Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America.
Since the emergence of women's history as a subfield, historians have been exploring female organizational activities. In recent years, however, scholarly attention has moved from women's rights associations, charities, and benevolent societies to a wider range of groups. To survey a range of women's patriotic beliefs and activities, Francesca Morgan focuses on four different late nineteenth-century female organizations--the National Association of Colored Women, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Woman's Relief Corps.
One of these groups, the Woman's Relief Association, arose as an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic (the Union army veterans association), and two others--the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy--were formed as hereditary associations which demanded descent from a veteran as necessary for membership. The fourth organization, the National Association of Colored Women, was the major female African American national organization. Among these groups only the Woman's Relief Association had a racially integrated membership.
Morgan argues that the establishment of these organizations during the 1880s and 1890s represented a new phase for women. With the exception of the drive to restore Mount Vernon, earlier American women's patriotic gestures, in Morgan's view, typically had been linked to wars and the need to support the soldiers. All these changed after the 1880s as these new groups arose in peacetime to argue for women's importance in a plethora of patriotic endeavors.
To Morgan, all four organizations stand as examples of what she calls a 'woman centered nationalism"--the belief that women had a vital role to play in the creating and transmitting the culture of the nation. She points out their many different achievements--from the erection of monuments and heroic statues to the creation of house museums to programs for school children--as emblematic of their energy and self confidence. Part of an age that believed in female moral superiority, these women held it their duty to teach patriotism to a rising generation. To be sure, Morgan sees real limits to this female assertiveness. Even though the clubwomen lauded their foremothers, they even more loudly celebrated their forefathers, and they were most active in areas such as education that they could call traditionally feminine in orientation. Moreover, these women were, varying from organization to organization, slow to ask for direct political power for themselves; indeed the United Daughters of the Confederacy never supported the vote for women.
Given the slightly different origins of each organization, over which Morgan tends to gloss, it is not surprising that each group adopted a different tack for expressing their interests. Morgan argues that despite their conservatism, all these women challenged the views of men, such as President Theodore Roosevelt, who decried female activism and saw little role for women other than in producing future warriors and statesmen.
Morgan uses the various women's societies as a way to exploring the shifting forms not only of women's patriotism but also their nationalism and ways of thinking about the national community. Here she tries to divine their definition of the nation from the parts of it they highlighted in their work and writings. Thus race looms large in her explanation because of the white women's discriminatory views. Yet she may well overstate her case, for most of the white activists expected racial hierarchy in daily life rather than the exclusion she suggests as their vision for America.
Morgan also argues that World War I brought a significant shift in values to these women. Not only did it masculinize women's nationalism, she argues that the Daughters of the Revolution took a distinctly rightist turn, fighting radicalism and calling for a more secure nation. More important to the other black and white clubwomen, their cultural authority was lessened and increasingly banished to the home. In the postwar world, these groups were increasingly seen as amateurs.
Morgan's research is impressive, and her juxtaposition of these organizations highlights important differences among them. Yet this strength in analysis also at times gives her writing a schematic aspect as she constantly moves among the four organizations. Moreover, because the reader never really comes to know the major leaders of these groups, it becomes impossible to delve deeply into the reasons for the organizations' changes. While Morgan points in part to Bolshevik revolution and Red Scare as impelling the rightward turn of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she also believes that more militantly xenophobic women took the helm. Yet with little discussion of intragroup politics, the reader may well remain puzzled about the impetus for change in the organization. Still, Morgan has provided an important introduction to the changing forms of women's patriotic organizations in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America.
Jane Turner Censer
George Mason University
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|Author:||Censer, Jane Turner|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2007|
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