“The chief editor, fund raiser, cheerleader and occasional staff photographer” is the way the Chronicle of Higher Education described Florence Howe’s work at the Feminist Press. She has made the publishing company her life’s work.
Florence Howe was born on March 17, 1929, in New York City to Samuel and Frances (Stilly) Rosenfeld. Her father was a taxi driver and her mother a bookkeeper. She received her B.A. from Hunter College in 1950 and her M.A. from Smith College in 1951. She then did graduate study at the University of Wisconsin from 1951 to 1954.
From 1954 until 1957, Howe was an instructor in English at Hofstra College (now University) in Hempstead, New York. During part of that time she was also a lecturer in English at Queens College. From 1960 until 1971, Howe was assistant professor of English at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland. It was during that time that she founded the Feminist Press.
Dedicated to making available the works of women writers, the Feminist Press quickly became a valuable resource and a voice of change. Its first publication was a children’s book about a little girl who wanted to be a doctor, but its specialty soon became reprints of the works of little-known women writers. In 1973, Howe edited, with Ellen Bass, the landmark anthology of women’s poetry No More Masks. Its influence on the literary world and on women was immediate and profound. The press has also published a number of “readers” focused on various women’s issues or groups of women. One of the most important of these is All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies (1982), edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith.
Howe has written several books, including The Conspiracy of the Young (1970) and The Impact of Women’s Studies on the Curriculum and the Disciplines (1980), both coauthored by her then husband, Paul Lauter. Her essays were collected in a book entitled Myths of Coeducation: Selected Essays, 1964–1983 (1984). She has edited a number of anthologies in addition to No More Masks and has herself been included in several others.
In 1993, a second edition of No More Masks was published by HarperCollins. Again, Howe edited the volume and wrote the introduction. For many who had long awaited the book, it was somewhat disappointing. One reviewer noted that Howe’s selection of poems was “surprisingly narrow” and that those poems which were chosen did not usually demand much of the reader. Still, even this critic conceded that “Howe’s material is so rich that she can’t help but hit the nail on the head some or even much of the time.”
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ellen Coughlin quoted Howe’s own summation of her work at the Feminist Press. “I don’t think there’s a lot of magic in it. What matters is finding someone who thinks about publishing in a somewhat different way from traditional publishers, and I think I do that. I don’t think of publishing either as money making for the moment or as noise making for the moment. I really think about publishing in relation to learning and consciousness over the long haul, and what is needed to make something that represents more accurately the world we live in.”
SELECTED WORKS BY FLORENCE HOWE
Almost Touching the Skies: Women’s Coming of Age Stories (2000); The Politics of Women’s Studies: Testimony from Thirty Founding Mothers, Vol. 5 of The Women’s Studies History Series (2000); Women’s Studies, A World View. Women’s Studies Quarterly (2001).
Bekker, Karen. “25 Years of Celebrating Women Authors.” Lilith (September 30, 1995); Contemporary Authors; Coughlin, Ellen. “The Chief Editor, Fund Raiser, and Cheerleader of the Feminist Press.” Chronicle of Higher Education; Oktenberg, Adrian. “Smashing the Mold Straight Off: Feminist Poetry Now.” Kenyon Review (June 1, 1994); Who’s Who of American Women (1996).
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Thompson, Kathleen. "Florence Howe." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 10, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/howe-florence>.