Finding Feminisms: New Perspectives of Women’s Movements in the American South

AHA Session 275
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Crystal Ballroom A (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Chana Kai Lee, University of Georgia
Chana Kai Lee, University of Georgia

Session Abstract

Recently published synthetic narratives of the modern American women's movement capture a capacious and diverse movement for gender equality throughout the twentieth century. In Feminism Unfinished, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry chronicle the development of modern feminist action from the post-suffrage years, to the rise of women’s liberation, and the growth of a millennial feminist movement. In Rethinking American Women's Activism, Annelise Orleck integrates the actions and voices of working-class and women of color more fully into the narrative. She argues that their experiences help to redraw the boundaries of the women's movement, illustrating how class and race intersected with gender and how motherhood played a fundamental role in the radical activism of many women. Yet, gaps continue to remain in these new and exciting narratives. One of the most glaring is the near absence of women from the southern United States. Other than references to the importance of the southern civil rights movement in shaping the feminism of some radical feminists, there is nearly no mention of southern women--of any race or class--as participants in the women's movement. Our panel seeks to bring visibility to some of the new scholarship on the women's movement as it played out in the southern United States. Shannen Dee Williams contends that embracing the religious state was a profoundly radical and arguably feminist act for black women and girls whose opportunities for social, political, and economic advancement in the secular world were severely circumscribed after WWI. Sarah McNamara examines how Latina feminists made choices based on both local and global cultures, and analyzes the intersections of gender, culture, and immigration on the evolution of the labor, women’s, and civil rights movements. Jessica Wilkerson examines grassroots feminism in the Appalachian South and shows that the regional women’s movement that emerged in the 1970s was rooted in capitalist critiques of the coalfield economy. Cynthia Greenlee resituates the history of abortion rights in the U.S. South and explains how Southern organizing was not a remote frontier in the fight to legalize abortion, but a key location for both local, state, and national conservative and progressive movement building. Collectively, our research shows that homegrown women's movements sprouted up throughout the South, and like in the rest of the country, or perhaps even more so, women from a variety of class, race, and ethnic positions were affected by mainstream feminism at the same time that they reworked it for their own purposes. Our panel will be of interest to U.S. women’s and gender historians, 20th Century U.S. historians, and Southern Historians, among others.

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