Collective Biographies of Women
Note: The Pop Chart (a feature of the book How to Make It as a Woman) is designed to measure the relative standing of the most popular female subjects 1830-1940. The measure is only relative, but it gives some idea of both the types and the individuals that were regularly featured. It is based on the tables of contents of all non-specialized collective biographies of women published in English during three twenty-year spans, 1850-1870, 1880-1900, 1910-1930, periods of highest publication rates. I selected any collection published during these years that ostensibly was open to any noteworthy female subject--that is, that announced no exclusivity other than being all-female. In some cases collections that specialize by nationality or role were included if they were wide-ranging, for instance "wives" or "good women" across centuries, or Englishwomen of all sorts. The numbers in the chart do not indicate the total of biographical records of a particular subject during these three time periods, of course, because there were many other more specialized collections as well as some single biographies. To include specialized collections of queens, nurses, Scotswomen, or Quakers thus would show that the total rates of appearances for Victoria, Nightingale, MacDonald, Fry, or others were higher during these decades. Some common kinds of heroines are missing from the chart because they usually appear in specialized collections, such as the extremely popular biblical women or the less common fictional or notorious women. Further, the chart omits a variety of women who appear less often in these samples of inclusive collections, because so many individuals surface only once or a few times. To be entered on the chart, a subject had to appear in four or more general collections in at least one period and, with a few exceptions, to appear in more than one period.
A subject's highest number of appearances in general collections in any one of the three periods is highlighted in rose, giving some indication of her rising or falling popularity. Each subject has been assigned a category or type that corresponds to the reason for her renown, though several could be placed in more than one category. The user, then, can see which of these subjects is the most popular queen or philanthropist by consulting the rose-colored highlighting in the "Total" column; thus Queen Victoria is the most commonly represented queen in these samples, and Elizabeth Fry the most commonly represented philanthropist. These categories, condensing a variety of women, give some sense of the customary assortments in these books, and the scores of the leading examples in each category suggest the relative standing of these roles or vocations. A single extraordinary figure can throw off the rankings, of course. Thus, Florence Nightingale brings up the category of Nursing Reform above Philanthrophy/Reform, though most of the nurses were less prominent than the philanthropists. Joan of Arc is an enduring paragon, combining sanctity with the functions of reform, revolution, and adventure (including combat), as well as the historical prominence of the queens and women of rank. To have placed her in Religious Mission would have catapulted that category to the top, misrepresenting the other more perishable models listed there.
The columns may be sorted to help locate subjects alphabetically or in order of popularity, within each period or altogether. The name of each subject is a link to the books in the bibliography in which biographies of that subject appear. Because some of these books were specialized rather than inclusive collections, they were not part of the "Pop Chart" sample. Accordingly, searchers will be able to identify even more biographies of these women than are counted in the Pop Chart.