The Girls’ Guide to Power: Romancing the Cold War

University of Alberta
Publication year

Here's the abstract:

This dissertation uses a feminist cultural materialist approach that draws on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Luce Irigaray to examine the neglected genre of postwar-Cold War American teen girl romance novels, which I call “female junior novels.” Written between 1942 and the late 1960s by authors such as Betty Cavanna, Maureen Daly, Anne Emery, Rosamond du Jardin, and Mary Stolz, these texts create a kind of hieroglyphic world, where possession of the right dress or the proper seat in the malt shop determines a girl’s place within an entrenched adolescent social hierarchy. Thus in the first chapter, I argue that girls’ adherence to consumer-based social codes ultimately constructs a semi-autonomous female society, still under the umbrella of patriarchy, but based on female desire and possessing its own logic.

This adolescent female society parallels the network of women who produced (authors, illustrators, editors) and distributed (librarians, critics) these texts to teenaged girls. Invisible because of its all-female composition, middlebrow status, and “feminine control,” yet self-governing for the same reasons, the network established a semi-autonomous space into which left-leaning authors could safely (if subtly) critique American social and foreign policies during the Cold War. Chapter Two examines the first generation of the network, including Anne Carroll Moore, Bertha Mahony, Louise Seaman, and May Massee, who helped to create the children’s publishing industry in America, while Chapter Three investigates the second generation, including Mabel Williams, Margaret Scoggin, and Ursula Nordstrom, who entrenched children’s and adolescent literature in publishing houses and library services.

In Chapter Four I explore the shifting concept of what constitutes “quality” within these texts, with an emphasis on the role of authors, illustrators, and critics in defining such value. Chapter Five investigates the use of female junior novels within the classroom, paying particular attention to the role of bibliotherapy, in which these texts were used to help teenagers solve their “developmental tasks,” as suggested by psychologist Robert J. Havighurst. A brief conclusion discusses the fall of the female junior novels and their network, while a coda addresses the republication of these texts today through the “nostalgia press.”