Growing Up Female in America Analysis

Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Growing Up Female in America: Ten Lives, Eve Merriam collects the stories of women, famous and unknown, to document the concerns, struggles, and bravery of individuals. In her introduction, Merriam comments on the importance of letting women “speak in their own tongues” and calls for a nonmale retelling of history. In her book, ten women are represented; the only professional writers in the group are Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, and Elizabeth Gertrude Stern. At least one photograph or drawing of each woman is featured.

A schoolgirl’s letters to her parents and sister, an astronomer’s diary, a pioneer mother’s unpublished manuscript of her trip with her fifteen children from Missouri to Oregon, and other autobiographical excerpts are full of intimate details of what being female—belonging to different classes, in different times—has been like. The specific work of women, in areas such as religion, motherhood, and marriage, is a recurring theme in each of the distinctly different “tongues.” In 1802, the schoolgirl Eliza Southgate, in a letter to her cousin, ponders what career she would choose if she were a man, and by 1848, Maria Mitchell is the first woman elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Elizabeth Gertrude Stern, at the beginning of the twentieth century, speaks for many Jewish girls who must listen in horror as their brothers or fathers thank God that they themselves are not women. A...

(The entire section is 445 words.)