Best Book Club Ideas for “When Women Invented Television”

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Everything You Need to Lead the Best Book Club discussion ever of When Women Who Invented Television by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1973. Ironically, she played a local television presenter after being one (as well as a sitcom actress) in the early 50’s. CB Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Background Information for When Women Who Invented Television

When Women Who Invented Television is a great option if your group has been wanting to get into more nonfiction because almost everyone watches T.V., and the diversity of the four women profiled in the book means that there is something for everyone.

The focus of the book is four television pioneers:

Betty White: She started her long career in television as a very early local talk show presenter who was live on T.V. for more than five hours a day!

Hazel Scott: A well known pianist, Ms. Scott hosted an early variety and musical T.V. series in the evenings, and was the first Black person to have her own show.

Gertrude Berg: She helped invent the television situation comedy when she transitioned her famous radio show, The Goldbergs, to T.V.

Irma Phillips: Irma Philips transitioned her daytime “soap opera”, Guiding Light, from radio to television and developed and produced several more soap operas for television.

Read more about these women here.

More by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Discussion Questions for When Women Invented Television

Note: If the discussion falters, ask the group what they didn’t understand or what they “wondered” about. You will find out what the group is interested in. 

Don’t rush the group through the questions or try to hit every single question, but don’t allow members to “take over” the discussion either. If time starts to run short, give the group a choice.

Finish on the agreed upon time so there is time for socialization after.

  1. Opening questions for discussion of When Women Invented Television

1. What are your earliest memories of watching television?

2. Television has changed so much with advent of video recording and now on-demand streaming.

a. What do you miss about the old way, when you had to watch what was on when it was on?

b. If you don’t remember it, what would you like to have experienced? (This is a great time for older members to share with younger members)

2. Discussion Questions for When Women Invented Television

 1. In what ways do you agree or disagree with Armstrong’s hypothesis about the role gender played in women’s decreasing roles in television?

2. In what ways do you think that gender would have affected female television pioneers if the “Second Red Scare”, as led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, had not been a major issue at the time?

3. Closing Questions for When Women Invented Television

 1. How have things changed for professional women, such as the women in this book, over the last 70 years, and how have they stayed the same?

2. What does Armstrong want you to take away from this book?

3. What are your actual take aways?

Further Reading for Topics Related to When Women Invented Television

  1. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History (Console-ing Passions) by Elana Devine

    There is no biography of Irna Phillips, but there is a study of soap operas.

2. Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC by Karen Chilton

In addition to being a star in her own right, Hazel Scott was married to the first Post-Reconstruction African-American U.S. Congress member. When Women Invented Television doesn’t have the space to fully tell her story.

3.Here We Go Again: My Life In Television by Betty White

You might as well get the story straight from the “horse’s mouth”.

4. Something on My Own: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929-1956 (Television and Popular Culture) by Glenn D. Smith, Jr.

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