April 30, 2003
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.- In her new book, Being Good: Women's Moral Values in Early America ($30, 416 pp., Hall and Wang, New York, 2003), Martha Saxton, professor of history and women's and gender studies at Amherst College, examines the history of the moral values prescribed for women in early America, and concludes that the fetish of female chastity has been "one of the most enduring hindrances to women's equality."

Saxton considers the lives of girls, young unmarried women, young wives, mothers and older widows in 17th-century Boston, 18th-century Virginia and 19th-century St. Louis. Reading their diaries and personal papers, Saxton argues that as the country, the economy and slavery all expanded, white women's symbolic moral value rose as black women's fell. She explores how these changes both reflected and affected trends in the nation at large.

Saxton, the author of Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Biography (1977) and Jayne Mansfield and the Fifties (1975), has taught at Amherst since 1997. She received a B.A. from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from Columbia University.