The Spring 2022 issue includes two new document projects that highlight the history and politics of motherhood, reproduction, and public policy in the mid-to-late twentieth century. The first focuses on the struggles of families seeking to secure childcare in San Diego, California, during World War II. The second features Dorothy Height, who in the 1960s promoted a truly intersectional politics as president of the National Council of Negro Women and a member of President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Our cover image of Height is by illustrator Julie Gough, from her series Illustrated Women in History. Filling out the issue are book reviews and a roundtable contemplating what the past can tell us about future abortion practice and politics.
#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 Kyle Ciani, shows how one heavily war-impacted community sought to meet the demand for childcare services during World War II. Focusing on both long-time residents and new migrants who flooded into the city, Ciani highlights the childcare needs among diverse families, as well as the complexities attached to providing that care. The project’s 27 documents reveal how organizations and agencies formed a collaborative network to develop and provide a range of resources, including foster care homes, nursery schools, parent-child boarding homes, childcare centers attached to worksites, before-and-after-school programs, and a collective of state-wide day care in public schools. Parents also turned to families, friends, and neighbors, especially when seeking care for infants and toddlers. Readers will gain a vivid sense of how parents interacted with authorities to navigate the unstable times in this resource-strapped city.
Revisiting the President’s Commission on the Status of Women through the Activism of Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women, and Her Part in the Emergence of New Forms of Women’s Activism, 1961-1966
In this document project, Kathryn Kish Sklar and Keisha Blain call attention to Height’s innovative and intersectional political leadership in the early 1960s. The project’s 22 documents reveal how Height stressed the need to combat racial discrimination while also advocating for social support for poor and working-class families. In the process, she created new political alliances and intellectual synergies between labor feminists and civil rights activists. Offering revisionist interpretations of two critical documents—the PCSW’s final report, The American Woman, and the infamous Moynihan Report—Sklar and Blain also help readers to appreciate the factors that ultimately hindered Height’s ability to convey her message.
This document project, by Alina R. Méndez, focuses on how this program, which brought thousands of Mexicans to the United States as contract laborers between 1942 and 1964, affected women, including the wives left behind, those who accompanied their husbands, and women already in the U.S., who interacted with the new arrivals in a variety of capacities. Drawn from both U.S. and Mexican archives, the documents presented include letters that women sent to the Mexican president, newspaper articles, a notarized statement by the widow of bracero, as well as photographs and remarkable oral histories collected by the Bracero History Archive. Together, these sources demonstrate how a rigidly gendered program produced powerfully gendered effects, shaping women’s lives in myriad and enduring ways. Click here for a short author's video about the project.
This document project by Rima Lunin Schultz and Kathryn Kish Sklar explores the forty-year relationship between the social reformer and Hull House founder Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, who as the daughter of one of Chicago’s wealthiest families became an important benefactor to the settlement house. The project focuses on how Addams and Smith creatively wove together their intimate and public lives in a manner that prioritized their mutual quest for personal meaning and social significance. Challenging prior depictions of Smith as simply a helpmate to Addams, the featured documents—including personal correspondence, poems that Addams wrote for Smith, candid photographs and formal portraits, and references to their relationship in the writings of their many friends and coworkers—offer new insight into the improvisational same-sex relationships that helped to fuel and sustain women’s activism in this period. Click here for a short author's video about the project.
This is a new primary document collection that attempts to capture the personal effects of the dramatic and disruptive historical event that we have all recently lived through. We asked people to discuss how they viewed and were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter and other political movements, recent changes to the Supreme Court, and/or the historic 2020 presidential election. We hope that these submissions can serve as an important repository in the future for students and researchers who will attempt to understand and analyze these turbulent times.
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.