Simone de Beauvoir's The second sex was first published in English in 1953, four years after its publication in French. Since the 1970s, many scholars have come to view de Beauvoir as the most important feminist thinker of the twentieth century and consequently to regard the initial American reactions to The second sex, which rarely discussed it in explicitly feminist terms, as showing that de Beauvoir's work had been misunderstood or misrepresented. This article focuses on what American commentators did say about de Beauvoir, rather than what they did not, and it shows that The second sex was quite widely, and often enthusiastically, discussed. Critics often saw de Beauvoir through the prism of social science, in particular anthropology and the ‘science’ of sexology. However, three things impeded a wholly sympathetic reception. First, unlike de Beauvoir, American writers believed that ‘modern’ society, by which they meant America, should combine female emancipation, especially at work, with the preservation of ‘femininity’. Secondly, de Beauvoir's view that ‘woman is made not born’ clashed with biologically determinist ideas popular among American social scientists by the 1950s. Thirdly, and most importantly, American critics were incensed by what they took to be de Beauvoir's denigration of motherhood.