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Reviewed by:
  • Professional Pursuits: Women and the American Arts and Crafts Movement
  • Crystal Sissons
Zipf, Catherine W. —Professional Pursuits: Women and the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007. Pp. 229.

One of the first challenges of women's history is locating women who played significant roles in the past. A second challenge is to integrate their lives and stories fully into the existing historical record. Catherine W. Zipf's Professional Pursuits: [End Page 263] Women and the American Arts and Crafts Movement endeavours to meet this second challenge. The book is unique as it calls attention to several prominent women who worked in professional capacities during the American Arts and Crafts movement. The book acts as a survey of the different possibilities open to women within the movement by bringing the wide array of their work into a new and collected whole. It also seeks to move beyond the question of whether the movement benefited women and asks the new question, "how did the American Arts and Crafts movement help women avoid social, economic, cultural, and practical barriers to move beyond the limited sphere allowed by the cultural values of their time?" (p. 15).

Zipf argues that women's contributions were essential to the American Arts and Crafts movement and that they served fundamental roles within it (p. 6). She supports her argument by challenging the commonly accepted date of the movement's beginning in America, 1901, and its stylistic definitions that have often served to exclude a wide range of women's works. Instead of 1901, when Gustav Stickley published the first edition of The Craftsman, Zipf argues that the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia should be considered the advent of the American movement. The exposition was a key catalyst for many women whom the author studies, as it brought representations of the European movement to America for the first time (p. 14). The vast collection of primary print sources from the nineteenth century corroborates her argument. Until recently, previous studies have largely overlooked the impact of the exhibition on the American Arts and Crafts movement. Zipf contends that this was in part a result of confusion caused by the multiple movements at the time, such as the Colonial Revival, Aestheticism, and Art Nouveau (p. 13).

Zipf uses five interesting case studies to contend that women served in a professional capacity within the Arts and Crafts movement. The first four studies appear in individual thematic chapters and address the professions of architect, inventor, executive, and editor. After an introduction to each theme, the author evaluates similar women outside the movement compared with those within it. The individual case studies are then presented as further evidence of the advantages possessed by Arts and Crafts women and include Hazel Wood Waterman (architect), Mary Louise McLaughlin (inventor), Candace Thurber Wheeler (executive), and Adelaide Alsop Robineau (editor). One final study appears in the concluding chapter and assesses Irene Sargent's editorial role in relation to The Craftsman. The case studies largely support Zipf's arguments, while illustrating some tensions. For instance, Candace Thurber Wheeler's belief in a classless but gendered society challenges the degree to which barriers were ultimately removed.

Zipf advances the idea that women involved in the movement had advantages within the male-dominated professions that were not as readily available to professional women pursuing similar occupations outside the movement. For example, she advocates that Arts and Crafts organizations served similar functions to those of a medieval guild and provided women with the means to cope with "educational, technical, and social barriers" (p. 11). Indeed, in the case studies [End Page 264] presented, this idea is well supported, as the women seized opportunities to advance in their respective fields. However, Zipf does admit this was not the case for all women in the movement, as many women's work did not progress above an amateur level due to a deficit in "training, education and various avenues of professional development"compared with their male colleagues (p. 14).

The reality of this situation and the exceptional activities and achievements of the women chronicled in Zipf's work reveal at least two classes of women within the movement...


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