All Good Women

Written by Valerie Miner
Review by Helene Williams

Originally published in 1987, this reissue will entice a new generation to read Miner’s coming-of-age story of four women in San Francisco during World War II.

Moira, Ann, Wanda and Teddy meet in 1938 in Miss Fargo’s typing class at the Tracey Business School. Away from their families, these four young women explore the changing roles of women in society, their sexuality, and their personal and professional goals. They live together in a house in North Beach for three mostly-happy years until the spring of 1942, when the reality of the war hits home: Wanda Nakatani, a Japanese-American, is being sent to an internment camp, along with her sister, brother, and ailing mother. For each of the women, this sundering of close ties brings big changes in work and home life, including both rebellion and a growing maturity.

The narrative follows each woman’s perspective—from the internment camp in Arizona, to a child-refugee agency in London, to a Bay Area military shipyard, to a department store in downtown San Francisco. Miner doesn’t flinch at revealing the dangers of 1940s San Francisco, whether they are in the gay and lesbian bars or between ethnic and social groups. Beyond the story of each character, the reader also sees the women in the context of their families, and how each strains against the cultural, religious, and familial expectations in the mid-20th century. Miner brings together disparate threads to tell a big story of the changes wrought by war as well as social upheaval. Readers will appreciate how Miner brings to life the sights and sounds of the time as well as the emotional struggles that Wanda, Teddy, Moira, and Ann endure to create their own individual versions of home, happiness, and freedom.