Disclosure: I don't know Dr. Spender. I wish I did. Her book The Writing or the Sex, or why you don't have to read women's writing to know it's no good is one of the two books that prompted me, at almost age 50, to go back to college. . . twenty years ago.
Feminist Theorists was one of the reference works I used both directly for women's studies classes and indirectly for a lot of others. There are any number of collections of biographies of individual theorists and their theories, and I have several of them, but this is my favorite.
I had taken a lot of notes from it and copied several pages, but it's a fat paperback and the pages didn't photocopy well. As I'm going through this project of scanning my photocopied books and notes and papers, this was one that stood out as "I think I need to see if I can buy a copy and just transfer my notes." Last week I did just that, and my very nice copy arrived from ThriftBooks in no time at all.
As I'm transferring my notes from scribbled pieces of paper and barely-legible photocopies, I'm also rereading a lot, remembering the thrill of discovery that I was not alone and that women had been thinking these same troubling thoughts for literally hundreds of years.
My favorite, though, has to be Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898), the least well-known of the nineteenth century American triumvirate [sic] who led the women's rights movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are almost household names, but not so Matilda.
[Man] does not yet discern [woman's] equal right with himself to impress her own opinions on the world. He still interprets governments and religions as requiring from her an unquestioning obedience to laws she had no share in making.
That's from 1893.
Gage's biography in this 1983 volume is written by Lynne Spender, the editor's sister. She describes Gage as "a grass-roots activist," who opened her upstate New York home as a station on the underground railroad to help escaping slaves reach freedom in Canada and who was active in the temperance movement, which was of vital interest to women who were victims of alcohol-related violence and poverty. She was also an intellectual, who researched and wrote voluminously about how what she called "the Patriarchate" oppressed women's lives.
It's a fun bit of trivia, I think, that Gage's daughter Julia married Lyman Frank Baum, who had not yet written The Wonderful World of Oz, with its intrepid girl hero, Dorothy Gale of Kansas, who manages to get along pretty well without swooning at the first hint of danger or needing the assistance of, ahem, men. (Let's face it, Dorothy already had plenty of brains, heart, and courage and only showed how over-rated these were in, ahem, men.)
Feminist Theorists is still in print and used copies (like mine!) are readily available for modest sums. I highly recommend this particular book to anyone wanting a historical overview of the continuing battle for the rights of women.