Kimberly A. Hamlin. From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (Chicago University Press, 2014) 238 pages.
Review by Lilian Calles Barger
To address the eternal “woman question,” the emerging modern feminism of the Gilded Age turned to Charles Darwin for answers. In From Eve to Evolution, Kimberly A. Hamlin’s fascinating intellectual history uncovers how the new evolutionary science provided multiple arguments by which women advanced the cause of women’s rights and equality in the home and society. Most of us are familiar with the Enlightenment, religious, and socialist origins of feminist thought. Hamlin suggests another significant strand of thought offered by the science of human origins. She argues that Darwinism, often with varied and unorthodox interpretations, was effective in overturning a central ideological obstacle to women’s equality: the biblical story of Eve. Charles Darwin’s theory, against his own conservative masculinist views, turned traditional views of women upside down. Freethinkers, socialists, and sexologists seized on evolutionary science to build arguments against recalcitrant traditional views. They asserted that the culture of their age was an artificial construct of erroneous ideas and called for change in order to live in accordance with the evolutionary laws of nature. As what Hamlin calls “reform Darwinists,” her subjects stood against social Darwinism, religious teaching, and custom.