In this lively and colorful book of popular history, journalist Betsy Israel shines a light on the old stereotypes that have stigmatized single women for years and celebrates their resourceful sense of spirit, enterprise, and unlimited success in a world where it is no longer unusual or unlikely to be unwed.
Drawing extensively on primary sources, including private journals, newspaper stories, magazine articles, advertisements, films, and other materials from popular media, Israel paints remarkably vivid portraits of single women -- and the way they were perceived -- throughout the decades. From the nineteenth-century spinsters, of New England to the Bowery girls of New York City, from the 1920s flappers to the 1940s working women of the war years and the career girls of the 1950s and 1960s, single women have fought to find and feel comfortable in that room of their own. One need only look at Bridget Jones and the Sex and the City gang to see that single women still maintain an uneasy relationship with the rest of society -- and yet they radiate an aura of glamour and mystery in popular culture.
As witty as it is well researched, as thoughtful as it is lively, Bachelor Girl is a must-read for women everywhere.
While historians have studied various subsets of women working class, professional, radical, etc. little attention has been paid to the single woman. As journalist Israel documents in this impressive history of single women in America from the Industrial Revolution to modern times, these women have maintained a flourishing subculture, despite attacks and ridicule by the media. While focusing primarily on white, middle-class Manhattan women, Israel draws on a variety of sources movies, popular novels, magazine and newspaper features that shape the single-woman experience for the broader population. "B-girls" bachelor or bohemian have always been with us, some from lack of marriage prospects, true, but many by preference. Israel says it's mainly the appeal of the companionship of other women and the desire for independence from marital suppression that keeps these women from tying the knot. Social acceptance of singletons has flip-flopped over the generations. Positive icons, including the emancipated New Woman, settlement house professionals, WWII's Rosie the Riveter, and liberated '70s "chicks," have alternated with scary images of frigid, lonely Old Maids staring at their used-up biological clocks. But even as social critics have changed their tunes about how much rope to allow these women, the women themselves brave factory girls, Bowery Girls, "shoppies," Greenwich Village bohemians, flappers, Murphy Browns and Bridget Joneses have been tough enough to have it "their way." Israel's witty and provocative look at a topic dear to many women deserves wide readership.