As the title implies, each of the selected women included in Growing Up Female in America makes reference to her childhood or early adulthood. Merriam’s book is therefore ideal for adolescent readers, who may find themselves comparing and contrasting their own lives with those of the women about whom they are reading. Many of the women write about their nonconformity and rebellion against aspects of society that oppress them, including family restrictions and expectations. Others describe more primal experiences, such as the onset of menstruation and the loss of virginity. As Merriam points out in her introduction, these accounts of women’s lives are vital if teachers are ever to “redress the falsities of our textbooks” and if students are to see some of the striking similarities between their own lives and those experienced by women in the past.
The use of autobiography to shed light on the history of North American women is a powerful technique. It is unlikely that biographies will be written for several of the women included in Growing Up Female in America, and because history has affected more nonnotables than notables, the day-to-day account of ordinary lives becomes priceless in understanding the times in which these women lived. Readers may be persuaded to see themselves—and what they are permitted or not permitted to do—in a historical sense. These individual autobiographies also take the specific details of...
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A prolific writer for juvenile readers as well as for adults, Merriam’s sympathies are clearly with the feminist movement, as is evident in the titles of some of her other books, such as Independent Voices (1968) and Mommies at Work (1973). Her motivation for gathering the material for this book was to end the silencing of female experience. In her introduction to Growing Up Female in America, she argues that equal rights for women will be long in coming and that women younger than herself must participate in the movement. Although Merriam shows sensitivity in portraying ethnic and class diversity, her book may be somewhat erroneous in its title. The North American—rather than the American—woman is her focus.
Merriam’s Growing Up Female in America is a valuable source for students interested in women’s studies. The British tradition of discrimination against women can be followed clearly throughout the settlement of the Colonies. Because so many history textbooks omit or downplay the experiences of women, this collective biography could be an extremely useful accompanying text for students studying North American history. Growing Up Female in America may also spark an interest in creative writing students or in those who are interested in the process of autobiographical writing.