Title Reviewed:
Alexandra Gripenberg's A Half Year in the New World: Miscellaneous Sketches of Travel in the United States (1888)

Author Reviewed:
Ernest J. Moyne

Emma Lou Thornbrough


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 81-83

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

Alexandra Gripenberg's A Half Year in the New World: Miscellaneous Sketches of Travel in the United States (1888). Translated and edited by Ernest J. Moyne. (Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1954, pp. xv, 225. Illustration and index. $4.00.)

Throughout the nineteenth century books on the United States by European travellers were popular in this country as well as in Europe. Some of them remain important sources of social history. To the accounts of earlier feminine visitors, such as Frances Trollope, Harriet Martineau, and Frederika Bremer, which have long been familiar to American readers, is now added A Half Year in the New World by Alexandra Gripenberg. The book, which appeared in 1889 and 1891 in Swedish and Finnish editions respectively, has recently been translated into English and edited by Ernest J. Moyne.

Alexandra Gripenberg, member of a distinguished Swedish-Finnish family, was the author of several other books and a leader in securing the emancipation of Finnish women. The present book is in the form of random recollections of her travels and observations during a six months tour of the United States in 1888. She came to this country as a delegate to the International Council of Women, which met in Washington, D.C. Her book contains an enthusiastic account of this convention, with sketches of such prominent feminists as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and May Wright Sewall. Next to the women's rights movement the author showed the greatest interest in American literature and literary figures, a subject about which she displayed considerable knowledge and appreciation. She visited several literary shrines and met a number of writers. Chapters in the book are devoted to such diverse literary figures as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Joaquin Miller. She was fascinated too by some of the new religious movements and made inquiries into Spiritualism, Christian Science, and Mormonism.

During her visit she travelled across the entire continent, observing many varied aspects of the American scene. In her book she sought to cover many other subjects, ranging from politics to the natural wonders of Niagara and Yosemite. Among the more entertaining parts is an account of conditions of railroad travel which she encountered on a trip from Chicago to San Francisco, where she attended a meeting of the National Education Association.

The author showed less understanding of American history and politics than of some other subjects. Although she attended the Republican National Convention of 1888 the complexities of American politics baffled her. Her account of the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties was an over-simplification, to say the least. She also made some egregious errors regarding history, as when she represented the Fourteenth Amendment as a cause of the Civil War.

She visited settlements of her Finnish compatriots in San Francisco and Ashtabula but found little to commend in their way of life (possibly because they retained their native fondness for strong drink, while she was a temperance advocate). On the other hand her attitude toward Americans and American institutions was generally sympathetic and frequently admiring. She had warm praise for American family life and especially for the liberty and esteem enjoyed by American women.

Alexandra Gripenberg's account is not so penetrating as the works of some other European visitors, but neither is it so biased as some others. Its publication adds an enjoyable item to the social history of the late nineteenth century.

Butler University Emma Lou Thornbrough

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.