The ambitious subtitle promises more than the book provides because chapter after chapter puts together thumbnail sketches of the big names and best knowns among the ladies of the past and present--most of them with fulldress biographies of their own. The author spends three chapters on a superficial report and analysis of petticoat influence in the White House and goes on to the spies, the beauties, and the barnstorming crusaders of the 19th century. The hostesses and the headliners of the 20th century haven't surprise among them, nor does the author's conclusion--that women have not yet seized their political potential. This is a featherweight distillation of material on the American distaff--a series of believe-it-or-not anecdotes at about the same length of Ripley's pippins. For slow learners among the ladies and suited to hair-dryer bouts with light nonfiction.