- Women in Print: Essays on the Print Culture of American Women from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
This excellent collection of essays is drawn from among the papers that were to have been presented at a conference entitled "Women in Print" scheduled to meet September 14–15, 2001, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Following the tragic events of September 11, the organizers cancelled the conference and were not able to reschedule it. If the quality of the papers from this "lost conference" are any indication, there would have been many wonderful sessions representing diverse theoretical and disciplinary perspectives. Among the contributors to this collection, three are from library and information studies (Michele V. Cloonan, Christine Pawley, and Toni Samek); three from English (Kristin Mapel Bloomberg, Jane Howard, and Sarah Robbins); three from history (Jane Aikin, Joanne Passet, and Nancy Unger); and one each from anthropology (Terri Castaneda), sociology (Elizabeth Long), and American studies (Barbara Sicherman). It is a commentary on the maturation of women's history that all of the contributors are established scholars in their respective fields; eleven of the twelve authors have already published a book, and several have more than one monograph to their credit.
Another remarkable feature of this multidisciplinary collection is its breadth. Other collections have focused on one aspect of women's involvement in print culture history, such as journalism, book or magazine publishing, or librarianship. (There are two notable historical collections on library women: Reclaiming the American Library Past: Writing the Women, edited by Suzanne Hildenbrand [Ablex, 1996], and Gendering Library History, edited by Evelyn Kerslake and Nickianne Moody [John Moores University Press, 2000].) In contrast, the compilers of Women in Print have brought together studies of women in many different occupations, including Protestant missionary writers who contributed to religious magazines and a bookseller who offered rare books and fine press publications to wealthy collectors. In the same way, the publications discussed here range from Smoke Signal of the Federated Indians of California, which began as a four-page mimeographed newspaper, to Harper's Bazaar, a lavishly illustrated ladies' magazine featuring the latest fashions from Europe. [End Page 464]
The ten essays in Women in Print are thematically grouped into three sections that focus on the different roles women have played. In part 1 the contributors profile women who were editors or publishers; part 2 focuses on librarianship and bookselling; and part 3 features authors who influenced other women primarily through their columns in periodicals. However, this division seems rather artificial, since several of the women editors in part 1 were also authors of nonfiction books, novels, and memoirs, whereas a number of authors placed in the last section also edited periodicals. Given these multiple and often overlapping roles, it would have been more logical for the editors to organize the entire collection by chronological period. This also would have made it easier to follow how women authors, editors, publishers, and librarians influenced and were affected by major events and issues in contemporary American history—from the suffrage movement and the Depression to the civil rights movement and second-wave feminism.
Seven of the ten essays are primarily focused on a single individual, and there is a considerable range of dates among the biographees, from Lois Waisbrooker (1826–1909), a spiritualist and feminist free thinker, to Celeste West, a radical librarian born in 1942. In most cases, the contributors have effectively placed their subject within the broader historical and social context. The main theme that unites this diverse group of essays is a gendered perspective that focuses on how each biographee confronted and overcame gender-linked political and economic constraints that limited her choices and opportunities. Of course, the kind of obstacles each woman faced depended on her geographical location and social position as well as on the time period in which she worked. Joanne Passet offers a moving portrait of...