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

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,966 ratings  ·  333 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, 608 pages
Published April 24th 2007 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published January 20th 2004)
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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

"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
Dana Stabenow
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Needs to be read in history classes.
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
Jan 06, 2013 Anne rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Linda Robinson
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
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
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
Kristi Thielen
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
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
Kristin Dittmann
Although I'm not yet finished, 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.
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.
Shari Larsen

This well researched book tells the story of more than 400 years in history, and how women were changed by it, and helped to shape it. Starting with the first women to step off the Mayflower, it tells the stories of not only the most famous and well known women, but also those not so well known, including ordinary women who have been forgotten if not for the journals and diaries they left behind.

Women of all ages, races, and social standing are written about, in a very enjoyable and readable sty
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
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
Heidi Corcoran
I LOVED this book. It was really interesting to see how things have changed for women over the years. It really made me appreciate and understand everything I've gained from the sacrifices and struggles of the women who came before me.
FABULOUS book!! Wow. So much that I never knew before about the plight of women, their daily life and experiences. Covers the last 400 years and how society's view of women has evolved. Definitely a must-read.
This book is the history of the United States from the perspective of the Founding Mothers. I read it slowly, over several months, which was just right for me. It seems as though Gail Collins must have spent the better part of a lifetime researching this book and gathering sources, because it thoroughly covers the history of the past 400 years from different economic, regional, and racial perspectives. I had to take the time to envision each period, each woman that rose to the center of the narr ...more
An intriguing look at 400 years of the historical events we learned about in school, but from the women's perspective. This is a broad journey through 400 years of history.

The one thought that I had throughout this book is that there are recurring themes in the history of women, and to some degree my life today isn't much different than that of my ancestors. First, there is still an ongoing battle between a society that would like mothers to stay home a rear their children, yet an economy that
Thom Sutton
Really good straight forward account of women's experience in America, from the first western settlers to the beginning of the 21st century. Anything with a subject as broad as this is bound to fall short of being exhaustive, but Collins does a fine job of filling the book with anecdotes and lifestyle descriptions of each generation. The end product is about as in-depth as could reasonably be expected, with the exception of the 1980s onward which are more or less a footnote.
It's interesting to
Don Weidinger
women could not nest after Mayflower, tom boy think and act for self, 1825 150 explosions of trains and ships in 25 years, what people thought maybe the church too, only gilded age when preference for overweight, Wilson reluctant support for vote, long story of Sanger with upbeat reverence, no mention of Dorothy Day and many saints, 1929-33 40% income drop promoting living alone and liking it as well as abortion, Hooverville and fdr assault on depression, Eleanor never forgave fdr for affair, bl ...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...
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda William Henry Harrison (The American Presidents, #9) Scorpion Tongues New and Updated Edition: Gossip, Celebrity, and American Politics Grit, Courage and Change:  Women in the Last 50 Years

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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
“The history of American women is about the fight for freedom, but it’s less a war against oppressive men than a struggle to straighten out the perpetually mixed message about women’s role that was accepted by almost everybody of both genders.” 0 likes
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