Rebels in White Gloves: Coming of Age
with Hillary's Class -- Wellesley '69, by Mirian Horn
New York: Times Books/ Random House, 1999Summary:
"'Freak out, Suzy Creamcheese. Drop out of school before your brain rots,' urged Frank Zappa. 'Protest boxy suits! Protest big ugly shoes!' exhorted the Wellesley News. 'Get your ring before spring,' cooed the women's magazines. Reject 'inauthentic reality' in favor of 'a more penetrating existence,' advised Hillary Rodham to her fellow graduates. Whipsawed by these conflicting mandates, the Wellesley Class of '69 were women on the cusp, feeling out the new rules. Rebels in White Gloves is their story.
"When these women entered Wellesley's ivory tower, they were initiated into a rarefied world where the infamous 'marriage lecture' and white gloves at afternoon tea were musts. Many were daughters of privilege; many were going for their 'MRS.' Four years later, by the time they graduated, they found a world turned upside down by the Pill, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Roe v. Wade, the Vietnam War, student protests, the National Organization for Women, and the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment. 'Coming of age at a rare moment in history and with the equally rare privilege of an elite college education,' writes Miriam Horn, 'the women who graduated from Wellesley in 1969 were destined to be the monkeys in the space capsule, the first to test in their own lives the consequences of the great transformations wrought by the second wave of feminism.'
"For the thirtieth anniversary of the Class of '69 -- 'Hillary's class' -- Horn has created trenchant, remarkably nuanced portraits of these women, chronicling their experiments with sex, work, family, politics, and spirituality. Horn follows them as they joined SDS, tumbled into free-love communities, prosecuted pot growers, ministered to Micronesian natives, fled trust-fund security, forged and surrendered marriages, plumbed the challenges of motherhood, and coped with the uncertainties of growing older. As Horn writes, 'The women of '69 have come out as debutantes. They have also come out as lesbians, as victims of domestic abuse, as alcoholics.' In all their guises, these are wise, well-spoken women who look back on the last thirty years with great eloquence and humor, and whose coming of age mirrors all women's struggles to define themselves.
"On Commencement Day at Wellesley thirty years ago, Hillary Rodham told her classmates, 'We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us understands and attempting to create within that an uncertainty. The only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives.' In Rebels in White Gloves, Miriam Horn has created raw and intimate portraits of women on the verge. Their tumultuous life paths -- wild, funny, heartbreaking, unforgettable -- are a primer in women's history of the past fifty years and a timely attempt to make sense of the increasingly blurred line between the personal and the political."
Table of Contents:
- The Wellesley Years
- Mothers and Daughters
- Rebellions and New Solidarities
- Reinventing Womanhood
- Breaking the Barriers
- Balancing Work and Family
- Full-Time Moms
- On Their Own
- Spiritual Journeys
- In Search of Self
- Life's Afternoon
Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed this one -- not least because it didn't purport to offer any neat, tidy answers. An intriguing read for anyone interested in latter twentieth century history, women's history, or how our paths are shaped by and diverge after our college experiences (I can check all of those boxes). Thankfully, less navel-gazing than some accounts I've read that try with less skill to extrapolate some greater significance from a small, non-representative sample of individuals' experiences.