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Book Review

Reviewed by Jo Freeman

Women Making America

by Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage

Silver Spring, Md: Published by Clotho Press, 2009, 378 pp

Out just in time for Women’s History month, Women Making America covers women’s history from the Revolution to the present day. Chock full of colorful images, it swoops high and low, sometimes mapping the forest and sometimes looking at a tree.

Organized into nine chronological chapters, this is a book of visual soundbites. Each one covers such general topics as Paid Work, Beauty, Health and Education. You will read about women missionaries, quilters, astronomers and servants. Numerous sidebars tell the stories of individual women. Have you heard of Matilda Joslyn Gage, Virginia Minor, Mary Beard, Ida B. Wells? How about Nancy Lopez, Wilma Mankiller and Louise Boyd?

In this book you will learn that
Matilda Joslyn Gage was one of the most radical of the founding suffragists.

Virginia Minor was one of about 150 women who tried to vote in the 1872 election. The outcome was a major legal case, which went the wrong way.

Mary Beard was a social activist and scholar in the Progressive Movement who created the field of women’s history long before there was an audience to appreciate it.

Ida B. Wells was an African-American suffragist, journalist and crusader against lynching.

Nancy Lopez was a professional golfer. In 1978 she made more money than the men.

Wilma Mankiller was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Louise Boyd was a wealthy woman who used her money to finance her explorations of the arctic. She created charts that the US used during World War II.

There is a lot about what women did in wars.
The section on the Civil War ranges from Varina Davis (wife of Jefferson Davis) to Jane Perkins (a Confederate soldier); from Dr. Mary Walker (a Union Army surgeon criticized because she wore trousers) to Violet Guntharpe (ten-year-old slave).

Most reform minded women wanted to keep the US out of World War I. In 1915 Jane Addams, Carrie Chapman Catt and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, all well known reformers, founded the Women’s Peace Party. When the US went to war anyway, the peace promoters went in different directions.

Ironically, the war was good for both women and minorities, because it opened up jobs vacated by white men when they went into the war.

And a lot about changes in social conventions.
In the 18th Century courting couples were allowed to spend the night together, in bed but fully clothed and separated by a board. This was called bundling.

When dating emerged in the 1920s as the new form of courtship, it shifted control of the encounter from the girl’s family to the boy. "A date was a invitation into the man’s public sphere, where he acted as host and assumed control."

Fashion and beauty have changed radically, but not always in the same direction.
In the1890s a well-dressed woman wore a corset with lots of layers on top. Only immoral women wore lipstick — to advertise their services. Respectable women highlighted the beauty of their breasts through physical enhancement. Big hats were a necessity. Plump was positive.

In the 1920s clothes were shed. Well dressed women wore free flowing short skirts. Big breasts were out and thin was in. Hats were small and hair was short.

By the 1950s the girdle had replaced the corset. Big breasts were back, but they were supposed to be pointy rather than rounded. Make-up was a must.

In the 21th Century women wore less, but still enlarged their breasts, only they did it with surgery rather than cloth pads.

You will learn a lot of facts you didn’t know, such as
The numerous victories of US women in the Olympics are a direct result of Title IX (of the 1972 Education Act). Aimed at the elimination of sex discrimination in higher education programs which often had quotas on women, its biggest impact was on college athletics.

"During the 1920s one-third to one-half of Hollywood’s screenwriters were women,"

A woman finally joined the Harlem Globetrotters in 1985.

And at least one that isn’t true.
The authors say that "The government’s GI Bill, which sent thousands of returning soldiers to college, did not include military women." I don’t know where they got that from since there are no source citations, but that statement certainly shocked me. My mother, who served in the WACs during World War II, earned her Master’s degree on the GI bill.

Errors aside, it’s a fun book to browse.

©2009 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomenWeb


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