A Life in Motion: A Memoir

Flo­rence Howe
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
Flo­rence Howe, one of the fore­moth­ers of women’s stud­ies and a co-founder of the Fem­i­nist Press, final­ly offers read­ers her own life sto­ry. And what a life it has been — from her work­ing-class Jew­ish girl­hood in Depres­sion- era Brook­lyn, through her col­lege years at Hunter and Smith, her free­dom-school teach­ing in Mis­sis­sip­pi, her years at Gouch­er and the Col­lege at Old West­bury devel­op­ing the ped­a­gogy of women’s stud­ies, her deci­sion to branch into pub­lish­ing, and her tire­less com­mit­ment to take women’s stud­ies inter­na­tion­al— Howe has packed many lives into one. Even if she had done only a frac­tion of this, her close friend­ships with some of the most cre­ative fem­i­nists of the last half-cen­tu­ry— Tillie Olsen and Grace Paley, in par­tic­u­lar— would be worth a mem­oir. A long­time edi­tor of oth­er women’s works, Howe’s own prose is clear and engag­ing. She’s not afraid to be self­crit­i­cal, point­ing out her lax finan­cial account­ing and oth­er unpro­fes­sion­al” mis­steps in the ear­ly years of the Press, and her ambiva­lent feel­ings about fam­i­ly mem­bers. While the nar­ra­tive is most­ly chrono­log­i­cal, occa­sion­al the­mat­ic chap­ters (on her var­i­ous mar­riages, her mother’s last years, her close friend­ships) work as inti­mate asides, draw­ing the read­er clos­er. As a detailed his­to­ry of some inner-cir­cles of mod­ern Amer­i­can fem­i­nism, this mem­oir is of val­ue to his­to­ri­ans; for women of any age, who know the per­son­al is polit­i­cal,’ it’s a must read. Halftones, index.

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

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