The State and Sexuality

The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Margot Canaday (2009).

Margot Canaday explores shifts in how homosexuality was viewed over time- what George Chauncey described in Gay New York as a shift from sex as an activity to an identity- in state policies within the expansion of the U.S. federal government in the postwar period (midcentury to 1980s).  Canaday argues that there was a slow increase in policing of homosexuality by the federal government culminating in the postwar period as a process of state building and creation of a national identity. The creation of a national identity based in a heterosexual “traditional” family separated Americans from liberal Europeans, and from the communist bloc where gender hierarchies were destroyed- as explored in Homeward Bound by Elaine Tyler May as well as The Lavender Scare by David K Johnson.

This concept of national identity is not fully articulated by Canaday, as her focus is on the multitude of ways the United States government defined citizenship and sexuality. The Federal government during this period protected heterosexual individuals as citizens, but excluded homosexual individuals from full citizenship in a variety of ways. Identity as an American, and sexuality became integral to citizenship. Canaday breaks down the arms of government which worked to define citizenship and sexuality into three categories:

  • Immigration
  • Military
  • Welfare System

Not only was citizenship determined by how one interacted with the government, but the definition of masculinity was also dependent on which facet of government being examined. The immigration system categorized individuals based on their exhibition of masculinity, and presumed ability to perform in a heteronormative way; providing for their family and contributing to society. Any failure to appear masculine enough was grounds to be denied entrance into the United States, because homosexuality would, in the mind of the government at the time, result in vice flowing into the country.

The military defined masculinity through behavior with other men, rather than an individual’s personal exhibition of masculinity. This resulted in an overall militarization of manliness that emphasized strength, power, and toughness. Indications that one was “feminine” or homosexual would bar them from serving in the military, or result in them being dishonorably discharged because the “degenerate” behavior threatened the security of the military and the nation.

Welfare (this included the GI Bill) defined masculinity through one’s status as provider and central role in the home, according to Canaday. The rhetoric of welfare mothers as a drain on society habits roots in this moment, as the state looked for ways to reify heterosexual families through emphasis on a male head of household who would provide for his family. A man who did not adhere to the nuclear family ideal could be denied benefits under the GI Bill. Performative masculinity was considered crucial to combating poverty during this period.

Canaday demonstrates the multi-layered and fluid definitions of citizenship. Federal regulation of homosexuality and the homo & heterosexual binary in policy formation created a category of “second-class” citizenship for homosexuals or anyone who did not fit into the ideal of the period. The concept of second-class citizenship was not new in American society, but was redefined to ensure that “new” threats to national identity were contained. Homosexuality was policed indirectly through the exclusion of sexually “degenerate” immigrants and other regulatory measures aimed at combating poverty, violence, and vice.


Cold War Families, Binding Women to the Home

Elaine Tyler May. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. (1988)Homeward Bound Cover

This week we are exploring mid-twentieth century women’s lives. I will be responding to Homeward Bound by Elaine Tyler May.

The generation that birthed the baby boomers (as Tim Brokaw called them “the greatest generation”) is interesting because they retreated from the sexual revolution, political “progressivism”, and grassroots social movements that their parents, and later their children, embraced. The generation that came of age in the Great Depression had a vibrant and unique youth culture, embraced the woman’s movement, and celebrated sex; their children, according to Tyler May, embraced conservative political ideologies, and a strong domestic ideal that focused on a strong “nuclear” family (7-8). This appears to be a return to late nineteenth-century ideals of Domesticity and conceptions of citizenship. For example, the Cold War was being fought through reinforcing the nuclear family which restricted women (in Tyler May’s research pool) to the home. Tyler May describes the new American dream as “successful breadwinners supporting attractive homemakers in affluent suburban homes” (Tyler May 21). In post-war America, women were pushed out of the labor force and into homes, in what Nancy Isenberg described in Sex and Citizenship as economic necessity,women were driven into marriage by economic necessity, because all lucrative means of support were seized by men”(Isenberg 130).50swar

Homeward Bound  is not the first of our readings that seek to define citizenship for women; Stephanie McCurry and Nell Painter both argued in their books that creating paid labor was crucial to an individual becoming a citizen in Antebellum America, when the ideal citizen was linked directly to capitalism.  This emphasis on labor as affirmation of one’s citizenship was key to the Woman’s Movement that fought for and gained suffrage at the turn of the century, and influenced the ideas of womanhood and modernity that were the focus of the 1920s and 1930s.

Leading up to and during WWII, President Roosevelt created a new concept of citizenship, one based on obligations to the state and entitlements claimed from the state. This new citizenship as explored by James Sparrow in Warfare State redefined the relationships of individuals with the state by defining a citizen in terms of action; physical action in the form of paying taxes, social action in the form of supporting the war effort, and modern patriotism through laying claim to civil rights earned through obligation, and sacrifice for the nation. It is through this new citizenship envisioned by FDR that the generation that Tyler May examines lay claim to their position in Cold War America, with a sense of entitlement and obligation that made them uniquely positioned to fight the Cold War at home.

The connection between citizenship and economic power found a way to continue into the 1940s and 50s as women became the main purchasers of consumer goods. More companies began to target the ideal domestic woman with their products and their advertising. In post-war America, obligation to the state was no longer serving the war effort, but rather ensuring that capitalism remained healthy and strong through making purchases. American patriotism became inextricably linked to consumer power during this time. Tyler May explores this not just by examining popular culture of the period, but also in her discussion of the growth of suburbs. Suburban living assured white middle-class Americans that they would be protected while also allowed them to demonstrate their patriotism through home buying. This also reaffirmed the new definition of whiteness that Tyler May identifies in her introduction as the result of urban flight by ethnic white Americans to the suburbs. How could one be considered ethnic if they were not explicitly part of a ethnic neighborhood in a city?

While Elaine Tyler May’s book provides unique insight into one group of Americans during the early years of the Cold War, her analysis isolates her subjects from social and political movements that were occurring simultaneously to this containment policy at


home. Tyler May devotes some time to discussing the fears of Cold War Americans in regards to sexual and political “deviants”, but completely ignores the ways that these fears of sexual non-normativity spread across the nation in the form of the Lavender Scare. In David K. Johnson’s book, The Lavender Scare, the effects of the expanded the national security state during the 1950s and 1960s in combination with McCarthyism are closely examined. McCarthyism linked homosexuality within the State Department to the idea of security risks due to the perception that homosexual activity made individuals more susceptible to blackmail. The removal of gay federal employees and rejection of gay applicants became more widespread and systemic over the course of the 1950s as bureaucracies across the country, and even international organizations, tried to demonstrate their adherence to concepts of ‘loyalty’ and Western family values. Tying this into the exploration of the “ideal” American Family would have developed a much richer background for the systemic fear that fueled this focus inward by the “greatest generation”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Another missed opportunity, in my opinion, is Tyler May’s reliance on the Kelly Longitudinal Study for her book.  The Kelly Longitudinal Study (KLS) was a voluntary survey that began between 1935 and 1938, with 300 engaged couples volunteering to respond to an extensive battery of physiological and psychological tests and measures. Couples agreed to notify the investigator of their marriage, or of the broken engagement. In 1954-1955, 512 of the original 600 spouses participated in the second wave of data collection. A follow up survey was conducted by James Connolly between 1979 and 1981. Participants completed mailed questionnaires containing both precoded and open-ended responses (both collections are housed at the Murray Research Archive at Harvard University). Not only were the respondents to the KLS not representative of the nation as a whole, consisting of upper-middle class heterosexual couples from New England, who were white and well-educated and predominantly Protestant. Tyler May’s response to this criticism of the study is, “[a]lthough all groups contributed to the baby boom, it was the values of the white middle class that shaped the dominant political and economic institutions that affected all Americans. Those who did not conform to them were likely to be marginalized, stigmatized, and disadvantaged as a result” (Tyler May 15). I am suspicious of this justification for utilizing the KLS  as a representative tool for the nation as a whole during the Cold War. The Kinsey Report, while focused primarily on sexuality, was conducted during the same time and could have provided additional insight into the everyday American; perhaps allowing more analysis of the ideal versus reality during this period.

While Tyler May’s research provides an important foundational understanding of what the ideal American family was like during the Cold War, there remain several under- or unexplored facets of women in the Cold War. Black women, working women, non-Protestant women, and lesbian women are invisible in this history- hopefully the other books for this week will reveal those histories.


Works cited:

Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2004.

McCurry, Stephanie. Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations,             & the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country (1995).

Painter, Nell. Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol (1996).

Sparrow, James. Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Governments. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.


Disability and Authorship: Reflecting on a Talk by Susan Schweik

Last week, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Susan Schweik, Professor of English at UC Berkeley. Titled “Here the Diaries End: or, a Basic Kit to Confront the Human Disposal Authority,” Professor Schweik led us through a brief history of writing about people with disabilities, as well as writing from people with disabilities, since the mid 20th century. As Sarah has already noted, Schweik’s central focus was on May V. Segoe’s publication of the diaries of a man with down syndrome named Paul Scott, which was published in 1964. As Schweik explained, this book was revolutionary in a movement beginning to push for rights for people with disabilities. However, what remained problematic even up through the 1990s was the topic of authorship.

Before delving into the words of Paul Scott, Schweik briefly mentioned several other works by people with disabilities, including Nigel Hunt’s The World of Nigel Hunt: the diary of a Mongoloid Youth (1967); Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz’s Count Us In: Growing up with Down Syndrome (1994); a collection of poems by Gretchen Josephson entitled Bus Girl (1997); and Roland Johnson’s Lost in a Desert World: An Autobiography (1999). Many of these works are problematic in that, in many cases, the actual author’s agency as author has been erased or devalued in various ways. In the case of Nigel Hunt, a foreward written by Lionel Sharples Penrose uses racist and derogatory language that emphasizes Hunt’s disability. In the case of Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz, their authorship becomes erased on the back cover of another book, and I believe it was Bus Girl, which uses a quotation by Kingsley’s mother and gives credit to her as the author of Kingsley and Levitz’s book. Tracing these problems of authorship from the 1990s backward, Schweik brought us back to the publication of Paul Scott’s journals entitled Yesterday was Tuesday, All Day & All Night: The Story of a Unique Education, released in 1964, which only gives credit to May Segoe on its front cover.

For Schweik, and I found for myself as well, the entire framing of this book is problematic. Firstly, it was published more than likely without Scott’s permission after his death. Secondly, he is nowhere on the front cover. Secondly, the title is somewhat misleading, as much of Scott’s diaries concerned his travels with his dad, rather than his educational experiences. Thirdly, the word “unique” in the context of the title is offensive, as it much of Segoe’s introductory remarks and psychoanalysis throughout the book. Much of Schweik’s talk aims to give Scott back his credit as an artist. In her presentation, Schweik related instances of narrative experimentation throughout the book, as well as some excerpts that demonstrate true emotion and deep thought. After being briefly institutionalized at the age of 6, Scott remained in the custody of his father after his parents separated, who brought Scott along for a life of world travel. This is what constitutes the majority of Scott’s writings: reflections on these experiences. After his father’s death, however, Scott was institutionalized again at the age of 43. It is at this point in the book that Segoe writes, “Here the diaries end,” when, in fact, Scott continued to write and create until his death several years after.

For me, one of the best ways to connect this talk with the topic of women or gender studies, is broadening this context to examine issues of authorship for minorities throughout history. As Schweik mentions, not only has authorship been erased for people with disabilities in many cases, but their capabilities as authors have needed to be explained for their audiences through forewards and introductions, even well into the 20th century. I was instantly reminded of works from the 18th and 19th centuries which embraced very similar tactics for the publication of works by women or black authors. White men had been writing prefaces for minorities for centuries. For example, the Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682) contains a lengthy preface explaining that Rowlandson’s desire to publish is not for selfish gain but rather to further the purpose of God. This preface is largely attributed to Puritan minister and political leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Increase Mather, with the intentional purpose of explaining that a woman did indeed write this narrative, and she is not breaking conventional gender norms in the publishing of her narrative. Similarly, many slave narratives published in the 19th century also contain introductions written to prove the merit of the author. This was the case for a preface written by Theodore Pringle (a white man) to The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave. Related By Herself (1831) which aims to verify the factual nature of Prince’s narrative. Even the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself (1845) contains a preface by William Lloyd Garrison (a white man) and letter from Wendell Phillips (another white man) to demonstrate to the public the worth and merit of Douglass as an author specifically, and person more generally. These 20th century narratives from people with disabilities follow a sadly similar line of logic. While women such as May Segoe were now writing prefaces, these prefaces are premised on prejudices that prefaces are necessary for certain people because of who they are.

Schweik’s talk was sad, riveting, and insightful. She demonstrates that academia can have a significant place in advocacy and alliance. For more information on her work, visit her page using this link.


Violent Manifestations of Manliness

Image result for manliness and civilization images

Gail Bederman, Manliness and CivilizationA Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). 

Bederman’s central point throughout Manliness and Civilization is that ideologies about racial hierarchies at the turn of the twentieth century, directly related to hierarchies of civilization, helped shape conceptions of manliness and masculinity in this period. As Bederman explains, Victorian conceptions of what it meant to be a man transformed as the United States became increasingly interested in what it meant to be a civilized versus uncivilized nation. As notions and practices of imperialism began circulating the globe, rationalized by discourse such as Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden,” the U.S. increasingly became interested how it was to stake its claim as a powerful, exemplary civilization. As Bederman explains in her first chapter, a variety of other factors influenced these transformations in definition at the turn of the century: Immigration, industrialization, women in the workforce, and early pushes for women’s suffrage led American men to forge new images of manliness that were meant to reinforce traditional racial and gender social orders. The powerful and strong male body became idealized in contrast to lean, male figures of the Victorian period. These changes were manifested in the emergence of sporting culture (particularly prize fighting), fraternal organizations, boy scouts, and the YMCA. While used fairly interchangeably today, Bederman helpfully defines “manliness” and “masculine” as they would have been conceived of prior to 1900; “manliness” encompassed the good traits of being a man, a person being worthy of being a man, while “masculine” largely referred to all traits, both good and bad, that defined a man’s character and actions.

Applying discourse theory to the writings of Ida B. Wells, G. Stanley Hall, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Theodore Roosevelt, Bederman examines how, for various purposes,  each of these people defined manliness and civilization around the turn of the century. For the sake of this series of blog posts, each of us will tackle a different person. I will be starting off with Ida B. Wells, an African American investigative journalist, anti-lynching activist, founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and women’s rights activist.

Bederman writes that Wells “manipulated dominant middle-class ideas about race, manhood, and civilization in order to force white Americans to address lynching” as a strategy for bringing about reform (46). Wells invoked Victorian notions of manhood that emphasized self-restraint over emotional and violent passions which contrasted sharply with the highly emotional nature of the mob violence that resulted in lynchings. Bederman explains that the prominent myth of the “negro rapist,” which stated that most black men were savages unable to restrain lustful passions, emphasized a fear of black men raping white women. White men, particularly in the south, saw lynchings (the punishing of these passions) as a means of defending their masculinity through their protection of white women’s virtue. While most  sexual relationships between white women and black men that resulted in the lynching of  black men were consensual, these relationships were commandeered by white supremacists to make a larger point about race and the nature of black people.

Wells emphasized that mob violence and lynchings were quite unmanly and quite uncivilized. Her words falling on deaf ears in the U.S., Wells traveled to Britain in the attempt to shame Americans into the punishment and prevention of lynchings. Britain, who welcomed and printed Wells’s arguments about the appalling nature of lynching in the U.S., represented to many Americans the peak of white civilization and thus carried substantial weight for Wells’s points. Her anti-lynching campaign gaining traction in Britain, word began to circulate that various Christian sects in Britain would send missionaries over to the U.S. South that preached against the barbaric practice of lynching. “Missionary,” in this sense, was a loaded term. In this period, missionaries were often sent to more remote, “barbaric,” places of the world to spread the word of God. 

While British influence did influence some states to enact stricter anti-lynching laws, they were largely unenforced, and five years after the British campaign, the U.S. South had moved on to create its own definition of masculinity: if lynching resembled barbarism, that was only because the most manly of men possessed an inner barbarism which manifested itself in sexual and violent urges. Thus, the civilized man still possessed these latent natural, primitive characteristics that were allowed to emerge in extreme and necessary cases. Bederman explains that this ideal of the “natural man” whose breast swelled with power and virility became the masculine norm in the 1890s, in part owing to Wells’ invocation of the primitive as unmanly and uncivilized. This transformation illustrates Bederman’s point that manliness and masculinity were framed in terms of society’s needs. The “natural man” emerged out of justification for the violence of lynchings, and so the practice continued on well into the 20th century.

After this transformation, Wells changed tactics and became much more focused on building systems of support for black men who, fleeing the dangers of the south, found themselves excluded from many white organizations (such as the YMCA and settlement houses) and were therefore more prone to residing in areas with higher crime rates and sites of vice (such as gambling and prostitution). Bederman explains that while Wells continued her involvement in women’s rights efforts, Wells saw this this support system as important in changing white notions of black inferiority and incompetence.

Bederman’s discussion on Ida B. Wells is refreshing for those who have heard of or studied Wells before. Emphasizing Wells’s strategic discourse on manliness and civilization to combat lynching, Bederman highlights Wells’s keen understanding of race and gender politics at the turn of the century.

Disability, Representation, and Academia

Disability, Representation, and Academia

Michelle, Kim and I had the pleasure of attending UC Berkley Professor Susan Schweik’s talk “Here the diaries end: or, a basic kit to confront the human disposal authority” on March 27, 2018. After perhaps the most beautiful introduction from a prior student that I have ever heard, Professor Schweik began her talk.

Left to right: Michelle, Kim, Sarah

Scweik’s discussion of May V. Seagoe and “her” book, Yesterday was Tuesday, all day and all night; the story of a unique education (1964) is focused on both the fact that this is the first autobiography of Down’s syndrome person, Paul Scott, in Scott’s own words from

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 8.56.17 AM
Biography of Paul Scott

his journals; and on the tragic fact that representations of disability continues to be curated by parents or family members, editors, or doctors.

By the 1990s a large group of growing writing by Down’s

syndrome persons, Schweik stated that this was a Syracuse based movement- I would have loved to hear more about how this was Syracuse based. As examples of the works that were considered groundbreaking, Prof. Schweik provided cursory information on Lost in a Desert World by Roland Johnson (1999), Bus Girl Poems by Gretchen Josephson (1997), and Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz’s Count Us In: Growing Up with Down’s Syndrome (1994). These publications are considered representations of people with Down’s syndrome by people of Down’s syndrome, but Scweik emphasizes the title of “author” is also given to other individuals-such as the mother of Jason Kingsley-effectively diminishing the competency inherent in creating such a work.

An earlier publication, that Professor Schweik also discussed is The World of Nigel Hunt: the diary of a mongoloid youth (1982) is hailed as first book of Down syndrome by a person with Down’s syndrome. Schweik is working to refocus the beginning of these publications with Paul Scott and May Seagoe’s Yesterday was Tuesday, all day and all night; the sotry of a unique education. Many of the texts are written by parents of kids with Downs Syndrome and actually erased the voices of the individuals whom the works

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 9.30.06 AM
The World of Nigel Hunt (1982)

claim to be representing. May Seagoe and Paul Scott were actually published years before Nigel Hunt, and as Schweik emphasizes, Paul Scott’s words are the majority of the book, though Seagoe edited and provided commentary, the book clearly provided Scott’s words. This is not to say that Yesterday was Tuesday is a paragon of representative literature; Schweik points out that Seagoe’s exoticism of Scott, makes Scott the Other, through describing him in racist and terrible language


The book is comprised of decades of Scott’s journal with psychological commentary by Seagoe, according to Schweik the journal entries read as a travelogue, with reviews of books and films. As Scott matured his writing became poetic and proves Scott’s capacity for educability- yet Schweik argues that Scott was incarcerated in his own biography. Framed between two experiences in institutions, Scott’s life begins and ends with incarceration in institutions according to Seagoe. Scott’s diaries are considered to have ended with his incarceration at age 43, even though he continued to write for four more years until his death. Seagoe describes the institution as a wonderful place and Scott as a boy- something that struck me as a way of reinforcing societal conceptions of disability with infantile cognition. Yet, Schweik provided the audience with letter that Scott wrote his sister demanding to be brought home and describing his hatred of the institution. Paul Scott’s words prove his competency to plead his case, but he was unable to prevent his own doom. The epilogue as curated by Seagoe becomes a case against freedom and for institutions for disabled people.

Image of Letter from Paul Scott to his stepmother complaining of his institutionalization 


How does this research connect with our Study of Women’s History? I have a few thoughts. Paul Scott, like so many other people with disability, have been marginalized in history, were considered evidence in the early twentieth century of the need for eugenics, and continue today to struggle for accurate and respectful representation and inclusion. In a few weeks we will be reading about motherhood in the twentieth century, a concept that is almost inseparable from a discussion of forced sterilization, eugenics, and birth control as scientific medicine began to promote patriot and racial ideas of “health”. Professor Schweik is clear to make sure this story is not about May V. Seagoe, female psychologist in the 1960s, but rather Paul Scott, a young man with Down’s syndrome and a literary voice. Schweik is working diligently to raise awareness of the lack of visibility historically of people considered disabled, and the silencing of their voices. This is a field of historical study that I hope we see continue to grow, and even if it isn’t explicitly part of my research, I hope to remain cognizant of.

An interesting article to read for some additional understanding of disability and eugenics is “Defective or Disabled?: Race, Medicine, and Eugenics in Progressive Era Virginia ad Alabama” Gregory Michael Dorr. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Oct., 2006), pp. 359-392.

The impact of New Womanhood and Eugenics on women is another fascinating topic closely tied to this discussion. Check out Daylanne English, Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance (2004).

Professor Schweik’s bio info:

There will be two more speaking events this week at Syracuse University featuring Professor Susan Schweik, so you still have time to see her.

A Woman’s Life in Progressive Times

Image result for sklar florence kelley nation's work

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Florence Kelley and the Nation’s Work: The Rise of Women’s Political Culture, 1830-1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

My first reaction to reading Kathryn Kish Sklar’s Florence Kelley & the Nation’s Work was to question why I had not come across her name before as a significant participant in women’s contributions to Progressive Era reforms. I was quite shocked that Florence Kelley was an acquaintance of some of the most famous names of the nineteenth into twentieth centuries: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Engels, Jane Addams, Samuel Gompers, Lucretia Mott, and others. Not only had Kelley worked among these people, but Kelley herself, as argued by Sklar, was instrumental to emergent labor protections for the working class, protections that helped shape the world we live in today. While mainly focused on the welfare of children and women, Kelley’s fight for shorter working hours and better working conditions also affected men in the working class as well. Furthermore, she was one of the first women on a state government’s payroll as chief factory inspector under radical Illinois governor John P. Altgeld.

This book, and therefore Sklar herself, clearly celebrates Kelley’s work as instrumental to these larger movements of the Progressive Era, raising Kelley out of obscurity. Because of Kelley’s participation in these much larger societal and political movements, she is an excellent figure around which to chronologically explore this time period of increasing industrialization, urbanization, and capitalist exploitation. Kelley’s life provides the frame for Sklar’s exploration of the years from 1830 to 1900. Covering this span of time, Sklar traces Kelley’s life from childhood into adulthood. Owing, in part, to her father’s status as a congressman and her aunt’s role in the early women’s rights and abolition movements, Kelley found herself more exposed at a young age to social injustices than many other middle class women of her time. Having traveled with her father, William Kelley, all over the country and see the daily lives of America’s working class, Kelley grew into an impassioned young woman, ready to make a difference.

Throughout her life, Kelley held onto these early influences. Kelley used her privileged upbringing to earn an undergraduate degree at Cornell, her senior thesis an early contribution to the emerging field of Social Studies and Social Sciences. Continuing her education in Europe, Kelley found herself converted to socialism and married a Jewish medical student named Lazare Wischnewetzky. After returning to New York a couple children later, Kelley encountered little work or marriage happiness. After separating from Lazare, who became abusive, Kelley uprooted to Chicago, where she became increasingly involved in Jane Addams’ Hull House and the city’s labor politics, which led her to her prominent inspector position under Altgeld. Sklar concludes this volume right before Kelley’s momentous move back to New York where she was offered the position of secretary for the recently-formed National Consumers’ League, headquartered in New York.

Image result for hull house chicago

Above: Hull House Settlement, c. 1920,

Covering seventy years of social and political movements for reform in the U.S., this book is quite dense for a biography (especially when considering this is only Part One). However, the benefit in this approach is that Sklar is able to not only demonstrate the significance of a single person, but place that person occupies within the context of major changes to American society in this time. Furthermore, by tracing Kelley’s experiences in Europe, Sklar is also able to examine labor reform and class ideologies within a more global context. In order to argue for Kelley’s significance for American history, Sklar places Kelley at the center of her narrative as a woman who not only surrounded herself with prominent Progressives, but helped enact quite significant Progressive reforms herself.

Exploring the New York State Suffrage Movement Through a Peripheral Lens


Goodier, Susan, and Karen Pastorello. Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017.

This week’s readings were on the suffrage movement and authors Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello in their book Women Will Vote contribute to a recent historiographical trend of placing at the center of a story the peripheral groups in a movement. Focusing on the long history of the suffrage movement in New York State (1848-1917), Goodier and Pastorello illuminate the contributions of five disparate groups: rural women, working-class immigrant women, black women, male suffragists, and radical women. While the formal connectivity between the groups was sparse, their simultaneous activism across upstate New York contributed to the success of the New York State suffrage referendum in 1917 and within a larger context, the eventual passage of the 19th federal amendment in 1920.

  • Rural women – Goodier and Pastorello abandon the traditional notion that rural women were apolitical but rather showcase their activism in the granges, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and political equality clubs. Involvement in these entities ultimately, according to the authors, translated and/or were concurrent with women’s suffrage. For example, granges offered women “the possibility of becoming politically active in a mixed organization” (pg. 29) while the WCTU forged a broad political base (pg. 34). Furthermore, I believe it is also important to articulate the receptivity to a message. In considering the rural (and generally more conservative) context of rural farming communities, I enjoyed how the authors analyzed how lectures aided in winning “the acceptance of a number of progressive ideas in rural communities.” While theatre performances were sometimes perceived with “wickedness” and “political rallies [as] distasteful”, lectures provided (to some extent) a more non-controversial medium and form of entertainment (pg. 28). This relays the importance of what medium an organization uses in order to convey their message as well as considering who your audience is.
  • Immigrant, working women – One important aspect Goodier and Pastorello include is how class-based interests and identities shaped suffrage activism. Immigrant, working women’s first activist threads were forged combating their poor working conditions, most notably in the Rochester Garment Workers strike. Within this context, suffragists made “a direct link between women’s poor working conditions and their lack of suffrage” (pg. 64). Most surprisingly, suffragists did not utilize assimilation tactics or emphasized americanization towards these women, a common theme in immigrant history. Rather, suffragists believed that the best avenue would be to empower them (pg. 57).
  • African American Women- For African American women, both their gender and racial identities shaped their role in the suffrage movement. These women saw their need for suffrage differently compared to white women, whereas suffrage could be a tool to combat racial injustices such as lynching and vocational discrimination. However, African American women generally formed their own organizations a part from white women due to the participatory discrimination within white women’s suffrage organizations (pg.76). For example, African American suffragist Hester Jeffrey established the Susan B. Anthony Club for Colored Women not only for the goal to obtain suffrage but also to expand social and educational rights to African American women.
  • Men- So much focus on suffrage scholarship has been devoted to women that it has only been recently where men’s efforts have been added to the historiographic conversation. While men were first reluctant to overtly express their support for women’s suffrage, overtime men’s work in the movement became more acceptable. Most notable is the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage of the State of New York which helped publicize the suffrage campaign through planned rallies, dances, and the new-medium of film (pg. 100). Furthermore, a growing number of men explicitly supported the suffrage campaign following Theodore Roosevelt’s (politically motivated) lead. Since Theodore Roosevelt was portrayed in popular culture as being ‘manly’,  I was left wondering if this action was due to the jingoist/hyper-masculine culture seen during this time period, examined in texts such as Gail Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization (1995) and Kristin Hoganson’s Fighting For American Manhood (1998).
  • Radical women- This section of the text was of particular interest to me due to the strategies suffragists employed in the last few years of the suffrage campaign. In order to stimulate mass attention towards suffrage, radical suffragists used “unconventional and often innovative tactics” (pg. 114). One such approach was through their skillful crafting of their image to encompass suffrage as a positive step towards civilized progress. This included these “new woman” suffragists utilized new technology of the time in their crusade, such as the motorcars for a symbol of their independence and a means to disperse their ideas across the state (pg. 129).

Ultimately, Women Will Vote adds to our understanding that the backbone of the suffrage movement was supported by a variety of people across racial, class, and gendered lines. By broadening the scope in this examination to include these multiple perspectives provides a more nuanced view of the suffrage movement. The same energy that invigorated the NYS suffrage campaign led to the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment, with many of the same women and men now turning their attention to Washington.

  • On one last side note, the local connections to Syracuse and other places across Upstate New York were fascinating to learn while reading this book. In particular, one historical actor I wish to underscore is Syracusan suffragist (and mother-in-law to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s L. Frank Baum) Matilda Joslyn Gage. Gage, who established the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) in 1869, is a fitting example of the grassroots focus and activist structure Goodier and Pastorello highlight in their text. Gage ultimately understood the importance of grassroots organization in order to reach many people across the state with the following structure of the NYSWSA: town/village society-auxiliary to the country society and county society-auxiliary to the state association (pg. 15). Her home, now a museum, is located in Fayetteville, NY. More information can be found here: