was more than a teacher, she was a writer, an organizer and a
dynamic motivator, willing to handle any size job she felt
important. When I met Julie I naturally expected the best and
was not disappointed. She was extremely diligent in collecting
material of all sorts from my records, in interviewing me and
has given a great deal of her time and energy in putting it all
together into a historical document. Since most of you are
Fascinating Womanhood followers, I thought you would be
interested in reading the following interview regarding her
The Fascinating Womanhood Movement
Please tell us about your background as a Research
Historian, the University you are affiliated with and the line
of research you have been working on.
am a graduate student in the final stages of my doctoral
program in American history at Washington State University in
Pullman, Washington. I did my undergraduate work at Pacific
Lutheran University, earning a dual degree in American history
and religion, and a Master’s degree in Religious Studies from
Gonzaga University in Spokane. I have always been intrigued by
the study of religion and history together. In my mind, one
can’t fully understand religion without history, or history
without religion. I have always been better at history than
theology, so when it came to the decision about where to do my
graduate work, I decided on a state university rather than
divinity school. WSU has been very good to allow me to combine
my interest in the study of religion with my program in
What prompted you to choose the Fascinating Womanhood Movement
as the study for your doctorate? Actually, my mother taught
FW back when I was in grade school. Sometimes when she was
getting ready for classes she would assign me the job of
stapling together class materials. She would practice being
feminine around the house, and we were all quite impressed with
the transformation she made once she read Mrs. Andelin’s book
and began believing she was a truly fascinating person. She
seemed genuinely happy to have found her place in life helping
other women with their marriages. I read FW many times
as a kid, along with Fascinating Girl, and all of the
other books my mother used for teaching.
At some point,
she stopped teaching and I went away to college, and then on to
have a family of my own. I kept reading. Over time, I rejected
most of FW as being old-fashioned, sexist, and even silly. In
fact, I pretty much forgot about it altogether, though I was
always drawn to the question of women’s experience in my
after I had begun my doctoral work the subject of Fascinating
Womanhood came up in a lecture in one of my American
history classes. My instructor, who later became my mentor,
pointed out that millions of women had read FW and
followed Andelin’s philosophy in response to Betty Friedan’s
feminist critique in her ground breaking book, The Feminine
believe I was hearing this in a college class. For whatever
reasons, I had assumed FW was a local phenomenon – kind of a
fad that had lived and died in and around the small town where
I grew up. I had never thought about it before in the larger
context of American cultural history and certainly not in
relationship to the feminist movement. It dawned on me that if
millions of women had read this book, and tens of
thousands had taken the kinds of classes my mother had taught
thirty years earlier, and a very distinguished American
historian was talking about it in a huge lecture hall, then
Fascinating Womanhood was something much bigger and more
enduring in the history of this country than I had ever
I went up to the
professor after class and said, “…you won’t believe this,
but my mom used to teach those classes back in the 70’s.
I was raised that way.” A few days later, he brought
me an early edition of Fascinating Womanhood and said,
“maybe you can do something with this.” I knew then that I
had what every serious historian dreams of – the desire to
write good, solid history along with first-hand knowledge about
an incredible subject that had been overlooked by everyone
else. I crossed my fingers and hoped that Mrs. Andelin would
agree to work with me.
you interviewed Mrs. Andelin personally on the subject of
Fascinating Womanhood? How did you actually go about it? Did
you find a lot of material to review? Did it supply answers to
I did interview Mrs. Andelin personally. In fact, I was able to
spend two weeks with her at her family farm in Missouri. She
not only housed and fed me, but also generously gave me access
to all of her personal files, papers, and photographs. We were
able to record over twenty-one hours of taped conversations
about her life, the FW movement, and what she is doing now.
Mrs. Andelin is a passionate woman with incredible stamina and
an urgent sense of mission. She is also extremely organized. We
stayed up past midnight on many occasions recording our
conversations. No matter how late we talked into the night, she
was up at daybreak the next morning keeping right on track with
her office work. I was also able to interview three of her
eight children while I was in Missouri, which is remarkable.
The amount of
information that I gathered was staggering. I was under intense
pressure to extract the data from the documents quickly before
the entire collection was donated to another research
university. I worked non-stop while I was in Missouri, and then
day and night for several months on papers that I had brought
home with me. Nothing could have prepared me for the kind of
anxiety I experienced at this point in the project. I worried
incessantly about the time constraints, and became incredibly
discouraged. I even got sick. I am grateful that I had a
wonderful mentor who guided me through this phase of research.
He taught me to step back and let history take its natural
course. I have an assistant, now who has been a great help in
transcribing the tapes and analyzing the demographic data that
I gleaned from the records while I had access to them.
continues to send me new material on a regular basis, and is
extremely conscientious about keeping me updated with current
correspondence amongst her devotees. It is a wonderful project.
I have been incredibly lucky. We are still working hard.
you find that Fascinating Womanhood is truly a movement, rather
than just Helen Andelin and her followers? Perhaps you can
explain a little about what “a movement” means.
kind of social movement is larger than the single person who
articulates it. Otherwise, the original intentions of the
leader wouldn’t endure beyond that person’s particular time
in the limelight. What makes any message resonate beyond the
excitement of the immediate moment is that it is communicated
in the right place, at the right time, by people who will
listen when they are ready to hear it. Otherwise, it isn’t a
message at all, but a fad that will simply die out when it is
no longer relevant.
Andelin wrote Fascinating Womanhood in 1963 she had the
right message at the right time. She provided an alternative
voice to feminism, and she was in the right place to do it.
This was crucial to huge numbers of women, particularly in the
west where Andelin started out. Many women in this part of the
country saw themselves as having been discounted and left
behind by the very vocal but relatively small group of eastern
educated elite who led the women’s movement. Andelin made
sense to these women, and they wanted to listen to her.
She had something important to say and she was articulate. Most
importantly, she combined original thinking with the nerve to
step forward in order to make herself heard in the discussion
about the place of women in this country.
Later, she had
the grace to step back and modify her approach when the climate
of the country changed. Women are still listening to her all
over the world because, whether you agree with her or not, she
continues to be relevant. This is different than being popular.
And, herein lies her power. Helen Andelin doesn’t care what
people think of her personally. Fascinating Womanhood is the
message, and for Andelin, the message is larger than she is. In
fact, it is the only thing that counts. In this sense, the FW
movement isn’t about Helen Andelin at all. She didn’t write
the book for herself, but for the millions of women she
believes it speaks for. I call FW the “other” women’s
movement. With or without Andelin, I think it will be around
for a long, long while.
Were you a skeptic when you first started the interview?
you mean did I doubt the seriousness or dedication of Helen
Andelin? The answer is, no. Her success speaks for itself. All
you have to do is pick up any current best-selling relationship
manual and you can see the influence she has had. People don’t
quote her directly, but they use her material all the time. She
is a force to be reckoned with, and I continue to be honored
that she graciously agreed to work with me.
If you are asking
me whether or not I was concerned that I would personally
disagree with Andelin’s message, no. I already knew what
Fascinating Womanhood stood for, and I respected it as a
significant historical event. I did feel uniquely qualified to
write about it, though, and that was enough. My job is to write
a fair and accurate history of the movement because it affected
millions of women, not because it supports or does not support
my own agenda. Women are intelligent. They can decide what they
think without me putting in my two cents worth.
things about the movement impress you the most?
endurance. Helen Andelin wrote Fascinating Womanhood
forty years ago. She still gets fan mail, book orders, and
applications from women who want to teach classes every day.
The message that Andelin articulated in 1964 still resonates
with women all over the world. It is also remarkable that FW
seems to cut across racial, cultural, geographic and social
boundaries. In this sense, it seems to have universal
qualities. Women want to improve their relationships with their
husbands. They want to be good mothers. They want to feel
better about themselves. FW speaks to these desires. It is a
philosophy that encourages women to go back and try again when
they feel like they have failed.
In many ways FW
is a huge support group. The face of the movement has changed
over the years. In the beginning, women learned about it mostly
by word of mouth. Over time Andelin became a media sensation.
She trained thousands of teachers and gave hundreds of
interviews. The movement grew at an incredible rate, and
Andelin increasingly relied on the help of her husband, and
other business professionals to standardize the organization so
that it would not lose its original character. It was a
monumental job to keep the philosophy, literature, and teaching
consistent during a period of such enormous growth.
At the height of
her career, Andelin moved with her husband and children to a
farm in rural Missouri, effectively removing herself from the
grueling schedule of interviews, lectures and media attention
that she had been subjecting herself to for years. She lowered
her own profile and concentrated on the essentials of her
message. This turned out to be a bold and surprisingly
effective strategy. While many competing philosophies emerged
and died out, Fascinating Womanhood quietly endured for another
twenty years without fanfare. These days Helen herself is back
at the helm of the FW organization, but remains out of the
media spotlight. I think it works better that way. Andelin’s
philosophies are strongest at the grassroots level where they
remain undiluted, very personal, and can be articulated through
a smaller, more close-knit community.
Mrs. Andelin what you thought she would be, or different?
I met Mrs.
Andelin for the first time when I was a teenager. She was in my
hometown giving a lecture during the big push to defeat the
Equal Rights Amendment. I watched her walk off an airplane, and
she reminded me very much of Jackie Kennedy. She was stylish,
graceful, and had a magnetic quality about her that I
recognized even as a kid. She was intense and kept to a strict
schedule, and people were drawn to her.
When I saw her
again thirty years later, she still had this persona. It was
different, though. She was older, a bit softer, and I found her
waiting patiently for me with one of her daughters at the
airport gate. She is a lovely woman with great intensity and we
began talking about the project the minute we got in the car
for the ride home. Mrs. Andelin is one of the most driven
individuals I have ever met. Her sense of urgency can be
intimidating. She is also profoundly generous, and has a quick
sense of humor. She was everything I thought she would be, but
much more than I had ever imagined.
understand you are writing a book to the public about the
Fascinating Womanhood Movment. It this in addition to your
dissertation or the same book? Tell us about your plans
for the book.
has been a great deal of interest in my project. I have had my
detractors, too. Some of my colleagues are mystified as to why
I am writing about a conservative women’s movement.
Overwhelmingly, though, I have found support in the academic
community, which I am grateful for. I have been urged to submit
my dissertation for publication by an academic press. While I
am confident the study will find a much larger audience than my
dissertation committee, I am hesitant to discuss any
developments about wider publication of the work until I have
finished the first order of business - satisfying the
requirements for my Ph.D. I hope to have this accomplished by
the end of May, 2007
A dissertation is
written for an academic audience, and is generally not suitable
for public consumption. However, a really good writer with an
exceptional subject can sometimes get a book contract from the
dissertation as it stands with relatively few revisions. This
is what I am shooting for. The subject is compelling, and I
have had an enthusiastic response to my writing so far. I’ll
keep you posted.
remarks: Last year Julie held the position as Visiting
Senior Lecturer in American Religion at Pacific Lutheran
University in Tacoma, Washington. She has taught classes in
religion and history at Gonzaga, and Washington State
Universities. She recently returned from a month in Italy where
she and another professor taught a course on Early Christianity
in Rome. She is the mother of three children, and lives in
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