Cover image for To believe in women : what lesbians have done for America--a history
To believe in women : what lesbians have done for America--a history
Faderman, Lillian.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Physical Description:
xii, 434 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ75.6.U5 F35 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the author of the acclaimed Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, a landmark work of lesbian history that both "sets the record straight (or unstraight)" for all Americans and "provides a usable past" for lesbians "This is a book about how millions of American women became what they are now: full citizens, educated, and capable of earning a decent living for themselves. But it departs from other such histories because it focuses on how certain late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century women whose lives can be described as 'lesbian' were in the forefront of the battle to procure the rights and privileges that large numbers of Americans enjoy today." A groundbreaking reappraisal of those women known by history but whose histories are incomplete, To Believe in Women examines how their lesbianism may in fact have facilitated their accomplishments. Lillian Faderman, twice winner of the Lambda Award, persuasively argues that even before a "lesbian identity" was defined, many early female leaders had what would now be called lesbian relationships, free from the constraints of traditional heterosexual arrangements that might otherwise have impeded their pursuits in education, politics, and culture. A book of impeccable research and compelling readability, To Believe in Women will be a source of enlightenment for all, and for many a singular source of pride.

Author Notes

Lillian Faderman is the author of such acclaimed works as To Believe in Women, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, and Surpassing the Love of Men. Among the many honors her work has received are the Yale University James Brudner Award for Exemplary Scholarship in Lesbian/Gay Studies, three Lambda Literary Awards, and the Paul Monette Award. She teaches literature and creative writing at California State University at Fresno.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Faderman continues her work in lesbian studies with an analysis of how nineteenth-and twentieth-century women whose lives can be described as "lesbian" pioneered civil rights movements because "lesbian arrangements freed" them to do so more than "heterosexual arrangements" would have. The book breaks no new ground, including assessments of Susan B. Anthony (who "chided" black activist Ida Wells Barnett for dividing her energies by getting married and having children), Carrie Chapman Catt (who used her "great personal attractiveness to women to the advantage of the suffrage movement"), and Eleanor Roosevelt (who found sanctuary and sustenance in a cadre of lesbian political activists in Greenwich Village). Because lesbian identity per se is a modern concept and Faderman's sources are thin, believe may be the operative word. Faderman is more successful in interweaving women's leadership and participation in various social activisms with a mainstream story that has focused primarily on men and in showing the gradual shift from closeted lesbian activism to feminism's second wave, when "love between women was an expressly political statement." --Dale Edwyna Smith

Choice Review

Faderman makes a worthy attempt to give lesbians a serious place in history. Her subjects are privileged but nontraditional women whose independence, freedom from marital roles, and often their money allowed them to devote their time and talent to the betterment of women. Their interests encompassed women's enfranchisement, the development of women's role as social reformers (and thereby as the founders of modern-day social work), and the creation of settings for women's access to higher education and the professions. Over time, women's romantic friendships became stigmatized as "queer" and pathological, and women's comfort in them and their search for productive autonomy diminished. Faderman leaves readers with the provocative impression that lesbianism, women's autonomy, and their potential for a publicly productive and beneficial life--at least during many decades of American history--were inextricably intertwined. This book offers fascinating sketches of the intimate lives of numbers of famous and familiar women. Many more stories remain to be told of what and how close relationships functioned in the lives of women activists across the class structure, and among numerous educated and socially conscious African American women who worked within their race to build community and strengthen social institutions. All levels. M. R. Fowlkes; University of Connecticut