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American Women Activists' Writings: An Anthology,

Kathryn Cullen-DuPont, Editor

From the Introduction:

America's women activists have striven bravely and tirelessly to affect the course of American history and the welfare of those whose days, in the end, comprise that history. They labored at times with the barest of tools, with hands that were sometimes deemed the property of others and with voices that were counted at no polling booth. Working to win justice and rights for themselves--rights to their own person, to education, to suffrage--they worked simultaneously for the benefit of others. They have been the valiant champions of our wounded soldiers, our child laborers, our urban poor, and other of our distressed communities. Their story, as told in their letters, memoirs, diaries, and speeches, is as wide and varied as America itself....

While I have tried to present the varied viewpoints and wide impact of American women activists, I have not intended this anthology simply as a collection of position papers. Rather, I have intended it as a collection of private reflections upon public action: an exploration of how the difficult choice was made, what in childhood or later life propelled one to action, an occasional tallying of the costs and sacrifices. Thus, I have not excerpted from any of Helen Keller's fund-raising speeches, but from a section of her autobiography that illustrates just what it is to overcome a handicap to succeed in college; not from Gloria Steinem's editorials at Ms. magazine, but from an essay in appreciation of her mother's life; not from Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, but from her autobiographical account of its writing; and not from any of Merle Woo's essays or lectures, but from her "Letter to Ma." I hope the reader will be inspired by the example of these women, as I have been. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to spend the last few years in the company of their words.

Copyright 2002 Kathryn Cullen-DuPont

Queen Liliuoklani of Hawaii. Illustration from American Women Activists' Writings, courtesy Library of Congress.