Cover image for The paradox of change : American women in the 20th century
The paradox of change : American women in the 20th century
Chafe, William H., 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1991.
Physical Description:
xvi, 256 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Rev. ed. of: The American woman, 1972.
Reading Level:
1670 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
HQ1426 .C45 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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When William Chafe's The American Woman was published in 1972, it was hailed as a breakthrough in the study of women in this century. Bella Abzug praised it as "a remarkable job of historical research," and Alice Kessler- Harris called it "an extraordinarily useful synthesis of material about 20th-century women." But much has happened in the last two decades--both in terms of scholarship, and in the lives of American women. With The Paradox of Change, Chafe builds on his classic work, taking full account of the events and scholarship of the last fifteen years, as he extends his analysis into the 1990s with the rise of feminism and the New Right.
Chafe conveys all the subtleties of women's paradoxical position in the United States today, showing how women have gradually entered more fully into economic and political life, but without attaining complete social equality or economic justice. Despite the gains achieved by feminist activists during the 1970s and 1980s, the tensions continued to abound between public and private roles, and the gap separating ideals of equal opportunity from the reality of economic discrimination widened. Women may have gained some new rights in the last two decades, but the feminization of poverty has also soared, with women constituting 70% of the adult poor. Moreover, a resurgence of conservatism, symbolized by the triumph of Phyllis Shlafly's anti-ERA coalition, has cast in doubt even some of the new rights of women, such as reproductive freedom. Chafe captures these complexities and contradictions with a lively combination of representative anecdotes and archival research, all backed up by statistical studies. As in The American Woman, Chafe once again examines "woman's place" throughout the 20th century, but now with a more nuanced and inclusive approach. There are insightful portraits of the continuities of women's political activism from the Progressive era through the New Deal; of the contradictory gains and losses of the World War II years; and of the various kinds of feminism that emerged out of the tumult of the 1960s. Not least, there are narratives of all the significant struggles in which women have engaged during these last ninety years--for child care, for abortion rights, and for a chance to have both a family and a career.
The Paradox of Change is a wide-ranging history of 20th-century women, thoroughly researched and incisively argued. It is essential for anyone who wants to learn more about how women have shaped, and been shaped by, modern America.

Author Notes

About the Author:
William H. Chafe is Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History at Duke University. He is the author of Women and Equality: Changing Patterns in American Culture, A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II, and Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Two decades of feminist scholarship as well as 20 years of changes wrought by the feminist movement have compelled Duke University professor Chafe to revise his classic and influential text, The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles, 1920-1970 ( LJ 12/1/72). While the basic organizational structure of the original remains, he has expanded his focus on women's economic experiences and chronicled the decisive impact made by contemporary feminism on public policy issues. Themes like the ``mommy track,'' the feminization of poverty, and the antifeminist challenge of the New Right draw appropriate attention. Conceptually, the most important revision is Chafe's admission that, since racial, ethnic, and class divisions separate women's experiences, it is no longer correct to speak of ``the American woman.'' Highly recommended for history and women's studies collections.-- Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., N.J. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The Paradox of Change is an interesting insider's book; that is, it is written for those who are knowledgeable about women's history and who have read Chafe's The American Woman (CH, Feb '73). The latest book is a thoughtful reevaluation of the same themes and issues first faced in the earlier study. Chafe has benefited from the rich scholarship that has been produced in the field in the past 20 years. His argument has become more nuanced as a result. For example, he originally argued that the large numbers of women in the work force insured value change in the near future, but reality has required him to alter that judgment. Job segregation for the majority of women workers has become the norm. Similarly, the diversity in ideology, class, and race among women has made the forward movement of women as a single mass unattainable. Much chastened, Chafe foresees an immediate future of some gains and some losses, a very human conclusion to a synthesis of women's history in this century. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -J. Sochen, Northeastern Illinois University

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 1920: a Beginning, a Middle, or an End Pointp. 2
Chapter 2 Woman Suffrage and Women's Political Power: the Consequences of the Nineteenth Amendmentp. 22
Chapter 3 Women's Rights and Ideology: the Erap. 45
Part 2 Women and the Economy, 1900-1940p. 60
Chapter 4 Women and Economic Equalityp. 62
Chapter 5 Women in Industryp. 79
Chapter 6 From Feminists to Flappers: College and Career Womenp. 99
Part 3 The War Decadep. 118
Chapter 7 A Study in Changep. 120
Chapter 8 The Persistence of Inequalityp. 135
Chapter 9 The Paradox of Changep. 154
Part 4 The Postwar Years and the Revival of Feminismp. 172
Chapter 10 The Debate on Woman's Placep. 174
Chapter 11 The Revival of Feminismp. 194
Chapter 12 The Best of Times, the Worst of Timesp. 214
Conclusionp. 230
Bibliographical Essayp. 239
Indexp. 251