Rebels in White Gloves: Coming of Age with the Wellesley Class of 69

Horn, Miriam

Published by Crown, 1999
ISBN 10: 0812925017 / ISBN 13: 9780812925012
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Synopsis: From the Introduction

Theirs was a generation that imagined it would reinvent the world. Self-conscious iconoclasts and pioneers, the women of '69 would experiment boldly with sex and work and family and religion and politics. They would also develop the habit of seeing their own lives in historic terms. In recounting their histories, each of these women has made a story of her life. They have not kept many secrets.

* * * *

"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.

Review: The riddle of how Hillary Rodham Clinton metamorphosed from a Goldwater Republican into the leading liberal of her generation is one that will keep whole generations of future historians guessing well into the coming millennium, and you can bet they'll all have well-thumbed copies of Miriam Horn's Rebels in White Gloves. Wellesley has always been the most staunchly conservative of the Seven Sisters women's colleges, but even so, it was no match for the student antiwar protests and rising feminist movement. "We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us understand," Hillary Rodham noted in the commencement address she delivered to the class of '69. "The only tool we have to use ultimately is our lives." Horn's book is about the myriad ways the future first lady and her classmates used their lives--and, along the way, reinvented the notion of womanhood. Individual stories are given sociological context and grouped together under headings such as "In Search of Self," "Rebellions and New Solidarities," and "Balancing Work and Family." A senior writer for U.S. News and World Report, Horn is an especially gifted interviewer; through her questions, the Wellesley Class of '69 emerge as wise, well-spoken women. And, at this far remove, it is interesting to see what kind of peace they've made with their cloistered Wellesley selves. --Patrizia DiLucchio

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Title: Rebels in White Gloves: Coming of Age with ...
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Very Good

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