It’s Esther Wheelwright’s 321st birthday! She was born March 31, 1696 (Old Style).* Since Esther has been dead for 237 years, I was thrilled to accept a birthday present on her behalf in the form of a rave review of my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, at the Christian Century! (H/t to friend and blog reader Susan for passing it along.) In “Women Who Do Things,” Margaret Bendroth, the executive director of the Congregational Library and author of The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past (among many other titles), gets my book exactly right. Check out her lede, which is just perfect:
An offhand remark can change everything. I still remember a graduate school professor’s consternation at the idea of “women’s history.” “They don’t do anything,” he protested. The comment passed without notice in a room full of male professors and students, but it took up permanent residence in my head. I was hooked, not just by his attitude problem but by the nagging reality that in the categories this well-regarded historian recognized—wars and politics and all that—he was right.
Writing women into history isn’t easy. It’s one thing to add an occasional sidebar in a textbook or praise a heroine whose brave exception proves the rule, but that doesn’t change the overall story line. The narrative still belongs to men who “do things,” driving the engines of change by waging wars and winning elections.
I am so touched that readers and reviewers really get where I’m coming from, and are moved to share their own stories of alienation and feelings of displacement in graduate school. The discipline of history isn’t just heedless or careless about women and women’s history–it’s actively engaged in denial and erasure. Continue reading