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    Virginia Penny's economic horizons: fact and futurity in nineteenth century women's encyclopedic writing

    Nolan, Rachel ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0004-3049-6171 (2023) Virginia Penny's economic horizons: fact and futurity in nineteenth century women's encyclopedic writing. J19: The Journal of Nineteenth Century Americanists, 11 (2). pp. 385-410. ISSN 2166-742X

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    Abstract

    In the years prior to the Civil War, the reformer Virginia Penny travelled across the United States with the aim of identifying and recording the growing number of occupations available to women. She documented her findings in her 1863 book The Employments of Women: A Cyclopedia of Woman’s Work. Women’s history and labor studies scholars for over a century mined the text for facts about nineteenth-century economic life, and the achievements of working-class and feminist historiography represents Penny’s legacy. This essay argues, however, that an overreliance on historical and social scientific methods of analysis has limited our understanding of the formal, linguistic, affective, and idealistic dimensions of Penny’s writing, as well as of the importance of her enterprise to readers across the second half of the nineteenth century. By reading Penny’s Employments of Women as a work of literature, the essay demonstrates that the text constructs a female encyclopedic subject, a composite figure that bid nineteenth-century female readers to imagine themselves into a new economic position and inspired creative forms of feminist activism.

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