Ellen Feldman ’64, M.A. ’67, found a way to put her Bryn Mawr history major—and her fascination with the past—to good use.
Feldman writes historical novels that, like her most recent offering about Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, imagine the private lives of very real public figures. The Boston Globe has praised her ability to forge “archival records, court records, and first-person accounts [into novels] that succeed overwhelmingly as works of imagination … distilled with great subtlety and wit.”
Terrible Virtue tells the story of Sanger’s lifelong mission to make birth control legal and accessible in the U.S. The novel traces Sanger’s life from the early years of the 20th century when served a prison term for opening the country’s first birth control clinic all the way to the 1960s when she played a key role in the development of the Pill. A heroic and often ruthless figure, Sanger dedicated her life to a cause that, while costing her and those closest to her dearly, nonetheless transformed the lives of women and shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.
Feldman's previous books also draw on the past for inspiration. Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize for fiction, is based on the story of the nine Black youths accused of raping two White girls in Alabama in 1931. The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank (2005), which has been translated into nine languages, imagines the life that Peter van Pels, who hid in the attic with Anne Frank, might have led post-WWII. Lucy (2003) focuses on Lucy Mercer and her affair with FDR.