remarkable.  

It's hard to say which era I enjoyed reading about the most.  The section on the Salem Witch trials was interesting, given the mythic proportions to which the event has been inflated - though the truth, as usual, is far more interesting.  Reading about the Underground Railroad and first person testimony from former women slaves was probably the most enlightening of the whole book.  And after reading about the hardships endured by the women pioneers in the West, I have to say thanks but no thanks.  If I had to pick an era to live in as a woman (other than today), I'd have to go with 1920s New York, which was a pretty exciting time for us gals, what with the dispensing of corsets and getting to drink and party and wear your hair short for the first time.  

Overall, this book does an outstanding job of filling the women-shaped hole in American history.  I thought I knew these stories already, but I was wrong.

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