YANKEE WOMEN

GENDER BATTLES IN THE CIVIL WAR

Although at times unevenly woven, this account of three women's struggles to serve the Union adds new texture to the well- worn Civil War metaphor ``a house divided.'' Drawing on their letters and journals as well as formal historical sources, Leonard (History/Colby College) chronicles the lives of three women who battled gender stereotypes in order to participate in the war effort: Sophronia Bucklin, a volunteer nurse; Annie Wittenmyer, a soldiers' aid activist; and Mary Edwards Walker, a licensed physician. Each of the three struggled daily against their male co-workers and superiors, who operated under a rigid set of assumptions about women's abilities (for self- sacrificing nurture, not compensated service) and proper place (maintaining home and hearth, not participating in war). Bucklin persevered even though she, like other nurses at the front, was denied pay and expected to perform menial jobs. Male stubbornness obstructed Wittenmyer in her efforts to institutionalize services; even her Special Diet kitchens, attached to army hospitals, met with stubborn opposition, probably because they offered paid, public work for women. Despite achieving the respect of army officials in the field, Walker was repeatedly rebuffed in her applications for a formal commission. Leonard describes how all three of her subjects helped create new possibilities for women after the war, but she especially appreciates Walker's radical assault on gender prescriptions—her pursuit of a paid commission, heroism on the bloodiest battle fronts, and insistence on practical, ``un-womanly'' attire. While postbellum accounts of women and the war commended both Bucklin and Wittenmyer, Walker was denigrated as a ``freak'' or a ``crank.'' This discrepancy, in Leonard's radical feminist view, attests to the singular strength of Walker's character and demands historical notice. Despite some narrative discord arising from the uneasy mix of broad cultural generalizations and minute historical details, a valuable contribution to our understanding of the durability and vulnerability of ideas about gender in the 19th century.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-393-03666-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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