Pfaelzer, Jean 1944-

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Pfaelzer, Jean 1944-


Born 1944, in CA; married Peter J. Panuthos (a judge); children: Johanna Justine Pfaelzer, Jonathan Panuthos, Sophie Meira Panuthos. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A. (with honors), 1965, M.A., 1967; Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, graduate diploma, 1970; University College, London, England, Ph.D.


Office—Department of English, University of Delaware, 316 Memorial Hall, Newark, DE 19716. E-mail—[email protected].


University of London, London, England, supervisor and tutor in the external degree division; California State University, Humboldt, visiting assistant professor; University of California, San Diego, assistant professor, director of humanities; National Labor Law Center, Washington, DC, executive director, 1982-83; speech writer and senior legislative analyst for Congressman Frank McCloskey (8th District, IN); University of Delaware, Newark, visiting professor, 1985-87, associate professor, 1987-95, professor of English, 1996—, appointments to women's and Asian studies, director of the university honors writing program. Served on the Washington, DC, Commission for Women; associated with the television documentary The Chinese Experience in Rural California, produced by Public Broadcasting Service; consultant, advisor.


Society for the Study of American Women Writers (founding member; member of executive board, 1999-2002), Society for Utopian Studies (executive board, 2006—), American Studies Association (chair of International Women's Task Force, 1996-98, ex-officio, 1999—).


Grants from the University of California, University of Delaware, American Philosophical Society, National Endowment for the Humanities, U.S. Information Agency, Pew Charitable Trust, Center for International Studies, WNET, Tracy Memorial Trust, Library of Congress, and Department of Education.


The Utopian Novel in America, 1886-1896: The Politics of Form, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1984.

(Editor) A Rebecca Harding Davis Reader: "Life in the Iron-Mills," Selected Fiction & Essays, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995.

Parlor Radical: Rebecca Harding Davis and the Origins of American Social Realism, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1996.

(Editor) Mary E. Bradley Lane, Mizora: A Prophecy, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2000.

Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to works by others, including American National Biography, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999; A Dictionary of Literary Utopias, Champion-Slatkine de Paris (Paris, France), 2000; and Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working Class History, edited by Eric Arnesen, Routledge (New York, NY), 2006. Contributor to periodicals, including Legacy, Science Fiction Studies, Frontiers, Minnesota Review, International Journal of Women's Studies, Extrapolations, Journal of American Studies, and Left History. Member of the editorial board of Utopian Studies Journal, 1993—, executive board, 2003—; member of the editorial boards of Legacy and the Journal of American Women's Writing, 1996-2001; member of the editorial board of the Syracuse University Press "Biography" series, 1995—.


Jean Pfaelzer is a professor of English and American studies who has taught undergraduate classes in American women's literature, labor fiction, film and culture, and utopian fiction. Her graduate courses include cultural studies, feminist theory, realism and representation, and American women writers and their cultural and political contexts. Pfaelzer worked in Washington, DC, first for the National Labor Center as its director, and then for Congressman Frank McCloskey. She worked on early versions of the Family and Medical Leave Act and acted as a consultant for an organization of female coal miners.

Pfaelzer's books reflect her academic and research interests. As editor of A Rebecca Harding Davis Reader: "Life in the Iron-Mills," Selected Fiction & Essays, Pfaelzer offers a new collection of the writings of Davis (1830-1910), author of Life in the Iron-Mills (1861), a powerful and truthful account of life among the laboring class. From 1861 to 1910, Davis published hundreds of essays and stories and twelve novels, many of which were published serially. Davis's writing had been all but forgotten when it was revived by the Feminist Press in 1972. Belles Lettres contributor Laura Hapke wrote that Pfaelzer's collection, which she described as "carefully compiled and meticulously edited," offers readers interested in the fiction of social protest, as well as Davis scholars "a chance to study how, as Pfaelzer observes, an important 19th-century woman writer ‘encoded and struggled to change the attitudes of her time.’" Essay topics include utopian communities, emancipation, female independence, aging, rural and urban despair, romantic thought, and the industrial revolution.

Davis never took part in public protests, campaigns, or lobbying efforts launched by women's organizations, but was able to expose the social and cultural practices that limited women. She felt that they, like slaves, were trapped. As Duangrudi Suksang noted in a review of Parlor Radical: Rebecca Harding Davis and the Origins of American Social Realism, "To Davis, women and blacks suffer the same fate—‘physical abuse, psychological intimidation, economic deprivation, unrealizable goals, and painful limits on their aspirations.’" Suksang concluded by writing: "Parlor Radical provides a fascinating look at Rebecca Harding Davis. Pfaelzer's critical analysis of Davis's works, interspersed with Davis's biographical information and historical accounts, helps the reader to understand why Davis is considered ‘a founder of American realism’. … Pfaelzer makes her study accessible because she has avoided cumbersome jargon of literary criticism, which often confuses the reader. That she summarizes each work before her analysis allows the reader to understand her points more readily and clearly. I find Pfaelzer's critical study of Rebecca Harding Davis illuminating and insightful. It is well researched and documented."

Pfaelzer's interest in the plight of Chinese Americans led to her speaking to organizations that included Chinese historical societies and Asian American organizations. In May of 2001, she first made known some of the content of Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans while speaking during the "Asian Heritage Month" series at the Library of Congress, an event attended by leaders of the Chinese American community, historians, librarians, and scholars. The book is a study of the response of Americans to the Chinese who immigrated to the United States from 1849 to the early twentieth century—at twenty-five thousand, a relatively small percentage of the two million who fled China. They became important to the American economy, but in just a few decades, nearly half were deported or killed, and those who remained were driven into urban ghettos. Laws at every level barred the Chinese from citizenship and public employment, and they were required to carry identification cards that resembled dog tags and pay high fees in order to work in mines, one of the few hard jobs they were allowed to do. They were also hired to lay railroad track, and to work in canneries, laundries, and cigar factories.

A form of ethnic cleansing was practiced as politicians, newspapers, merchants, and skilled workers denounced Chinese they said were taking jobs, undercutting wages, and spreading diseases. They were also driven from their homes, particularly in California towns, and in other states, including Wyoming, they were terrorized and assassinated. In many cases the Chinese fought back, taking up arms, organizing boycotts, practicing civil disobedience, and turning to the courts for justice and reparations, all with limited success.

Eric Arnesen reviewed Driven Out in the Chicago Tribune, writing that it "is a sober account of immigration, race and violence. The passionate anti-Chinese sentiment captured in its pages does not reflect a temporary, episodic, or localized spike of intolerance that can be easily dismissed. Rather, Pfaelzer's focus on the ‘litany of hate’ directed against the Chinese portrays it as a deep-seated and widespread phenomenon, one that was central to the forging of an American identity in the 19th Century."



American Historical Review, April, 1987, Michael Fellman, review of The Utopian Novel in America, 1886-1896: The Politics of Form, p. 499.

American Literature, March, 1998, Katherine Stubbs, review of Parlor Radical: Rebecca Harding Davis and the Origins of American Social Realism, p. 189.

American Studies, fall, 1999, Glen Henlder, review of Parlor Radical, p. 198.

Belles Lettres, January, 1996, Laura Hapke, review of A Rebecca Harding Davis Reader: "Life in the Iron-Mills," Selected Fiction & Essays, p. 5.

Booklist, May 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans, p. 68.

Chicago Tribune, December 8, 2007, Eric Arnesen, review of Driven Out.

English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, fall, 2001, Emily Clark, review of Mizora: A Prophecy, p. 533.

Journal of American History, December, 1997, Myra C. Glenn, review of Parlor Radical, p. 1081.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2007, review of Driven Out.

Library Journal, February 15, 1985, Leland Krauth, review of The Utopian Novel in America, 1886-1896, p. 169; December, 1996, Carolynne Myall, review of Parlor Radical, p. 118.

New York Times Book Review, July 29, 2007, Patricia Nelson Limerick, review of Driven Out.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, December, 1997, review of Parlor Radical, p. 407.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 1997, review of Parlor Radical, p. 136.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 3, 2007, Tony Platt, review of Driven Out.

Studies in Short Fiction, summer, 1996, Heather Kirk Thomas, review of A Rebecca Harding Davis Reader, p. 445.

Times Literary Supplement, December 5, 1997, review of Parlor Radical, p. 31.

Utopian Studies, spring, 1996, Carol Farley Kessler, review of A Rebecca Harding Davis Reader, p. 316; spring, 1997, Duangrudi Suksang, review of Parlor Radical, p. 164.


Blog Critics, (May 30, 2007), Heloise, review of Driven Out.

Driven Out Web site, drivenout (December 26, 2007).