The Spring 2021 issue returns to one of the central insights of feminism: the personal is political. Not only are women’s personal experiences shaped by the broader political context, those experiences in turn can become the raw material out of which political consciousness and activity arises. The issue features new document projects, a roundtable on the historic significance of Kamala Harris’ election as Vice President of the United States, additional writings of Black Woman Suffragists, and book reviews, all of which are summarized in our In This Issue introduction. Our cover image by Bria Goeller through her partnership with Gordon Jones is inspired by the long legacy of Black women’s activism that paved the way for Harris’s election.
#EmpireSuffrageSyllabus seeks to enrich our historical understanding and pedagogy by placing the U.S. suffrage movement in a much broader context—temporally, thematically, and geographically—than it has traditionally been conceived. Viewing the struggle for the vote as only one piece of women’s quest for greater power, the project charts the expansive scope of women's political activities, focusing in particular on their involvement in a wide range of social movements. Above all, it insists that recognition of the U.S. as an empire and an appreciation of the intertwined development of democracy and imperial power is crucial for understanding how, why, and when some women obtained the vote, while others did not.
This document project, by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, offers a new perspective on woman's rights advocate Lucy Stone by highlighting her experiences of marriage and motherhood. Although she and her husband, Henry Blackwell, famously pledged to create a partnership of equals, domestic demands proved incompatible with Stone’s desired public life. Personal correspondence reveals how she reluctantly curtailed her activities and sought new ways of contributing to the movement as an editor of the Woman’s Journal, the newspaper of the American Woman Suffrage Association. The project also highlights how Stone's frustration and exhaustion led her to develop a critical analysis of women’s uncompensated domestic labor. As Laughlin-Schultz notes in this introductory video, our current moment, which has witnessed an exodus of women from the workforce to deal with the demands of caregiving during a pandemic, makes this project especially timely.
The National Organization for Women, the Equal Rights Amendment, and California NOW Chapters' Lesbian Feminist Activism
This document project, by Haleigh Marcello, demonstrates how the National Organization for Women (NOW) dealt with the question of lesbianism in the 1970s while pursuing its central goal: ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This overriding focus led many NOW chapters to shy away from addressing discrimination against lesbianism—an issue many saw as too divisive at a time when they were focused on attracting broad-based support. But in California, which ratified the ERA in 1972—quite early on—local NOW branches proved far more willing to prioritize lesbian rights. Marcello's project, which she describes in this short introductory video, reveals how the local and state-wide branches at times diverged from, and at times reinforced, national political dynamics, revealing a complex portrayal of one of the most iconic organizations of the so-called second wave.
Motherhood and the Obligations of Citizenship during World War II: US Debates over Conscripting Women Civilians
This document project, by David Dawson and Rebecca Jo Plant, considers the debate during World War II over whether women should be conscripted to fill civilian jobs in order to meet the nation’s severe labor shortage. Although business leaders, some mainstream women's organizations, and progressive women like Eleanor Roosevelt supported legislation to this effect, the bill ultimately failed in the face of angry condemnation from across the political spectrum. The project features documents that reveal the views of both proponents and detractors of the bill, with a particular focus on a women’s coalition of self-proclaimed patriots that denounced conscripting members of their sex as a subversive attack on the American home. In this video, David Dawson introduces the project.
Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, Congress debated and initiated "termination" legislation, policies designed to dissolve the sovereign relationships that Native nations have with the United States and assimilate Native people into the American polity solely as American citizens. This new document project by Mary Klann explores the ways in which legislators employed gendered definitions of citizenship and dependency in shaping these policies and Native women's resistance to termination. Native women participated in pan-Indian organizations and led their individual tribes to directly challenge termination policies and the ideologies behind them.
This document project, created by Jamie Wagman, consists of oral history interviews, including both audio files and transcripts, of twenty transgender women and men who grew up or currently live in the Midwest, many in small towns and rural areas. The interviewees’ narratives, as Wagman writes, show that “there is no singular way of coming out or transitioning as transgender, just as there is no singular formula for finding support and community.
Women were the dominant force in U.S. Protestant overseas missions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Asia-Pacific world was the main theater for their operation. This project explores the missionary tenure of Elizabeth Poorbaugh in Japan from 1886 to 1893. Although she successfully established a girls’ school in Sendai relying on the conventional belief in American superiority, Poorbaugh was seriously challenged not only by Japanese male pastors and leaders but also by her assertive students in the social climate of rising nationalism in the 1890s.
This five-volume biographical dictionary, the first large-scale scholarly work in its field, grew out of a commitment to women's history which Radcliffe College originally undertook in 1943. That year the suffrage leader Maud Wood Park, a Radcliffe graduate of 1898, gave the college her woman's rights collection, including her own papers, those of many co-workers, and material she had gathered on the whole history of the woman's rights movement. Two Harvard historians, W. K. Jordan, then president of Radcliffe, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, a member of the college Council, Radcliffe's top governing board, saw the gift as an opportunity for a women's college to make a special contribution to scholarship. Under their guidance the collection by 1950 had grown into the Women's Archives, a research library for the study not merely of the suffrage movement but of all phases of women's activity in the American past.