Kimberly A. Hamlin
From Eve to Evolution
Darwin, Science, and Women's Rights in Gilded Age America
University of Chicago Press 2014
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network February 23, 2015 Lilian Calles Barger
Kimberly A. Hamlin is an associate professor in American Studies and history at Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Her book from Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age in America (University of Chicago Press, 2014), provides a history of how a group of women’s rights advocates turned to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to answer the eternal “woman question.” Hamlin’s fascinating intellectual history uncovers how the new evolutionary science provided multiple arguments by which to advance the cause of women’s rights in the home and society. Many scholars are familiar with the Enlightenment, religious, and socialist origins of feminist thought. Hamlin suggests another significant strand of thought offered by the science of human origins. She argues that Darwinism, often with unorthodox interpretations, was effective in overturning a central ideological obstacle to women’s equality–the biblical story of Eve. Charles Darwin’s theory, against his own conservative views, turned upside down traditional ideas about women. Freethinkers, socialist, sexologist seized on evolutionary science to build arguments against recalcitrant traditional views. They asserted that their contemporary culture was a construct of erroneous ideas calling for change, in order to live in accordance to the evolutionary laws of nature. As “reform Darwinists,” Hamlin’s subjects stood against social Darwinism, religious teaching, and custom. Yet, evolutionary science under male control was deployed to reassert women’s subordination. Sex difference as interpreted by many male scientists pointed to female intellectual inferiority. Women, mostly outside the science establishment, called on the evidence of “woman’s experience” against claims of scientific men.Hamlin offers a lucid narrative of how a group of women intervened in a period between the demise of Eve, as the metanarrative for the meaning of womanhood, and the masculinist consolidation of evolutionary science.