English, Department of


Date of this Version

Fall 2002


Published in Studies in American Fiction 30:2 (Autumn 2002). Copyright 2002. Used by permission.


As in her previous books on nineteenth-century American women writers, Baym's most recent book presents an impressive survey and synthesis of women cultural producers and their products. Even though nineteenth-century American women had neither the education nor the opportunities to be research scientists in the modern sense (a sense that was only beginning to be formulated and institutionalized), Baym contends that they nevertheless "affiliated" themselves with the sciences and used print culture to promote science and (male) scientists to America as essential to its national identity. "Ceding most of the doing of science-the production of new scientific knowledge in the field, laboratory, or study--to men, they allotted tasks like disseminating, popularizing, appreciating, and consuming it to women, thereby linking the genders in a constructive division of labors" (14). This synthesis was both progressive and conservative, progressive because women affiliates insisted that women had the intellectual capacity to understand science but conservative because they conceded that women could not produce science and should not leave the domestic sphere to attempt it. In each of her eleven chapters, Baym defines a "style of affiliation" through case studies of particular women: Almira Phelps writing popular botany textbooks for children, Sarah Hale promoting scientific education and knowledge for women and providing the means of that education through publication of scientific articles in Godey's Lady ' Book, Elizabeth Carey Agassiz ghost-writing for her husband and promoting his legacy as his biographer, Catharine Beecher defining and promoting "domestic science," Susan Fenimore Cooper promoting botany and natural history as appropriate genteel pursuits for country "ladies," and so forth.