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A Life in Motion

Florence Howe

Publication Year: 2011

The founder of the Feminist Press and one of the first proponents of women’s studies presents a living history of the growth of feminism, especially in academia. Howe began her career teaching at major universities around the U.S. She went on to chair the Modern Language Association and bring women to the forefront in that organization. Next she founded the Feminist Press, which has been publishing feminist writing for more than four decades, and helped organize an international women’s studies network. From her summers in Mississippi where she created a freedom school in the dangerous days of the civil rights movement to her friendships with iconic writers like Marilyn French, Tillie Olsen, and Grace Paley, Howe documents a lifetime of activism.

Published by: The Feminist Press


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Prologue: Memory, History, and the Missing Creative Bone

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pp. 11-19

As a book editor, I have usually urged writers to begin by explaining why they have written their books. What was their goal? Who was their inspiration? And, at the same time, I have also suggested that, in a concluding piece, perhaps they would like to explain whether they have accomplished...

I. A Family Girl

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pp. 21-22

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1. Two Mothers

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pp. 23-40

At eighty, I am as invisible as my maternal grandmother was on the streets of Brooklyn in the early years of the twentieth century. I think of her as I board a bus midmorning, filled with old people like me, anonymous, dressed in comfortable clothes, all but one or two clearly not headed...

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2. Two Fathers

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pp. 41-53

Shortly after Baba’s death, we moved to a four-room apartment on Saratoga Avenue, one floor above street level. The front door opened into a square kitchen, which, with a table in its center, became our dining and living room. After school, when I sat at the table, drinking milk and eating...

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3. Learning About Class at Home and in School

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pp. 54-73

What was it like to grow up in a household where no one talked about religion, belief, the order of the universe, or politics, and where there were no children’s picture books that explained moon, star, sun, much less electricity, race, poverty, war? From somewhere I hoped for magic, which...

II. The Care of the Future

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pp. 75

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4. Studying the Future—Hunter College and Smith College

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pp. 77-101

I slipped my nickel into the turnstile slot at exactly eight in the morning, just in time to arrive early for my nine o’clock class at Hunter College. I was used to traveling this route and to eating a five-cent Milky Way for breakfast as I did a piece of homework during the thirty-minute ride to...

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5. College Teaching: Learning to Be an Activist

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pp. 102-133

From the time I entered kindergarten, I knew to keep my eyes on the teacher, since one day I was to be that person in the classroom. For girls in a working-class Jewish household, the route into middle-class life was teaching, often elementary school-teaching, which required the fewest...

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6. Marriages, Yes, All Four of Them

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pp. 134-176

I remember the moment, one summer in the late 1960s, sitting beside a friend, Ellen Cantarow, who was driving me to her small apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she said firmly, “I see no reason to get married. I don’t ever want to have children.” I barely noted the first sentence, for...

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7. Daddy, I Never Called You Father

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pp. 177-199

More than forty-five years after his death, my father returns to me each time I step into a yellow cab. In the early years following his death, I used to talk about him to cab drivers, describing how he drove a cab beginning in 1929 to support his wife and baby daughter. Now I sit back and...

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8. Another Kind of Mother—and Grandmother

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pp. 200-226

In my will, I list eight people as my “children” or “grandchildren.” None are biologically related to me. Two—Marietta and Jimmy Hedges—have been my godchildren since their births almost fifty years ago. All eight have allowed me to feel that my life has human meaning, that I have been able to give...

III. Work That Changed My Life

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pp. 227

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9. Becoming a Feminist

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pp. 229-248

During the decade between the mid-1960s and the mid- 1970s, perceptions of gender shifted dramatically. For the first time in history, Marilyn French has argued, women worldwide organized consciously as a “class.” My story is part of that historic shift, important not for its own...

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10. Practicing Feminism at Home and Abroad

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pp. 249-278

Within a few years after 1969, I became a public person, no longer the invisible worker in the office, finding and renting the hall, advertising the event, arranging and printing the programs, working out transportation as well as housing and food, raising the money, and keeping...

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11. Founding the Feminist Press

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pp. 279-309

During the middle of the 1960s, I began to review Doris Lessing’s fiction for the Nation and, in 1968, I published part of a long interview with her. As a result, in the spring of 1970, I was invited by three different academic presses to write Lessing’s biography. I answered these requests with...

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12. Moving About the World for Women’s Studies

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pp. 310-341

Beginning in late 1974, though I never took my eye from the Feminist Press’s agenda, I began to focus my work at the College at Old Westbury differently. At first, research and writing awards reduced my teaching to half time, and I avoided program and college-wide committee responsibilities...

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13. Growing Pains at the Feminist Press

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pp. 342-369

November 1980 was to mark the Feminist Press’s tenth anniversary, and from my point of view, I was arriving “home” in the summer of that year after my two peripatetic years, jubilant because of the Copenhagen forum’s evident success. I was also aware that I had two “gifts” with me: large...

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14. Moving into CUNY

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pp. 370-400

When Vice Chancellor Marguerite Ross-Barnett described the Feminist Press as a perfect “match” for CUNY, she was thinking that our multicultural books were particularly appropriate for CUNY’s multicultural students, more than 50 percent of whom were women, a large...

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15. A Heroic Decade—The 1990s

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pp. 401-436

More than any other chapter, this one has refused focus, title, theme, as though it had a life of its own beyond my typing fingers. It has had a dozen titles and as many openings, and, six months after I managed to write a lengthy but disjointed draft, I revised it by cutting more material out...

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16. Retirement and Return

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pp. 437-462

At the end of 2000, I was ready to retire, seventy-one years old, and aware ironically that I had, over the past thirty years, learned how to be a publisher just as publishing was about to change even more radically than it had during all my years. From time to time in the 1980s, seeking relationships...

IV. Friendships into Family

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pp. 463

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17. My Mother, the Survivor

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pp. 465-498

When my father killed himself, he was sixty-three. I was shocked, frightened, grieved. I could not feel angry with him, for I blamed myself for his death. When my mother died at ninety-two, I could feel only relief. For more than a decade, while facing her across a small table in a hospital...

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18. Sustaining Friendships

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pp. 499-533

Perhaps it’s a function of being eighty. But somewhere in the middle of writing about the Feminist Press, I realized that I was leaving out half my life, the half represented by the many people who had made the life I led possible. The entire list is long, but there were four women who were...

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19. My New York Family of Choice

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pp. 534-558

In late September, 1987, I flew to the University of Alaska at Anchorage, then on to Fairfax for ten days of lectures, at the end of which I had agreed to an hour-long, live interview on a PBS radio station. The young woman in charge, who I assumed knew nothing about me, opened the...

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Epilogue: Bellagio, the Creative Bone, Doris Lessing, and Homespace

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pp. 559-567

In October 1997, I arrived at the Villa Serbelloni totally unprepared for the formal elegance of what seemed to me a renaissance palace. I followed the guide down a marble-floored hall hung with huge tapestries and up a marble staircase to room eleven on the second floor. The size of the...

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pp. 568-572

In bits and pieces, and encouraged by many friends, I have been writing—or wanting to write—this memoir for more than twenty years. Some brief accounts of my life have appeared in essays and books, including Women and the Power to Change, edited with Adrienne Rich in 1975, and...


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pp. 573-587

E-ISBN-13: 9781558616981
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558616974

Page Count: 590
Illustrations: 55 black and white photos
Publication Year: 2011