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First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

A Tour of Nonfiction Writing From Women Over the Decades
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Inspired by a list from New York’s Ann Friedman, we highlight one exceptional nonfiction Atlantic piece a year starting in 1960 (with some notable mentions from the previous 100 years) written by women. If there’s an unmentioned piece you especially love and want to describe why, please email us at hello@theatlantic.com.

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Female Atlantic Writers From the '70s

See ya later, ‘60s. We’re on the next stop of our tour of nonfiction pieces by female authors in our archives: the swinging ‘70s. This decade saw the Watergate scandal, the end of the Vietnam War, and Star Wars. And the ladies of The Atlantic were there, reporting on politics, culture, and more.

Here’s a list of ten nonfiction works, one per year (and some of them were just digitized for the first time):

Again, a shout-out to Sage for her assistance on this project. Next up, Nshira is bringing you the rollicking ‘80s ...

Our Aug 1968 cover features a nonfiction excerpt from Joan Baez’s memoir, Daybreak.

We’ve made it our project over the next several weeks to uncover nonfiction Atlantic pieces written by women. It’s been a difficult process, since many of the early pieces are not online. But after (physically) digging through our print archives, we’re able to present the following crop of lady-journos from the ‘60s—and it’s quite an impressive group.

During that decade, women in The Atlantic tackled everything from Castro’s Cuba to illegal abortion to Marlon Brando. Among the authors listed here are a Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian, an anonymous part-time secretary, a Harvard professor, a First Lady, and a famous film critic. (Like our first list, the authors here are fairly monochromatic—the majority are white and American.)

  • Eliza Paschall’s “A Southern Point of ViewThe writer and activist criticizes the Georgia legislature’s willingness to close down schools rather than integrate them. (May 1960)

  • Eleanor Roosevelt’s “What Has Happened to The American Dream?The former First Lady demands a re-dedication to the Dream in the face of Soviet influence, “the greatest challenge our way of life has ever had to meet.” (April 1961)

  • Martha Gellhorn’s “Eichmann and the Private ConscienceThe famed war correspondent reports on the trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem and sketches out “some of the lessons to be learned.” (Feb 1962)

  • Jessica Mitford’s “The Undertaker’s Racket An investigation of the funeral industry in the United States. (June 1963)

  • Mrs. X’s “One Woman’s Abortion An anonymous suburban mother of three talks about her search for an illegal abortion. (Aug 1965)

  • Pauline Kael (AP)

    Pauline Kael’s “Marlon Brando: An American HeroA profile of the legendary actor. (March 1966)

  • Barbara W. Tuchman’s “The Case of Woodrow WilsonA historian and best-selling authoragrees with Sigmund Freud that President Wilson was a tragic figure whose neuroses got in his way.” (Feb 1967)

  • Elizabeth Drew’s “Report: Washington One of her many dispatches during her run as Washington correspondent for the magazine. (April 1968)

  • Emma Rothschild’s “Reports and Comment: CubaA look at Fidel Castro “committing Cuba to an agricultural future.” (March 1969)

A huge shoutout to contributing editor and Atlantic archives legend, Sage Stossel, for helping us with this list.

But what about 1964? One work we were unable to digitize was “Four and a Half Days in Atlanta’s Jails” by Gloria Wade Bishop (now Gloria Wade Gayles), a prolific ​black​ essayist and literary critic. In that July 1964 piece, ​she​ gives a gripping account of her time behind bars after her arrest during a peaceful protest.  

On to the ‘70s ...

Nonfiction writer Gay Talese recently caused controversy by struggling to name which female writers have most inspired him. On Friday, New York’s Ann Friedman responded by listing “one good piece of nonfiction by a different woman writer published in every year since 1960, the year Esquire first published Talese.” Her list includes three Atlantic pieces:

  • Martha Gellhorn’s “The Arabs of Palestine” from our October 1961 issue. (Several more of her Atlantic stories are compiled here.)

  • Elizabeth Vorenberg’s “The Biggest Pimp of All” from our January 1977 issue. (The byline was shared with her husband, James.)

  • Penny Wolfson’s “Moonrise” from our December 2001 issue.

Friedman’s list also includes essays by Susan Orlean (“Figures in a Mall”), Samantha Power (“Dying in Darfur”), and Hanna Rosin (“The Madness of Speaker Newt”), all of whom have contributed to The Atlantic as well. For our May 2003 issue, Orlean wrote “Carbonaro and Primavera,” a travel piece about Cuba. For our September 2001 issue, Power wrote “Bystanders to Genocide,” based on a series of interviews about the Rwandan massacres, which begin 22 years ago last week. Rosin, our long-time national correspondent, has written dozens of articles for The Atlantic, most recently our December 2015 cover story, “The Silicon Valley Suicides.”

Friedman’s list started in 1960, so we thought we’d take a look at our deep archive for some notable nonfiction works by women:

  • Charlotte Forten (Wikimedia)

    Charlotte Forten’s “Life on the Sea IslandsA young black woman describes her experience teaching freed slaves (May 1864)

  • Eudora Clark’s “Hospital Memories I & IIMemories from a war-time hospital (Aug and Sep 1867)  

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “The True Story of Lady Byron’s Life” ‘She has not spoken at all; her story has never been told’ (Sep 1869)

  • Ida M. Tarbell’s “A Little Look at the People” (May 1917)

  • Pearl S. Buck’s “In China, TooReflections on the social and cultural changes transforming China’s young people (Jan 1923)

  • Helen Keller’s “Put Your Husband in the Kitchen” (Aug 1932)

  • Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: Part IExploring the Balkans to see for herself why the fate of the Continent and of England has so often been threatened by the Powderkeg of Europe. (Jan 1941)

  • Helen Hill Miller’s “Science: Careers for WomenSome of the work being done in science both by single women and by those who successfully combine marriage and a career (Oct 1957)

Most of our writings before 1960 have yet to be digitized, but thanks to Sage Stossel—our cartoonist, contributing editor, and general keeper of Atlantic archival knowledge—we know about many other early contributors of nonfiction, including food writer M.F.K Fisher, playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman, aviator and Gift from the Sea author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, second-wave feminist pioneer Germaine Greer, and the choreographer and dancer Agnes de Mille (whom we recently noted for International Women’s Day).

As Friedman says for her list, ours is just a start. So in the coming weeks, we’re planning to dig into our post-1960 archive to surface and digitize some of our best nonfiction writing by female writers and take a closer look at its diversity or lack thereof. If you’re a long-time Atlantic reader and have any favorite pieces that left a big impression on you, please let us know: hello@theatlantic.com.