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  • ISBN-13: 9780060185107
  • ISBN-10: 0060185104

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Remembering history's heroines

Virtually anyone who has taken an American history course knows something about Sojourner Truth, the former slave who became a powerful abolitionist. Or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent her life fighting for women's right to vote. Even Margaret Sanger, the woman who promoted the use of contraception, registers some name recognition.

But few know of Rahel Gollup, the Jewish immigrant who came to the United States in 1892 to escape persecution. Gollup snuck across the Russian border with her aunt, made her way to Ellis Island and came of age in working class Manhattan. While her story is every bit as powerful and courageous as that of any American woman, it is virtually unknown.

That's the genius of Gail Collins' new book America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. Collins reminds us that for every Susan B. Anthony, there are thousands of Rahel Gollups, women whose stories may have been overlooked by history, but who have collectively shaped American culture.

Collins—the first woman to oversee the New York Times editorial pages—offers a comprehensive, beautifully narrated history of America as seen through the eyes of women, famous and otherwise. She achieves the rare feat of presenting an exhaustively researched history that isn't exhausting to read. Quite the opposite, America's Women is so fascinating and detailed it could almost be called Everything You Wanted to Know About American Women But Were Afraid to Ask. How did colonial women handle menstruation and childbirth? Why did women submit to unwieldy hoop skirts and corsets so tight they caused miscarriages? How did the pioneer women of the late 1800s handle living in homes dug out of the sides of hills?

But the book is not just a collection of interesting tidbits. The greatest accomplishment of America's Women is that it weaves together the voices of so many different females. In Collins' hands, it's not hard to find the common thread between these women—and to imagine the notion of a helpless fairer sex banished for good.

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