Women Writers in History

Exploring the role of female authors in the 19th and 20th centuries

Hook | Questions | Procedures | Data Investigation | Analysis | Findings | New Questions

Student Page

Leanne Dronet and Tali Lewis

simonkatie33@hotmail.com, chick128@aol.com


Women Writers in History

Exploring the role of female authors in the 19th and 20th centuries

By Leanne Dronet and Tali Lewis

“America is now wholly given over to a d---ed mob of scribbling women, and I should have no sense of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash– and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.”  
–Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1855

Throughout history, women writers have been ridiculed and ignored for sharing their thoughts and opinions through writing.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, female writers endured many struggles to find their voice in society.  Throughout the past couple decades, many literary historians, critics, and women themselves have worked very hard to overturn this general feeling of resentment toward women writers.

When thinking about the role of female authors in the 19th and 20th centuries ...

  • What was the prevailing attitude toward women?
  • What kinds of obstacles did women writers face?
  • How did women choose to deal with these challenges?
  • Why were these women writing in the first place?     
Bell Hooks  (born 1952)
  Elizabeth Stoddard (born 1823)

This information is not on the student page, but the teacher may want to use it to encourage discussion with the students during the initial hook.  This will give the students a better idea of the prevailing attitude toward women in the 19th and 20th centuries:

In the early 1900s, Frank Norris echoed the common attitude of society when he stated that women writers could never reach the caliber of male writers, since they lacked "the necessary involvement with experience–with 'life itself, the crude, the raw, the vulgar'–that was the basis for great and enduring literature."  He went on to insist that women "lacked the physical and psychological stamina to produce great fiction." 


Students might ask similar but different questions than those listed here. The more students are guided to ask specific questions, the less inquiry-oriented the activity.

  1. What are some specific struggles that women writers faced in the 19th and 20th centuries?

  2. Do you think this author was successful in overcoming those obstacles?  Was she seen as a prominent literary figure by her peers, while she was alive?  What about after her death?  Do people today view her writing differently now than the public did while she was writing?  How do you think she viewed her own writing?

  3. Why do you think your author pursued writing when she knew what a struggle it would be?  Why was it so important to her?  Did she have a specific message to get across, or was it more for personal satisfaction?


After students have asked questions related to the topic, they will need to decide a number of things, including:

Type(s) of Data

Students will use web pages to find women to research as well as information on those specific women.  They will be using primary sources, secondary sources, and writings from the author, as well as other writings from that time period.

Defining Important Terms

Oppression:  kept down by unjust use of force or authority.

Pseudonyms: names that a person makes up (like a nickname) in order to hide their true identity.

Anonymously: Without being known, not using your name.

Advocate:  fight for or represent

Feminism:  the belief that all people deserve equality in social, political and economical aspects of their lives.

Other terms to be discussed as they arise.

Investigation Tool(s)

The internet is the primary tool that students will be using to research their authors.  They will use various web sites depending on where they search and what type of information they are looking for.  To keep track of the information they find, students will use Inspiration.  They will create a concept map that they will update as they find information that will help them answer the questions they are focusing on.  Students will also utilize Microsoft Word to help them keep track of important information.  This information will most likely be an extension of what they keep track of in Inspiration.  Students will also save any important pictures that they find on the internet that they feel is relevant to their project.

Manipulating Data

Students will need to create an Inspiration concept map to plot out their findings.  They will also need to create a KWL chart to show their initial questions and knowledge as well as their findings.  In the end they will use a Word document to type out their research findings.  The final project will be a combination of the information they have found that they have kept track of through Inspiration, Microsoft Word, and through pictures.  The student will need to integrate information from all these sources to create their final write-up.

Data Investigation

There is often a giant leap from defining the type(s) of data desired and actually finding the data. Providing guidance to students in finding the necessary data may be necessary.

Web Inquiry Projects use data/information other people have gathered and placed online. Part of the inquiry process is finding the needed information. There are two approaches that students have the option of using for this project:

  1. Students are provided a website or list of web sites and are then asked to search for the data they need within these sites. They are encouraged to use these sites as a starting point, and to find other sites that will give them the information they need. 
  1. One of the goals of this project is to give students the chance to explore the internet on their own.  Because of this, students will only be given a couple websites at the beginning from which they are to begin their search.  If your students have a lot of trouble finding information on the topic, here are a few other sites you might want to share with them:


Raw data/information usually has to be manipulated before it can answer any questions. Students might be unaware of how data can best be manipulated, so teacher guidance may be appropriate.

Students are expected to plot their findings and their knowledge on a concept map in a top down tree format so that they can concentrate their many ideas into single concepts.  Once the students have their ideas concentrated they can begin to write their findings into a paper that they will turn in along with their KWL Chart and their Inspiration Concept map.

An example of a project and its findings is here.


No result is meaningful unless communicated appropriately. Discussion of findings should be supported. There may or may not be definitive answers to the questions students raised.

Students will be able to come to some clear cut findings regarding their subjects such as birth dates and factual information.  For information that is more subjective students will need to use various sources to infer on their own what the subject was like and what type of answers would be closest to the truth.  They will need to cite sources that they found their information on and people that gave the information in order to convince the reader of their findings. 

Students will be given a set of questions at the beginning of the project that they need to explore.  Through this, they will also come up with some of their own questions.  The formation of these questions will be guided by each individual student's interests.  To answer these questions, students will browse through websites and other resources that can be found on the internet.  Then, they will utilize a graphic organizer, such as Inspiration, to record biographical data on two different women authors of their choice.  They will use this information to read major writings of the author.  They will also chart the personal struggles and how the women responded to these setbacks.  Finally, students will use all their notes and research to evaluate the effect this time period had on their authors.

Students will need to make sure that they compare and contrast two different women who wrote during this time period, discuss their personal struggles and how they responded to these obstacles.  They will be instructed to include specific dates, events, and major writings and make sure to explain their criteria for defining “successful.”  The goal of this process is to allow each student to make a personal connection to two different female authors that lived during this time period.

The end result of this research will be a presentation by the student on one of their authors.  This presentation can take on any form that the student wishes.  Some ideas include a power point presentation, a guide to the author's life, a picture walk through the author's main ideals, a short story about a particular event that helped make the author who she was, or a video that portrays how society affected the author's writings.  The guidelines for the presentation are very broad, since we want the students to present their findings in a way they feel comfortable with and are excited about.  The main thing is that they demonstrate knowledge of and interest in at least one female author.  They must also demonstrate the knowledge they have gained by answering the essential questions that were stated in the beginning of the project.


Possible New Questions

Answers often lead to new questions, starting the inquiry cycle over again.

Some follow up questions may be:

  • Were women writing for different reasons and what were they?
  • Were some women against these women writers?
  • Why did the climate change (why did attitudes start to change towards women writers?)
  • What caused women to have to change their names in order to write?  Why were women being oppressed in this way?  What was happening in society during this time and why?