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By Elizabeth Casillas, Oct. 19, 2021

Peg Lamphier and Rosanne Welch, lecturers in the Interdisciplinary General Education Department, teamed up to co-edit “Gloria Steinem: A Life in American History,” the second installment of their book series focused on women’s contribution to American history and culture released Aug. 2.

The book, written by William Prudent and published by ABC-CLIO, covers the life of feminist journalist Gloria Steinem. After previously working with ABC-CLIO on “Women in American History,” an encyclopedia dedicated to detailing women’s contributions in American history and culture, Lamphier and Welch were sought out by the publishing firm to co-edit a larger book series.

Other subjects in the book series include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, Helen Keller, Sally Ride, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ida B. Wells and Delores Huerta.

“If we’re going to have a series on women, what I want is books on women that don’t have 13 other books about them,” said Lamphier on the decision to incorporate Steinem into the series. “We keep trotting out the same women; it’s like we can only know 10 women at a time in America, so we got some people like Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem.” A world-renowned feminist, Steinem’s life experiences were crucial to the feminist movement which compelled the lecturers to include her story in the series.

Co-editors Lamphier and Welch hope this book inspires a new generation of young women and men. (Courtesy of Rosanna Welch)

Following her graduation from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Steinem participated in the Chester Bowles Fellowship where she travelled to India to participate in nonviolent protests and help women organize against injustice.

It was these years in India which helped shape Steinem into the feminist she is today, one Welch describes as an “aggressive and pushy” woman fighting for equality in the best way. In the 2014 Jaipur Literature Festival, hosted yearly in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Steinem credited those experiences with how she views activism now.

“If it hadn’t been for my years (in India), I would have kept on believing that change begins at the top,” stated Steinem. “Instead, I got to see for myself that it is work done by activists, by people on the ground, that prompts real change.”

Steinem seized the opportunity to create change from the ground through her time writing for Esquire, Show and New York magazine. During this time, she covered controversial topics such as birth control, abortion and sexual harassment.

She spent a lot of time investigating society’s treatment of women, and one of her most memorable pieces included a venture into Hugh Hefner’s New York Playboy Club.

“She spent a month as a Playboy bunny to see what that job was like and how men treated the women who did that,” recounted Welch. “Some of them were single mothers, and they got paid really well because men tipped really well, but you get treated so terribly. They’re like, ‘Well, I have to put up with this because it’s better for my kid than if I waitress at Denny’s, right?’ It’s more money, so it’s worth being treated terribly. What an awful thing; what an awful choice for a woman to have to make, and that’s really, of course, what Gloria was highlighting.”

All these facets of Steinem’s career, and their impact on feminism, are why Lamphier and Welch chose to highlight Steinem in their book series, and for an active and outspoken woman, they needed a writer who could keep up with her life.

Prudent first wrote for Lamphier and Welch in their “Women in American History” encyclopedia. The way he handled each piece, and the care he took with each story, was what earned him a spot as a writer in this eight-book series; the only male author writing in this series.

“What is really cool about William is he’s an older guy, and he wrote for my women’s encyclopedia,” said Lamphier. “He wrote a lot of 20th-century tough stuff. Like this really sort of cutting-edge second-wave feminist stuff, and he was really good at it in a way you’d expect a lady more like me to be good at it. So, when we got this list and we got our topics, our women, approved. I offered him Gloria Steinem because that was right in there with the kinds of things he was writing for the encyclopedia.”

Although hesitant to accept the offer, given his lack of experience publishing a book, Prudent accepted the opportunity. He read everything there was to read on Steinem, as well as everything she had written throughout her life, to accurately depict the journalist.

Lamphier, Welch and Prudent all wanted a heavy emphasis on primary documents in this book; they wanted Steinem’s beginning, middle and current ventures to be explored. A feminist himself, Prudent saw the importance of sharing Steinem’s struggles and accomplishments, especially with a younger generation who may not be familiar with them.

“There are a lot of people now, younger men and women, who couldn’t tell you who she is, but who are living better lives, lives filled with more opportunities, in large part because of her efforts,” said Prudent.

Lamphier and Welch hope to encourage women everywhere to become more involved in the world after reading the strides other women took to solidify a woman’s place in society.

At times, women’s stories only focus on the successful portion of their lives; however, Lamphier and Welch envisioned these books to start from the beginning and show the daily struggles and setbacks women everywhere face in their daily lives.

“It’s impossible to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” said Lamphier. “I don’t mean that every single young woman in America today needs to know where Hillary got her start, or where Gloria Steinem got her start; I don’t think we have to know that stuff, but I think it’s super helpful to know how bad things were so that we can understand that wherever we are now isn’t great. It’s helpful to understand that it used to be worse, and we’ve still got a ways to go. Sexism is still real.”

Installments of book series covering Ginsburg, Steinem, Clinton and Keller are now available for purchase.

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