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White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States
     

White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States

by Louise Michele Newman
 

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This study reinterprets a crucial period (1870s-1920s) in the history of women's rights, focusing attention on a core contradiction at the heart of early feminist theory. At a time when white elites were concerned with imperialist projects and civilizing missions, progressive white women developed an explicit racial ideology to promote their cause, defending

Overview

This study reinterprets a crucial period (1870s-1920s) in the history of women's rights, focusing attention on a core contradiction at the heart of early feminist theory. At a time when white elites were concerned with imperialist projects and civilizing missions, progressive white women developed an explicit racial ideology to promote their cause, defending patriarchy for "primitives" while calling for its elimination among the "civilized." By exploring how progressive white women at the turn of the century laid the intellectual groundwork for the feminist social movements that followed, Louise Michele Newman speaks directly to contemporary debates about the effect of race on current feminist scholarship. "White Women's Rights is an important book. It is a fascinating and informative account of the numerous and complex ties which bound feminist thought to the practices and ideas which shaped and gave meaning to America as a racialized society. A compelling read, it moves very gracefully between the general history of the feminist movement and the particular histories of individual women."--Hazel Carby, Yale University

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this complex and often intense work, Newman (history, Univ. of Florida) examines the impact of racism and ethnography on feminist thought from the end of the Civil War to the 1920s. This period saw the widespread acceptance of Darwinian theories as well as the rise of American imperialism, both of which influenced the white middle-class women who comprised the leadership of the suffrage and women's rights movements. Hoping to elevate their own limited role in an entrenched patriarchal society, these women redefined their sphere to include the preservation of white bourgeois civilization and the education of primitive peoples. Newman focuses on the writings and activities of a select group of elite white women, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge, May French Sheldon, and Alice Fletcher. She contributes a fresh perspective on the development of women's philosophical growth in the 19th century, but the aridity of the prose will limit the appeal of this book to academic libraries.--Rose M. Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, PA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199879816
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
02/04/1999
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
3 MB

What People are Saying About This

Alice Kessler-Harris
A provocative and important book that makes a major contribution to our understanding of how American feminism has been shaped by a legacy of racism. In a compelling and illuminating exploration of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century feminist thought, Newman explores how racial thinking distorted liberal ideas of citizenship and democracy and limited the commitments of white women to equality for all. Everyone interested in the deep-rooted and paradoxical consequences of hidden racism should read this book.
— Rutgers University
Gail Bederman
White Women's Rights offers a persuasive and entirely new analysis of the race-based underpinnings of American feminist thought between the 1850s and the 1920s. While previous scholarship has highlighted the ethnocentrism of certain 19th-century American women or feminists, Newman demonstrates that feminism itself, as a set of ideas, had an intrisincally racial component. Her argument is original, complex, and subtle.
— University of Notre Dame
Matthew Frye Jacobson
'A bold reinterpretation of American feminism and the politics of race. Through a series of finely drawn and challenging intellectual portraits of figures such as Alice Fletcher, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Roberts Coolidge, and Mary French-Sheldon, [this book] demonstrates the bedrock import of US imperialism and domestic racial hierarchy to the development of (white) feminist thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...Broadly researched, tightly argued, and rendered with an incandescent clarity.
— Yale University
Hazel Carby
[This] is an important book. it is a fascinating and informative account of the numerous and complex ties which bound feminist thought to the practices and ideas which shaped and gave meaning to America as a racialized society. A compelling read, it moves very gracefully between the general history of the feminist movement and the particular histories of individual women.
— Yale University

Meet the Author

Louise Michele Newman is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida.

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