Monday, March 25, 2013

Nonfiction Book of the Month: Women's Letters

Title: Women's Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present
Editors: Lisa Grunwald & Stephen J. Adler

I'm thinking of starting a monthly feature where I highlight a good nonfiction book I've read. Because March is Women's History Month, this is my selection for the month.

The cover for Women's Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present

I read this one cover to cover, though it's also possible to skip around the book and sample different letters. A number of these American letter writers are famous (e.g. Abigail Adams, Emily Dickinson, Clara Barton, Julia Child), while others are obscure, though not less interesting.

The topics are enormous in range. You'll see arguments on multiple sides of important political and moral issues in the U.S., including slavery, the persecution of Native Americans, major wars, the suffragist movement, civil rights, and birth control and abortion.

The women here write about love, sex, academics, travel, religion, pregnancy, their jobs inside and out of the home, fashion, family issues, illness, and death.

Some of them served in the military (including a military nurse with multiple battle stars giving an account of treating concentration camp survivors at the end of WW2). Others never seemed to have ventured out of their home state. Some of the writers were slaves or former slaves (including women who didn't know how to read or write, dictating their letters). Within pages of each other, one woman describes a party game involving poetry and another describes undergoing a mastectomy without any anesthetics. You don't know for sure what you'll come across as you turn to a given page.

For each letter, the editors have provided some historical and biographical background, so you can get a sense of the letter's context.