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America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines Paperback – Sep 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060959819
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060959814
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,516,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Aug. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Last September in Fast Company magazine, there was a brief commentary on this book which caught my eye. It cited a number of historical facts of which I had previously been unaware. For example:

1. In 1637 in Virginia, Ann Fowler was sentenced to 20 lashes after she suggested that Adam Thorowgood (a county justice) could "Kiss my arse." The state's General Assembly then ruled that husbands would no longer be liable for damages caused by their outspoken wives.

2. During the 18th century in Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley, impoverished single women with children were required to wear a P (for pauper) when appearing in public.

3. In the 19th century during Civil War era, about 80% of the reading public was female.

4. "In World War II, 1,000 women pilots flew 60 million miles -- mostly in experimental jets and planes grounded for safety reasons --and often towed targets past lines of inexperienced gunners. Then [they] would get arrested for leaving base wearing slacks after dark."

As Collins examines four centuries of historical material, much (most?) of it is probably unfamiliar to most readers. In process, she focuses on various "dolls, drudges, helpmates, and heroines" and their diverse contributions -- both positive and negative -- to the evolution of American history. Although Collins is renowned for her work as a journalist (editorial page editor of the New York Times), she displays in this volume all of the skills of an accomplished historian as well as those of a cultural anthropologist. Also, she's a terrific storyteller.

I wholly agree with Ellen Chesler (who reviewed this book in The New York Times) that "vast scholarship on women has dramatically reshaped academic thinking about American history....
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 Feb. 2004
Format: Hardcover
I started skimming through this book to see if I wanted to read it, and I was hooked. This is a history that skips all the boring parts. You can start anywhere and find one fascinating fact after another.
Mae West got her start on stage in a play that she wrote, featuring male transvestites. Sort of the Madonna of her day. When Ignac Paderewski, concert pianist, performed in the 19th century, women rushed the stage to throw corsages at him. Sort of the Tom Jones of his day. American nurses in World War I adapted the absorbent wood pulp bandages used to treat wounds, to create what would become Kotex.
The bibliography in America's Women is marvelously extensive; you can use it for research, or just to get ideas for more interesting reading.
Brava, Gail Collins, for an outstanding book!
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By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 23 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback
Women's history has all-too-often been neglected, dismissed out of hand as irrelevant and unimportant. After all, women have been deliberately shunted out of positions of power, responsibility and import for almost the entirety of human history - so what could there possibly be to say or write? Gail Collins refutes that argument, focusing on 400 years of women's history in America, from colonial times right up to the 'relatively' modern era (the last few decades since the 60s are skipped over in a few pages, but she has written another entire book on that topic, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, so I'll forgive her).

This is a lively and entertaining read, although you can tell that it's written by a journalist and not an academic. I noticed a number of minor errors and inaccuracies (Lady Godiva was famous for her actions in Coventry, not London - for one very minor petty example). There's little depth here and it focuses very heavily on white women in America, with side forays into the lives of African Americans and poor immigrant women. Once it moves past colonial times there is no reference to Native American women at all. Part of that, I will admit, is the comparable plethora of sources for white women and the almost complete lack for Native Americans, but even so, it's a glaring hole for me.

But as I said, it was a good read, and an important. Women need more of these kind of history books - not written for niche or academic audiences, focusing on the broad panoply of history, not delving down into a particular place and time.
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