The Super­woman and Oth­er Writ­ings by Miri­am Michelson

January 1, 2013

The Super­woman and Oth­er Writ­ings by Miri­am Michel­son is the first col­lec­tion of news­pa­per arti­cles and fic­tion writ­ten by Miri­am Michel­son (1870 – 1942), best-sell­ing nov­el­ist, rev­o­lu­tion­ary jour­nal­ist, and ear­ly fem­i­nist activist. Edi­tor Lori Har­ri­son-Kahan intro­duces read­ers to a writer who broke gen­der bar­ri­ers in jour­nal­ism, cov­er­ing crime and pol­i­tics for San Francisco’s top dailies through­out the 1890s, an era that con­signed most female reporters to writ­ing about fash­ion and soci­ety events. In the book’s fore­word, Joan Michel­son — Miri­am Michelson’s great-great niece, her­self a reporter and advo­cate for women’s equal­i­ty and advance­ment — explains that in these try­ing polit­i­cal times, we need the reminder of how a girl reporter” lever­aged her fame and noto­ri­ety to keep the suf­frage move­ment on the front page of the news.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Lori Har­ri­son-Kahan and Sophia Pandelidis

  1. Accord­ing to Lori Harrison-Kahan’s intro­duc­tion to The Super­woman and Oth­er Writ­ings, Miri­am Michelson’s fam­i­ly was not reli­gious, and Michel­son claimed that her Jew­ish back­ground did not play a sig­nif­i­cant role in her life (p. 10). Yet, the press iden­ti­fied her as a Jew­ish writer. For exam­ple, The Wash­ing­ton Post called her a Cal­i­for­nia Jew­ess who has suc­ceed­ed with her pen.” After read­ing Michelson’s work, would you con­sid­er her a Jew­ish Amer­i­can writer? Why or why not? What makes a writer Jew­ish”?

  2. In her fore­word, jour­nal­ist Joan Michel­son states that The Super­woman and Oth­er Writ­ings cel­e­brates women’s accom­plish­ments and doc­u­ments how far women have come.” At the same time, she writes, the book reminds us of how much things have not changed for women.” What do you see as the sig­nif­i­cant changes in the lives of women since Miri­am Michelson’s time? What has not changed? What role could jour­nal­ists and writ­ers play in improv­ing women’s lives and oppor­tu­ni­ties for gen­der equal­i­ty in the future? What lessons can we take away from Miri­am Michelson’s work about the way that jour­nal­ists and writ­ers affect social change?

  3. In Miri­am Michelson’s news­pa­per arti­cles col­lect­ed in Part 2, she often uses the first per­son and becomes a part of the sto­ries she reports. What did you make of this strat­e­gy? Does it make her more or less reli­able? How does it com­pare to news­pa­per report­ing you encounter today?

  4. What sur­prised you most about read­ing Miri­am Michelson’s report­ing from the 1890s and ear­ly 1900s? Did you find spe­cif­ic pieces sur­pris­ing due to their con­tent and/​or style? Are there issues that she address­es that remain rel­e­vant today?

  5. Miri­am Michel­son often drew on her jour­nal­is­tic expe­ri­ences when she wrote fic­tion such as the last three sto­ries in the book, which were part of a fic­tion­al series in The Sat­ur­day Evening Post called A Yel­low Jour­nal­ist.” How do the style and con­tent of her fic­tion dif­fer from the style and con­tent of her jour­nal­ism? Which did you enjoy read­ing more? What did you notice about the way she trans­formed her jour­nal­ism into fic­tion? Why do you think she trans­formed the sto­ries in these ways?

  6. What do you make of the way that Michel­son por­trays eth­nic and racial minori­ties in her jour­nal­ism and fiction?

  7. Miri­am Michelson’s novel­la, The Super­woman, was part of a tra­di­tion of fem­i­nist fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture that imag­ined matri­ar­chal soci­eties in which women wield­ed the pow­er. Since the novel­la was pub­lished in a mag­a­zine rather than as a book, there were no reviews of this sto­ry and we have lit­tle infor­ma­tion about how it was received in its time. How do you think read­ers in her time would react to the sto­ry? What makes this sto­ry enter­tain­ing to read today? How does Michel­son use fic­tion to make a polit­i­cal point? Do you find her strate­gies effec­tive? Why or why not?

  8. As a fem­i­nist utopi­an novel­la, The Super­woman was part of a live­ly dia­logue among female intel­lec­tu­als about women and pow­er. As Har­ri­son-Kahan points out in the intro­duc­tion, The Super­woman inverts gen­der roles, giv­ing women pow­er over men, while Char­lotte Perkins Gilman’s novel­la, Her­land, elim­i­nates men to imag­ine a soci­ety con­sist­ing sole­ly of women. What do you make of these diver­gent tech­niques? How does Michelson’s sto­ry com­pare to more recent exam­ples of fem­i­nist sci­ence fic­tion like Mar­garet Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Nao­mi Alderman’s The Pow­er?

  9. Fem­i­nists today are often warned to frame their griev­ances in a way that avoids alien­at­ing crit­ics in order to attract allies. How­ev­er, many fem­i­nists also argue that rad­i­cal rather than appeas­ing or accom­mo­da­tion­ist stances have a greater impact. How rad­i­cal do you think Michelson’s work was for its time? Do you think read­ers would be alien­at­ed by the fem­i­nist con­tent of Michelson’s fic­tion? Why or why not? Are there ways in which her writ­ing might help gain allies for the fem­i­nist cause? Why do you think it gained a pop­u­lar audience?

  10. Why do you think Miri­am Michel­son was for­got­ten for so long? Why do you think Har­ri­son-Kahan and oth­er schol­ars are inter­est­ed in her work now?