History 246 Reading Guide

The “New Woman” (continued):  Continuity and change in perceptions and experiences of girlhood, womanhood, marriage, and sexuality

  • Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” Signs 1 (1975), 1-29.  JSTOR

Optional reading:

  • Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “Hearing Women’s Words: A Feminist Reconstruction of History,” in Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (1985), 11-52.

Further readings:

  • Catherine Maria Sedgwick, “Old Maids,” (1984), reprinted in Susan Koppleman, Old Maids (1984), 8-26. 
  • Nancy F. Cott, et al., eds., “Effeminate Men, Masculine Women” Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women 2nd ed. (1996), 338-340. 
  • Jeanne Halgren Kilde, “The ‘Predominance of the Feminine’ at Chautauqua: Rethinking the Gender-Space Relationship in Victorian America,” Signs 24.2 (Winter 1999), 449-486. JSTOR


  • Just as Carroll Smith-Rosenberg sought to examine intimate friendships between women and women in the cultural context of the world of social relationships and social values of the middle class in the U.S. between 1760 and 1880, we need to read her article in its historiographical context of the evolution of women's history in the decade before she published it in 1975.
  • What strikes you about the two long-term relationships, spanning girlhood and marriage, between Jeannie and Sarah, and Molly and Helena that she described and analyzed?
  • What factors in the mid-eighteenth century to mid-nineteenth century U.S. “permitted” middle class women to form a variety of close emotional relationships with other women?
  • What functions did mother-daughter, sister, cousin, and friend relationships serve? How does Smith-Rosenberg characterize the contrasts between girl-girl and girl-boy relationships during the transitional era? How did female-female relationships evolve when (and after) women married?
  • How did Smith-Rosenberg interpret these relationships in 1974? How do we interpret them today?

Further readings:

  • According to Kilde, what was it about Chautauqua that troubled William James and Rudyard Kipling?
  • How did Chautauqua manage to disregard the binary oppositions of the public/private dichotomy?
  • What particular values, at the heart of the experience at Chautauqua, reinforced the opportunities for “unconventional” gender behavior?
  • If this was not, as Kilde argues, a “consciously feminist process of claiming space and power in order to counter social norms” (480), what did women learn about themselves in this setting and what did they take away from this experience?