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The Practice of U.S. Women's History

The Practice of U.S. Women's History: Narratives, Intersections, and Dialogues

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The Practice of U.S. Women's History
    Book Description:

    In this collection of seventeen original essays on women's lives from the colonial period to the present, contributors take the competing forces of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, and region into account. Among many other examples, they examine how conceptions of gender shaped government officials' attitudes towards East Asian immigrants; how race and gender inequality pervaded the welfare state; and how color and class shaped Mexican American women's mobilization for civil and labor rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4398-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Narratives, Intersections, and Dialogues
    (pp. 1-11)

    In her classic work,Relations of Rescue, Peggy Pascoe reflected on history “as a kind of conversation between the past and the present in which we travel through time to examine the cultural assumptions — and possibilities of our society as well as the societies before us.”¹The Practice of U.S. Women’s Historymirrors a collective belief that writing women into the historical record has shifted and changed over time, and, with it, the practice of history. Offering gendered historiographies from an array of perspectives,The Practice of U.S. Women’s Historyquestions whose voices count and who decides what matters....

  5. 1 Where the Girls Arenʹt: Women as Reluctant Migrants but Rational Actors in Early America
    (pp. 12-29)

    The most famous fictive British imagining of the colonial situation in America is Daniel Defoe’sRobinson Crusoe. Immensely popular in its day, it remains just as popular in a post-modernist, post-colonial age as an exemplary text about individualism, modern capitalism, colonialism, and gender. Through industry, self-mastery, and mastery of the environment and its savage inhabitants, Crusoe creates an improved and civilized world over which he is king, a world in which women are entirely absent.Robinson Crusoeis thus a highly gendered metropolitan vision of what contemporaries thought was going on (or should be going on) in Britain’s colonizing project...

  6. 2 “Your Women Are of No Small Consequence”: Native American Women, Gender, and Early American History
    (pp. 30-49)

    In May 1756, at the outset of the French and Indian War, a delegation of Iroquois met with British imperial agent Sir William Johnson. Among them were two Seneca women who came with their male counterparts to discuss matters of war. Their male speaker reminded Johnson that it was customary for Iroquois women to participate in the political affairs of their community. He explained, “As women have a great influence on our young Warriors, I must desire that the women now present in particular may be acquainted with what news you may have.” Keen to secure Iroquois allegiance, Johnson assured...

  7. 3 From Daughters of Liberty to Women of the Republic: American Women in the Era of the American Revolution
    (pp. 50-66)

    A notice in the January 1848 issue ofGodey’s Lady’s Bookinformed readers that the author Elizabeth F. Ellet was engaged in the preparation of a work on the women of the American Revolution. It encouraged anyone with anecdotes to contact her. Ellet published her three-volume work,The Women of the American Revolution(1848), later that year.¹ The first of its kind, it attempted to recover the activities of individual American women, elites and non-elites alike, who contributed to the Patriot cause. Until recently, Ellet’s book resided on the shelves of most university libraries in a dusty and untouched state....

  8. 4 Southern Women of Color and the American Revolution, 1775–1783
    (pp. 67-82)

    During the past twenty or so years our understanding of the American Revolution has been transformed in two very important ways. Thanks to such scholars as David Brion Davis, Ira Berlin, and Sylvia Frey, to name but three of those whose findings have been particularly influential, much closer attention has come to be paid to the complexities of slavery and race relations during this pivotal period in nation-making. Building upon the pioneering work of Benjamin Quarles, Frey has shifted our attention away from the political, moral, and religious problems that the institution of slavery posed for white Americans and emphasized...

  9. 5 From Dawn to Dusk: Womenʹs Work in the Antebellum Era
    (pp. 83-105)

    In the 1960s and 1970s the women’s movement, galvanized by civil rights protest and reform, radically altered the agenda of historical inquiry. It brought an increase in the number of female scholars to the discipline of history and, in conjunction with the emergence of the new social history, extended the categories of historical analysis beyond high politics to incorporate, among other subject areas, women and the family.¹ This necessitated an overhaul of the widely held assumption that women’s role and status in society, often shaped by domestic and familial concerns as wives and mothers, were unchanging and therefore ahistorical. To...

  10. 6 To Bind Up the Nationʹs Wounds: Women and the American Civil War
    (pp. 106-125)

    The Civil War is the central event in America’s national story. It was the nation’s defining conflict, the war whose outcome justified both America’s claim to nationhood and the central ideals of freedom and equality supporting that claim. Yet the war established neither freedom in anything but the legal sense for African Americans nor equality in any sense for women. Although historians continue to challenge the image of the Civil War as a “brother’s war” that ultimately reaffirmed national unity and, specifically, work to incorporate women into the history of the conflict, our understanding of why women’s role in the...

  11. 7 Turnerʹs Ghost: A Personal Retrospective on Western Womenʹs History
    (pp. 126-145)

    I have spent my academic career haunted by the ghost of America’s most famous historian, Frederick Jackson Turner.¹ When I first began my study of western women thirty years ago, I accepted Turner’s frontier thesis without question, as did everyone else I knew. Then, when I noticed flaws in the theory, I tried to exorcize Turner by marshaling arguments against his ethnocentrism and triumphalism. Next, I tried to ignore the ghostly remnants. Recently, however, I’ve become concerned that Turner’s lingering aura is creating two western histories divided by whiteness and plagued by popular myths about the West. In this chapter...

  12. 8 Gender and U.S. Imperialism in U.S. Womenʹs History
    (pp. 146-160)

    A decade ago, when I went to publish the dissertation that would becomeReproducing Empire, I got two responses from university presses that in retrospect seem telling and quite funny. I carefully explained in my cover letter that I was writing about women and U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico, a subject, I argued, that shed light on a host of important questions in U.S. history. One press’s acquisition editor wrote back to me saying that while the manuscript was quite interesting, he would like to see two substantive chapters on African Americans before his press considered it. Another suggested I...

  13. 9 Chinese American Women in U.S. History: Explaining Representations of Exotic Others, Passive Objects, and Active Subjects
    (pp. 161-184)

    The first sighting that Americans likely had of a Chinese woman was in 1834 as a “curiosity” in New York City, where Afong Moy was elaborately staged as “the Chinese Lady” at the American Museum, owned by showman Phineas T. Barnum. Dressed in silk Qing Dynasty robes and dainty, pointed slippers, she was seated in a chair against an “orientalist” set decorated with carvings, lanterns, and tea accessories. During the 1830s and 1840s, Moy appeared on a variety of stages speaking in Chinese and eating with chopsticks. As “Ah” or “A” is a prefix commonly used in the Cantonese dialect...

  14. 10 Migrations and Destinations: Reflections on the Histories of U.S. Immigrant Women
    (pp. 185-200)

    In the 1975 motion pictureHester StreetCarol Kane earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Gitl, a young Eastern European Jewish matron who struggled to make a place for herself in New York’s Lower East Side and in the process win back the affections of her thoroughly Americanized husband, Jake. Based on a story by Abraham Cahan, the founder of theJewish Daily Forward, the film captured everyday life and tensions over acculturation and gendered expectations set against the backdrop of a gritty, turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York neighborhood.¹ Feature films that portray immigration through women’s eyes are few, yet...

  15. 11 African American Women and Migration
    (pp. 201-220)

    Theresa Jan Cameron Lyons was born on the Cameron Plantation, near Durham, North Carolina, the granddaughter of slaves. Her grandfather’s death left her uncles as the only men on the farm, and when the sheriff arrested them, she recalled, “The landlord made us move because we didn’t have anyone to plow with the mules.” The family — now all women and girls — moved to another place. Lyons’s mother, Janie Riley, took in laundry to supplement their income, and Lyons was hired as a day laborer at a neighboring farm. Giving up the land, the family moved to the city...

  16. 12 Morena/o, Blanca/o, y Café con Leche: Racial Constructions in Chicana/o Historiography
    (pp. 221-237)

    The scene is the Mapping Memories and Migrations: Re-thinking Latina Histories Conference held in February 2004. Before a packed house at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas, Texas, an elegant Mexican American senior citizen rose from her seat to ask me, the panel moderator, a question: “Can you explain to me the word Chicano?” I offered my standard two-sentence spiel and she seemed satisfied with my answer. During the break, a colleague pulled me aside, inquiring if I had recognized Anita Martinez, the woman who had asked the “Chicano” question. In 1969 Martínez was the first Mexican American woman elected...

  17. 13 The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1848–1920
    (pp. 238-257)

    The seventy-two-year-long struggle by American women to gain the vote has proved a fertile area of study for women’s historians, although the relationship between the practice of women’s history and the history of suffrage has not always been straightforward. Histories of the woman suffrage movement in the United States were written by a range of activists long before women’s history became an accepted field of academic inquiry.¹ Traditionally, historians viewed the suffrage struggle as part of the history of democracy in the United States, an effort to widen the franchise to all Americans. They wrote organizational histories of the women’s...

  18. 14 Engendering Social Welfare Policy
    (pp. 258-279)

    When Jay Kleinberg and Eileen Boris first collaborated in the mid-1970s on a project using late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century estate records for the Maryland Historical Society, historians of women were focused on daily life and social and cultural history. But soon Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would put social welfare back onto the intellectual agenda, reawakening our interest in the Progressive era and the New Deal. We joined a growing movement to bring the state back into understanding social and economic life, which for women’s historians meant moving from a focus on women’s culture to a newly furbished sense...

  19. 15 Interrupting Norms and Constructing Deviances: Competing Frameworks in the Histories of Sexualities in the United States
    (pp. 280-307)

    Most historians locate the emergence of the field of the history of sexuality as part of the new social history of the 1960s. This new focus and methodology of inquiry investigated and prioritized the histories of groups that had been little studied.¹ These new “subfields” were created in the context of powerful social movements for civil rights and social justice. The resulting historical studies, often framed by the boundaries of these movements, defined their subjects generally by race/ethnicity, gender,orclass and explored and highlighted the lives, experiences, practices, and perspectives of non-elites (non-white, non-heterosexual, non-middle/upper-class men). In doing so,...

  20. 16 Strong People and Strong Leaders: African American Women and the Modern Black Freedom Struggle
    (pp. 308-328)

    “It is good that the stories of black women in the civil rights movement are finally being told,” remarked Stephanie Shaw when reviewing Jo Ann Robinson’s memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott, a key event in the history of the civil rights movement that was initiated, organized, and largely sustained by black women.¹ Indeed, a spate of recent monographs, biographies, memoirs, and articles explore the role of African American women in the modern black freedom struggle, illuminating how their organizational skills, leadership, and spiritual energy drove the movement forward.² What can we learn from this literature other than that women...

  21. 17 A New Century of Struggle: Feminism and Antifeminism in the United States, 1920–Present
    (pp. 329-346)

    The project of uncovering the origins, ideas, and nature of post-suffrage feminist activism in the United States has been an important area of study for women’s historians over the past thirty years. Indeed, the link between the history of post-suffrage feminism and its chroniclers is unique because the renaissance of the women’s history field coincided with, and can in part be attributed to, their very area of inquiry: the upsurge of feminist activity in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the architects of modern women’s history, in other words, were passionate participants in this movement. Subsequent generations of scholars, including...

    (pp. 347-352)
  23. Index
    (pp. 353-370)