The Woman of the Century

By Reeves, Richard | American Heritage, December 1998 | Go to article overview

The Woman of the Century


Reeves, Richard, American Heritage


You've likely never heard of her

Earlier this year, Time magazine celebrated the end of the twentieth century and its own seventy-fifth anniversary together with big parties and statistics. Here are one, or two, of the numbers: The man who appeared most often on the magazine's cover, fifty-five times, was Richard M. Nixon; two women were tied, appearing eight times each, Princess Diana and the Virgin Mary.

Is there more to say?

Certainly I wanted to find out more. I began in libraries and found that the giant encyclopedias and most of the history books of what Henry Luce, the rounder of Time Inc., called the American Century were accounts of men's deeds decorated with posed photographs from a stock company of a couple of dozen celebrated women--particularly Isadora Duncan, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Fanny Brice, Amelia Earhart, Mildred ("Babe") Didrikson Zaharias, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. There were, too, fuzzier shots of suffragettes and pacifists and reformers like Jane Addams and Alice Paul or Margaret Sanger, usually being arrested for protesting against male order.

The Book of Distinguished American Women by Vincent Wilson, Jr., backed up by an advisory board of women with impressive academic credentials, lists twenty women of the twentieth century, half of them born, raised, and educated in the nineteenth. Duncan, Barrymore, Earhart, and Didrikson are there, along with a jazz singer, Bessie Smith, and two photographers, Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Also included was Dr. Alice Hamilton, born in 1869, the pioneer American researcher of the health effects of industrial pollution, listed as the first woman professor at Harvard. True, she taught at Harvard Medical School from 1919 to 1935, but all her male colleagues would give her was a lowly assistant professorship.

I went to Renaissance Weekend, that earnest monument to American self-improvement, to see the Renaissance Women's Forum "How Heroines Have Changed." The panelists were successful and articulate, and most said their heroine was "My mother!"

I interviewed dozens of women and almost as many men, asking who was the woman of the American Century. Almost everyone answered, "Eleanor Roosevelt." When I then asserted that marriage to a powerful man is still the route to female influence, other names came into conversation. Named most often were Sanger, Betty Friedan, and Margaret Mead.

Admirable choices. Very good cases could be made for Sanger and the crusade for birth control and for Friedan, the mother of modern feminism. But in my mind, right or wrong, birth control is more a product of science than social activism. And, as you must or will see, I do not believe that feminism has come as far as some of us would like to believe. (Margaret Thatcher was often named as an extraordinary person, but I would argue that she came to political power only after Great Britain had become an eccentric riding of the United States.)

My own secret choices were two writers of great influence, Ida M. Tarbell and Rachel Carson. Distinguished American Women lists Carson, the author of Silent Spring. No one I talked to, however, mentioned Tarbell, possibly the greatest of American journalists, the muckraking author of The History of the Standard Oil Company, published in McClure's Magazine between 1902 and 1904. By then she was in her midforties--and unmarried. Defenders of Standard Oil's creator, John D. Rockefeller, tried to dismiss her work as the "spleen" of a "spinster." But within a few years, in 1911, using Tarbell's evidence, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the breakup of Standard Oil.

By then Tarbell was considered something of an enemy of the women's movements of the day. She was an opponent of women's suffrage--as was Eleanor Roosevelt--arguing that politics, power, and such were against the "true nature" of women. She literally said that a woman's place was in the home.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Woman of the Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.