This nonfiction collection offers more than 50 entertaining, informative memoir pieces about American girlhood from 1910 to 2010.
Sherman (Lesbian and Gay Marriage, 1992) taught memoir writing for many years. Many of these entries were written by her students, while others were adapted from interviews with women and girls from diverse cultural, geographical, racial, and class backgrounds. Sherman asked her interviewees about their first 13 years and specifically about their experiences with family, school, friendships, and play; other topics include “racism, divorce, [and] being ‘different.’ ” Readers will see the differences, similarities, and connections within and across decades as they compare and contrast other childhoods with their own. Each chapter has a useful introduction explaining the historical characteristics of a particular decade, including its newest products, books, and similar artifacts, and the 10 most popular girls’ names. There’s much food for thought here, whether readers focus on a single decade or trace themes over time, such as the immigrant experience, how appliances have eased household chores, or how expectations regarding girls’ dress, schooling, and careers have changed. Some cultural experiences serve as common touchstones through the years (such as reading Louisa May Alcott’s works); others are very much of their time, such as accompanying the iceman on his deliveries. Overall, the contributions are wonderfully lively and vivid. Here, Florence Smith—5 years old in 1911—describes the excitement of her family buying the first Model T on the block: “Neighbors up the street came outside to see us, and they waved as we passed. My mother was laughing and hugging my father as we bounced along and I was feeling the air move through my fingers with both hands held up.” Readers inclined to take modernity for granted will find much here to surprise and interest them. As the first in a planned series of “100 Years in the Life” books, it also has great classroom potential with its discussion questions.
A useful sourcebook and an entertaining read.