Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women

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University of North Carolina Press, Aug 1, 2012 - Literary Criticism - 380 pages
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In a compelling approach structured as theme and variations, Barbara Sicherman offers insightful profiles of a number of accomplished women born in America's Gilded Age who lost--and found--themselves in books, and worked out a new life purpose around them.

Some women, like Edith and Alice Hamilton, M. Carey Thomas, and Jane Addams, grew up in households filled with books, while less privileged women found alternative routes to expressive literacy. Jewish immigrants Hilda Satt Polacheck, Rose Cohen, and Mary Antin acquired new identities in the English-language books they found in settlement houses and libraries, while African Americans like Ida B. Wells relied mainly on institutions of their own creation, even as they sought to develop a literature of their own.

It is Sicherman's masterful contribution to show that however the skill of reading was acquired, under the right circumstances, adolescent reading was truly transformative in constructing female identity, stirring imaginations, and fostering ambition. With Little Women's Jo March often serving as a youthful model of independence, girls and young women created communities of learning, imagination, and emotional connection around literary activities in ways that helped them imagine, and later attain, public identities. Reading themselves into quest plots and into male as well as female roles, these young women went on to create an unparalleled record of achievement as intellectuals, educators, and social reformers. Sicherman's graceful study reveals the centrality of the era's culture of reading and sheds new light on these women's Progressive-Era careers.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - AS - LibraryThing

Excellent so far. I heard Barbara Sicherman give a talk about this book at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. My reading is going slowly now because I have so much to read for classes! Read full review

Review: Well-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women

User Review  - Renee shi yan Liu - Goodreads

These accomplished might come in different ways in terms of class or ethnicity, but they have one similarity that glues them together, which is an intense affinity with books. Books have always been ... Read full review

About the author (2012)

Barbara Sicherman is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Institutions and Values Emerita, at Trinity College. She is author of Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters and The Quest for Mental Health in America, 1880-1917 and coeditor of Notable American Women: The Modern Period.

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