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The Grounding of Modern Feminism

Copyright Date: 1987
Published by: Yale University Press
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    The Grounding of Modern Feminism
    Book Description:

    "The time has come to define feminism; it is no longer possible to ignore it." The Century Magazine, 1914 In this landmark addition to scholarship, Nancy F. Cott, author of The Bonds of Womanhood, offers a new interpretation of American feminism during the early decades of this century-a period traditionally viewed as on in which women won the right to vote and then lost interest in feminist issues. Cott argues instead that his period was a time of crisis and transition from the nineteenth-century "woman movement' to the beginning of modern feminism. Many of the issues that are central to women today, says Cott, were firmly articulated in the early decades of this century. For example, the problem of defining sexual equality so as to recognize sexual difference between men and women, the ambiguous potential of a movement seeking individual freedoms for women by mobilizing sex solidarity, and the tensions involved in attaining full expression in work and love are all enduring elements of feminism seized upon by women of the 1910s and 1920s. First discussing how feminism was indebted to its predecessors, Cott shows that increasing heterogeneity and diverse loyalties among women in the early twentieth century contradicted the premise of the nineteenth-century "cause of woman" (the singular noun symbolizing the unity of the female sex). From this crisis emerged feminism, championing individual variability and refuting the premise that a singular "woman" existed. Cott focuses on the suffrage-campaign milieu in which feminism arose, giving particular attention to the character and role of the National Woman's Party from its militant suffrage days to its advocacy of the equal right amendment in the 1920s. Against prevailing interpretations of the decline of women's political activities after 1920, Cott counterposes the swelling numbers in women's voluntary associations and their political efforts. She also analyzes the pitfalls that awaited women who tried for effectiveness in the male-dominated political parties. She sets the controversy over the equal rights amendment in new context, discussing the full dimensions of the conflict as not merely over personalities, tactics, or class loyalties, but as a signal example of the modern problem of capturing sexual equality and sexual difference in law. The book explores the irony-strewn path of women who as aspiring professionals and political actors attempted to put into practice the feminist intent to replace the abstraction "woman" with, instead, "the human sex." This history-the story of women who first claimed the name feminists-builds an essential bridge between the presuffrage period and today.  

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16257-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is about the time when the word feminism came into use in the United States, and the women who used it. The appearance of Feminism in the 1910s signaled a new phase in the debate and agitation about women’s rights and freedoms that had flared for hundreds of years. People in the nineteenth century did not say feminism. They spoke of the advancement of woman or the cause of woman, woman’s rights, and woman suffrage. Most inclusively, they spoke of the woman movement, to denote the many ways women moved out of their homes to initiate measures of...

    (pp. 11-50)

    “The time has come to define feminism; it is no longer possible to ignore it,” the lead editorial in the Century, a general feature magazine, proclaimed in the spring of 1914. “The germ is in the blood of our women. The principle is in the heart of our race. The word is daily in the pages of our newspapers. The doctrine and its corollaries are on every tongue.” The Century hardly lagged in fixing on the term, for feminism—a word unknown to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—had blossomed into use by writers, intellectuals, and radicals just...

    (pp. 51-82)

    Feminism and “militance” were not the same thing, but common parlance linked them. In 1913, a new national woman suffrage group was founded, and if there was any suffrage organization to which Feminists would likely be drawn, it was this one which identified itself with militant action: the Congressional Union. The brainchild of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, it produced the Woman’s Party in 1916 and shortly afterward the National Woman’s Party. This group would take up the term Feminism and become the prime mover in giving it a political and organizational dimension once the ballot was gained.

    The seeds...

    (pp. 83-114)

    The Nineteenth Amendment is the most obvious benchmark in the history of women in politics in the United States, but it is a perplexing one for the viewer who wants to include more than electoral events in the category of politics. To neglect 1920 as a political watershed would be obtuse and cavalier. Not only was the sex barrier to the ballot eliminated; but also the women’s movement to gain the vote was ended. Leaders of the suffrage movement perceived the change in generational experience as well as political status: “Oh, how I do pity the women who have had...

    (pp. 115-142)

    In the 1910s Feminists, like all suffragists, linked political and economic rights. While Crystal Eastman acknowledged that “Feminism means different things to different people,” she maintained that economic freedom was its “central fact,” its “fundamental aspect.” Suffragists connected the vote with economic leverage whether they appealed to industrial workers, career women, or housewives. There was every reason to insist on that link. Women had been historically excluded from the political initiative of the franchise because they were defined as dependent, like children and slaves. According to eighteenth-century natural rights philosophy, women did not possess the independence that warranted individual representation...

    (pp. 143-174)

    “The women of yesterday probably could not have done it at all,” advertisements for the Piggly-Wiggly food markets, innovators in self-service, praised 1920s housewives. The modern woman, choosing her own groceries off the shelf with “no clerk to persuade her,” had “astonished her husband … and the world.” “Her new, wide knowledge of values, her new ability to decide for herself, is one of the wonders of the world we live in.”¹ The modern woman and her world described by the ad were part of an urban industrial economy of mass production, individual wage-earning, and money purchases—the enlarging norm....

    (pp. 175-212)

    “Has Modern Woman Disrupted the Home?” asked the journal of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs at the end of the 1920s. “No,” journalist Ruth Hale blithely responded. Wife of newspaperman Heywood Broun (until she sought a divorce), mother of a young son, and founder of the Lucy Stone League—in support of married women keeping their “maiden” names—as well as a member of the National Woman’s Party, Hale continued, “I believe that every woman should be a money-producing unit. Needing the money has nothing at all to do with it. But just being able to...

    (pp. 213-240)

    Women’s unprecedented feats of a “masculine” character captured popular imagination in the 1920s. By swimming the English Channel in 1926 in less time than any of the male swimmers preceding her, nineteen-year-old Gertrude Ederle became a symbol of women’s new athletic accomplishments. Amelia Earhart, the logkeeper with a male pilot and mechanic, crossed the Atlantic by air in 1928—one year after Charles Lindbergh had made his solo flight—and became an American heroine, the female equivalent of “Lindy.” Film actress Mary Pickford’s meteoric rise to partnership in United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith in...

    (pp. 241-268)

    “The time will come when the human race will become so human that we shall not need separate women’s organizations,” aging California feminist and pacifist Alice Park hoped in the mid-1920s. Still at present, she observed, “women are lost in a man’s organization…. They do not yet dare to take an equal part. And until the time comes when they can and will, I feel that they get more benefit out of an organization that is entirely their own.” A multiform activist—pacifist, advocate of simplified spelling, vegetarian, loyal National Woman’s Party organizer in Palo Alto, and founder of a...

    (pp. 269-284)

    No question, feminism came under heavy scrutiny—and fire—by the end of the 1920s. From one point of view, feminism appeared archaic, a polemical stance perhaps needed to storm bastions of male privilege early in the century when women had been confined to their own sphere, but now superseded by the reality that women and men worked and played together every day. In the eyes of other critics, feminism looked too fearsomely futuristic, projecting a world in which women’s self-seeking destroyed gender assignment, family unity, kinship bonds, social cohesion, and human happiness.¹ Feminism was condemned on the one hand...

  15. List of Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 285-286)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 287-366)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 367-372)