Berch, Bettina 1950-

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Berch, Bettina 1950-


Born May 25, 1950, in Washington, DC; daughter of Julian (a research chemist) and Mollie (an educator) Berch. Education: Barnard College, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1971; University of Wisconsin—Madison, M.A. and Ph.D., 1976. Politics: "Sixties."


Office—878 West End Ave., No. 4A, New York, NY 10025. E-mail—[email protected].


Williams College, Williamstown, MA, assistant professor, 1976-77; Barnard College, New York, NY, assistant professor of economics, 1977-85.


Phi Beta Kappa.


Fellow of Smithsonian Institution, 1977-78; Slatten Award, Virginia Historical Society, 2000, for The Woman behind the Lens: The Life and Work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1864-1952.


The Endless Day: The Political Economy of Women and Work, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1982.

Radical by Design: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

The Woman behind the Lens: The Life and Work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1864-1952, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 2000.

Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including American History.


The subject of Bettina Berch's study Radical by Design: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes was best known as a political radical, feminist writer, and labor organizer. During World War II she was an active organizer of women workers at war plants across the country. Her political writing, which included a column in the Detroit Free Press, attracted the ominous attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hawes was also a noted clothing designer who graduated from Vassar College and studied the fashion business in Paris during the 1920s. She owned her own design business in New York City, and many of her creations have been collected at the Brooklyn Museum. Hawes was the author of the best seller Fashion Is Spinach, and her feminist perspective on fashion made her a popular contributor to such magazines as Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, and McCall's.

Berch once told CA: "I first decided to write the biography of Elizabeth Hawes when I opened up her FBI file and discovered she had a double life—or a double. By the time I figured out which it was, I found myself quite fascinated by the whole idea of biography, both as a way of ‘doing history’ and as a form of historical detective work. Since my subject lived out contradictions I too was experiencing, I provided myself with an extremely instructive life to consider.

"My next biographical subject is the American photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, who lived from 1864 to 1952. Another yet-to-be rediscovered American genius, Johnston, like Hawes, was a maverick and a woman of two worlds: society and bohemia. Somehow she made the tension work, which is why her story is interesting to tell.

"Now I'm on the trail of the writer Anzia Yezierska. The author of much autobiographical fiction, she remains a severe biographer's challenge: separating her stories from the realities of her life seems essential to figuring out why and how she lived—and wrote—the way she did. Destitute immigrant or American Cinderella? Hot-blooded hussy or coldly deliberate chronicler? The nexus of so many early twentieth-century movements—anarchism, progressivism, feminism, and bootstraps-success—Yezierska makes us rethink what it means to ‘find’ America."