"Fame Is Not Just for the Fellas"
Female Renown and the Childhood of Famous Americans Series
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Finalist of the 2023 SHARP History of the Book Prize
Between 1932 and 1958, thousands of children read volumes in the book series Childhood of Famous Americans. With colorful cover art and compelling—and often highly fictionalized—narrative storylines, these biographies celebrated the national virtues and achievements of famous women like Betsy Ross, Louisa May Alcott, and Amelia Earhart. Employing deep archival research, Gregory M. Pfitzer examines the editorial and production choices of the publisher and considers the influence of the series on readers and American culture more broadly.
In telling the story of how female subjects were chosen and what went into writing these histories for young female readers of the time, Pfitzer illustrates how these books shaped children’s thinking and historical imaginations around girlhood using tales from the past. Utilizing documented conversations and disagreements among authors, editors, readers, reviewers, and sales agents at Bobbs-Merrill, “Fame Is Not Just for the Fellas” places the series in the context of national debates around fame, gender, historical memory, and portrayals of children and childhood for a young reading public—charged debates that continue to this day.
The Negotiated Past
Part I: The Birth of a Series
Female Renown and the Politics of Commemoration
Girlhood as a Cultural Construct in Fictional Biographies
Part II: Noted Wives and Mothers
Fame by Association: The Gender Politics of First Ladies
Matrimony, Domesticity, and the Cult of True Womanhood
Part III: Arranged Marriages and the Freedom of the Frontier
Marriages of Convenience: Harried Housewives as Homesteaders
Miscegenation and the Sexual Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples
Part IV: Braving Enemy Fire: She-Warriors in Masculine Spaces
“Filler Feminism” and Disputed Claims to Military Fame
Civil War Heroines and “Vacillating Feminism”
Part V: The COFA Series Redux
“Meddling” Quaker Reformers as Agents of Change
Radical Transformation and Reactionary Resistance
Fame Is Fleeting: The National Women’s Hall of Fame
“In our current ideological wars over history, Pfitzer’s subject could not be more central to understanding our present. This beautifully written and researched text makes a valuable contribution to both the history of juvenile publishing and the construction of historic nationalism.”—Renée M. Sentilles, author of American Tomboys, 1850–1915