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Price: $29.95

Paperback 320 pp.
30 halftones, 6.125" x 9.25"



Publication date:
September 2012

Imprint: OUP US

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Beyond Nature's Housekeepers

American Women in Environmental History

Nancy C. Unger

From pre-Columbian times to the environmental justice movements of the present, women and men frequently responded to the environment and environmental issues in profoundly different ways. Although both environmental history and women's history are flourishing, explorations of the synergy produced by the interplay between environment and sex, sexuality, and gender are just beginning. Offering more than "great women in environmental history," this book examines the intersections that shaped women's unique environmental concerns and activism, and that framed the way the larger culture responded. Women discussed include Native Americans, colonists, enslaved field workers, pioneers, homemakers, municipal housekeepers, immigrants, hunters, nature writers, soil conservationists, scientists, migrant laborers, lesbians, nuclear protestors, and environmental justice activists. As women, they fared, thought, and acted in ways complicated by social, political, and economic norms, as well as issues of sexuality and childbearing.

The housekeeping role assigned to women has long been recognized as important in environmental history. But that emphasis ignores the vast range of their influence and experiences. Enslaved women, left to do the fieldwork in disproportionate numbers, used their environmental knowledge to subtly undermine their masters, hastening the coming of the Civil War. Many pregnant women, faced with childbirth on the western trails, eyed frontier environments with considerable apprehension. In more recent times, lesbians have created alternative environments to resist homophobia and, in many economically disadvantaged communities, women have been at the forefront of the fight against environmental racism.

Women are not always the heroes in this story, as when the popularity of hats lavishly decorated with feathers brought some bird species to near extinction. For better, and sometimes for worse, women have played a unique role in the shaping of the American environment. Their stories feature vibrant characters and shine a light on an underappreciated, often inspiring, and always complex history.

Readership : General readers and students interested in environmental history and women's history.

Introduction: Sex, Sexuality, and Gender as Useful Category of Analysis in Environmental History
1. Gendered Changes to the Land in Pre-Columbian and Colonial America
2. The North and the South from Revolution to Civil War
3. The Frontier Environment as Test of Prescribed Gender Spheres
4. "Nature's Housekeepers": Progressive-Era Women as Midwives to the Conservation Movement and Environmental Consciousness
5. Reasserting Female Authority: Women and the Environment from the 1920s through World War II
6. Middle Class White Women in the Cold War
7. Women's Alternative Environments: Fostering Gender Identity by Striving to Remake the World
8. The Modern Environmental Justice Movement
Epilogue: Women, Gender, and the Environment in the 21st Century

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Nancy C. Unger is Associate Professor of History at Santa Clara University. She is the author of the prize-winning biography Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer, and book review editor of The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Making Sense in the Social Sciences - Margot Northey, Lorne Tepperman and Patrizia Albanese
American Wilderness - Edited by Michael Lewis
Women's America - Linda Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart and Cornelia Dayton

Special Features

  • Grounded in many previously unpublished archival sources, it offers an enriched understanding of the powerful interplay between environment and sex, sexuality, and gender.
  • Very broad in scope, it combines women's history with environmental history.