The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-2008; fax (319) 335-2055

Release: Immediate

New UI Press book 'rediscovers' American women poets of 19th century

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A new book from the University of Iowa Press collects the poetry of more than 50 American women of the 19th century whose work was on the verge of being lost to literary history.

"She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century," edited by Janet Gray, contains the work of nearly 60 poets -- some well known, some not -- who published their verse in books and periodicals of the last century.

Although 20th-century readers will recognize the names of Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, and Louisa May Alcott, many of the poets in the new collection were saved from obscurity by Gray's historical and literary research.

Women in the nineteenth century, whether the daughters or wives of farmers, congressmen, silversmiths, or slaves, had few occupations open to them. In an era when poetry poured off the presses, writing verse was one of the few professions to which a woman could aspire. Despite pressures to keep their writing to themselves, some women managed to publish their work, defying household members who fretted that such publication was unseemly and might besmirch the family name.

Some of the poets in the new collection were well-educated and teachers themselves, while others lived lives of hardship and left school at a young age to find work and support their families. A few escaped societal expectations and lived lives devoted to writing, but most married and raised families.

Gray includes the women's poems and their biographies, giving readers a glimpse not only of the poetry of the age but of the culture.

Janet Gray has taught British and American literature and women's studies at Princeton University and Trenton State College. She lives in Princeton, N.J.

"She Wields a Pen" is available at bookstores nationwide for $29.95 clothbound and $15.95 in paperback. The book can also be ordered from UI Press by calling (319) 384-3807 (for calls within Johnson County) or 1-800-235-2665 (outside Johnson County).

Information is also available at the UI Press website: