Spinster Tales and Womanly Possibilities

By Naomi Braun Rosenthal

Subjects: American Studies
Paperback : 9780791452066, 198 pages, December 2001
Hardcover : 9780791452059, 198 pages, December 2001

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Table of contents


1. The Persistent Spinster

2. "Bossed by a Woman"

3. An E/Man/Cipated Woman

4. "She Has Deliberately Shut the Door of Opportunity"

5. A Debatable Figure

6. "A Lady Scholar?"

7. Sex and the Single Girl

8. Hollywood Stars

9. An Ideal Woman





Looks at changing conceptions of spinsterhood in modern American culture.


The spinster, once a ubiquitous figure in American popular culture, has all but vanished from the scene. Intrigued by the fact that her disappearance seems to have gone unnoticed, Naomi Braun Rosenthal traces the spinster's life and demise by using stories from the Ladies' Home Journal (from 1890, 1913, and 1933), along with Hollywood films from the 1940s and 1950s, such as It's a Wonderful Life; Now, Voyager; and Summertime, among others. Originally invoked as a symbol of female independence a hundred years ago, when marriage and career were considered to be incompatible choices for women, spinsterhood was advocated as an alternate path by some and viewed as a threat to family life by others. Today, there are few traces of the spinster's existence—the options open to women have dramatically changed—but we continue to grapple with concerns about women's desires and "the future of the family."

At the State University of New York, Naomi Braun Rosenthal is Professor of American Studies at the College at Old Westbury and Visiting Professor of Sociology at Stony Brook.


"Spinsters do not currently occupy an important position in the history and sociology of womanhood, but they should. Rosenthal does a marvelous job of showing how spinsters illuminate critical issues about gender, sexuality, and the family. A fascinating book that is genuinely fun to read." — Robert Zussman, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

"An excellent and innovative investigation into the history of women." — Amy Bass, Plattsburgh State University