Hotbed coverHotbed: Bohemian Greenwich Village and the Secret Club that Sparked Modern Feminism
Joanna Scutts
Seal Press (June 7, 2022), 417 pages
Kindle edition $14.95, Amazon hardcover $23.99

I like to say that I was raised by feminists at Pitzer College in the 1970s and that really is true. I arrived at Pitzer in the fall of 1971, just as second wave feminism was gaining momentum. Of course, we didn’t call it “second wave.” It was just feminism, and my sister Pitzer students did a lot to alter my attitudes and perceptions. I have been a staunch feminist ever since, as my wife Terry can attest. It was in that context that I saw a review of Hotbed and decided that I needed to read it.

The book focuses on a private woman’s club called Heterodoxy that met regularly in New York City during the early 1900s to discuss social values and share ideas. Even back then the women called themselves feminists and believed women had the right to independent lives and to make their own decisions.

Like many others involved in the bohemian culture of New York City, members left town during the summer. Many went to Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, and some of the same names that appear in the book The Shores of Bohemia, about which I recently wrote, appear here as well.

While the initial idea for the club was primarily social, these women, being who they were, did not shy away from larger issues. The book describes how they fought the New York City public schools in its policy of not allowing teachers to be married, and then for penalizing married teachers who got pregnant.

Members of the group did not stop there, however. They became involved in workplace issues around the treatment of workers and worker safety. The group was not only concerned about the safety of women in the workplace, but about the disparity between rich and poor when it came to family planning. The rich had access to those resources; the poor did not. Author Joanna Scutts writes that Heterodoxy members believed, “All women deserved to know how their bodies worked, and poor women had as much right to plan their families and love freely and joyfully as rich women did.”

Heterodoxy members became part of the civil rights movement, opposing discrimination based on race. They protested Woodrow Wilson’s policy of suppressing dissent during the First World War, and many were opposed to the war itself.

And, of course, they fought for the right to vote. Scutts describes their failure to secure the vote for women in New York state before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. She recounts how not all women were in favor of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, as some felt that women should be a protected class.

The Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting liquor was ratified in 1919. The nineteenth was ratified in 1920. While Scutts mentions prohibition, she fails to discuss the fact that, as I have read in other accounts, many feminists were in favor of prohibition. Their rationale was that American men were getting drunk, beating their wives, neglecting their children, and jeopardizing their jobs. It’s an odd omission.

That omission notwithstanding, Hotbed is a highly readable depiction of a part of American history that doesn’t get sufficient attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s