Roundtable Women and Electoral Politics in the Long 1920s: Race, Gender, and Political Culture

AHA Session 220
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Orleans Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Alison M. Parker, The College at Brockport (State University of New York)
Gayle Gullett, Arizona State University

Session Abstract

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which granted woman suffrage, profoundly altered the American political landscape as politicians began to tailor their campaigns to women's issues and new women voters invested their energies into particular political issues. However, the passage of woman suffrage was not a linear narrative of progress. Many black women continued to be disfranchised. Women of all races still struggled to gain legitimacy as voters and politicians, and to introduce and pass their ideal legislation. This panel examines the relations between race and gender in women's political culture. All of these papers seek to gauge the impact of woman suffrage on American politics by illuminating hidden narratives and histories. They illustrate the processes of nation-building and citizen-making in the development of female political culture, and emphasize challenges in the creation of communities through the eyes of women from different socio-economic and racial origins. Lauren Kozakiewicz's paper, “Too Pure for Politics?”: Women, Non-Partisanship, and the Hughes Campaign Train of 1916,” charts white women's activism, via railway, for Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes in the 1916 presidential election. In this paper, Kozakiewicz assesses how the women's campaigning for Hughes affected women's political activism into the 1920s, carving a space for a select few women to pursue political office and cementing fundamental differences between women and men in electoral politics. Julie de Chantal's paper, “‘Scared from the Polls': Boston African American Women, Disfranchisement, and the 1920 Presidential Election,” examines alleged disfranchisement among African American women voters in Boston, a city distinguished by its supposed racial egalitarianism. In her paper, de Chantal situates disfranchisement among black women within Boston's fluid political culture, where partisan politics played out differently than in state-wide and national elections. Mary-Elizabeth Murphy's paper, “Mapping Black Women's Local and National Politics in 1920s-Washington,” examines the ways that black women in D.C. made their city the capital of black women's politics. Murphy maps the ways that black women's national politics became institutionally anchored to a geographic corridor in Northwest Washington. Although black women in Washington, D.C.—like all D.C. residents—could not vote in the 1920s, they helped to make black women across the country a visible presence in American politics. Finally, Courtney Lyons, in “Racial Uplift Is Not Enough: Nannie Helen Boroughs and ‘Gender Uplift',” examines the role of one black woman in Washington D.C., Nannie Helen Boroughs, and illustrates the “Personal is Political” approach adopted by female members of the African American community. She examines the role of Boroughs in the foundation of the National Baptist Convention Women's Auxiliary and later the National Training School for Women and Girls, which offered vocational training and Christian liberal arts education for women. Lyons highlights the secular and non-secular opposition faced by Boroughs, as well as her early awareness of the interdependence of racial uplift and gender uplift.

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