- Abstracts of Books
Authors of unsigned abstracts requested anonymity.
Sandra Adickes. To Be Young Was Very Heaven: Women in New York before the First World War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. x + 294 pp.; ill.; map. ISBN 0-312-16249-9 (cl).
Building upon the work of women’s historians, Adickes examines the lives, ideas, and struggles of first-wave feminists in New York City during the early twentieth century. The author uses biography, autobiography, literary writings, manifestos, memoirs, and papers of women activists to depict the “spirit of the times” in the period before the First World War. The book is useful as a reference for information about such feminists as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Emma Goldman, Crystal Eastman, and Mary Heaton Vorse. Friendships among women figure prominently in Adickes’s discussion of first-wave feminism. These relationships and a sense of optimism about radical change aided activists in their fight for better working conditions and pay, women’s suffrage, birth control, and personal fulfillment.———Susan Kathleen Freeman
Sister Prudence Allen, R.S.M. The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 b.c.–a.d. 1250. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1997. xxiv + 583 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-8028-4270-4 (pb).
This book provides a detailed analysis of the work of more than sixty philosopher/writers, from Hesiod to St. Thomas Aquinas, including Jewish and Islamic philosophers as well as several women. Focusing on the development of ideas about the nature of woman, Allen demonstrates that nearly every philosopher engaged the issue of sex identity and writers concentrated on such key questions as whether men and women are opposite, and how they differ with respect to procreation, wisdom, and virtue. She argues that three basic theories about sex identity competed: the Platonic theory of sex unity, stressing men and women’s sameness and equality; the Aristotelian theory of sex polarity, stressing sex difference and male superiority; and the theory of sex complementarity, most thoroughly developed by Hildegard of Bingen, stressing sex difference and equality. By the thirteenth century, the Aristotelian theory achieved dominance and became institutionalized in the university system.———Susan M. Hartmann
Ifi Amadiume. Reinventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion, and Culture. London: Zed Books, 1997. x + 214 pp.; no bibliography. ISBN 1-85649-533-7 (cl); 1-85649-534-5(pb).
In this two-part collection of essays written between 1989 and 1992, Amadiume, award-winning poet and political activist, challenges European studies of African societies that do not analyze matriarchy in African social structures. Six essays in part 1, “Re-Writing History,” examine methodological approaches to African history, demonstrating the links among language, thought systems, and sociopolitical structures. The author finds that Eurocentric scholars have overlooked African matriarchy, an ideological system in dialogue with patriarchy, thus resulting in biased, masculinized, and even false data. Three brief essays in part 2, “Decolonizing History,” address the transformations in contemporary women’s organizations in Africa since the colonial period and fundamental differences between Western and African women’s means of institutional and ideological empowerment. Finally, Amadiume reaffirms her loyalty to feminism, defined as women’s political consciousness which includes self-awareness, self-esteem, solidarity, and the challenging of gender inequalities.———Tiwanna M. Simpson
Joyce Antler. The Journey Home: How Jewish Women Shaped Modern America. New York: Schocken Books, 1997. xviii + 410 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-8052-1101-2 (pb).
Antler’s survey of Jewish women in modern U.S. history examines how a wide variety of women contributed to the development of American society and culture. She argues that Jewish women often felt conflicted and sought ways to reconcile their multiple loyalties “as Jews, women and Americans.” Rather than focus on a small set of Jewish women, Antler ably presents a full and diverse range of protagonists: from the anarchist Emma Goldman to the Zionist Henrietta Szold; from such entertainers as Sophie Tucker and Fannie Brice to such trailblazers as the first ordained American woman rabbi, Sally Priesand. She investigates the myriad ways Jews negotiated ethnic, religious, class, and gender identities from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century.———Mary McCune
Rima D. Apple and Janet Golden, eds. Mothers & Motherhood: Readings...