Solinger, Rickie 1947-

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Solinger, Rickie 1947-


Born April 21, 1947. Education: Earned Ph.D.


Home—Boulder, CO. Office—WAKEUP/ARTS, 1017 Maxwell Ave., Boulder, CO 80304.


Historian and writer.


Women United for Justice, Community, and Family (cofounder).


Women's Caucus winner from Popular Culture Association, Emily Toth Award from American Culture Association, New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, and Lerner-Scott Award from Organization of American Historians, all 1992, all for Wake up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade; Prelinger Award, 2001.


Wake up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade, Routledge (New York, NY), 1992.

The Abortionist: A Woman against the Law, Free Press (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor) Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 2001.

(Editor, with Gwendolyn Mink) Welfare: A Documentary History of U.S. Policy and Politics, foreword by Frances Fox Piven, New York University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America, New York University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to books, including Bad Mothers, edited by Molly Ladd-Taylor and Lauri Umansky, 1998. Also contributor to periodicals, including Gender and History, Feminist Studies, and Social Justice.


Rickie Solinger describes herself as an independent scholar who writes regular book reviews and copyedits manuscripts for various publishing companies. She also does extensive research and has published several books that focus on issues of reproductive and economic justice for women. She took up this theme for her first book, Wake up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade, and collaborated with a group of artists to create room-sized art installations that give viewers a visual representation of her studies of women's reproductive rights. These installations have traveled all over the United States and have been shown in galleries on college campuses. She also created a photographic exhibition, titled "The Faces of Women in Poverty: Strength, Dignity, Determination," which she has displayed at various sites in Colorado. Also in connection with her work, Solinger is a founder of Women United for Justice, Community, and Family, a coalition based in Boulder, Colorado, that is committed to welfare justice. Furthermore, she often speaks to groups on issues of poverty, welfare, and economic justice.

The title of Solinger's Wake up Little Susie refers to the once-popular 1958 song by the Everly Brothers that subtly suggests a sexual liaison between a young man and woman who then fall asleep together while on a date. The young man is trying to awaken the woman by relating his fears that they are going to be in trouble when they have to face their parents. Solinger takes this theme one step further, jumping to the foregone conclusion that not only did Susie and her boyfriend have sex, but also that she is pregnant. Susie, in Solinger's case, represents any young woman who may have found herself unmarried and with child. The author, after scouring reference material that she gathered about this issue during the twenty years between 1945 and 1965, discovered that there were striking differences between the treatments of middle-class, white pregnant teenagers and poor, black pregnant teenagers.

In Wake up Little Susie, Solinger reports that, prior to 1945, unwed mothers were ostracized. They were considered bad girls, whether or not they were products of upper-class or working-class families, or if they were from black or white ethnic groups. However, after World War II, Solinger found that a distinct gap formed between the races, which was produced by a shift in social attitude. Suddenly, white unwed mothers were enticed to offer their babies for adoption, thus increasing the white population by producing children for otherwise childless marriages. On the other hand, stereotypes of black sexual promiscuity spread, leaving young, African American, unwed mothers accused of using their pregnancies as an excuse to gain welfare benefits. Solinger argues that this dual classification was the direct result of low birth rates in the white baby adoption market and high birth rates among African Americans, which produced a fear in many white people that African Americans would overpopulate the country.

Deirdre English, reviewing Wake up Little Susie for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, found Solinger's conclusions "timely and perceptive," despite all the changes in attitude, government regulations, and publicity of positive role models of single mothers since the 1960s. English referred to such common contemporary slurs still present in commentary about unwed mothers, such as "‘slut’ to ‘black matriarch,’ ‘man-hating feminist’ to ‘welfare cheat,’ ‘unwed baby’ … to ‘bastard.’" English then turned to Solinger's book and pointed out some differences that exist between the attitudes of the 1960s and today. She related how Solinger reports that, prior to the 1960s, unwed mothers were usually expelled from high school by law. Social workers, under the popular influence of Freudian theories, believed that young girls got pregnant out of anger and rebellion against their parents. Solinger gives an example of one young man, who, upon being told by his girlfriend that she was pregnant, replied, "God help me, I'm ashamed of you." Whereas white girls were encouraged, and sometimes tricked, into giving their babies away for adoption, Solinger found that "one African-American woman who tried to give her baby to a hospital for adoption was arrested for desertion." The pressures placed upon both races when faced with unwanted pregnancies led to a rise in illegal abortions, which in turn spurred a campaign for abortion reform, which culminated with the landmark Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade in 1972.

Solinger's next book, The Abortionist: A Woman against the Law, relates the experiences of Ruth Barnett, an abortionist who lived in Portland, Oregon, between 1918 and 1968. Solinger contends that it was the law that prohibited abortions, not "back-street abortionists," that endangered women's lives prior to the legalization of the practice. Barnett was a legitimate doctor with a successful business. She performed forty thousand abortions without causing medical complications. However, after World War II, political pressures and needs for sensational newspaper stories began to mount, and Barnett was continuously hounded. Many women were forced to seek out less-professional abortionists, or attempted to abort their fetuses themselves, when doctors such as Barnett became inaccessible. This practice led to serious injury and sometimes death. A writer for Kirkus Reviews described Ruth Barnett as a "compelling character" and recommended Solinger's book as an introduction to "the underdocumented history of illegal abortion" and "women's reproductive rights."

Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, which Solinger edited, followed The Abortionist. The book offers a collection of feminist essays that look at the various arguments that made up the struggle to legalize abortion, including religious, racial, cultural, and political issues. Contributors to the volume include Marsha Saxton, who is a rights activist for individuals with disabilities. Saxton's essay addresses the issue of prenatal testing, speaking out against the policy and arguing that the right to choose is not necessarily the right to choose selectively—eliminating pregnancies where the baby might be disabled simply because it is a possibility. She stresses that anti-abortion activists often use this type of selective choice as a reason why abortion should be made illegal, while she herself believes that a woman should have a right to choose, even while she disagrees with choosing to cut short the development of a potentially disabled baby. Another essay, by Dr. Elizabeth Karlin, explains why she believes in a woman's ability to have control over her body, and to terminate a pregnancy if it is not the right choice for her, noting that she does not believe that pregnancy should be some form of punishment inflicted on a woman who chooses to be sexually active. Dave Andrusko, in a review for First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, found the essays uneven overall, but commented of the book that "several contributions make it very much worth reading." Jan Collins, writing for Nieman Reports, remarked that the "essays in Solinger's book contain a wealth of historical, legal, political and philosophical information about abortion, but anti-abortion activists won't find much fodder here." NWSA Journal contributor Nancy L. Ashton remarked: "The articles in the Solinger book, besides being readable and accessible to a wide audience, bring the human dimension into the history described and the future envisioned."

Solinger's Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States takes the issues of unwed mothers, abortion, and race one step further. In it, Solinger takes on what some reviewers have called a feminist history of public policy on the issue of abortion since Roe v. Wade. One of Solinger's main themes in Beggars and Choosers is the change in attitude toward abortion as reflected in a shift in word selection from "abortion rights" to the less dramatic "woman's choice." Embedded in this rephrasing is the underlying assumption, Solinger contends, that some women make good choices and other woman make bad ones. Often, Solinger writes, this opens the door for economic and racial presumptions, causing perceived disparities between women of different socio-economic groups and races. She believes that women need to reintroduce the concept of abortion as a right.

Beggars and Choosers was recommended for women's rights advocates by Mary Jane Brustman, who reviewed the book in Library Journal. Brustman stated that despite the fact that there are many books that deal with the topic of "choice," Solinger's "juxtaposition of choice and class" make this book "insightful reading." Likewise, the book was also recommended by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who called it "a provocative read for any modern feminist."

In Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America, Solinger addresses the entire history of women's struggle to have control over their reproductive systems, looking not only at the more recent issue of legalized abortion but at the regulation of the fertility of women throughout history. She looks at how different social and economic problems over the years have been associated with women's fertility, often depending on the race and economic background of the women in question as well. For instance, the fertility of minorities is often linked to a drain on society due to socio-economic considerations, while the fertility of women linked to men in power is vital to ensure the continuation of an elite or ruling dynasty. Natasha Abbas, writing for off our backs, praised Solinger's effort for its fair-mindedness, noting that "the large majority of sources, historians, and legal scholars quoted and referenced throughout the book are women, and very often, women of color." A contributor to Reference & Research Book News called the book "both fascinating and troubling."



Booklist, September 1, 1994, William Beatty, review of The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law, pp. 10-11; July, 2001, Mary Carroll, review of Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States, p. 1959.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, January, 1999, Dave Andrusko, review of Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, p. 62.

Journal of Social History, winter, 1993, Susan Harari, review of Wake up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade, pp. 393-395.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1994, review of The Abortionist, p. 1063.

Library Journal, August, 2001, Mary Jane Brustman, review of Beggars and Choosers, p. 138.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 14, 1992, Deirdre English, review of Wake up Little Susie, pp. 1, 8.

Nation, July 6, 1992, Eileen Boris, review of Wake up Little Susie, pp. 24-26; January 30, 1995, Leora Tanenbaum, review of The Abortionist, pp. 142-144.

Nieman Reports, spring, 1998, Jan Collins, review of Abortion Wars.

NWSA Journal, fall, 1998, Nancy L. Ashton, review of Abortion Wars.

off our backs, April, 2006, Natasha Abbas, review of Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America, p. 86.

Publishers Weekly, September 5, 1994, review of The Abortionist, p. 102; July 30, 2001, review of Beggars and Choosers, p. 71.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2006, review of Pregnancy and Power.