March 2024

Unbecoming a Lady

By Therese Oneill
Review by
Unbecoming a Lady is a raucous ode to turn-of-the-century drama queens, business broads and bigmouths who were anything but well-behaved.
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Contrarian at heart that I am, Unbecoming a Lady: The Forgotten Sluts and Shrews Who Shaped America is very on-brand for me. Stories of turn-of-the-century gals who were anything but well-behaved—unashamed, unvirtuous, flagrant, selfish, transgressive, weird—and are mostly unsung today? Sign me up. Therese Oneill’s zippy narratives of drama queens, business broads, big mouths and brilliant harpies begin with Celesta Geyer, aka Dolly Dimples, “The World’s Most Beautiful Fat Lady,” who turned shame into game. Many of the dames here did the same, while others quietly (or loudly) pursued their schemes, passions and hijinks in real estate, entertainment, vice, fashion and much more. They are not always role models, but they are fascinating figures, and O’Neill has a blast telling their stories. “ ‘Resting Bitchface’ isn’t an insult if you do it so well men literally fold under the strength of it,” she writes of Poker Alice, a card shark and brothel keeper of the Wild West. Give this one to all your lady friends who give no Fs.

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Unbecoming a Lady

Unbecoming a Lady

By Therese Oneill
Simon Element
ISBN 9781982199708

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