AMERICA THROUGH WOMEN'S EYES, Edited by Mary R. Beard. Macmillan, New York, 1933. $3.50.
WHILE not the first book describing the place of the woman in the affairs of life, this collection of women's writings is perhaps the best-attempt at illustrating her position throughout the history of the United States.
In the introduction, practically the only part of any length in the book written by Mrs. Beard, she says, "If there is in all history any primordial force, that force is woman, continuer, protector, preserver of life, instinctive, active, thoughtful, ever bringing thought back from sterile speculation to the center of life and work." With this premise she starts to prove the point by a series of excellent reprints of the works of women writers from the founding of this country until the present day.
Starting with the days of John Smith and the later date of 1620 when into Virginia were brought those famous ninety maids who were to make the plantation "grow in generations and not to be pieced out without", the tale of heroism, progress and emancipation of womanhood is one which cannot fail to interest even the most ardent anti-suffragist.
The courage of the pioneer mother who, with her husband absent in the East, raised a family and tilled her farm on the prairies of the unopened land of Michigan, the young girl who carried the precious pack of Revolutionary information from New London to General Washington in Boston, the southern belle who left her plantation for the Richmond front and the improvised hospitals, and the crusading modernist who feels she too must enter into the spirit of the capitalistic system make us all too aware of the adventurous campaigning life that America's women have lead. But do they reveal to us the more quiet homemaking life of women which even today is in many quarters still regarded as the chief task of the "other sex"?
This neglect of the homemaking angle of womanhood seems almost unprecedented in view of the fact that the author stresses an particularly in her introduction the fact that woman is "primordial force..continuer, protector, preserver of life, instinctive, active, thoughtful, ever bringing thought back from sterile spectulation to the center of life and work". Does it not seem true that woman as a homemaker, not as a political leader, is carrying out the idea of primordial force? Woman's place in the past was always in the home and it was there that she exerted her influence. Now it seems disappointing for women to lay stress upon their outside activities, when their true "primordial" position is at home, and Mrs. Beard in her Introduction admits it.
But in spite of the fact that the quieter side of life seems neglected in favor of the more progressive angles, this collection of articles is indeed extremely enjoyable and of interest in that it presents America through eyes which heretofore have seldom had a chance of vision.