The Ladies of Seneca Falls is at once a collection of biographical sketches, a historical analysis, and a social history of women in a formative period of American history. Intended originally to balance a traditionally male-centered view of the period, the book profiles the women who inaugurated the women’s rights movement as heroic figures. Gurko’s humanized portraits of the courageous—and sometimes outrageous—women involved in this movement, as well as her evocation of the details of life at that time, have made this work popular with older teenagers, as well as with the adults who were its original audience. The book’s sometimes scholarly tone and occasionally confusing digressions make it less popular with younger or less sophisticated readers.
In portraying the individuals and events of the period spanning the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Gurko is unfailingly positive. Although writers of the period were highly critical of the leaders of the women’s rights movement, as have been some historians, Gurko is consistently uncritical of their actions and motivations. In her analysis of the schism that developed in the movement in the 1870’s, Gurko concludes that the formation of two factions was in fact beneficial, serving to reach a broader base of support than a unified movement could have. In discussing the individuals associated with the...
(The entire section is 584 words.)