- The Superwoman and Other Writings by Miriam Michelson ed. by Lori Harrison-Kahan
Lori Harrison-Kahan’s The Superwoman and Other Writings by Miriam Michelson is an invaluable collection of American feminist Miriam Michelson’s (1870–1942) reportage and short stories. This volume is the first full-length book to consider Michelson’s varied and insightful nonfiction and short stories as a serious body of work that is useful for understanding women’s writing of the [End Page 330] late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Michelson’s journalism and short stories provide insight into early feminist thinking, including utopic worlds where women rule. Michaelson’s reportage on suffrage and on nonconformists like anarchist Emma Goldman illuminates varied perspectives on women’s activism and social roles. Michelson’s writings also highlight race relations of the time, with a challenging mix of progressive reporting on minority ethnic and racial groups balanced against casual use of racial stereotypes, more consistent with ideas of the time.
Harrison-Kahan’s introduction to Michelson uses archival sources to situate her among the Progressive Era’s women’s movement and streams of journalism. Michelson’s life exemplifies the period’s emergence of women journalists as a force in the newsroom. Women journalists of the time were allowed to travel and became stunt girls and front-page girls through their headline-grabbing exploits. This made journalism a freeing profession for women like Michelson. She was born in a California mining town to Jewish parents who had moved from Poland to escape anti-Semitism. The family settled in Nevada and ran a supply store for miners. Michelson, the seventh of eight children, launched her journalism career by the age of twenty-five, writing for San Francisco’s top papers, the San Francisco Call and the San Francisco Bulletin. She used her work to promote progressive issues, including suffrage and race relations, and topics like politics that were generally not in the purview of women journalists. In an era where women’s bylines were a novelty that sold papers, “hers was a marquee name that would attract readers and help sell papers” (15). However, since that time, Michelson’s name and work have fallen into obscurity. Harrison-Kahan’s book pulls Michelson into contemporary conversations about gender relations and feminist thinking during the Progressive Era and shows how both fiction and nonfiction could be used to highlight radical ideas.
Notably, this collection contains Michelson’s short story “The Super-woman,” which last appeared in print in 1912. Although the story “was widely read in its time,” writes Harrison-Kahan, “it has since languished unstudied for over a century” (43) Even though it fell into obscurity, this short story was and remains revolutionary for its depiction of a feminist utopia where women rule, men are subservient to women’s wishes, and men are prized for producing girl babies with their mates. This inversion of gender roles directs a bright light on Victorian gender relations and changing gender roles. Pulling this short story into the contemporary reading of feminist fiction allows us to see how women’s writings built the philosophical structure that allowed the suffrage amendment to become law in 1920.
Harrison-Kahan carefully curated the twenty pieces of journalism and the seven short stories that comprise the rest of the volume as works that could be [End Page 331] assigned as pairs. As Harrison-Kahan notes in her introduction to the short stories, the activist ideas in the works may be counterbalanced by Michelson’s own casual use of racist ideas, which may seem jarring and outdated to today’s readers. The journalism shows Michelson’s remarkable ability to listen and give voice to subaltern groups. For example, when Hawaiians were fighting annexation by the United States, Michelson wrote “Strangling Hands upon a Nation’s Throat,” a sharp critique of US colonialism. This article allows the Hawaiians to speak their desire to remain an independent nation under their monarchy. This reportage pairs...