A brief overview of my forthcoming book.
The Extra Woman will be published in November 2017 by Liveright, an imprint of W.W. Norton.
The queen of the Live-Aloners, Marjorie Hillis was a single, fortyish minister’s daughter from Brooklyn who’d spent more than twenty years on the staff of Vogue in New York. In 1936, she published a witty and quietly radical self-help book for the maligned sisterhood of “extra women” under the blunt title Live Alone and Like It. Her book was aimed at women like herself, who wanted to be happy even if they didn’t have the husband and children they’d been raised to expect. It became a surprise bestseller and made its author a household name as she taught her audience–rebranded as glamorous, independent “Live Aloners”–to cast off other people’s measures of life’s meaning and worth, to make their own choices and mix their own cocktails. In a series of seven books written over the course of thirty years, Marjorie Hillis lit up the path to glamorous independence for midcentury women of all ages and stages of life. (Read more about Marjorie here.)
“Be a Communist, be a stamp collector, or a Ladies’ Aid worker, if you must, but for heaven’s sake be something!”
Live Alone and Like It was a product of the Depression, which shook up American women’s ideas about education, work, family and success. By the late 1930s, at home or out on the town, at work or in love, the Live-Aloner had become a bona fide cultural phenomenon. With the coming of war and Rosie the Riveter, women’s work was reinvented again, as a patriotic duty, and for many, despite hard labor and unequal pay, the experience fired their professional ambitions. A surge of postwar conservatism tried to banish them back to home and family, but its force would be short-lived.
The Live-Aloner’s story, from the 1930s to the 1960s, the story I tell in The Extra Woman, is much bigger than Marjorie Hillis, who gave her a name and a healthy dose of confidence. It’s the story of feminism between the waves, of pathbreaking writers, artists, and politicians, who along with thousands of unsung women battled for the right to do what made them happy, on their terms. In the 21st century, amid our own ongoing economic crisis, ever-increasing rates of solo living, and stubborn uncertainty about what happiness looks like, we still have plenty to learn from the Live-Aloner and her guru.