Exercising influence, hoping for change : Sara Orne Jewett, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Zitkala-Sa negotiate feminism at the turn of the century

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


By the mid 1800s, American feminism began gaining momentum. Politicians, scientists, and clergymen all responded to the evolving call for reforms. More and more people adopted the view that women were oppressed by a male-centered society, and most women were isolated within the home. Women writers belonged to a small group of women whose voices had cultural weight and they had to negotiate between the demands of their writing and audience and their involvement and interest in the women's movement. At the turn of the century, Sarah Orne Jewett, Zitkala-Ša, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman each had their respective audiences and expectations, and each woman had to balance her writing and her interest in the debate over women's role in society.
For each author, three years of her life and work are isolated in order to take an in-depth look at the influences of the women's movement. In order to fully appreciate the complexities affecting the writing and the changes that writers had to face, both privately and publicly, the writers' personal lives, the political atmosphere, and the writing produced are studied. Key questions are asked of each author: How did she respond to reform movements? How did she use her career to influence and change ideas about women in the United States? Spanning from the 1880s into the 1920s, Jewett, Zitkala-Sa, and Gilman each approached their work differently, and their work during this time highlights the complexity and connections of writing, politics, and life.




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