Thursday, September 17th, 2015...10:00 am

Self-Made Woman

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

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“Is it worth sacrificing a man of your own and children to be a successful business woman?”

Originally published in 1932 this is the 1940 fourth printing of Self-Made Woman.  The novel presents Cathleen McElroy as an unmarried thirty-year-old who is a successful businesswoman in New York City.  Torn between two men she must ultimately decide if the game of love is more important than her business career.  Most likely this novel wasn’t published to seriously explore the working experience of woman in the earlier half of the 20th-century, but it does show how popular fiction echoed societal norms of the time.

Baldwin was an American romance and fiction writer that published around 100 novels which typically focused on a woman juggling a career and family.  She was extremely successful and got her start writing for women’s magazines that produced romance novels in six-part serials.  Time magazine listed her as one of the new “highly paid” woman romance writers of 1935.  Many of her novels were made into films including Wife vs. Secretary that starred Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.  wife_v_sec She even wrote a column for Woman’s Day from 1958 to 1965.

It’s interesting to note that almost 80 years after this novel was written these questions still dominate the female experience.  In 2015 does a woman have to choose between a successful career and having a family?  The popularity of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In : Women, Work, and the Will to Lead would indicate these issues are still alive and well. I’d argue that there has been a shift from having to choose career or family to the challenge of having it all.  No problem right?

Self-made woman / by Faith Baldwin. New York : Triangle Books, 1939 can be found in Schlesinger Library’s collection.

Thanks Alison Harris, Julio Mario Santo Domingo Project Manager, and Erin Ellingham from Schlesinger Library for contributing this post.

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