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The Women's Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism, 1920-30

The Women's Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism, 1920-30

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Women's Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism, 1920-30
    Book Description:

    Documenting the rise and fall of a feminist reform powerhouse, The Women's Joint Congressional Committee and the Politics of Maternalism is the first comprehensive history of the umbrella organization founded in 1920 by former suffrage leaders in order to coordinate organized women's reform. Encompassing nearly every major national women's organization of its time, including the League of Women Voters, the Women's Trade Union League, and the National Consumers' League, the Women's Joint Congressional Committee (WJCC) evolved into a powerful lobbying force for the legislative agendas of more than twelve million women. As such, the WJCC was recognized by critics and supporters alike as "the most powerful lobby in Washington."_x000B_ _x000B_Through a close examination of the WJCC's most consequential and contentious campaigns, Jan Doolittle Wilson demonstrates organized women's strategies, rhetoric, and initial success in generating congressional and grassroots support for their far-reaching, progressive reforms. The committee's early achievements spurred a business-led retaliation that challenged and ultimately limited the programs these women envisioned. By using the WJCC as a lens through which to analyze women's political culture during the 1920s, the book also sheds new light on the initially successful ways women lobbied for social legislation, the limitations of that process for pursuing class-based reforms, and the enormous difficulties faced by women trying to expand public responsibility for social welfare in the years following the nineteenth amendment's passage._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09291-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Acronyms
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On November 22, 1920, representatives from ten national women’s organizations traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss the best methods through which women could exercise their newfound right of suffrage following their long and arduous battle for ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Standing before the women assembled, Maud Wood Park, chairperson of the newly created National League of Women Voters, declared: “No such body of citizens with unselfish aim has ever before made itself articulate. The members of Congress are apt to forget that good government is desired. They hear so much from the self-seeking, rather than the average citizen.”¹ Recognizing...

  6. 1 The Emergence of the WJCC
    (pp. 9-26)

    On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, thus ending the seventy-two-year struggle for women’s suffrage formally launched in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York. Most women who had been active in the suffrage campaign, however, realized that a new struggle had just begun, one more daunting in many respects than that of the past century. For them, suffrage had never been merely an end but rather a means with which to carry out more effectively the broad social reform goals initiated by women’s organizations prior to 1920. As Carrie Chapman...

  7. 2 The Lobby for the Sheppard-Towner Bill, 1921
    (pp. 27-49)

    Writing of organized women’s efforts on behalf of the Sheppard-Towner Bill in 1921, Dorothy Kirchwey Brown of the League of Women Voters praised what she believed was the remarkable efficiency and selfless dedication of the campaign: “Here were [sic] a group of women who were willing and glad to give their time and strength, and to work—and how they did work—to persuade the Congress of the United States that the public welfare demanded the passage of this bill, and not a woman there had anything to gain, individually, by its passage. No more disinterested campaign was ever carried...

  8. 3 Opposition to the State Campaign for Sheppard-Towner, 1921–23
    (pp. 50-65)

    With the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act, organized women were able to claim their first important postsuffrage victory in the campaign to secure federal responsibility for social welfare. The relative ease with which the bill ultimately received congressional approval was due in large part to the WJCC’s skillful use of maternalist language, its efficient lobby at the national level, and its tremendous mobilization of grassroots support for the measure. The final version of the Sheppard-Towner Act for the Promotion of the Welfare and Hygiene of Maternity and Infancy closely resembled Julia Lathrop’s plan for the reduction of infant and maternal...

  9. 4 The Crusade for the Child Labor Amendment, 1922–24
    (pp. 66-92)

    By mid-decade, organized women had good reason to be confident of their influence on Capitol Hill. With support from grassroots communities and their congressional allies, WJCC organizations had helped to secure the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act and other key pieces of reform legislation, including the Packers and Stockyards Control Act, civil service reclassification, independent citizenship for married women, and prohibition of the interstate shipment of “filled milk” (milk containing coconut oil rather than natural fat). The committee had also waged a successful campaign against the equal rights amendment, a measure WJCC members feared would eradicate protective labor legislation for...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Allies and Opponents during the Battle for Ratification, 1924
    (pp. 93-109)

    The WJCC’s influence with lawmakers and the American public, first demonstrated in the committee’s successful lobby for the Sheppard-Towner Act, reached a climax with the passage of the child labor amendment. Encouraged by the overwhelming congressional vote in favor of the amendment and by what appeared to be widespread popular support for their sociopolitical agenda, the members of the WJCC launched their crusade for ratification of the amendment in the states with great optimism in the summer of 1924. The efficient mobilization of their grassroots networks and the public’s recognition of the inherent righteousness of their cause, members confidently assumed,...

  12. 6 Defeat of the Child Labor Amendment, 1924–26
    (pp. 110-132)

    By the end of the summer of 1924, WJCC-affiliated groups realized that their battle for ratification of the child labor amendment would not be as handily won as their campaign for the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act. Part of the problem, they realized, lay in the vulnerability of the amendment itself to the attacks of its opponents. The eighteen-year age limit, the use of the wordlaborinstead ofemployment,and the exclusion of exemptions for agricultural work, especially, were easy targets for the opposition, who claimed that such “extreme” provisions were proof of the subversive intentions of the amendment’s...

  13. 7 The Struggle to Save the Sheppard-Towner Act, 1926–30
    (pp. 133-147)

    In the midst of mounting attacks on their aims and methods, WJCC members initiated a campaign to extend the appropriations of the Sheppard-Towner Act. As originally passed by Congress in 1921, the act included a provision whereby the distribution of federal funds to the states for infancy and maternity programs would automatically cease on June 30, 1927. Under pressure from WJCC organizations, the Children’s Bureau, and other social reform groups, Representative James Parker of New York and Senator Lawrence Phipps of Colorado introduced bills for the extension of the Sheppard-Towner Act in January 1926.¹

    The House of Representatives referred the...

  14. 8 The Impact of Right-Wing Attacks on the WJCC and Its Social Reform Agenda, 1924–30
    (pp. 148-170)

    In 1928, Elizabeth McCausland of the League of Women Voters coined the phrase “the blue menace” to describe the tremendous visibility of Boston-based patriotic organizations, whose self-appointed guardianship of national virtue and intolerance for views outside their own narrow definition of “true” Americanism made them, in her view, as dangerous as any of the “radicals” they so obstreperously maligned.¹ Originating in former antisuffrage organizations like the Woman Patriots, the “blue menace” metastasized in the American body through the systematic efforts of patriotic associations, extreme conservatives, and employer organizations to “red-smear” any group, individual, or program that demanded federal intervention in...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 171-174)

    On December 1, 1930, the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee celebrated the tenth anniversary of its founding at the Dodge Hotel in Washington, D.C. Opening the celebration was Carrie Chapman Catt, who regaled committee members with humorous anecdotes about her early contacts with members of Congress when women were still a foreign and somewhat ominous presence on the political stage. Ten years after the creation of the WJCC, organized women had good reason to be proud of their progress as political actors, Catt noted. Combining their efforts under the large umbrella of the WJCC, they had managed to make a significant...

    (pp. 175-182)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 183-220)
    (pp. 221-238)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 239-246)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-251)