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Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (Free Press)

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The most concise and comprehensive one-volume history of American women—from the indigenous women of the 16th-century wilderness to the dual-role career women and mothers of contemporary times—this book brings American womanhood to center stage, exploring the lives of pioneers and slaves, immigrants and factory workers, executives and homemakers.


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The most concise and comprehensive one-volume history of American women—from the indigenous women of the 16th-century wilderness to the dual-role career women and mothers of contemporary times—this book brings American womanhood to center stage, exploring the lives of pioneers and slaves, immigrants and factory workers, executives and homemakers.

30 review for Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (Free Press)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Madison

    Evans has a unique voice. The organization and presentation of this book was great and thought provoking.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    In opening the section on Women and Modernity, 1890-1920, Evans sets the scene for the response to industrialization by relating the speech given by the black reformer Frances Harper at the 1893 World's Fair at Chicago. Speaking to the role that women could play in the future of America, she was all to familiar with the Jim Crow violence of the American South. It was an exciting time and a violent time, as many periods of rapid change are. And it was, above all, a time where the issues of class In opening the section on Women and Modernity, 1890-1920, Evans sets the scene for the response to industrialization by relating the speech given by the black reformer Frances Harper at the 1893 World's Fair at Chicago. Speaking to the role that women could play in the future of America, she was all to familiar with the Jim Crow violence of the American South. It was an exciting time and a violent time, as many periods of rapid change are. And it was, above all, a time where the issues of class and race intersected in ways that were to be informed by gender. Out of the changes wrought by initialization emerged "The New Woman," highly educated in the new all-female schools of the post-Civil War America, she had the choice of family or work. If she choose the life of a teacher or nurse, family would likely be a closed avenue and visa versa. Women did choose career over family and in the Progressive era formed reform communities like Hull House in Chicago (1889). Seeking real experience in the ennui of fin de siecle America, these women reached out to the poor immigrants and sought to "Americanize" them. For some, like Florence Kelley at Hull House, it was the beginning of a long career of female reform activism. Forming the National Consumers' League (NCL), Kelley would agitate for better conditions for working girls who were mercilessly exploited by the new department stores. Reaching out to the working class, they never quite bridged the gap, but they certainly tried. For black women the issues were starkly different. Women activists like the black publisher Ida B. Wells-Barnett in Memphis, TN, sought to expose the brutality of lynching and was run out of town. Black women were more likely to offer support to married working women with children as this was the reality of the black family in early 20th C America. "A Reunited Woman Suffrage Movement" also animated the female reform movements of the Progressive Era. In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as president. Suffragists, as well as other reformers, used the concerns of "politicized domesticity" to break out of the go beyond the domestic sphere and into the world of public reform. It would be the "mother office of the state" that would address the most grievous consequences of industrialization. Building on the legacies of the K of L and earlier republican motherhood, women entered reform. More radical women like Charlotte Perkins Gilman could use domesticity to advocate such radical ideas as collective housekeeping and cooking to free women from the growing "double burden." More ominously, white middle class progressives shared a common racism with their male reformer counterparts. "The Working Girl" was the subject of great concern among reformers. The dangerous conditions in industrial factories were the subject of reform legislation and agitation, yet the lives of black women who were consigned to agriculture and domestic service were largely ignored by white reformers, who considered that a "race" issue. Bridging the gap of class to support working white women, wealthy reform women joined the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) and formed a powerful force to fight for women's equality in the workplace. Supporting the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in strikes against unsafe conditions in the sweatshops of NY, the WTUL league went down to defeat along with the rest of the "Uprising of Thirty Thousand," but the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Fire only a year later killed 146 women for the lack of the very fire escapes they had demanded in their strike. With the new public roles of women reformers also came a "The Breakdown of Victorianism." Working class girls pursued entertainment, frolicking provocatively in the dance halls. "Sex o'clock" had struck. And political radicalism was also on the rise in NYC, with Emma Goldman advocating free love, Margaret Sanger promoting birth control and Charlotte Perkins Gilman promoting professionalized housework and communal kitchens. Yet there were many "Paradoxes of Modernity" evident through all this euphoria. Reform and "Americanization" were achieved at the cost of lost immigrant cultures, scientific housework offered new means for intrusion into the private lives of women as did the new social science casework which stigmatized the poor. Freudian psychology also worked to marginalize lesbians, who now appeared to be "abnormal." "New Life in the Suffrage Movement" came from both radical circles and the settlement movement. A grass roots revival of the suffrage cause featured lecture tours by prominent suffragists and agitation for suffrage legislation in the states. Even President Wilson's inauguration in 1913 was drained of visitors who had gone to see the 5,000 women marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. Fractures in the NAWSA coalition appeared over the militancy of Alice Paul, who resented the more subdued approach of Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt built a "well-oiled political machine" which focused on local neighborhood organization. Formerly an active member of the Woman's Peace Party, she was politically astute enough to see that support for the war, once war was declared, would be a crucial step to claiming a female right to citizenship. Though the House voted for Woman Suffrage in 1918, the Senate voted it down. Catt's weary women swung into action one last time to push Woman Suffrage over the top. The 19th Amendment became law on August 26, 1920. The story of the "The Decline of Female Reform" is covered in Flappers, Freudians, and All That Jazz. The success of suffrage had lead many to believe, falsely in Evans' view, that women could now pursue their own individual goals. Rejecting maternalist protections, indeed all sex-based protective legislation, the National Woman's Party (NWP) under the leadership of Alice Paul pursued the abolition of special women's protections in favor of an Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA appalled Progressive women who had fought so hard for protections of working women. The rise of popularized ideals of "The Companionate Marriage and the Reemergence of Female Sexuality" took place in an atmosphere of depoliticized feminity in which becoming a private secretary or Office Wife became the highest goal of "The Secretary as Single Girl." Without the community of women fostered by Progressive reform movements, women retreated into their own private pursuits. In the chapter on Surviving the Great Depression, Evans discusses "The Retreat into Privacy: Family, Work and Personal Life" which exacerbated a depoliticizing trend that had set in after the passage of suffrage. The Depression created an atmosphere that further precluded the legitimacy of women's work outside the home. Driven back towards domesticity, the women of the Depression did not experience femininity as empowering but rather relearned the home economy skills of canning food, etc. as a mere means of survival. "The Female Reform Tradition in the New Deal" is a solid overview which serves as a crib to Gordon below. "Social Movements: Activism without Feminism" concludes the section on the New Deal Era with a brief consideration of racial politics. As an activist herself in the Civil Rights Movement, Evans sees the interracial cooperation of the Council for Interracial Cooperation (CIC) as "one of the last opportunities for women to generate organized power outside the corridors of public life by drawing on traditional women's networks." (p. 211) But this moment seems to have been lost. In this anteroom to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, Mary McCloud Bethune is seen urging Jessie Daniel Ames (a Texas suffragist and social reformer) to take up the anti-lynching cause. She formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL) in 1930. Unlike the communists, who saw the feminist cause as bourgeois, traditional women's networks provided a real option for organizing for real change across the racial divide.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Myrivername

    I'm interested in this book's topic, a history of women and women's rights in America. But while it's a good idea and I did learn a lot, the book is really poorly executed. It's not very well organized and the writing is awful. Here's an example of the verbose, vague, slightly confusing kind of writing used throughout: "Yet the blandness of the firties' domestic ideology and cold war conformity masked new signs of discontent and change. Although most women expereince problems as individuals, col I'm interested in this book's topic, a history of women and women's rights in America. But while it's a good idea and I did learn a lot, the book is really poorly executed. It's not very well organized and the writing is awful. Here's an example of the verbose, vague, slightly confusing kind of writing used throughout: "Yet the blandness of the firties' domestic ideology and cold war conformity masked new signs of discontent and change. Although most women expereince problems as individuals, collective activity within a wide variety of groups in the population signaled possibilities which would surface in subsequent decades." Activity signaled possibilities? The author writes a lot of sentences that don't really say anything, and she uses a lot of large vocabulary words in questionable ways. I stuck with it out of stubbornness. On the positive side, I want to read more in women's studies, though I will try to find better written stuff in the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marsha

    Brimming with facts, history, religion, politics, sports and sexual mores, this book is an intense, in-depth course on the status of American women. From the Native Americans to the current melting pot, the state of womanhood was ever in flux. The writer ably picks out how the concept of femininity was one that could change drastically from one generation to the next, affected by such disparate elements as war, poverty, invasion, diseases and shifting governmental policies. the book bogs down in Brimming with facts, history, religion, politics, sports and sexual mores, this book is an intense, in-depth course on the status of American women. From the Native Americans to the current melting pot, the state of womanhood was ever in flux. The writer ably picks out how the concept of femininity was one that could change drastically from one generation to the next, affected by such disparate elements as war, poverty, invasion, diseases and shifting governmental policies. the book bogs down in latter chapters, though. The author grounds us firmly in historical records, shooting acronyms about political and social factions (unions, et al.) until we get a veritable plethora of confusing alphabet soups. (SNCC, NOW, DOB, CLUW, WCTU, etc.) It's bewildering and can detract from the messages of female power and struggle. But the reader can gloss over this minutiae because the author's underlying message is one of hope bore through self-esteem, stubbornness and the sure knowledge that equality is a gift meant for all Americans not just a select few.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I read this book in preparation for a course I'm teaching that will spend part of its focus on American women's history. Evans' survey is incredibly accessible, well-researched, and informative. Born for Liberty is impressive in both its depth and breadth. Most importantly, Evans does not focus exclusively on the history of white women in America. She works to paint a portrait of women of color in each of the chronologically-progressing chapters in her book. The only frustrating portion of the b I read this book in preparation for a course I'm teaching that will spend part of its focus on American women's history. Evans' survey is incredibly accessible, well-researched, and informative. Born for Liberty is impressive in both its depth and breadth. Most importantly, Evans does not focus exclusively on the history of white women in America. She works to paint a portrait of women of color in each of the chronologically-progressing chapters in her book. The only frustrating portion of the book remains that - even in this updated version - the chronology ceases at the early 1990s. With so much progress in women's history over the last thirty years, many topics beg for coverage. I have no doubt Professor Evans would compose similarly engrossing chapters covering these last decades.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew McHenry

    It's a good read. She begins in the pre-colonial era by looking at the experiences of Native American women, and traces through the history going up to the time of writing (mid to late 1980s). She's good about incorporating different ethnic groups and cohorts' experiences into the mix, sometimes drawing from limited resources. (She acknowledges the dearth of research early in the book, but gives a detailed bibliographical essay at the end.) The book moves from sheer history more into commentary It's a good read. She begins in the pre-colonial era by looking at the experiences of Native American women, and traces through the history going up to the time of writing (mid to late 1980s). She's good about incorporating different ethnic groups and cohorts' experiences into the mix, sometimes drawing from limited resources. (She acknowledges the dearth of research early in the book, but gives a detailed bibliographical essay at the end.) The book moves from sheer history more into commentary as it nears the end; women's liberation and the ERA were recent movements at the time of writing. About the only caution is that this book is older. A lot of women's history and experiences have happened since the late 80s. But for its time it is a good book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dora Carson

    This is a thorough history of women’s political involvement from the revolution through the mid-1990s. It also addresses issues of women’s changing personal lives. The main focus of the book is on the lives, work, and activism of white, middle class, heterosexual women. The author makes a concerted effort to include discussions of Black, immigrant, Native American, and poor women, as well as lesbians; in most cases, however, these discussions remain a footnote. Nevertheless, this book is an exce This is a thorough history of women’s political involvement from the revolution through the mid-1990s. It also addresses issues of women’s changing personal lives. The main focus of the book is on the lives, work, and activism of white, middle class, heterosexual women. The author makes a concerted effort to include discussions of Black, immigrant, Native American, and poor women, as well as lesbians; in most cases, however, these discussions remain a footnote. Nevertheless, this book is an excellent introduction to the issues that women have faced throughout American history. The extensive notes as well as suggestions for further reading are helpful for discovering more detailed analysis of the many issues touched on in this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book was thorough. VERY thorough. For what it set out to accomplish, it was great. The narrative was inclusive of all American women, and made a point to tell the stories of American Indian and African American women from the very conception of the country. However, it was far too dense for me. I learned some interesting things but I slogged through it. A history buff would enjoy it far more, I'll sure This book was thorough. VERY thorough. For what it set out to accomplish, it was great. The narrative was inclusive of all American women, and made a point to tell the stories of American Indian and African American women from the very conception of the country. However, it was far too dense for me. I learned some interesting things but I slogged through it. A history buff would enjoy it far more, I'll sure

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Warning: I read this for a Women's History Class I never would have picked up this book except for the fact that it was required reading in a class of mine. That being said, it was so dry like every other textbook but I will not deny that it contained as much information as any one book could hope to contain. If you want to brush up on your history, get a broad view of women throughout American society, or if you need something to help you fall asleep, I would recommend this book. Warning: I read this for a Women's History Class I never would have picked up this book except for the fact that it was required reading in a class of mine. That being said, it was so dry like every other textbook but I will not deny that it contained as much information as any one book could hope to contain. If you want to brush up on your history, get a broad view of women throughout American society, or if you need something to help you fall asleep, I would recommend this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Angela Boland

    Summary: Women are awesome, have been so since before the United States was the United States, and will continue to be so in the future. While not the most exciting book I’ve ever read, I have to say that I think I hit gold with this one. I picked it up at a Half Price Books clearance sale, or maybe it was a library book sale? I don’t remember, but no matter what, I am sure that I payed $2 or less for it. Definitely worth it. It read like a history book that was all about women, ONLY about women Summary: Women are awesome, have been so since before the United States was the United States, and will continue to be so in the future. While not the most exciting book I’ve ever read, I have to say that I think I hit gold with this one. I picked it up at a Half Price Books clearance sale, or maybe it was a library book sale? I don’t remember, but no matter what, I am sure that I payed $2 or less for it. Definitely worth it. It read like a history book that was all about women, ONLY about women, and if men showed up, it was only to show how they related to women. For that reason alone, I’m glad I picked it up. Sara Evans is unabashedly feminist, I wouldn’t read it if you’re not down with that. But if you’re not, then why do you even want to read a book all about women? Just pick up some other random history book, I can see that strong male role models are very important to you. Something about the author’s use of commas (or lack thereof) is not to my particular taste. Commas add clarity; in other words, I should not have to constantly go back and figure out what I just read. For lack of a comma, the meaning was lost. All in all, this book reawakens my love, gratitude and respect for the sisters who came before me, and reminded me that I had better vote in this election, because if I don’t (and I don’t want to overdramatize), it will be a NATIONAL TRAGEDY OF EPIC PROPORTIONS!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Evans sets out with the ambitious aim to cover the breadth of women's history in the United States and generally succeeds. I am by no means an expert on women's studies, so I consider myself part of the intended audience for this book. As such, I have to say that I learned a lot (especially about women in the earliest years of our country) and also benefited from being able to put important events in women's history in chronological order and understand better how previous movements helped to bui Evans sets out with the ambitious aim to cover the breadth of women's history in the United States and generally succeeds. I am by no means an expert on women's studies, so I consider myself part of the intended audience for this book. As such, I have to say that I learned a lot (especially about women in the earliest years of our country) and also benefited from being able to put important events in women's history in chronological order and understand better how previous movements helped to build later ones. Evans generally maintains an apolitical tone pointing out both advantages and disadvantages of women's societal position in various stages of our country's history. For example, one of the main dichotomies of the book points out that while women in previous centuries had very little public power, their extensive female networks allowed them a great deal of private power in their own secluded world; while women now have ever increasing public power, they have often lost the close feeling of collaboration and kinship with a greater community of women, making the ability to unite for further equality challenging. This is clearly a feminist work, but a well-balanced one that tries to incorporate multiple views on this increasingly popular facet of American history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Donahue

    A concise overview of the history of women in America that is easy to read and well documented. Evans touches nicely upon the major aspects and concerns facing women stretching from the 16th century to the late 1990s. I learned a fair amount, but found the perspective presented somewhat biased and lacking objectivity in presenting all sides of the story of women in America. Men are pretty well stereotyped during the discussion of suffrage, and the anti-suffrage movement does not reference many o A concise overview of the history of women in America that is easy to read and well documented. Evans touches nicely upon the major aspects and concerns facing women stretching from the 16th century to the late 1990s. I learned a fair amount, but found the perspective presented somewhat biased and lacking objectivity in presenting all sides of the story of women in America. Men are pretty well stereotyped during the discussion of suffrage, and the anti-suffrage movement does not reference many of the key arguments against the vote, nor the female leaders of this movement. To truly understand this issue it is best to consider all arguments and societal factors fairly, not simply view this period of history through the lens of our modern sight and not give consideration to the many factors at work in this complex issue. In my opinion, it took far too long for women to obtain the right to vote and far longer for other opportunities taken for granted as symbols of citizenship, but Evans offers no real answer to the question of "Why?" As the women's movement moves forward it is essential to understand the answer to this question as we are facing many of the same arguments our mothers and grandmothers faced in the early 1900s.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    A decent introductory work to women's social and political history in the U.S. Was considering using it for a session on the early women's rights movement for a study group I'm helping to lead, but decided to go with other texts that were richer in detail. A decent introductory work to women's social and political history in the U.S. Was considering using it for a session on the early women's rights movement for a study group I'm helping to lead, but decided to go with other texts that were richer in detail.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cor

    Very helpful for my course.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Simone

    I read this book as a graduate student so very long ago. It opened my eyes to a new way of looking at history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Nadeau

    A powerful read.This book is a varied and expansive view of the profound role women have played in the history of creating America.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I have a new appreciation for women in American history

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amalauna Brock

    Evans work is a wonderful overview of America women's history. It's an excellent primer for all readers. Evans work is a wonderful overview of America women's history. It's an excellent primer for all readers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Denice Fraser

    It's a bit dry, but FULL of great stuff. I read this in a Women's History class and am standing up a bit taller now! It's a bit dry, but FULL of great stuff. I read this in a Women's History class and am standing up a bit taller now!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Huff

    The most concise and broad sweeping history of America I have ever read through a woman's eyes. Includes many minority stories as well The most concise and broad sweeping history of America I have ever read through a woman's eyes. Includes many minority stories as well

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jim Swike

    A great read about Women's history in this country. A great read about Women's history in this country.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    This was a goodie, but seemed to lose steam once it reached the 50's (or maybe I became less interested). I really enjoyed the older histories and personal accounts. This was a goodie, but seemed to lose steam once it reached the 50's (or maybe I became less interested). I really enjoyed the older histories and personal accounts.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marzee

    Great book. Loved reading America's history through women. If you enjoy history, you should really pick this up. Talk about a whole new perspective! Great book. Loved reading America's history through women. If you enjoy history, you should really pick this up. Talk about a whole new perspective!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    A Cheerleading tale of the bougies

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    I originally read the older edition, and have assigned the new edition as a text for a class. This is a well written overview to U.S. women's history. I originally read the older edition, and have assigned the new edition as a text for a class. This is a well written overview to U.S. women's history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Still have this book from my college fem. class.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Natty

    liberal

  28. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  30. 4 out of 5

    Becky Williams

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