A lot of women remember having had tomboy girlhoods. Some recall it as a time of gender-bending freedom and rowdy pleasures. Others feel the word is used to limit girls by suggesting such behavior is atypical. In American Tomboys, Renée M. Sentilles explores how the concept of the tomboy developed in the turbulent years after the Civil War, and she argues that the tomboy grew into an accepted and even vital transitional figure. In this period, cultural critics, writers, and educators came to imagine that white middle-class tomboys could transform themselves into the vigorous mothers of America's burgeoning empire. In addition to the familiar heroines of literature, Sentilles delves into a wealth of newly uncovered primary sources that manifest tomboys' lived experience, and she asks critical questions about gender, family, race, and nation. Beautifully written and exhaustively researched, American Tomboys explores the cultural history of girls who, for a time, whistled, got into scrapes, and struggled against convention.
This book was first published in 2003. Performing Menken uses the life experiences of controversial actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken to examine the culture of the Civil War period. Menken managed to portray herself as both respectable and daring, claiming for herself various (differing) racial and ethnic identities. Playing male roles on stage, she became the reigning femme fatale. Yet she was also known as an intellectual, publishing poetry and essays. She shared friendships with the greatest writers of her time, including Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Alexandre Dumas, père. Performing Menken also looks at what Menken's choices reveal about her period. It explores the roots of the cult of celebrity that emerged from the crucible of war. While discussing Menken's racial and ethnic claims and her performance of gender and sexuality, Performing Menken focuses on contemporary use of social categories to explain patterns in America's past and considers why such categories appear to remain important.