Book Reviews -- Women in Printing: Northern California, 1857-1890 by Roger Levenson

Article excerpt

Levenson, Roger. Women in Printing: Northern California, 1857-1890. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1994. 272 pp. $12.95.

This book was a labor of love for Roger Levenson, who spent about thirty years collecting data on women who worked in Northern California print shops during much of the last half of the nineteenth century. Levenson, who died shortly before his book was released, is identified on its cover as a "lecturer, writer, founder and proprietor of the Tamalpais Press and printer of many fine letterpress editions." He clearly was devoted both to printing and to what he calls the "painstaking searching" for information on the almost 300 women he has identified as working in printing-related trades between 1857 and 1890, primarily in San Francisco and nearby areas.

His most useful finding for journalism historians is that, with the exception of the handful of women who owned or supervised print shops, the "women in printing" he discovered were all typesetters. Chapter two is a specific description of printing that Levenson asserts "describes typesetting in the kind of detail I do not believe exists elsewhere." It is indeed detailed, but it does not make for easy reading, which he seems to have recognized, for he states in his introduction: "I warn readers that skipping this material will diminish understanding of the text that follows considerably."

Most of the other eight chapters offer information on the women who operated print shops in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, while the final seventy pages are valuable appendices. The first is "A Roster of Women in Printing," the second provides a checklist of major publications produced by women-run printing firms, and the last cites eleven men who worked in women-run firms.

Thus, Levenson says much about women in Northern California printing at this time. He has carried out strong research, particularly in city directories and federal census lists, and has culled newspapers of the period for revealing comments on women typesetters and women-operated printing businesses. …