Mary Pickford

Hollywood and the New Woman

Kathleen A. Feeley

First Edition • February 23, 2016 • 192 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813348056 • $22.00 USD$28.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813348063 • $9.99 USD$12.99 CAN

Courses: , ,

More by these authors: ,

Order an Exam or Desk Copy

Click here to read a sample from Mary Pickford.

On screen and off, movie star Mary Pickford personified the “New Woman” of the early 1900s—a moniker given to women who began to demand more autonomy inside and outside the home. Well educated and career-minded, these women also embraced the new mass culture in which consumption and leisure were seen to play a pivotal role in securing happiness. Mary Pickford: Hollywood and the New Woman examines Pickford’s role in the rise of industrial capitalism and consumer culture, and uses her life and unprecedented career as a wildly popular actress and savvy film mogul to illustrate the opportunities and obstacles faced by American women during this time.

Following Pickford’s life from her childhood on stage to her rise as a powerful studio executive, this book gives an overview of her enduring contribution to American film and mass culture. It also explores her struggles to surpass her confining public film persona as “America’s Sweetheart” with her creative and business achievements—mirroring how women, both then and today, must reconcile domestic life with professional aspirations and work.

See other titles in our Lives of American Women series here.

About the Lives of American Women series:

Selected and edited by renowned women’s historian Carol Berkin, these brief biographies are designed for use in undergraduate courses. Rather than a comprehensive approach, each biography focuses instead on a particular aspect of a women’s life that is emblematic of her time, or which made her a pivotal figure in the era. The emphasis is on a “good read,” featuring accessible writing and compelling narratives, without sacrificing sound scholarship and academic integrity. Primary sources at the end of each biography reveal the subject’s perspective in her own words. Study questions and an annotated bibliography support the student reader.

Kathleen A. Feeley is associate professor in the Department of History and an advisory board member of the Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Visual and Media Studies program at the University of Redlands.  She is co-editor (with Jennifer Frost) of When Private Talk Goes Public: Gossip in American History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).  She is at work on “The Mightiest Publicity Powers on Earth”: The Rise of the Hollywood Press Corps in Mid-Twentieth-Century America.  A former associate editor of Reviews in American History, she writes and teaches on media, gender, and popular and political culture in modern U.S. history.

Series Editor Carol Berkin is a well-known women’s historian and the author of many popular and scholarly books, including Civil War Wives. She is Professor of History Emerita at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and she is a member of the Society of American Historians.


1 From Gladys Smith to Mary Pickford: A Childhood on Stage and At Work, 1892-1909
2 Pickford and the Moving Pictures: Creating the Art and Business of Film, 1909–1913
3 A Star and a Producer are Born, 1913-1916
4 America’s Sweetheart and American Empire in the Age of the Great War, 1917-1920
5 Mary and Doug: American Royalty, Hollywood Style, 1920-1926
6 Weathering Personal, Industrial, and Economic Crises, 1927-1936
7 Studio Executive and Philanthropist: A Life Beyond Performing, 1936-1979

Primary Sources

Study Questions

“Mary Pickford emerges as a woman of depth and business acumen that bely her reputation as America’s Sweetheart. In this biography Pickford is the product of an underprivileged childhood and a rapidly changing America who has the wherewithal and talent to make it on her own. Her influence is felt far beyond the screen into the very depths of Hollywood’s development.”
—Tonia M. Compton, Columbia College of Missouri

Praise for the Lives of American Women series:

“Finally! The majority of students—by which I mean women—will have the opportunity to read biographies of women from our nation’s past. (Men can read them too, of course!) The ‘Lives of American Women’ series features an eclectic collection of books, readily accessible to students who will be able to see the contributions of women in many fields over the course of our history. Long overdue, these books will be a valuable resource for teachers, students, and the public at large.”
—Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty

“Just what any professor wants: books that will intrigue, inform, and fascinate students! These short, readable biographies of American women—specifically designed for classroom use—give instructors an appealing new option to assign to their history students.”
—Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History, Cornell University

“For educators keen to include women in the American story, but hampered by the lack of thoughtful, concise scholarship, here comes ‘Lives of American Women,’ embracing Abigail Adams’s counsel to John—‘remember the ladies.’ And high time, too!”
—Lesley S. Herrmann, Executive Director, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

“These books are, above all, fascinating stories that will engage and inspire readers. They offer a glimpse into the lives of key women in history who either defied tradition or who successfully maneuvered in a man’s world to make an impact. The stories of these vital contributors to American history deliver just the right formula for instructors looking to provide a more complicated and nuanced view of history.”
—Rosanne Lichatin, 2005 Gilder Lehrman Preserve America History Teacher of the Year

“Students both in the general survey course and in specialized offerings like my course on U.S. women’s history can get a great understanding of an era from a short biography. Learning a lot about a single but complex character really helps to deepen appreciation of what women’s lives were like in the past.”
—Patricia Cline Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Biographies are, indeed, back. Not only will students read them, biographies provide an easy way to demonstrate particularly important historical themes or ideas. . . . Undergraduate readers will be challenged to think more deeply about what it means to be a woman, citizen, and political actor. . . . I am eager to use this in my undergraduate survey and specialty course.”
—Jennifer Thigpen, Washington State University, Pullman

“The Lives of American Women authors raise all of the big issues I want my classes to confront—and deftly fold their arguments into riveting narratives that maintain students’ excitement.”
—Woody Holton, author of Abigail Adams

If you are a professor or course instructor, please use the following form to give us feedback on Mary Pickford: