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Women on Their Own

Women on Their Own: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Being Single

Rudolph M. Bell
Virginia Yans
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Women on Their Own
    Book Description:

    Women on Their Ownincludes eleven original essays that embrace a broad definition of singleness-women who never married, those who cohabit but are legally denied the right to marry, divorcees, and widows. Writers describe women who defiantly voted, single mothers who rejected dependency on public assistance, women who ran businesses, and others who found fulfillment in charitable work. Collectively, the self-reliance, creativity, and power to redefine difficult situations that these women-from a variety of cultures and countries-demonstrate make a powerful statement about the success of women on their own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4401-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Rudolph M. Bell and Virginia Yans

    The essays in this volume sustain a recently developed counternarrative of “singleness.” This narrative is intent on correcting negative images of unmarried women without male partners. Three themes draw the writers of these pages into conversation with each other: choice, power, and diversity. The authors demonstrate that some women, at least some of the time and in some circumstances, choose singleness. And they show that some single women, at least some of the time and in some circumstances, exercise great power and authority over themselves and their surroundings. The essays acknowledge as well a remarkable diversity of situations and identities...

  4. Chapter 1 Single Women in Ireland
    (pp. 16-39)
    Anne Byrne

    The mid-twentieth century in Ireland marked a paradigmatic shift from a traditional, family-based, rural, monocultural society with circumscribed roles for women, unequal gender relations, and authoritative male privilege to a rapidly urbanizing society embracing individualization, equality, diversity, and choice. The accounts of thirty single women, born in the 1950s and 1960s, reveal the identity effects of the ideology of marriage and family that continues to resonate in contemporary Irish society despite the economic and social forces of modernity. Familistic ideologies positively support constructions of womanhood as married and mother, a context in which singlehood and the opposition between woman identity...

  5. Chapter 2 Virgin Mothers: Single Women Negotiate the Doctrine of Motherhood in Victorian and Edwardian Britain
    (pp. 40-57)
    Eileen Janes Yeo

    Single women faced hard times in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Their supposed opposite, married mothers, occupied the highest place on the ideological pedestal and were held fast in that position by powerful forces, or by a proliferation of discourses, coming from many directions. This chapter begins by evoking the strength of the doctrine of motherhood before going on to explore some important intellectual and representational resources that single, childless women of the middle and upper classes employed to challenge negative stereotypes of themselves. Of course motherhood was more than just ideology. It was also deeply inscribed in feminine desire. I...

  6. Chapter 3 Social and Emotional Well-Being of Single Women in Contemporary America
    (pp. 58-81)
    Deborah Carr

    The harmful consequences of singlehood for contemporary American women’s physical, emotional, social, and economic well-being have been widely documented and debated.¹ The observation that being single is a less desirable status than being married has been trumpeted in recent popular books, including Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher’sThe Case for Marriage, Sylvia Ann Hewlett’sCreating a Life, and Danielle Crittenden’sWhat Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us, and has guided the implementation of pro-marriage social policies, including “covenant marriage,” and economic and tax policies that favor married couples.²

    Despite pervasive beliefs that marriage enhances the quality of American women’s lives,...

  7. Chapter 4 Widows at the Hustings: Gender, Citizenship, and the Montreal By-Election of 1832
    (pp. 82-114)
    Bettina Bradbury

    The poll had been open for six days when Marguerite Paris, the widow of a laborer, stepped up to proclaim her vote. Speaking loud enough for the male officials at the poll to hear, she publicly declared that the Patriot candidate, Daniel Tracey, was her choice in the by-election under way in Montreal West, Lower Canada.¹ It was May 1, 1832. The day before, officials had moved the poll from the hall of the American Presbyterian Church—an alien place for French-speaking, Roman Catholic Montrealers like Marguerite to enter—to a house behind it belonging to one of the Donegani...

  8. Chapter 5 Business Widows in Nineteenth-Century Albany, New York, 1813–1885
    (pp. 115-139)
    Susan Ingalls Lewis

    The figure of the woebegone widow struggling to survive—like that of the starving spinster—dominates our picture of women who lived without male support in nineteenth-century America. Indeed, this image was popularized by charity workers and reformers during the Victorian period. Journalist Helen Campbell provided a typical, if florid, description in 1887: “Through burning, scorching days of summer; through marrow-piercing cold of winter, in hunger and rags, with white faced children at their knees, crying for more bread, or, silent from long weakness, looking with blank eyes at the flying needle, these women toil on, twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours...

  9. Chapter 6 “His Absent Presence”: The Widowhood of Mrs. Russell Sage
    (pp. 140-156)
    Ruth Crocker

    When New York financier and railroad baron Russell Sage died in 1906, a few weeks short of his ninetieth birthday, it should have been a severe blow to his widow, Olivia Sage. (Her full name was Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage but she preferred Olivia.) Her social and legal standing during the previous thirty-seven years had derived entirely from her status as wife; she was customarily known as Mrs. Russell Sage, and indeed she had been an affectionate and loyal wife. She was now elderly, and her education at the famous Troy Female Seminary (since 1895 the Emma Willard School) was...

  10. Chapter 7 “Great Was the Benefit of His Death”: The Political Uses of Maria Weston Chapman’s Widowhood
    (pp. 157-179)
    Lee V. Chambers

    On October 15, 1855, Maria Weston Chapman celebrated the silver anniversary of her marriage to the antislavery cause. As she wrote on the occasion, “the dates about this time are interesting ones to me. The 6th is the date of my marriage & of my husband’s funeral. The 14th the beginning of the mob of ’35. ‘The past is sealed.’”¹ Thus Maria linked key personal and public events: her 1830 marriage to abolitionist Henry Grafton Chapman in which her formal antislavery activity was incubated and nurtured; the 1835 mobbing of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, which catapulted her to international fame;...

  11. Chapter 8 The United Daughters of the Confederacy, Confederate Widows, and the Lost Cause: “We Must Not Forget or Neglect the Widows”
    (pp. 180-200)
    Jennifer L. Gross

    On January 24, 1898, after a full week of attending speeches given in celebration of Virginia Day by the presidents of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the Preservation Association of Mount Vernon, and the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, Lucy Bagby, a Confederate widow from Richmond, Virginia, remarked, “Enough, Enough of Woman[’]s Work! I am sick of it all.”¹ Despite this outburst, Bagby had been and would continue to be an active participant in woman’s work, especially when it came to Confederate-oriented groups. For Bagby and other Confederate widows, participation in...

  12. Chapter 9 Modernity’s Miss-Fits: Blind Girls and Marriage in France and America, 1820–1920
    (pp. 201-218)
    Catherine Kudlick

    Since Western culture cringes at drawing links between disability and sexuality, and since marriage has long been the one positively acknowledged place where women are expected to be sexual, the views of Thérèse-Adèle Husson and Helen Keller should come as no surprise. Some people today might even share them. Yet the similarities between these two women—the first an unknown blind daughter of French provincial artisans writing in the 1820s, and the second the world’s most famous disabled person, a blind-deaf woman writing over a hundred years later—should give us cause for thought. The two led vastly different lives...

  13. Chapter 10 The Times That Tried Only Men’s Souls: Women, Work, and Public Policy in the Great Depression
    (pp. 219-238)
    Elaine S. Abelson

    King Kongwas a sensation when it appeared in 1933 and has since become a film classic; the interaction between the beautiful white woman and the giant black gorilla has had a persistent hold on our racial fantasies. The newest version adheres closely to the original story line but is very much a product of twenty-first-century computer graphics and film technology. What is barely remembered from the 1933King Kongare the opening scenes in which a young woman, played by actress Fay Wray, attempts to steal an apple from a fruit stand. Caught in the act but saved from...

  14. Chapter 11 Globalization, Inequality, and the Growth of Female-Headed Households in the Caribbean
    (pp. 239-254)
    Helen I. Safa

    Globalization and neoliberal restructuring have produced growing inequality between advanced industrial and developing countries as well as between class segments within these economies. In developing countries, the internationalization and fragmentation of production result in fierce competition for foreign investment, largely by maintaining low levels of wages and other labor costs while sustaining high productivity. Cheap labor thus becomes a primary comparative advantage, and poor women provide much of it. This feminization of labor characterized by flexible, informal, and casual work has led to a decline in full-time, permanent wage employment among men as well as women, with lower rates of...

  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 255-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-274)