“Be a Communist, be a stamp collector, or a Ladies’ Aid worker, if you must, but for heaven’s sake be something!”—Marjorie Hillis
When she became the Queen of the Live-Aloners, Marjorie Hillis was a single, fortyish minister’s daughter from Brooklyn who had 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 claimed the right to be happy and fulfilled even if they didn’t have the husband and children they’d been raised to expect. It was an instant bestseller and made its author a household name as she taught her audience to make their own choices, mix their own cocktails, and cast off other people’s measures of life’s meaning and worth. 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.)
The story I tell in The Extra Woman is the Live-Aloner’s story, from her 1930s heyday through the dawn of the 1960s women’s liberation movement. It’s bigger than Marjorie Hillis, who gave her a name and a healthy shot 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.