As settlers and pioneers, Suffragettes, union organizers and war workers, women always have played critical roles in American history.
On the other hand, I don’t recall hearing the word “feminism” until I was well into my college years. Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963), Helen Gurley Brown (the somewhat improbable editor of Cosmopolitan magazine) and Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex, 1970) may have been more accessible than philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 1949) and slightly less frenetic than boundary-pusher Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch, 1970), but my friends and I never found their books on our mothers’ bookshelves.
That’s not to say there wasn’t change simmering in the land, even before Friedan and those who came after her began stirring the pot. In fact, it was a pot-stirrer of a different sort who began changing the routines of daily life in our neighborhood through, of all things, a cookbook. Murmur the word “oddments” around women of a certain age, and at least some will come to attention like a hound who’s just caught the scent of a good rabbit. “Peg Bracken!” they’ll say. “Why, I haven’t thought of her in ages.” (more…)