Selling Women's History
272 pages, 6 x 9
10 B&W images
Release Date:09 Jan 2017
Release Date:09 Jan 2017
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Selling Women's History

Packaging Feminism in Twentieth-Century American Popular Culture

Rutgers University Press
Only in recent decades has the American academic profession taken women’s history seriously. But the very concept of women’s history has a much longer past, one that’s intimately entwined with the development of American advertising and consumer culture. 
Selling Women’s History reveals how, from the 1900s to the 1970s, popular culture helped teach Americans about the accomplishments of their foremothers, promoting an awareness of women’s wide-ranging capabilities. On one hand, Emily Westkaemper examines how this was a marketing ploy, as Madison Avenue co-opted women’s history to sell everything from Betsy Ross Red lipstick to Virginia Slims cigarettes. But she also shows how pioneering adwomen and female historians used consumer culture to publicize histories that were ignored elsewhere. Their feminist work challenged sexist assumptions about women’s subordinate roles. 
Assessing a dazzling array of media, including soap operas, advertisements, films, magazines, calendars, and greeting cards, Selling Women’s History offers a new perspective on how early- and mid-twentieth-century women saw themselves. Rather than presuming a drought of female agency between the first and second waves of American feminism, it reveals the subtle messages about women’s empowerment that flooded the marketplace. 
Before Women's History became an academically recognized pursuit, it developed in the marketplace. Westkaemper presents a fascinating and trenchant account of how women toiled across multiple popular sites to make history.'
Nan Enstad, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Westkaemper argues convincingly that the very assertion that women had a history was a feminist message, and that public history could build feminist community. This book is a valuable and beautifully researched addition to an underwritten period in U.S. women’s history.'
Mary Trigg, author of Feminism as Life's Work: Four Modern American Women through Two World Wars
Highly original and beautifully written and researched… Effectively put[s] to bed tired assumptions about the commercialization of politics and the apolitical nature of consumer culture in modern America.’
Enterprise & Society
Selling Women’s History is dense with information, skillfully weaving together the influence of adwomen, the emergence of the female consumer and the rise of feminism into this diverse collection of women’s historical legacy. Communication Arts Magazine
[Westkaemper's] extensive research and creative attention to marginalized spheres effectively shape our understanding of the development of U.S. women’s history as a field of inquiry and of the intersections of popular culture and feminism across time, as well as of histories of women, feminism, and cultural production. The American Historian
The book’s real strength lies in its accounts of the commodification of women’s history for various purposes, feminist or not....Westkaemper’s book is best understood as a work of media history focused on how historical appeals were deployed to inspire gender consciousness—women’s sense of themselves as a group sharing social and political interests—among media producers and consumers.'  American Historical Review
Through this considerably detailed look into the parallels between women’s social roles and the changes in mass media, Westkaemper paints a sweeping picture of feminism through history and how the fight for equality is undeniably linked with changes in communication tactics. This book is informative, but in-depth, and would be useful for scholars already familiar with mass communication history. From there, scholars can jump into Westkaemper’s writing as a building block to preliminary media knowledge. Communication Booknotes Quarterly
Deeply informed in foundational scholarship on consumer culture. Journal of American History
Westkaemper compellingly demonstrates 'the variety of twentieth-century feminism’ that traffics through mass media, with feminism here defined by ‘the shared logic that women’s history merits documenting.' American Literary History
The strengths are in the use of a wide range of archival material including letters, business documents, scrapbooks, cartoons, and photographs....A researcher studying women’s roles in media and business, especially before and after World War II, would do well to consult this list, the careful notes, and the excellent index. American Literature
EMILY WESTKAEMPER is an associate professor of history at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. 
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