The untold story of the woman who made singleness chic
When she became the Queen of the Live-Aloners in 1936, Marjorie Hillis was a single, fortyish minister’s daughter from Brooklyn who had spent more than twenty years on the staff of Vogue in New York, before publishing a witty and quietly radical self-help book for the maligned sisterhood of "extra women," with the blunt title Live Alone and Like It. Her book was aimed at women like herself, who claimed the right to be happy and fulfilled even if they didn't have the husband and children they'd been raised to expect. She urged her readers to make their own choices, mix their own cocktails, and cast off other people’s measures of life's meaning and worth. The book was an instant bestseller and made its author a household name. In a series of seven books written over the course of thirty years, Marjorie Hillis lit up the path to glamorous independence for women of all ages and stages of life.
The story I tell in The Extra Woman is the Live-Aloner’s story, from her 1930s heyday through the dawn of the 1960s women's liberation movement. It's bigger than Marjorie Hillis, who gave her a name and a healthy shot of confidence. It's the story of feminism between the waves, of pathbreaking writers, artists, and politicians, and thousands of unsung women battled for the right to forge lives that made them happy, on their terms.
“In 1936, a Vogue editor named Marjorie Hillis published Live Alone and Like It, a jubilant guide for the single working woman, which offered advice on how to find an apartment, mix a cocktail, and manage a love affair. As Scutts writes in this study of Hillis and her era, the idea that unmarried women could be happy and fulfilled challenged ‘the very basis of American women’s citizenship.’ Hillis’s subsequent books defended the ideal of female independence, even through the ‘retrenchment into domesticity’ of the postwar era. As Scutts argues, it’s an ideal that still requires defending today: ‘Exercising the right to live your life as you choose is still a political act, and a brave act.’”—“Briefly Noted,” New Yorker
“Scutts should feel proud that she did what she set out to do: return Hillis to her rightful place in the pantheon of women who made it possible for the rest of us to enjoy that freedom.” —Ellen McCarthy, Washington Post
"Hillis’s woman was only “extra” in the sense of having more, of existing outside of, of being extraordinary."—"Single White Female, Charlotte Shane, The Times Literary Supplement
"Scutts’s book, written with an enticing no-nonsense clarity that is reminiscent of Hillis’s original, acts as both a biography of Hillis and paints a fascinating portrait of the cultural context surrounding her work. "—Lucy Scholes, The National
“Smart and enjoyable. . . Scutts's affectionate portrait of Hillis helps draw a line from her subject’s cheerful independence to the choices we enjoy today.”—Barbara Spindel, Christian Science Monitor
"[Marjorie Hillis] died in 1971, but as Scutts reminds us, her audacious celebration of female independence can still amuse and inspire us today. She and Scutts’s wonderful book should be toasted with well-mixed cocktails."—Anna Carey, The Irish Times
"The Live-Aloner’s fight to be accepted in her full humanity is a battle her great-granddaughters (or great-grandnieces) are still waging."—Dawn Raffel, San Francisco Chronicle
"Though her advice about bed jackets and bubble baths seems quaint today, [Hillis's] celebration of solitude, independence and integrity is, as Scutts reminds us, worth reviving."—Linda Simon, Newsday
"Historian Joanna Scutts puts Hillis into the context of her time, in an engrossing book that’s part biography of Hillis and part cultural history of women in 20th century America."—Constance Grady, Vox
"It may be useful for younger women disdainful of feminism to be reminded of just how crippling and pernicious gender-based restrictions once were."—Julia M. Klein, Chicago Tribune
“In The Extra Woman, Joanna Scutts makes it clear that somebody was working those fields long before the ineffable [Helen Gurley Brown] stuck in her spade. . . . Part biography, part social history, The Extra Woman is Ms. Scutts’s eye-opening . . . attempt to rescue Hillis from obscurity and to make the case for her as a proto-feminist."—Joanne Kaufman, Wall Street Journal [paywall]
INTERVIEWS - PRINT/ONLINE
Kelly Faircloth, Jezebel
Nick Juravich, Gotham Center blog
Alanna Schubach, Brick Underground
Joe Melia, Bristol 24/7
INTERVIEWS - AUDIO
Kris Boyd, Think (Dallas NPR affiliate KERA FM)
Mark Rotella and Rose Fox, Publishers Weekly Radio
Courtney Balestier, WMFA Podcast.