“[A] probing sociological portrait. . . . Berkin once again provides a fresh perspective on women in American history.”
“Carol Berkin combines the analytical insight and research acumen of a skillful historian with the vivid, engaging, graceful prose of a fine novelist. In this book, her three historical protagonists seem to walk right off the page and into the room with us. It is a very impressive achievement.”
—Bruce Levine, author of Half Slave and Half Free
“Carol Berkin’s fluid and absorbing portraits move beyond her emblematic trio to offer captivating insights on sex and marriage, on partnerships and war during this tumultuous era.”
—Catherine Clinton, author of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life
About the book:
Here are the life stories of three women who connect us to our national past and provide windows onto a social and political landscape that is strangely familiar yet shockingly foreign.
Berkin focuses on three “accidental heroes” who left behind sufficient records to allow their voices to be heard clearly and to allow us to see the world as they did. Though they held no political power themselves, all three had access to power and unique perspectives on events of their time.
Angelina Grimké Weld, after a painful internal dialogue, renounced the values of her Southern family’s way of life and embraced the antislavery movement, but found her voice silenced by marriage to fellow reformer Theodore Weld. Varina Howell Davis had an independent mind and spirit but incurred the disapproval of her husband, Jefferson Davis, when she would not behave as an obedient wife. Though ill-prepared and ill-suited for her role as First Lady of the Confederacy, she became an expert political lobbyist for her husband’s release from prison. Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, was a model of genteel domesticity who seemed content with the restrictions of marriage and motherhood, even though they led to alternating periods of fame and disgrace, wealth and poverty. Only late in life did she glimpse the price of dependency.
Throughout, Berkin captures the tensions and animosities of the antebellum era and the disruptions, anxieties, and dislocations generated by the war and its aftermath.
About the author:
Carol Berkin, professor of American history at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, First Generations, and Jonathan Sewall. She lives in New York City.