Everyone got married in the 1950s, then moved to the suburbs to have the children of the soon-to-be-famous baby boom. For Americans who had survived the Great Depression and World War II, prosperous married life was a triumph. The unwed were objects of pity, scorn, even suspicion. And so in the 1950s, Eva Eldridge, no longer so young and marginally employed, was the perfect target for handsome Vick, who promised everything: storybook romance, marital respectability, and the lively social life she loved. When he disappeared not long after their honeymoon, she was devastated.
Eva hadn’t always been so vulnerable. Growing up pretty and popular in rural Oregon, she expected to marry young and live a life much like that of her parents, farming and rearing children. But then the United States threw its weight into World War II and as men headed to battle, the government started recruiting women to work in their places. Eva, like many other young women, found that life in the city with plenty of money, personal freedom, and lots of soldiers and sailors eager to pay court was more exhilarating than life down on the farm. After the war, she was ambivalent about getting married and settling down—at least until Vick arrived.
Refusing to believe her brand-new husband had abandoned her, Eva set about tracking down a man who, she now believed, was more damaged by wartime trauma than she had known. But instead of a wounded hero, she found a long string of women much like herself—hard-working, intelligent women who had loved and married Vick and now had no idea where—or even who—he was.
Drawing on a trove of some eight hundred letters and papers, Diane Simmons tells the story of Eva’s poignant struggle to get her dream husband back, as well as the stories of the women who had stood at the altar with Vick before and after her. Eva’s remarkable life illuminates women’s struggle for happiness at a time when marriage—and the perfect husband—meant everything.
Martha Vicinus's subject is the middle-class English woman, the first of her sex who could afford to live on her own earnings 'outside heterosexual domesticity or church governance.' She wanted and needed to work. Meticulous, resonant, original, triumphant, Independent Women tells of the efforts and endurance of this Victorian woman; of her courage and the constraints that she rejected, accepted, and created. . . . The independent women are the 'foremothers' of any women today who seeks significant work, emotionally satisfying friendships, and a morally charged freedom."—from the Foreword by Catharine R. Stimpson
"Feminist insight combines with vast research to produce a dramatic narrative. Independent Women chronicles the energetic lives and imaginative communal structures invented by women who 'pioneered new occupations, new living conditions, and new public roles.'"—Lee R. Edwards, Ms.
"Vicinus is to be congratulated for her brave and unflinching portraits of twisted spinsters as well as stolid saints. That she stretches her net up into the '20s and covers the women's suffrage momement is a brilliant stroke, for one may see clearly how it was possible for women to mount such an enormous and successful political campaign."—Jane Marcus, Chicago Tribune Book World
"Vicinus' beautifully written book abounds in rich historical detail and in subtle psychological insights in the character of its protagonists. The author understands the complexities of the interplay between economic and social conditions, cultural values, and the aims and aspirations of individual personalities who act in history. . . . A superb achievement."—Gerda Lerner, Reviews in American History
"Martha Vicinus has with intelligence and energy paved and landscaped the road on which scholars and students of activist women all travel for many years."—Blanche Wiesen Cook, Women's Review of Books
"Independent Women can be read by anyone with an interest in women's history. But for all contemporary women, unconsciously enjoying privileges and freedoms once bought so dearly, this book should be required reading."—Catharine E. Boyd, History
Never Married Women
Barbara Levy Simon Temple University Press, 1989 Library of Congress HQ800.2.S55 1987 | Dewey Decimal 305.489065209748
"[Simon] deals seriously and perceptively with lives almost never granted such respect--those of the 'spinster,' the 'old maid.' ...There is also a particular ironic energy."
"Nothing is more ridiculous than someone who says, upon learning that I never got married, â€˜Oh, you would like my Aunt _____ ! She never got married either. You two would have a lot in common.' "--from an interview, August 1984.
In this timely and provocative study, Barbara Levy Simon interviews fifty American women, born between 1884 and 1918 who were never married, and examines their emphatic refusal to be "yoked by wifing," as one woman expressed it. A spirit of independence pervades these compelling self-portraits as the women describe the day-to-day activities, options and adaptations, as well as the stigma that shaped lives that defied the spinster stereotype. Simon explains: "I have written this book about them because I want others to learn, as I have, about the diversity of their experiences and perspectives. It is only by immersion in this variety that one can begin to comprehend the discrepancy between popular notions of â€˜old maids' and the actualities of single women's daily lives.... Though women who have never married have often been judged, they have seldom been studied."
With care and empathy, the author presents women who lived at a time when not being married and being financially independent were considered deviant. From a variety of ethnic, religious, educational, and social groups, and ranging in age from sixty-six to one hundred and one years old, these women discuss the work they have loved or hated and their relations with family and friends. The autobiographical reflections provide insights about the symbolic and material worlds of never-married women and comparisons to the lives of single career women today.
In the 1980s, a significantly higher proportion of American women are foregoing marriage than at any point in the past one hundred years. Simon confronts head-on the image of the passive and unhappy old maid, presenting instead a group of independent and self-actualizing women who, in many cases, chose to remain single.
"With women choosing to be single in greater numbers than at any other time in this century, a study of single women is most timely.... Although considered deviant by the greater society, these women all manifest a feisty, independent spirit that defies conventional stereotypes of â€˜old maids' or â€˜spinsters.â€˜ ... Maybe you should give your mother a copy of this book the next time she asks."
--New Directions for Women
"An important work on a segment of the female population that has remained single for at least six decades in a society that expected its women to marry and bear children [Simon] evaluates the actualities of these women's lives versus popular images and stereotypes..."
"By offering concrete examples of how the nuclear family is oppressive to those who stand outside of it, Never Married Women breathes life into critiques of the family articulated by...other feminist theorists. And by focusing on the lives of elderly single women, Simon aptly illustrates the injustice of our over reliance on the family--instead of the state--to care for the dependent elderly."
"This book is a paean to women's resilience, adaptability, and courage to live with the consequences of their own decisions."
--Readings: A Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health