STARRED REVIEW
November 14, 2017

A room of one’s own

By Joanna Scutts

As author and scholar Joanna Scutts writes in The Extra Woman, her provocative, in-depth look at 20th-century women and their historic struggle to find their place, “it’s easy to forget that exercising the right to live your life as you choose is still a political act, and a brave act—far braver for some people than for others.”

Share this Article:

As author and scholar Joanna Scutts writes in The Extra Woman, her provocative, in-depth look at 20th-century women and their historic struggle to find their place, “it’s easy to forget that exercising the right to live your life as you choose is still a political act, and a brave act—far braver for some people than for others.”

Among those brave women defying cultural expectations was Marjorie Hillis, a lifestyle guru whose self-help books, beginning in 1936 with the game-changing Live Alone and Like It, spanned the Depression, World War II and the reawakening of feminism in the 1960s. Dubbed “the queen of the Live-Aloners,” Hillis, a minister’s daughter and Vogue fashion editor, tackled the economic and social challenges for single women like herself (she married at 49). Her practical tips about decorating, dining, dressing and dating stayed clear of the soapbox, sparing her readers any moralizing about their lifestyle. No husband? No children? Make the most of what you have, Hillis advised, and do it all with style.

For Scutts, Hillis was a spark at the beginning of the rise of 20th-century feminism. Rosie the Riveter replaced the giddy flapper of the 1920s, becoming an icon for wartime women getting the job done. Sassy, sexy Mae West and spunky Kathryn Hepburn became, not without controversy, Hollywood idols. In 1962, Helen Gurley Brown, future editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan— and unmarried until 37— wrote Sex and the Single Girl, and the lid came off that topic. Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, asked, “Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves?”

Scutts covers a lot of ground here, and she does it all so well that her readers may be inspired to dig further: the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History, where Scutts currently serves as a fellow, is a good start.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

The Extra Woman

The Extra Woman

By Joanna Scutts
Liveright
ISBN 9781631492730

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!