America’s Women by Gail Collins

From Eleanor Dare’s voyage to the New World to Betty Friedan’s march down Fifth Avenue, Collins uses individual women as a framework for her discussion of the four-hundred-year history of women in America.  Starting with the lost colony of Roanoke Island and spanning several wars, the pioneering days, the Great Depression, the era of Rosie the Riveter, and the civil rights movement before ending with minimal commentary of the past three decades, the book explains how the lives of women were altered by birth control, social theories about sex and courtship, suffragettes, evolving legal rights, and fashion.

While I can understand beginning this tomb of history with Eleanor Dare, a British women who traveled to Roanoke Island and gave birth to a little girl, because her arrival began the makings of America as a nation, there is a distinct lack of historical accounts about Latina, Asian, Native American, and other minority women recorded in America’s Women. Collins covers European (white) and African-Americans in-depth; women within other ethnic groups and their struggles, movements, and contributions to history are ignored.  History also comes fast and furious when Collins hits the twentieth century, especially after she covers the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

I did skim the periods of history that I know best — the pioneer days, the Great Depression, World War II — but for the periods I don’t have a personal interest in, I found that even with basic knowledge I had a hard time conjuring up the images Collins wanted me to have in my head. A notable exception would be the pages on the colonial days and the American revolution up until the Civil War; with those I found that I could easily follow along and feel Collins excitement for her work. Her devotion to this period in American history really transferred from the pages to me, but from here to end her excitement noticeably drops and Collins loses steam. In the end, I told my mother to pass on this one because, for someone who doesn’t like history, this sentiment will continue to thrive while reading this fairly dry book.

Book Mentioned:

  • Collins, Gail. America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. Grand Rapids: William Morrow, 2003. Print. 556 pgs. ISBN: 0060185104. Source: PaperBackSwap.
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6 thoughts on “America’s Women by Gail Collins

  1. Sorry you didn’t like this one. I really loved it when I read it a few years ago. She has a new book out that starts where this one left off that has been getting good reviews and it is on my TBR.

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  2. Ah, that’s disappointing that it wasn’t more inclusive. I have to read a somewhat similar book for one of my classes this semester– it’s called Revolutionary Mothers. Apparently it includes Native American women as well as white Americans (and not just middle-class white Americans!) and African-Americans. I have no idea what the rest of it is like, but you might like it better than this one?

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  3. Sorry it sounds so disappointing! I enjoyed listening to the abridged audiobook of Founding Mothers but it too had flaws. I’d love history, and would love to learn about some of the things you mention.

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