Having traced the decline of domestic woman in ""Just a Housewife"" (1987), Matthews (Beatrice Bain Research Group/UC at...


"THE RISE OF PUBLIC WOMAN: Woman's Power and Woman's Place in the United States, 1630-1970"

Having traced the decline of domestic woman in ""Just a Housewife"" (1987), Matthews (Beatrice Bain Research Group/UC at Berkeley) now explores less-than-successfully the gradual redemption of public woman in America from Colonial times to 1970. Although respected by ""Amerindians"" and Quakers, women in America until the end of the 19th century were, Matthews says, legally invisible, politically disenfranchised, spatially restricted, culturally displaced, and--unlike blacks--even denied a public forum in which to argue for the rights they sought. Indeed, ""public woman"" was a term of opprobrium, connoting sexual impropriety, while ""public man"" implied high civic distinction. Paradoxically, the prerequisite for public identity began in the 17th century with the Puritan and Quaker ""valorization"" of private life. Female autonomy was assisted in the 18th century by the role of black women, by the novel, and by republicanism; and in the 19th century, especially after the Civil War, by women's entry into the work force, epitomized in the experiences of Emma Goldman and Mother Jones, who wrote the first working-class biography and who combined elements of domesticity and ""disorderliness,"" leading strikes and addressing political figures. While women made political advances through this period, they were unsuccessful in acquiring political positions in the public realm. With the deterioration of public life, Matthews seems to feel, a closer connection between public and private life is needed, and women need to acquire public roles, to trust one another more, and to be judged by what she sees as the ""lenient"" standards applied to men--whose personal lives, she claims, are not subject to the same scrutiny as are those of women. Matthews covers a lot of ground here, but her extensive sources suggest the derivative nature of her argument.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992