<B>You've come a long way, baby</B> Single women of America take note life is good. Parents and friends may nag you about getting hitched, but no one questions your right to go to college and have an interesting job, a house, a car even a live-in boyfriend. Most women under 50 take for granted the idea that they can be smart, sexy, successful and respectable without men in their lives. But journalist Betsy Israel's insightful new book, <B>Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century</B>, takes a revealing look at just how far the single woman has come.

Drawing on private journals, newspaper articles and personal interviews, Israel pieces together a fascinating history of single women in America, from 19th-century spinsters to today's <I>Sex and the City </I>icons. She takes readers into the factories of 1870s New York, where some single working girls took up part-time prostitution to supplement their $2-a-week salary. And she conveys the dismay of 1940s-era women who worked in factories and white-collar professions during World War II only to be sent back home after the war or viewed as job stealers if they stayed on.

Israel packs more than a century's worth of information into a detailed and entertaining overview of the bachelor girl's evolution. She also presents snapshots of women's lives against a backdrop of society's changing attitudes as depicted in the media. While single women have more opportunities than ever before, the pressure to marry and follow traditional paths is still prevalent.

By and large, however, today's society accepts that a single woman can live life on her own terms. For those girls and the country's women in general, Israel's <B>Bachelor Girl</B> serves as a reminder, as well as a yardstick: You may have come a long way, but don't forget the countless hardy souls who made it possible. <I>Rebecca Denton is an editor and writer in Nashville.</I>

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