We the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America

We the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America

We the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America

We the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America


Victoria Woodhull is remembered as the first woman to run for the presidency of the United States- in 1872- and as an advocate of a single standard of morality for both sexes. We the Women describes a side of Woodhull less well known: the first woman stockbroker in America, she was successful on Wall Street while lambasting in her journal the railroads, insurance companies, and other special-interest groups.

Stern offers biographical sketches of Belva Ann Lockwood, who fought for the right to practice law before the Supreme Court; Isabel C. Barrows, the first woman stenographer in the State Department; Rebecca Pennell Dean, criticized for not "knowing her place" when she joined a college faculty; Ellen H. Richards, the first university-trained chemist and a relentless worker for public health; Lucy Hobbs Taylor, who led women into the field of dentistry; Sarah G. Bagley, the first woman telegrapher; Rebecca Lukens, a premier captain of industry whose vision helped shape America's iron age; Mary Ann Lee, the ballerina who introduced Americans to revolutionary dances from abroad; Ann S. Stephen, the author of the first Beadle Dime Novel; Candace Wheeler, who brought women into the profession of home interior decoration; and Harriet Irwin, Louise Bethune, and Sophia G. Hayden, who paved the way for women to become professional architects.

These nineteenth-century American women were the first to succeed in professions previously open only to men. Madeleine B. Stern has restored them richly to life in We the Women. The determination and intelligence of these women won for women a place in the arts, science and technology, education and the law, and business and industry. Among Stern's other books are Louisa May Alcott and The Life of Margaret Fuller.


We the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America was originally published toward the end of 1962.1 In 1963 Betty Friedan's explosive, influential Feminist Mystique appeared, followed during the next three decades by a host of feminist works, from Kate Millett Sexual Politics to Elizabeth Janeway Man's World, Woman's Place; from Ann Douglas's The Feminization of American Culture to Elaine Showalter's Sister's Choice. To a large extent the feminist books flowing from the presses have concentrated on the relationship of feminism to the church, feminism and blacks, sex and gender, and women's professional politicoeconomic status. Although many authors have explored the past for its yield of early pioneers, their interest has naturally centered in the future.

Thirty years ago I believed, as I believe today, that the past conditions the future. In my foreword to the first edition of We the Women I wrote: "Here, for the first time, a handful of . . . women firsts have been tracked down, assembled, brought once again to life. Here they pry open doors and enter corridors where no woman had preceded them. Here . . . they charter--as they did a century ago--the unchartered, explore the unexplored, and give to the women who came after them a stronger purpose, a more possible dream."

How much of that dream has been realized during the last three decades. The professions that women opened to their sex are now crowded with their followers. Indeed, Belva Lockwood, the first woman to plead before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1879, would today find herself pleading before a Supreme Court that included two women justices, and conferring with a woman attorney general. In science and industry, in banking, in the arts, in medicine--a field that boasts several women Nobel Laureates--the presence of women has become commonplace.

Yet, though much has been accomplished, much has remained unchanged. In certain areas of endeavor women have risen almost, but not quite, to the top. Our Supreme Court may have women justices, but not a woman chief justice. Victoria Woodhull and Belva Lockwood both campaigned for the presidency of the United States. Our country still awaits a . . .

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