All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900.
In All Bound Up Together, Martha S. Jones analyzes the wide variety of ways that three generations of African-American, female activists living in the North used the woman question to define their position in relation to African-American men, African-American institutions, and American society. Framing her discussion around the concept of "public culture," she argues that in the 1830s, women such as Boston reformer Maria Stewart and itinerate Methodist preacher Jarena Lee worked within the confines of the ideology of domesticity and female civic responsibility and the need to prove their respectability in order to advance black women's role in public life. By demanding more influence in church affairs, political organizations, lyceums, literary, anti-slavery, and mutual aid societies, schools, and fraternal orders, they forced their contemporaries to address the issue of female equality and challenged them to redefine what it meant to be a woman. Supported by such prominent black reformers as Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany, their increasing demand for women's rights was widely debated at black-led conventions and in print in the 1830s and 1840s. Jones claims, however, that the Fugitive Slave Act, the Passenger Cases, and the Dred Scott Case, which compromised black community life and encouraged some members of the black community and their white abolitionist allies to separate the cause of blacks from that of women, muted demands for female equality in the 1850s.
Jones demonstrates that the Civil War provided black women with the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism as they expanded their public service in the form of charity work, public speaking, and teaching. But she notes that Reconstruction politics complicated the issue of woman's rights by introducing the experiences and concerns of freedwomen into the debate over the position of black women in American society and encouraging members of the black community to again privilege race over gender during the debates surrounding the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Excluded from opportunities to participate as equals in the political life of the nation after Reconstruction, African-American women turned their attention to organizing autonomous women's clubs and enhancing their position in black social and religious institutions as a way of continuing to exercise public authority. They persisted in demanding more authority in their churches despite the resistance of increasingly powerless black men and the reality of Jim Crow. In response to their demands, the General Conference of the AME Church created the position of stewardess in 1872 as a way of granting women more religious authority. The AME Zion Church provided the same opportunity for their members four years later. While women failed in their campaign to control the missionary activities of their churches, they made advances on other fronts. By 1899 Methodist women had gained the right to vote in church affairs, hold church offices, and be ordained as ministers. Baptist women established their own religious power base by founding a women's national convention in 1900. Those intent on consolidating women's influence in black communities were successful in other venues as well. In 1874 the Masons institutionalized the participation of women in their organization by establishing the Order of the Eastern Star. And black clubwomen formed the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs in 1896.
Concluding that African-American women had successfully established both their visibility and authority in northern black communities by the 1890s, Jones's book is particularly impressive in its consideration of gender conflict within the black community over issues of prestige and power and the ways that the tension between domesticity/respectability and political activism influenced efforts on the part of women to secure for themselves a central role in black public culture. It convincingly illustrates the degree to which the women question influenced all aspects of northern black culture from the 1830s onward. Well-written and thoroughly researched, it is a welcome addition to the literature on black women and the issue of woman's rights.
Sylvia D. Hoffert
Texas A & M University
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|Author:||Hoffert, Sylvia D.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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