100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go - IntroductionBy Sophia Dembling
When I told people I was writing 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go, their first question was usually, “What are your criteria?” Or, less eloquently, “Sez who?”
A fair enough question, to which the answer is: “Sez me.”
I did first poll friends and colleagues and got some excellent ideas from them, but in the end what we have here is an entirely subjective selection of American places I think are important or cool or fun or quintessentially American. Some are of particular relevance to women, some aren’t.
So, who am I to say so? For one thing, I love traveling in the USA, and I’ve done a lot of it. I took my first cross-country road trip with two girlfriends when I was 19 years old. At that point, I had barely left my hometown of New York City—which, like Los Angeles, both defines America and barely resembles it. I was astonished and awed as much by cornfields as mountains. The solid farmers and their stolid wives we saw in diners and truck stops were wondrous as unicorns, and Iowa and Nevada were as magical as Oz. By the time we hit California, with the whole nation stretched out behind us, I was madly in love.
I’ve traveled the country extensively ever since—by car, by bus, by airplane, staying in luxury hotels and cinderblock motels. (Once, by choosing a motel because we liked its neon, my husband and I accidentally checked into a whorehouse.) I’ve been as far south as Key West and as far north as Seattle. (North Dakota, I’ve got my eye on you.)
My first published article in the mid 1980s, in the Dallas Morning News, was about touring the United States by Greyhound bus. My second was about touring the stars’ homes in Nashville. I’ve written for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and many other newspapers, magazines, and websites. For a couple of years, my friend Jenna Schnuer and I wrote a website called Flyover America, in which we shared our passion for America’s out-of-the-way places.
I love the scale of America. I love her grand places and brash cities, her wilderness and forgotten hamlets. I love her breadth and depth and roadside attractions. I roll my eyes at world-traveling Americans who have never explored their own backyards—who have never seen a thunderstorm over Nebraska or the Atlantic pounding the coast of Maine, never eaten grits in the South or salmon in Alaska, seen real Western art or a jackalope trophy. I’m so passionate for travel in America, I even argue that Las Vegas is a must-see, no matter how highbrow you consider yourself.
After gathering a mess of suggestions, I cast a wide net of criteria to decide among them and which others to add. Some places are no-brainers—New York City, the Grand Canyon, that kind of thing. America’s greatest hits, as it were. And I wanted to include sites related to women’s history. From there, I moved on to sites relevant to the lives of prominent women writers and artists and some of America’s toughest cookies. I included immigrant history because that’s the story of all of us. There are places related to American music and places I consider Americana. There are girly-girl places and activities, adventures, spiritual places, places related to home and hearth, and silly, silly kitschy places. I tried to find a female story in everything I included, but didn’t insist on it. Some places aren’t places so much as activities (surfing, rafting), with suggestions for places to do them.
There is a lot about some states and not so much about others, but I tried to cover as much of the country as I could. I can’t help it if a lot of really important historic things happened in New York and Massachusetts. I tried to include sites so big that you shouldn’t miss them and so small you probably don’t know about them.
And a note about the historical sections of the book: Some of the places included are not much to speak of. One is a mere plaque in a hallway--—nothing to make a special trip for. It’s more if you happen to be in Nashville. But it’s a good story, and here is my thinking on things like that: If we go, they will build it. Tourism has a lot of clout for local economies. If we show interest in women’s history sites, tourist boards and businesses will respond, and the ragtag sites full of fascinating women’s stories will grow, pushing women’s history aboveground.
I have been to the majority of the places in here. Many I visited in the past, others specifically for this book. But in saying every woman should go, I include myself. No matter how much travel I did, I kept finding other must-see places. I just ran out of time. Flat up against my deadline, I remembered Eudora Welty’s home in Jackson, Mississippi. What a bummer that I didn’t have time to go there and had to rely on research. Thank heavens for the interweb, but the photographs made me yearn to see it for myself, especially since I’ve never really been to Mississippi, only through it. Mississippi, I have my eye on you, too.
Naturally, there’s no place or experience in this book that men wouldn’t enjoy as well. Any American, male or female, who doesn’t make a point of seeing Yellowstone National Park is a knucklehead, in my humble opinion. (People from other nations get a pass, but I know they’re out seeing stuff like that anyway because I run into them all the time.)
Undoubtedly, every single person reading this would write a different version of this book. That’s good and as it should be. Truth be told, I second-guessed myself until the manuscript was finally pried out of my hands. If I wrote this book five years from now, it would probably be different. Heck, if I wrote it next week it might.
So what are your must-sees? If you’re so inclined, you can send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it.
See you on the road.
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