The Paradox of Change: American Women in the 20th Century

By William H. Chafe | Go to book overview

Preface

WHEN The American Woman was first published nearly two decades ago, the field of women's history had just begun to achieve legitimacy and popularity. Although such scholars as Julia Cherry Spruill and Mary Beard had pioneered work in the discipline during the 1930s, their efforts were soon dwarfed by the emergence of the "consensus" school of the 1940s and 1950s, with its focus on prominent American men.By the 1960s, however, writers such as Eleanor Flexner, Anne Firor Scott, Gerda Lerner, and Aileen Kraditor had begun to blaze a new trail.During the early 1970s, they were joined by scores of graduate students and younger colleagues inspired by the challenge and excitement of writing a different kind of history, one that would literally revision the past. For the first time, those who comprise the majority of humankind would occupy center stage in the story of our collective experience.

The results of these past twenty years of scholarship have been nothing short of astonishing. Together with labor history and Afro-American history, women's history has helped to transform our sense of what the discipline of history is all about.In 1965, most books began with male politicians and focused on events where men—usually white and upper class—played the primary roles. Today, the majority of history books begin with the experiences of people who are not famous, who may not have wielded power, yet whose day-to-day lives illuminate, as much as any president's life, the struggles and triumphs of given moments in time. New questions have been asked—about control of the workplace, relations in the home, the political uses of education, the sometimes insidious impact of socialization, and the ability of people to resist oppression; the evidence developed in response to

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