TO BELIEVE IN WOMEN by Lillian Faderman


What Lesbians Have Done for America---A History
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A comprehensive and convincing history of how lesbian women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries pioneered the social reform and feminist movements of their time. Faderman (ed., Chloe Plus Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, 1994, etc.) extends the mission of her previous works’showing how early women’s rights movements made intimate relationships between women viable—to illustrate the ways these women we would now call lesbians became influential leaders in democratizing America. Drawing upon written correspondence between female partners, Faderman illuminates the deep love and shared conviction between such pre-eminent leaders as Susan B. Anthony and her friend Emily Gross, suffragist Anna Howard Shaw and her life partner Lucy Anthony (Susan’s niece), Jane Addams and Ellen Starr (founders of the Hull House settlement), and other important figures in suffrage, education, medicine, theology, and law. Faderman is at her best as she brings these women to life through their letters and speeches, which will remind readers that the fight for women’s rights was not born in the 1960s. Faderman repeatedly and at times reductively argues that the only way these women could have affected change on such a large scale was via close relationships with other women. These women’s impressive accomplishments give credence to Faderman’s insight that “a woman without conventional domestic responsibilities had more time and energy to devote to causes—and if she lived with another woman who shared her interests and inclinations . . . the time and energy available for such work were expanded.” However, some of these domestic partnerships mirrored 19th-century heterosexual marriages where one woman kept the home fires burning while the other led a public life. This contradiction is not fully explored, nor are lesbians” alliances with heterosexual women working for social change. Overall, an essential and impassioned addition to American history by a notable lesbian scholar of our times. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-85010-X
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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