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Kimberly A. Hamlin

Free Thinker

Sex, Suffrage and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener

W. W. Norton & Company 2020

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & Society April 1, 2020 Lilly J. Goren

Kimberly A. Hamlin is an award-winning historian and associate professor in American studies at Miami University of Ohio. Her book Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage...

Kimberly A. Hamlin is an award-winning historian and associate professor in American studies at Miami University of Ohio. Her book Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener (W. W. Norton, 2020) offers a fascinating biography of a little-known suffrage leader. Gardner began life as Alice Chenoweth. Moving away from her family, she changed her name to create a new version of herself after a public sex scandal with Charles Smart. Living with Smart, under the pretense of a legal marriage, she created a respectable public image as a speaker, writer and reformer. Rejecting the orthodox religion of her upbringing, she challenged the scientific consensus that deemed women as having less mental capacity. She called for reform in the sexual double standard and raising the age of consent for girls.  With charm and grace, she developed significant relationships with suffrage and political leaders including President Wilson. Her behind the scenes diplomacy was instrumental in the passage of the nineteenth amendment granting the vote to women.  Gardner’s free-thinking ideas and political influence were not only pivotal in the history of women’s rights but raised questions about the entrenched gender ideology of her day. Many of the issues she raised remain relevant.


Lilian Calles Barger is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her most recent book is entitled The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology (Oxford University Press, 2018). Her current research project is on the intellectual history of feminism seen through the emblematic life and work of Simone de Beauvoir.