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America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,645 Ratings  ·  385 Reviews
America's Women tells the story of more than four centuries of history. It features a stunning array of personalities, from the women peering worriedly over the side of the Mayflower to feminists having a grand old time protesting beauty pageants and bridal fairs. Courageous, silly, funny, and heartbreaking, these women shaped the nation and our vision of what it means to ...more
Paperback, 572 pages
Published April 24th 2007 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published January 20th 2004)
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Non-fiction - Something for Everyone
81st out of 1,016 books — 471 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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I took a survey pair of classes in college called History of Women in the U.S., and they were two of my favorite college classes of all time. I had always had a love-hate relationship with history. Some of it is so fascinating, and it is always interesting to me to see how current culture and politics echoes the culture and politics of the past, but, on the other hand, sometimes history seems to be all wars and generalities. It is often zeitgeist and statistics, rather than subtlety and story. B ...more
Dana Stabenow
Feb 24, 2015 Dana Stabenow rated it it was amazing
Gail Collins’ America’s Women (400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines) reads like the women studies class I was never offered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It should be required reading for every US high school student today. Listen to some of this stuff:

The most famous runaway slave…was [Harriet Tubman:]…In 1849, when she was about thirty years old, she heard rumors that she was about to be sold and escaped. Making her way to Philadelphia, she cleaned houses until she had
Jan 30, 2009 Clare rated it it was amazing
While reading this I called myself a feminist for the first time in my life. My former discomfort with that label was embarrassing; I acknowledge the younger generations' ingratitude towards those who struggled for women's rights, but despite my gratitude and delight in the current freedoms, I couldn't embrace the concept of feminism without feeling like I was being tongue-in-cheek or somehow self-mocking.

I believe there are nature-bound differences, which can be studied and exposed, between t
Jul 31, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

"In the first half of the nineteenth century, American women changed from colonial goodwives to people with more modern concerns. They went to school, and they knew a great deal more about what was going on in the world outside their own neighborhoods. They were still religious but they wanted to be happy in this earthly life as well as in the next. They thought about marriage in terms of romance and companionship rather than a simple econmic parternship."

Wow!! I learned a WHOLE LOT and had so m
Feb 28, 2014 Becky rated it it was amazing
I studied military history in school, I studied maritime history for fun, I served 8 years in the military, I rock climb, etc. I have never worn pink. So when I received this book as a Christmas present I thought “how odd.” A decidedly girly book for such a tomboy.

I am so embarrassed by my utter lack of appreciation for, and knowledge of, the women who came before me, that fought for my right to an education, to serve in the military, hell, to even wear pants! This book gets 5 stars for not only
Natalie Lin
Jul 31, 2007 Natalie Lin rated it really liked it
An engrossing history composed of palatable anecdotes, blunt humor, and plain facts that will affirm, incense, and convulse by turns. Not scholarly, but well-informed and intimately written.
Dec 11, 2008 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
This book records the changes in American women's lives and the transformations in American society from the 1580s through the 2000s.

I appreciated that the author included women of all races, backgrounds, education levels, etc. She talks about the accomplished women of history but also highlights many who were obscure but still important.

This excerpt from Publisher's Weekly sums it up pretty well: The basis of the struggle of American women, postulates Collins, "is the tension between the yearn
Nov 21, 2008 Chelsea rated it it was amazing
This book is fantastic. It's not an in depth study of women in America by any means - how can it be, when it does, in fact, cover every one of the 400 years mentioned in the title? - but Collins hits on all the important figures and movements, well known or obscure, and provides a wonderful collection of notes with lists of her favorite sources. I'm a little afraid of just how big my to-read list is going to get now.
Sep 03, 2015 HBalikov rated it really liked it
American women should read this book, but more importantly, men should read this book. Even though Gail Collins doesn't call this a history book, it is an important gender history of the USA. This is not dry dates and places history. In fact, it is likely that you have had only a little of what Ms. Collins brings in any of the history courses you have taken: high school, college or beyond.

The charm and uniqueness of this very readable book is its reliance on original source materials: journals,
Dec 31, 2012 Chris rated it it was amazing
Needs to be read in history classes.
Aug 16, 2010 Katie rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading in American History courses. America's Women by Gail Collins is an extremely informative, well-edited and well-writen non-fiction work that looks like a textbook but reads like an epic adventure. And truly, what an adventure it was. In America's Women Collins writes what is more or less a social history of women in America, over the past 400 years-- from what little we know about Native American women, up to near-present time. She highlights not only landslid ...more
May 31, 2015 Anne rated it really liked it
Recommended to Anne by: Amazon

Collins covers various aspects of life for American women from the early settlers up through the 1960s, with a very hurried last couple chapters spanning the time after that (but that time period is covered in much more detail in a more recent book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present). Her writing is not overly academic, which I greatly appreciate, as it was clear and easy to process. She tells history largely through anecdotes but definitely
Sep 10, 2009 Melissa rated it it was amazing
This is a pretty good sized book (450 pages) but it was a really entertaining read. As the title suggests, it is an examination of American women from the first colonists through today.

The description makes it sound like a history book, or some dry text book you have to read for a class, but it SO isn't. Collins' has a very, read-able style and peppers the book with sly observations.

The thing I liked most about this book was that it wasn't just a dry count of notable or famous women throughout
Apr 16, 2015 D rated it liked it
an enjoyable but fairly incomplete review of the women of america, punctuated with the most famous, giving a great deal of time to explaining developing cultural impact through the ages.

the author acknowledges right up front in the foreword that the title has a problem with intersectionality and giving adequate time to nonwhite, non-middle-class and -rich players. pocahontas is cursorily discussed, and brief mentions are given to native american women and their culture. but the narration is almo
Jessica Culhane
Aug 10, 2015 Jessica Culhane rated it it was amazing
I loved this book; suddenly a lot of things relating to women's rights make a lot more sense because I know some of the history behind it. Collins gives a high-level history of American women (excluding Native Americans) starting with the Mayflower, and manages to fit all of into one book in a very interesting, amusing way. Highly recommend to anyone who, like me, is starting from almost zero on the subject.
Jul 29, 2015 Cyndi rated it it was amazing
This was a great book! It was well-written, informative and full of great facts. I think it should be required reading for every girl in middle school, high school and college. I learned so much from this book. Women are strong b*itches and we don't get enough credit for what we have done, the changes we have made, our struggles and accomplishments and our goals. It's so sad to see that in the 21st century women are taught that a skinny body is more attractive to a man then an intelligent mind a ...more
Linda Robinson
Jun 18, 2011 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lindsay recommended this book, and I am grateful. What a collection of stories, history, anecdotes, curiosities and tragedies. Some amazing tidbits about people I thought I had read enough about, and clearly hadn't - like the paragraph about Margaret Mitchell walking out of a history class at Smith because an African American woman had joined. I gathered more insight in this one book than the dozens I've read about women's history before. Covering the first European woman to come to these shores ...more
This is a good retrospective of women in America from the 1600's to 2000. It touches on all of the notable women of the past 400 years plus a couple of not so famous women. For those who read a lot of American historical fiction/non-fiction there is not a lot of new information to be learned. However, I think it does give one an overall perceptive of the rise of women's status throughout American history, and sometimes how women have had to fight years and years for equal rights and protection a ...more
Apr 09, 2014 Barbara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the struggles, tragedies, and triumphs of the ordinary, work-a-day women through out our history. This book does discuss some of the more notable women in American history, but for the most part it focuses on the "unsung heroins" who have worked to make this country what it is today.

I'm sure many, if not most, women today take for granted the freedoms we enjoy as women everyday. Younger women especially have no idea what women of the past have had to endure, ju
May 07, 2013 Elise rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. I learned so much. Should really be required reading for all people interested in American history, and probably the best way to ensure that would be for everyone to give this book to their mom for Mother's Day, and then have mom leave it in the bathroom so eventually all members of the household would make their way through it.

Now it's not perfect. It's jumpy and has gaps and some of the sources seem rather odd. But it's a ton of fun and a great way to learn how women deal
Nov 22, 2014 Debbie marked it as to-read
I don't do much non fiction but darn this looks good.
Jan 25, 2016 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-reads
This is a sweeping overview of the women who have shaped American history. If you're looking for in-depth looks at all of these women, you'll be disappointed because the book is just over 400 pages. There simply isn't space for close looks at all of these women, but it will give you an idea of who you'd like to Google, or who you would like to read more about. There are some sweeping generalities in the book (surely not all women in the 1950s watched the same tv show), but you'll get a general f ...more
Kristi Thielen
Aug 08, 2014 Kristi Thielen rated it really liked it
Fresh, informative and readable account of women in America, covering pre-colonial days to the 1980's. I have done a good amount of research about the lives of American women - especially in the 19th century - and still found interesting things I had either not known or hadn't paused to reflect on: that colonial women often went their entire lives without back support, because churches provided benches and houses included stools for women, but typically only one chair, for the man of the family; ...more
Mar 23, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Women's history has all-too-often been neglected, dismissed out of hand as irrelevant and unimportant. After all, women have been deliberately shunted out of positions of power, responsibility and import for almost the entirety of human history - so what could there possibly be to say or write? Gail Collins refutes that argument, focusing on 400 years of women's history in America, from colonial times right up to the 'relatively' modern era (the last few decades since the 60s are skipped over in ...more
Kerry Allen
Sep 28, 2012 Kerry Allen marked it as dnf
Shelves: donated
Dry as a dictionary (name, date, a sentence or two about why the woman is worth mentioning; lather, rinse, repeat) with no attempt made to imbue any of these women with personality or establish a narrative thread. I was relieved to discover the last 100+ pages were notes and index, at which point I gave myself permission not to slog through the "mere" 450 pages of dullness.
Kristin Dittmann
Mar 25, 2015 Kristin Dittmann rated it really liked it
I can highly recommend this book, especially to those who are familiar with Gail Collins' droll style in her New York Times columns. Tis is by no means a scholarly work, but it's an eminently readable and thoughtful one. Not long ago I read Sarah Vowell's book on the Puritans and I can say the chapters on Early American History in Collins' book are vastly more entertaining.
Apr 24, 2007 Kirsten rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all time favorite books ever. It shows how the role of women has evolved over time in America... and it is not a straight, consistent march to independence by any means. It is well-written, funny, and insightful. My surprise was how women have been darting back and forth between workplace and home over the past few generations.
Janet Eshenroder
Apr 17, 2014 Janet Eshenroder rated it it was amazing
Gail Collins has created this amazing, engaging history of women in America, collecting records from the first women who came to the New World, and continuing her exploration up to the book's 2003 publishing date. It seems like everything is here in her book: the experiences of natives and immigrants, stories of the influential and the powerless, lives from the viewpoint of slaves and plantation owners' wives, daily realities of urban and rural wives. There are fascinating tidbits about the wome ...more
Erika RS
Collins describes the lives of American women from the colonial days to the near present. She describes on the lives of normal women as well as the lives of the women remembered by history. She tells how women dealt with household duties on covered wagons and discusses how the phenomenon "going steady" increased premarital sex. There are stories of how women came together to abolish slavery while denying free colored women membership in their societies. By giving all of these perspectives, Colli ...more
Becky Hirtzel
Feb 01, 2016 Becky Hirtzel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Newsflash: the "traditional role for women" is a lie! Lay down whatever guilt trip or external expectation you have been carrying around! This wonderful book tells real women's untold stories from the past 400 years in America. In every generation women have had new roles, some by choice and some pressed upon them. Some generations married, some chose not to. Some generations had many children, some had few. Histories of birth control, legal rights, careers, sexuality, body image, political acti ...more
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Gail Collins was the Editorial Page Editor of The New York Times from 2001 to January 1, 2007. She was the first woman Editorial Page Editor at the Times.

Born as Gail Gleason, Collins has a degree in journalism from Marquette University and an M.A. in government from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Beyond her work as a journalist, Collins has published several books; Scorpion Tongues: Gos
More about Gail Collins...

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“Ann Fowler was sentenced to twenty lashes in 1637 for defaming a county justice, Adam Thorowgood, with the somewhat undeferential suggestion that Captain Thorowgood could “Kiss my arse.” 1 likes
“In 1838, Connecticut paid $14.50 a month to male teachers and $5.75 a month to women.” 0 likes
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