New Woman, Suffrage, and Feminism I. Introduction: Transformations
In this lecture, I want to take you into modern America, an America that begins to look a lot more like the country you live in today. The 1890s was a decade of tremendous change in which attitudes that had held constant for a hundred years changes sharply. The old protestant work ethic, where men worked hard, spent carefully and saved their money began to lose favor among opinion shapers in the media; instead, the new mass circulation magazines celebrated the glories of consumption, and encouraged these new consumers to spend as much as possible. Department stores began to extend credit to middle-class customers as a matter of course. Advertisers began to focus their attention on women, who made the majority of a household's purchases. Women were seen not only as the ideal mother, or the ideal churchgoer; she was now seen as the ideal consumer.
Older notions of morality began to lose force, particularly in the cities. Frances Willard died in 1898, and because her charismatic personality had been so central to the WCTU's rise, the organization suffered a decline after her death. But if she had lived, the woman who had been called "woman of the century" might have felt like a relic of the past once the century turned. The WCTU soon was viewed as outmoded, preaching a puritanical evangelism that appeared to have little to do with the new century. AS the WCTU faded from power, women reformers trained in the social sciences, particularly in the new field of social work, came to the fore.
II. The New Woman
A. Societal changes
These women were different in numerous ways from their foremothers in the WCTU. Most were college educated. By 1880, 32% of college students women. By 1890, over half of them never married. While college ed women still a small minority of all women, their education and independence allowed them to attain places of high visibility and responsibility.
Took jobs as teachers, nurses, journalists, social workers. This new professional class was paid enough to maintain a modestly comfortable lifestyle. They gloried in role as consumer, flocking to department stores. They learned to play tennis and golf with their fellow collegiate alumni. They read voraciously, insisting on continuing the education that they treasured so highly.
Became a leading force in the development of what became known as the Progressive Movement., Although it never was a coherent movement, it did coalesce briefly around the Progressive Party in 1912, as note in Gustafson article. Instead, it was a loose coalition of reformers and reform groups that shared some basic ideas about society. These included a belief that scientific expertise, carefully applied, could transform the many ills of society. Women played an extraordinarily important role in establishing the Progressive cause. Indeed, Progressive women were the first in American history to directly shape the political agenda in a significant way. Want to look at two examples—the settlement house movement and Women’s Trade Union League—to understand how this philosophy was applied to women-lead reform activity during this period.
B. Jane Addams, Hull House and the settlement house movement: Applying the lessons
With all these changes, refused to remain within traditional roles of women. Needed a purpose, a way to apply their learning and enthusiasm. These women formed the rank and file of the settlement house movement that flourished during this period. Led by Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago, settlement workers hoped to use their newfound knowledge to help transform society. Although Addams called settlement work "social housekeeping," settlement work was much different from Willard's notion of "making the world homelike." Where a WCTU member might have seen herself as a missionary to the poor, converting these benign sinners to do good work for the Lord. Addams believed that the working class had much to teach the sheltered college graduate.; she envisioned that the wretched conditions of the working class slums was an opportunity for the settlement workers to make use of their newly acquired expertise, while providing them with a socially useful occupation. The settlement houses were established in the midst of the poorest neighborhoods, where young women and a few men lived among a class of people they had previously had no contact with..
Now, their were a number of possible pitfalls with this approach. It in essence appropriated the working class as a resource for adrift middle class white women, who would otherwise have little to do. Addams essentially help create an entire vocation for middle-class women by promoting the settlement house movement. As she made clear in an essay entitled "The Subjective Necessity of for social settlements," society had created a class of educated, independent women, but had not given them enough opportunities to use their skills. Settlement workers reliance on their expertise could have encouraged them to assume a condescending and dominating relationship with their working class clients.
What saved Hull House workers form falling into this trap, was Addams' truly egalitarian perspective, and her influence on others in the settlement house movement, as president of the National Federation of Settlements, from 1911 to her death in 1935. In Addams' classic autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull House, she often is quite candid about failed attempts to impose the settlement workers; middle class perspective on their working class neighbors. Additionally, she often provided working class people with the opportunity to take control of their own lives. She initiated what came to be called Jane clubs, basically cooperative apartments operated by the working class women who inhabited the building. And Hull House was always available for meetings of groups ranging from temperance to socialist to workingmen’s reading groups. From the example of many different nationalities who peacefully came together under the Hull House roof, Adams conceived the idea of an organization which promoted international cooperation, and helped found the Woman's Peace Party in 1915, which eventually became the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which is still active today.
C. The Women's Trade Union League: Looking forward, looking backward
The Women's Trade Union League, or WTUL, also attempted to bring working-class and middle-to-upper class women together. Their mixed legacy demonstrates difficulty of balancing class and gender loyalties. Members of the WTUL, located in most major Northern cities, helped organize women workers and provided support for women strikers between 1903-1915. As with the settlement houses, the WTUL allowed working class women a voice in the organization, although it was led by middle class women. The WTUL helped working women establish hundreds of labor unions during this time, and trained working class women to be organizers. During the huge NYC shirtwaist makers strike, in 1912, over 30,000 women struck against the horrifying conditions and wage cuts prevalent in the industry. The WTUL became the strikers major source of support. One League member, connection women's role as consumer to political action, declared a boycott on nonunion shirts, stating,
"Now is the time fore women in New York, Philadelphia, and in fact everywhere American shirts are worn, to rise in their might and demonstrate that bargain hunting can be subordinated to principle and that they have said goodbye to the products of the sweatshop. Friends, lets stop talking about sisterhood, and make sisterhood a fact!"
Here, the WTUL was tying their role as consumers to their role as reformers, and they were doing so in a way that would tie all women together.
I'd like to say this story has a happy ending, but that’s just not the case. The garment workers did win their strike, and this was a high point in the women's labor movement of the time. By 1915, however, the WTUL had become aligned with the male-dominated American Fed of Labor. With the AFL's urging, the WTUL became increasingly focused on passing so called protective labor legislation for women, legislation which working class women often objected to because it didn’t address basic economic issues. In fact, at time it created greater hardships for women. Some protective labor leg banned women from certain types of work, by claiming that such work harmed women. By claiming women to be of weaker nature than men, reformers reinforced stereotypes about women workers that working class women had been trying to overcome for years. We can see parallels here in the way Helen Keller stressed the inherent incapacity of the disabled—although it might provide short-term gains, it ultimately undermined the empowerment of the group because it was viewed as needing protection.
In general, those who took up the vocation of social worker often lacked the sensitivity of a Jane Addams, whether as govt. social workers, investigators or volunteer reformers. Although many of these middle class women proclaimed their shared sisterhood with black immigrant and working class women, they in fact often did not see a reciprocal relationship. Rather, they perceived a one-sided relationship in which middle class women would protect and shaped their poorer relations. In this way, many social workers outside the settlement houses were more like the WCTU than they might have imagined.
D. Rethinking women's sphere: The Birth of Modern Feminism
Even as some reformers supported older notions of women’s special place in society, other women began to imagine a world beyond that of the separate spheres doctrine that had ruled women's lives for the last one hundred years. These radicals helped build the foundation of what today we know as modern feminism. Among the leaders was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who argued in her book Women and Economics that traditional notions of women's housework and child rearing was nothing more than institutionalized slavery. In the Yellow Wallpaper, which you'll read for next week, Gilman paints a stark picture of the traditional marriage, which she believed caused her nervous breakdown in 1888. The breakdown was preceded by an epiphany, in which Gilman abandoned her husband and gave up legal rights to her child in order to gain independence.
New York City, particularly Greenwich Village, became the center for another group of feminists who organized around the issue of women's right to control her sexuality. Margaret Sanger led the way in distributing birth control information and supplies to interested women. She was joined in this crusade by Emma Goldman, the flamboyant anarchist who took Gilman one step further, and declared that any type of marriage, enlightened or otherwise, was legalized slavery. Both Sanger and Goldman were often arrested for breaking obscenity laws, which at the time prohibited any discussion of birth control.
Most feminists opposed the type of labor legislation favored by social reformers. They believed that women's equality with men should be stressed, rather than their differences. These feminists formed Heterodoxy in New York City in 1912, a discussion group whose sole requirement for membership was that a woman "not be orthodox in her opinions." Members included Gilman, Goldman, and journalists Mary Heaton Vorse, Crystal Eastman and Childe Dorr, among others. As Dorr explained, "I wanted all the freedom, all the opportunity, all the equality there was in the world. I wanted to belong to the human race, not to a ladies' aid society." Their claim to a connection to a larger humanity, and not a woman’s political culture, would have repercussions in the 1920s.
IV. The US Suffrage Movement: The First Rainbow Coalition?
A. New leadership and new strategies
What brought different women's activists together was the suffrage movement, which after 1910 entered into its final phase. The 1890s had been a pivotal period for the suffrage movement as well. In 1890, Alice Stone Blackwell —daughter of Lucy and Henry—brought the two warring factions of the suffrage movement together to form National and American Woman Suf Ass, of the National-American as it was called. The old leaders of the movement began to replaced by a new generation—Lucretia Mott died in 1880, Lucy Stone in 1893, Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1904 and Susan B. Anthony in 1906. The period between 1896 and 1910 was known as doldrums, as older approaches to winning suffrage were seen to have failed. Although Colorado and Idaho were first states to grant suff, in 1893 and 1896, many more states—like Ks in 94—rejected suff amendments. Between 1896 and 1910, there were only two state campaigns for suffrage, both of which failed.
Suff movement revived around 1908 as new leaders and new ideas came to fore. Carrie Chapman Catt assumed control of New York state movement in 1908, and from their coordinated other state campaigns, In 1914 she was elected pres of Nat-Am. first national suff leader to understand importance of political strategy and careful organizing. Initiated a new state by state campaign that carefully targeted states and then poured resources in. First victory was Washington state in 1910, and more importantly, Cal in 1911, a state with a rapidly growing population and a developing reputation for being on the cutting edge of the latest trend. Oregon, Ariz and at last Kansas followed in 1912.
B. Establishment of the National Women's Party: Single (gender) party politics
As state campaigns were gearing up, other women began creating entirely new strategies aimed at passing a federal amendment, to get the vote in one fell swoop. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, two friends who had lived in England for a time, spearheaded this new strategy. England than the home of most radical suffrage activists, known as Suffragettes in England, who had basically declared gender war. Led by the flamboyant Emmeline Pankhurst, Brit suffs chained themselves to lamp posts, hooted down politicians, and provoked violent reprisals from the police. Further, they believed in attacking the party in power at the time, rather than remaining nonpartisan. Paul and burns sought to emulate many of these tactics and gained instant notoriety. In 1913, Paul and Burns split from the National and American and formed own group, National Women's Party, and proposed to fight for a national amendment while attacking the Democrats while in control of the white House. The National Women's Party attracted many of the rad feminists who had joined Heterodoxy. Although it failed in many of i5ts direct goals, such as defeating specific Democrats for office, the NWP did focus the nations attention on suff while making the National American appear a more mainstream organization, bringing it more support.
C. Dueling Approaches: Conservatism and Egalitarianism
after 1910, the suffrage movement became both more conservative and more egalitarian. Many of the new leaders, like Catt and Rachel Foster Avery, used the argument that Anglo Saxon women's votes were needed to help stop the inexorable tide of immigration. Catt and Avery welcomed the new contingent of white Southern woman suffragists, who until the 1890s had largely been nonexistent. These women vocally supported restricting the vote to white women, and effectively drove most black women from the organization. This gained woman suffrage much support among socially conservative Southern white men. It also made suffrage more acceptable to the General Federation of Women's Clubs, made up of literary, social and charitable organizations. These conservative women, now close to 2 million in number, took up the cause of suffrage as movement for instilling social order.
But these efforts did not drive non-Anglo Saxon middle class women away from the movement, Instead, these women began to from their own organizations. Black woman suff orgs developed in most of the major cities in the North, and even a few in the South. Example of Harriet Stanton Blotch.
D. War and “victory”
All this pressure began to pay off. narrowly lost in New York in 1915, but then won two years later, never stopping the campaign in between. new York most populous state, with most electoral votes. More and more, male politicians were beginning to take notice. Woman suffs besieged both Dem and Rep conventions in 1916, and most politicians could not afford to look the other way. Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic President elected in 1912 on a Progressive platform, indicated his support for woman suf at 1916 nomination speech.
Last key to victory was outbreak of world war I, and America's inclusion in it in 1917. Woman reformers had long been opposed to war, seeing it as the ultimate expression of male aggression and violence. With America's entrance into the war, some women like Jane Addams continued to oppose war on moral ground. They pointed to the dubious claims about fighting a war for democracy made by Wilson, and urged women not to support the war effort. Addams soon went from being one of the most beloved American women to one of the most vilified. Other women, like Alice Paul's National Women's Party, continued to badger the Democrats and Wilson to grant woman suffrage, which many Americans viewed as unpatriotic. But Carrie Chapman Catt made the fateful decision to urge woman suffs to work for the war. The bulk of suff movement, now 3 million strong, swung in behind the war effort, contributing vital volunteer service at the home front. In part in recognition of their effort, and in part recognizing the now inexorable tide of support for woman suffrage, congress passed the nineteenth amendment granting woman suffrage the right to vote in 1818, and the states ratifies it in 1920. Seventy two years after the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, American women had at last won this most basic right.
IV. Legacies: The 1920s and 30s
The New Woman, the Suffrage Amendment, and the Birth of Feminism I. Introduction: Transformations: From protestant work ethic to consumerism; religion to science
II. The New Woman
A. Societal changes
B. Jane Addams, Hull House and the settlement house movement