- Women in Print: Essays on the Print Culture of American Women from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The title Women in Print is cleverly ambiguous. That indeterminate "in" immediately hinges the book on a question about which particular feminist approach the essays in this collection take. Does "women in print" address how male-dominated texts construct women, that is, women as objects of print? Or does the phrase refer to how women shape their own texts and textual communities, that is, women as subjects of print? Most works of feminist literary scholarship have concentrated on answering either one or the other of these questions, taking either a "critique" or "recovery" tack. The integration of print culture studies with feminist methodology, however, has encouraged an illuminating combination of both approaches. Print culture studies—because of its attention to the multi-sided interplay of readership, textual production, and authorship—affords a concrete way to track the construction of culture as a many-sided conversation and so promises to reveal a nuanced "big picture" of both gender and textuality.
In her foreword, Elizabeth Long implies that Women in Print participates in the reconstruction of this broader conversation—arguing that the "interdisciplinary traditions" of feminism and print culture studies allow the volume to achieve an integrative "breadth and unity rare among edited collections" (xv). And so it does, but the "breadth" is perhaps less balanced than the foreword suggests: While many of the essays gesture toward the first "critical" meaning of "women in print," they are justifiably most interested in what women had to say and so lean heavily toward the second "recovery" approach. They contend that, when seeking to evaluate the roles women played in print, women-owned/authored/distributed print culture provides sources of "superior credibility" (85) to male-dominated outlets and, furthermore, that women found the clearest avenue to "promote female agency" (17) and "mak[e] [women's] voices heard" (222) through these woman-controlled venues. As Long points out, the volume as a whole examines this "female agency" from a number of different disciplinary angles, and its chapters are authored by well-established scholars in [End Page 132] the fields of English, women's studies, American studies, history, sociology, anthropology, and library and information studies. Nevertheless, in spite of their divergent methodologies, these writers all ground their essays firmly in detailed biographical scholarship, aimed at unearthing some of the women editors, publishers, catalogers, librarians, and booksellers who influenced American print culture from the 1870s to Oprah.
While this common foundation helps connect its parts, Women in Print primarily gains the "unity" Long identifies by subordinating a concentrated biographical focus to an overall organization that emphasizes the broader intervention these women made in print culture. The book sorts its eleven essays into an introduction and three sections grouped according to its subject's species of contribution: For instance, the first section focuses on women editors and publishers and how their "syncretism" (65) worked to create a space for disenfranchised voices in the dominant culture. The suffragette Clara Bewick Colby, the Harper's editor Elizabeth Jordan, the American Indian activist Marie Potts, and the radical librarian Celeste West, all sought to create textual communities for their audiences by bridging the gap between feminist goals and the hegemonic ideologies and material circumstances that shaped their readers' experiences. The second section examines the more subtle work of female librarians, catalogers, and antiquarian booksellers. These women used their influence over the organization of the Library of Congress catalog or the distribution of rural libraries to support women's access to print culture. This part, in particular, starts to uncover the often overlooked ways in which women's roles as cultural custodians or "middle men" have profoundly impacted print culture. The third section, by contrast, turns its attention to a more familiar feminist concept. It examines how women used print to facilitate "gendered agency," that is, their direct social and political activism...