Cover image for Bachelor girl : the secret history of the single woman in the twentieth century
Bachelor girl : the secret history of the single woman in the twentieth century
Israel, Betsy, 1958-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [2002]

Physical Description:
viii, 294 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ800.2 .I85 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HQ800.2 .I85 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HQ800.2 .I85 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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In this lively and colorful book of popular history, journalist Betsy Israel shines a light on the old stereotypes that have stigmatized single women for years and celebrates their resourceful sense of spirit, enterprise, and unlimited success in a world where it is no longer unusual or unlikely to be unwed.

Drawing extensively on primary sources, including private journals, newspaper stories, magazine articles, advertisements, films, and other materials from popular media, Israel paints remarkably vivid portraits of single women -- and the way they were perceived -- throughout the decades. From the nineteenth-century spinsters, of New England to the Bowery girls of New York City, from the 1920s flappers to the 1940s working women of the war years and the career girls of the 1950s and 1960s, single women have fought to find and feel comfortable in that room of their own. One need only look at Bridget Jones and the Sex and the City gang to see that single women still maintain an uneasy relationship with the rest of society -- and yet they radiate an aura of glamour and mystery in popular culture.

As witty as it is well researched, as thoughtful as it is lively, Bachelor Girl is a must-read for women everywhere.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Israel's insightful study examines the plight of the single woman as a social phenomenon from the mid-1900s to the present. She traces the term spinster back to thirteenth-century France, when it was used to describe unwed female spinners of cotton and wool. It wasn't until the late seventeenth century that it took on a negative connotation, with descriptive phrases such as old maid, bachelor girl, and singleton progressively added to the lexicon. Historically, the single woman was looked down upon, even as she intrigued society: from the working girls who "stole" jobs from men to the fun-loving and therefore presumably promiscuous Bowery Girls (who dared to appear in public without hats). Many celebrated the "absolute freedom" that came from choosing a life without marriage, such as nurse Florence Nightingale and writer Louisa May Alcott. It wasn't until the 1970s that being a single young woman started to lose some of its ignominy, though Israel astutely notes that the stigma continues to nip at the heels of single women today. A must read for contemporary bachelor girls. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

While historians have studied various subsets of women working class, professional, radical, etc. little attention has been paid to the single woman. As journalist Israel documents in this impressive history of single women in America from the Industrial Revolution to modern times, these women have maintained a flourishing subculture, despite attacks and ridicule by the media. While focusing primarily on white, middle-class Manhattan women, Israel draws on a variety of sources movies, popular novels, magazine and newspaper features that shape the single-woman experience for the broader population. B-girls bachelor or bohemian have always been with us, some from lack of marriage prospects, true, but many by preference. Israel says it' s mainly the appeal of the companionship of other women and the desire for independence from marital suppression that keeps these women from tying the knot. Social acceptance of singletons has flip-flopped over the generations. Positive icons, including the emancipated New Woman, settlement house professionals, WWII' s Rosie the Riveter, and liberated ' 70s chicks, have alternated with scary images of frigid, lonely Old Maids staring at their used-up biological clocks. But even as social critics have changed their tunes about how much rope to allow these women, the women themselves brave factory girls, Bowery Girls, shoppies, Greenwich Village bohemians, flappers, Murphy Browns and Bridget Joneses have been tough enough to have it their way. Israel' s witty and provocative look at a topic dear to many women deserves wide readership. Agent, Susan Ramer. (Oct. 16) Forecast: With flashy jacket art and lots of media publicity planned, this empowering book should become a staple in women' s studies programs. Booksellers beware: there is an 11-year-old collection of Wendy Wasserstein' s plays with the same title. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Journalist Israel (Growing Up Fast) writes wittily but reveals few "secrets" about single women in this chronicle of white, never-married women in New York City since the 18th-century. In describing settlement workers and immigrant factory girls, sales clerks and office workers, she draws copiously from standard secondary accounts, and from the popular press she gleans evidence of the derisive stereotypes that accompany the lived experience. As her narrative traverses the century, we encounter "Rosie the Riveter," the desperate women of the 1950s, the liberated witches of the second wave of feminism, and, finally, their disillusioned daughters. Although her bibliography is impressive, this popular history lacks specific citations, and some of her generalizations are misleading. More important, most of the women she discusses are not single so much as not yet married; she says little about the mature single woman, the divorcee, the widow, or the women who cohabit without marriage and virtually nothing about black women, who are more likely to live unmarried throughout adulthood. Still, libraries might consider. Morrow plans a major marketing campaign, and urban public libraries will likely experience a demand.-Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.