The University of Wisconsin Press

Autobiography / Women's Studies / American Studies


Before They Could Vote
American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819–1919
Edited by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography

"This indispensable collection is . . . important for its range of topics—social uplift, geography, education, lynching, sanctification, Indian removal, deafness, and abolition, among others."
—Dale M. Bauer, coeditor, The Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Women's Writing

The life narratives in this collection are by ethnically diverse women of energy and ambition-some well known, some forgotten over generations—who confronted barriers of gender, class, race, and sexual difference as they pursued or adapted to adventurous new lives in a rapidly changing America. The engaging selections—from captivity narratives to letters, manifestos, criminal confessions, and childhood sketches—span a hundred years in which women increasingly asserted themselves publicly. Some rose to positions of prominence as writers, activists, and artists; some sought education or wrote to support themselves and their families; some transgressed social norms in search of new possibilities. Each woman's story is strikingly individual, yet the brief narratives in this anthology collectively chart bold new visions of women's agency.

"This rich new anthology sets in motion an inter-textual conversation of remarkable vitality that will change the ways we understand gender, class, ethnicity, culture, and nation in nineteenth-century America."—Susanna Egan, author of Mirror-Talk

Featuring selections from Mary Antin, Mary Hunter Austin, Rose Butler, Sui Sin Far, Margaret Fuller, Mary Jemison, Adele M. Jewel, Sarah Orne Jewett, Fanny Kemble, Lucy Larcom, Jarena Lee, Mary MacLane, "Madeleine," Eulalia Pérez, Harriet Quimby, Zitkala-Sa, M. Carey Thomas, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Barrier Williams, and Sarah Winnemucca.

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

Sidonie Smith is Martha Guernsey Colby Collegiate Professor of English and Women's Studies and chair of the Department of English at the University of Michigan.
Julia Watson
is associate professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University. Their several previous books include Reading Autobiography and Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Of Related Interest
Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories
Jean M. Humez

cover of Smith and Watson's book is brown, with four portraits of diverse women writers.

August 2006

LC: 2006006984 HQ
472 pp.  6 x 9

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ISBN 978-0-299-22054-9
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ISBN 978-0-299-22053-2
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The cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-22050-1, is out of print

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Updated September 2, 2010

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