Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Nasaw

Committee Members

Kathleen D. McCarthy

Blanche Wiesen Cook

Subject Categories

United States History | Women's History


feminism, feminist biography, women's history, modern biography, New Biography


Féminisme Oblige examines the life and work of Katharine Susan Anthony (1877-1965), a feminist, socialist, and pacifist whose early publications on working mothers (Mothers Who Must Earn [1914]) and women’s movements in Europe (Feminism in Germany and Scandinavia [1915]) presaged her final chosen vocation as a feminist biographer. Between 1920 and 1958, Anthony published nine biographies of women, all of which in some way challenged the assumptions behind established gender norms and the status quo. Perhaps most importantly, Anthony’s biographies, grounded in the exciting new theories of Sigmund Freud, challenged women themselves to think differently about their prescribed roles, encouraging them to discard contrived definitions and prejudices in favor of sex emancipation and equality. Anthony’s life studies took seriously “the emancipation of woman both as a human-being and as a sex-being,” as she wrote in Feminism in Germany and Scandinavia, and evinced a new way to write about women’s lives just as suffrage was coming to an end and feminism and the New Woman were coming under increasing fire.

This dissertation argues that Katharine Anthony was the progenitor of a new form, modern feminist biography, which was both akin to and separate from the development of New Biography in the wake of World War I. While other people and organizations were producing important histories of women at the same time, no individual or group was writing the lives of women just as Anthony was writing them---as complex, active, intelligent, sexual agents and human beings. Anthony’s work is significant to anyone who seeks to understand the grounding of modern feminism, the development of modern biography, or the vastly understudied group of women writing history in the first half of the twentieth century, and contributes an important narrative of feminist action in the decades between suffrage and the 1960s, the years traditionally argued were the “doldrums” of modern feminism. This dissertation does not cover Anthony’s life and work from cradle to grave, but rather from cradle to career. The period covered most fully is 1877, the year of her birth in Roseville, Arkansas, to 1920, the year she published her first biography, Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography, over a decade after she had moved to New York City with the “urge to write.” While all of Anthony’s biographies deserve individual attention for their literary, historical, and feminist merit, the birth of modern feminist biography and the trajectory of Anthony’s career can be understood by ending the discussion with the conception and completion of her first life study, and with a conclusion that points to the future.