American Tomboys, 1850-1915

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A lot of women remember having had tomboy girlhoods. Some recall it as a time of gender-bending freedom and rowdy pleasures. Others feel the word is used to limit girls by suggesting such behavior is atypical. In American Tomboys, Renée M. Sentilles explores how the concept of the tomboy developed in the turbulent years after the Civil War, and she argues that the tomboy grew into an accepted and even vital transitional figure. In this period, cultural critics, writers, and educators came to imagine that white middle-class tomboys could transform themselves into the vigorous mothers of America’s burgeoning empire. In addition to the familiar heroines of literature, Sentilles delves into a wealth of newly uncovered primary sources that manifest tomboys’ lived experience, and she asks critical questions about gender, family, race, and nation. Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, American Tomboys explores the cultural history of girls who, for a time, whistled, got into scrapes, and struggled against convention.

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