Yet another gender imbalance that makes me want to go back in time and knock some heads together

I find that I am bizarrely fascinated with early twentieth-century librarianship. Like: crazy fascinated, particularly in terms of the gender divide that pervaded the profession.

Kay Vandergrift suggests that librarianship, like its feminized sister fields, teaching and nursing, was open to women because it relied on seemingly female traits like “hospitality, altruism, idealism, and reverence for culture,” as well as “industriousness, attention to detail, ability to sustain effort on even the most boring tasks” (684). From an institutional standpoint, female librarians were cheap workers who rarely questioned those (overwhelmingly men) in positions of authority. Female librarians, embodying the contradictory roles of cultural repositories and submissive, non-intellectual hostesses, were assumed to accept a salary that matched those contradictory roles. In 1913, for example, the average earnings of a trained female librarian was $1081, compared to $600 to $1020 for a trained public health nurse, and only $547 for a public school teacher. The minimum subsistence wage (1908-1914) for women living apart from their families was $416 to $520 per year (Passet 210-211). Female librarians, then, seemed to be in a good economic position, at least as compared with other female professions.

Examining these salaries in the context of gender, however, provides a far different reading. Jacalyn Eddy recounts that in 1907, the Boston Public Library (BPL) employed 219 people (excluding department heads), of which 134 were women. While the average salary was $585.34, a gender breakdown reveals that the male salary was $610.12, while the female salary—-for performing similar tasks—-was $575.22.

City pay increases in 1908 allowed women’s salaries to rise by about one-tenth (roughly $55), while men’s salaries increased by one-third (Whaaaaat?). The kicker, then, is that while the “average salary of a librarian” at the BPL in 1908 was $719.43, that amount obfuscated the growing chasm between male librarians (earning a salary of $903.66) and female librarians (earning $630.45 for, once again, similar work) (Eddy 45).



Eddy, Jacalyn. Bookwomen: Creating an Empire in Children’s Book Publishing 1919-1939. Madison, Wisconsin: The U. of Wisconsin P., 2006. Print.
Passet, Joanne. “‘You Do Not Have to Pay Librarians:’ Women, Salaries, and Status in the Early 20th Century.” Reclaiming the American Library Past: Writing the Women In. Ed. Suzanne Hildebrand. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Company, 1996. Print.
Vandergrift, Kay E. “Female Advocacy and Harmonious Voices: A History of Public Library Services and Publishing for Children in the United States.” Library Trends 44.4 (Spring 1996): 683-718. Print.]

[photo: Anne Carroll Moore, Superintendent of Work with Children at the New York Public Library, 1906].


Shaking hands with children

Behavioural psychologist John B. Watson, the leading child expert of the 1920s, on mothers showing affection to their children:

“If the baby cries–let him cry! All babies cry…. But by all means don’t pick him up.”


“If you must…kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning” (qtd. in Tuttle 23).

I’m not sure how anyone else feels, but I’m pretty thankful that Dr. Spock finally appeared on the child scene in 1946.

[from Tuttle, William M. Jr. “America’s Children in an Era of War, Hot and Cold: The Holocaust, the Bomb, and Child Rearing in the 1940s.” Rethinking Cold War Culture. Eds. Peter J. Kuznik and James Gilbert. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2001. Print.]

Address: Park Bench, The Squirrels, Central Park

Just came across Alice Dalgliesh’s account of publishing during the Depression. Dalgliesh was the children’s book editor for Scribners from 1934 to 1960. She said the following in 1969:

Those of us who were editors as the Depression receded may remember thinking twice before taking a book, but having faith that if it was a good book it would sell. I have a few sad memories, as others must have, of anxious, would-be authors and artists coming in with a pathetic little manuscript–a last hope–so that, as one of them told me, “I can eat.” I asked her to put her address on the manuscript. “Park Bench” “The Squirrels, Central Park,” she said.

Totally Mahony, not Seaman.

I just came across a pretty major mis-attribution of a quotation in an article by a very well-known scholar of children’s book publishing and library services. If I didn’t happen to have the original source of the quotation sitting in front of me (the Horn Book, August, 1928), then I would never have noticed it.

I’m wondering, however, if the mis-attribution is, in itself, a sign regarding the early network of women who produced and distributed the female junior novels. The author states that Louise Seaman (of Macmillan, who was the first editor of children’s books in America) said something that Bertha Mahony (of the Bookshop for Boys and Girls, and the creator of the Horn Book) first wrote in the Horn Book in 1928. Mahony and Seaman (as well as Anne Carroll Moore, Alice Jordan, May Massee, and Elinor Whitney, among others) composed the first generation of this female network. The quotation itself refers to the publishing side of the network:

We do not mean to depreciate or minimize the splendid publishing of books which men have done but we do believe that men (with few exceptions) have been baffled and groping where children’s books are concerned and that they have not had the vision to shape their organization so that the right people have had the necessary time for these books. There seems every natural reason why women, properly qualified, should be particularly successful in the selection of children’s books to publish and their publishing.

Here’s the thing: Seaman would never have written this statement. She was all like, “hey, George Brett. My role as a children’s editor is based on my qualifications, experiences, and publishing abilities, not on any “natural” ability to work with children.” Mahony, conversely, was more like Moore and Jordan, and tended to still reside in the females-can-excel-in-work-with-children-because-they-possess-“natural”-abilities-to-do-so camp.

So here’s my spin: perhaps the fact that the author of this article confuses something written by Mahony for something written by Seaman demonstrates the degree to which these women worked across disciplines in an effort to create and promote children’s literature. Perhaps, to some degree, the network itself obfuscates the individual women who participated in it.

Or, you know, maybe the author just made a mistake.

[for a crazily-well researched look into the early members of this network, see Jacalyn Eddy’s Bookwomen: Creating an Empire in Children’s Book Publishing 1919-1939.]


So yesterday, while I was waiting for someone to finish working on the only microfilm machine that was still working in the library (please, someone, give that library money!), I decided to catch up on Read Roger, a feisty blog written by Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book.

[I must pause here to announce bias: Roger Sutton is one of those literary geniuses who knows EVERYTHING about both children’s/young adult literature AND about the people who created it. I suspect I’m developing a total academic crush on the man.]

Anyway, Sutton had posted a link to the announcement of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. See here

What really intrigued me was his commment:

That said, it’s nice to see Walden get some recognition again–back in the 50’s-60’s she wrote several crypto-lesbionic sports novels notable for their fearless female main characters and basketball play-by-plays as exciting as anything penned by the boys.

Wait–“crypto-lesbionic?” So I’m not the only one who noticed this?

The comments section was even more interesting. There was an anonymous poster who seemed a little upset about Sutton’s statement. Sutton replied:

What I meant was that gay kids could find themselves in her books, that the intense alliances between her female characters could, should one so desire, be construed as having romantic overtones.

And suddenly, just like that, Roger Sutton opened up a whole new path of thought for me.

In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s and Janet Lambert’s books in particular, I’ve noticed both possibly homosocial and possibly homosexual relationships, but I’ve been hesitant to define them as one or the other. They often seem to revolve around a kind of “girl crush”, particularly between a protagonist and her teacher. Yet there are some instances in which, were these books written today, I would simply assume a lesbian relationship between the characters.

Here’s an example from Janet Lambert’s Candy Cane:

Anne was golden-brown and black. Black hair like Barton’s, brown eyes that danced, and a smile—Candy felt faint from joy because, oh miracle, Anne’s smile was for her. Anne had come to see her….Candy clasped her hands around her thin little knees and sat looking at Anne like a thirsty flower in a warm spring rain.


And these ambiguous relationships can also be found in secondary, adult characters. In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s Three Loves Has Sandy, for example, Fred, an older man and the voice of wisdom and authority in the novel, tells the protagonist, Sandy, about his past relationship with a famous sculptor named Johansson:

“I lived with Johansson in his studio, worked with him, met the brilliant and famous people who came to see him. I learned a great deal from him. I could have learned a lot more….One day I quarreled with Johansson. It wasn’t a big quarrel. It wasn’t even about anything important. He blamed me for something I hadn’t done. I was terribly proud and very stubborn. So I just walked out on him…. I walked out on everything that was important to me. I lost it all because I was too proud to humble myself and keep it.”

Fred’s story could simply be about a quarrel with his mentor, but its context within the novel makes it even more interesting. Fred tells this story to Sandy after she quarrels with her soon-to-be boyfriend, Bill.

Double hmmm…

But what to do with it? What to do with it? Maybe the relationships are homosocial. Maybe they’re homosexual. Do those definitions matter? How do I fit them into the historical context of the 1940s/50s? Are they part of those silences I was talking about in my last post?

I keep thinking more and more about Sutton’s comment, particularly his idea that the relationships could have romantic overtones “should one so desire.” Perhaps Walden and Lambert (and the other female junior novel writers) allowed girls to be able to ponder different types of relationships within these overtly heterosexual romance novels? If so, were they aware of these alternative readings?

Triple hmmm… I’m only at the very, very beginning of examining this idea. Lots more to think about…

Finding my seat in the malt shop…

For the last couple of years I’ve been working on a project that analyzes American teen girl romance novels of the post-war and Cold War period (think novels by Mary Stolz, Betty Cavanna, Anne Emery, Rosamond du Jardin, Janet Lambert, and Amelia Elizabeth Walden, among others). I am in love with these books. Like: totally, butt-crazy in love. And so it’s been interesting to finally sit down and analyze them (using a New Historicist methodology, predominantly), and to attempt to understand exactly how these novels fit into their larger cultural milieu.

Of the few scholars who really examine these texts, most agree with Anne Scott MacLeod (who is, by the way, seriously awesome) that these are texts that are detached from their historical surroundings, and that demonstrate “with particular clarity the ambiguity of children’s literature as cultural documentation” (American Childhood 50). She notes that these novels are focused on domesticity and happy endings, not the controversial issues (the Cold War, the nuclear bomb, the Civil Rights movement, McCarthyism, among so many others) that we usually associate with their period of publication. The result of this focus is that

“even in a politically quiescent atmosphere, and even for a literature traditionally more concerned with individual experience than with social issues, postwar writing for teens was remarkable for its silences and was exceptionally unrevealing about the anxieties of its time” (50).

Okay, yes. Right. I agree that female junior novels (my name for these books) seem to be unrevealing, but I would also argue that their silences demonstrate a vital awareness of the culture in which they were produced. Silence, as absence, is not necessarily synonymous with “lacking in content.”

So how do I make the silence heard? Or, to switch to an easier metaphor, how do I make the invisible, visible?

I think one of the answers may be hidden in the trivialities.

Clothing, boys, the “right” seat in the malt shop –these elements come together to form levels of dominance within the adolescent social hierarchy. For the next however long, I will analyze these trivialities here, in this blog, to determine how they create a “female dominant society.” I will also attempt to examine how that society is paralleled by the women who produced and distributed these texts, whose middlebrow status and “feminine control” created a safe haven for leftist authors, editors, librarians, and educators during the Cold War.

And I will ask you, dear-readers-who-do-not-yet-exist (and quite possibly never will), to weigh in with any of your own insights/research/random I love Mary Stolzs.

Then, if all goes well, we will have contributed just that little bit to making the world more aware of these women authors, editors, librarians, critics, booksellers, and teachers who “insist on mattering.”