Although often understood as frivolous, women’s shopping was anything but. By the late nineteenth century, almost all households had to purchase daily necessities. Women’s paid work was often in retail or consumer goods manufacturing. Thus, even as men also bought goods and services, women’s responsibilities as purchasers and wage earners made consumption particularly crucial to their daily labor. Thus, consumption reinforced gender ideology. Fashions, food, and public performance helped to “make” gender. In so doing, they also reinforced racial and class hierarchies. From the first advertisements, “mass” consumption equated real women with white, young, slender, and middle-class bodies. However, specialized products, commercial districts, and fashions also made consumption important to nonwhite, queer, and working-class identities. Moreover, both policymakers and everyday consumers increasingly sought economic stability and also political change in stores and shopping; “consumer” movements and less organized, recurrent protests raised the possibility, and the threat, of women’s political authority.
Kathleen M. Brown
Gender frontiers are but one starting point for comparing cultural contact zones and analyzing imperialism and racial formation in the early modern Atlantic. Recent scholarship on Native American and African encounters with Europeans suggests a need for a more complex analytical framework. Africans and Native Americans participated actively in creating this cultural frontier—by persisting in, adjusting, or transforming precontact practices or by assuming that the uninvited newcomers might share enough core beliefs and desires to be incorporated or vanquished. Europeans who participated in producing colonialism engaged in creative and destructive processes, but they remained connected to elite people in imperial centers that were buffered—by distance, money, and power—from such changes. The significance of gender frontiers is best understood as one phase in the longer historical processes they gave rise to: the emergence of new, syncretic cultures and populations, and the racialized and reactive cultures that quickly followed.
Dayo F. Gore
“Cold War” traditionally refers to the foreign policy, military, and ideological contestation between the power blocks of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Western powers of Europe and the United States. This chapter examines the ways women’s experiences and debates over gender, race, and sexuality were central to the US Cold War anticommunist policies and practices on the homefront and globally. This perspective reveals the ways the global Cold War reshaped decolonizing struggles in the Global South as well as domestic culture, social relations, and ideals of the family through domestic containment. The chapter charts the roots of civil rights politics and social movements of the 1960s in sustained resistance to Cold War anticommunism and its politics of conformity. Centering women’s experiences negotiating Cold War strategies of domestic containment, the chapter reveals the US Cold War as a multifaceted period of contestation as much as conformity.
This chapter brings together the histories of American beauty culture and disability to identify overlaps between the fields and encourage women’s and gender historians to engage disability studies in their scholarship. “Unruly bodies,” bodies that fall outside the norm because of race, ethnicity, or disability, became the object of social and cultural derision and labeled ugly, abnormal and disabled. The techniques women, surgeons, fashion designers, and beauty culturists used to manage, fix and discipline these “unruly bodies” through cosmetics, diet, exercise, surgery, and rehabilitation contain striking similarities, which this chapter explores in historical context. Although experts projected beauty ideals and medical standards onto women’s bodies, American women embraced body modifications on their own terms and imbued them with their own meanings.
Mary Ting Yi Lui
This article traces the long history of legal regulations around interracial sex and marriage as tied to important changes in the territorial consolidation and political formation of the American nation and its polity. These regulations stabilized ambiguous racial categories and gender roles as well as patriarchy and heteronormativity. The article begins in the colonial era to survey the range of local practices of interracial sex, marriage, and family formation that took place across different imperial contexts across the North American continent and moves into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the United States spanned the continent and pursued its own imperial ambitions globally. In addition, the article chronicles histories of resistance and mixed-race family formation that both challenged and worked within the limits of the law.
Toby L. Ditz
This chapter shows how republican and imperial grammars of manhood, and the gender order in which they were embedded, defined boundaries of civic and political inclusion in three areas of United States law and policy: the military, land and labor, and immigration. In each, specific models of labor, marriage, and domestic life defined manliness, conferring full privileges of citizenship on some men but denying it to others. Even as they generated racial and class distinctions, grammars of manhood also created openings for challenges by subordinate and marginal men. These dynamics included bids to create an egalitarian interracial republic followed by racist backlash, competition between yeoman ideals and liberal political economy’s manly wage-earning domestic provider, and alternative marriage practices among immigrants and their policing—all in the context of the nation’s colonial past, its aggressive territorial expansionism, and patterns of global labor migration shared with other former slave-based regimes.
Patricia Cline Cohen
The explosion of print culture and the advent of female authors and readers created the foundation for important changes in sexual practices and sexual mores across the long nineteenth century, influencing attitudes toward female pleasure, romantic love, courtship, marriage, and same-sex eroticism. This chapter focuses on female creators of sexual knowledge who worked to change legal practices and social customs by posing alternatives to indissoluble heterosexual marriage. It places women’s writings in their historical context of circulation—across state and national lines, and from pamphlets to newspapers to courtroom testimonies—revealing the ways that print offered possibilities for new authorities to emerge on the subject of women’s bodies and experiences.
This chapter considers, through a biracial lens, some essential complexities of antebellum women’s reform. The emphasis is on antislavery and a socioreligious ethos based on the intersectionality of spiritual egalitarianism, civil liberty, and the jeremiad tradition. Black women’s double burden, slavery and race, automatically channeled them as reformers into more expansive visions than whites, already jeopardizing their privileged True Woman status. For disparate reasons, convergence of abolition and equal rights was not a calling that white reform women embraced monolithically. As “doers of the word,” some upheld apostolic tenets of Christian unity. Others chose what eventually became republican individualism and a “segregated sisterhood.” Nonetheless, women of both races were mainsprings in the ultimate success of antebellum reform, the training ground for future struggles for equal rights.
The history of reproductive politics in the United States incorporates several centuries of struggle and resistance and virtually no periods of quiescence. The state and other institutions have frequently clashed within and against each other and with girls and women, over who has primary power to govern female sexuality, fertility, and maternity: institutions, or women themselves. These struggles have always been racialized. From the eighteenth century forward, authorities have promulgated laws and public policies embedding population-control aims, investing some groups with greater reproductive value than others. In the modern era, “choice” emerged as the mark of reproductive freedom, chiefly defined as the right to limit and terminate pregnancy. More recently, “reproductive justice” contends that all people have the human right to be a parent; to forgo parenting; and to access the resources required to exercise the first two rights with dignity and safety.
Sexual violence has a surprisingly static history, whether regarding methods of sexual assault, the relationship of sexual vulnerability to economic and social vulnerability, an underlying suspicion of women’s claims of sexual force, or an emphasis on physical violence as the only believable means of coercion. This chapter explores the legal, social, and cultural meanings of rape throughout US history from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century. It includes discussions of feminist activism, rape culture, racism, and the overall relationships between social power and sexual power. While legal treatment of sexual violence has changed over time, the ability for powerful men to coerce less powerful women into sexual acts remains a remarkably consistent feature of America’s social, economic, and cultural past and present.
Marcia M. Gallo
The creation of specific terminologies and identities that define people based on their sexual desires can be traced to the late nineteenth century. As researchers and medical experts popularized binary categories in the early decades of the twentieth century, some women who loved other women challenged the norms and began to organize. They made connections between women’s defiance of gender norms and their ability to secure equal rights, including sexual rights. Activists in the mid-twentieth century challenged restrictions on sexual expression and behavior. While LGBTQI movements continue to emphasize the significance of gender nonconformity, activists also insist on the primacy of sexual fluidity and the complex global connections of bodies, genders, and sexualities due to race and ethnicity, language, religion, and age, as well as socioeconomic, carceral, and citizenship statuses.
Accounts of people who crossed genders, either temporarily or for a lifetime, are well known to historians. The emerging field of transgender studies has raised a new set of questions for scholars intent on unpacking more fully the meaning of the lives of people who were never neatly contained by the categories of “man” or “woman.” A historic approach to this subject is invaluable since particular historic periods signaled significant changes in how such people were perceived and treated by institutions, including the state and the medical establishment. Another crucial axis of difference exists between dominant understandings of those who were assigned the female sex at birth and those who were assigned the male sex at birth.
Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
This chapter reinterprets the history of twentieth-century US feminism by foregrounding the importance of the global. Both international events and transnational flows of people, ideas, and goods have shaped the development of feminism in the United States. Recognizing the importance of the global foregrounds the diversity of political goals and political actors within movements for gender equality. Also, acknowledging US feminists’ engagement with the global reinforces the need for new narratives and periodizations for the multiple histories of US feminisms. To explore these ideas, this chapter first analyzes definitions of feminism and existing historical narratives of US feminism. The second half examines the significance of the global for feminist movements seeking political equality, economic justice, and sexual liberation.
Deena J. González
Spanish-Mexican and Native/indigenous women of the borderland territories that became the US West created lives circumscribed by conquest, resistance, and decolonization. Their ability to survive was based on defying stereotypes about who they were, accessing structures, building resources to circumvent hostility and violence, and resisting inequities by sustaining a presence in the written record that slowly is being recovered. White settler women enabled Manifest Destiny, but a few demonstrated degrees of cultural understanding despite the stringent racialism and distrust that their migration originally engendered. Women of color and Euro-American women interacted both violently and peacefully. Key to knowing their stories, particularly of poor or non-English speaking women, is the difficult work of archival recovery and discovery.
Meghan K. Winchell
This chapter compares women’s experiences in World War I and World War II, emphasizing the ways that wartime mobilization shaped the citizenship claims, cultural representations, labor experiences, military contributions, and sexual expression of diverse groups of women. It focuses on how women applied their gendered, racialized, and classed bodies to wartime experiences that often put them at odds with propaganda images of femininity. The wartime context inspired the actions of women like gold star mothers who represented sacrifice, activists who fought for women suffrage, and African Americans who protested segregation. Some women embodied Rosie the Riveter by working in war industries, many cultivated victory gardens, and others served in the Women’s Army Corps. Young women found themselves caught in government projects to curtail venereal disease while seeking sexual autonomy.
M. Alison Kibler
The story of women’s participation in popular culture is more complex than the struggle to be included. Feminist activists have fought for legislation to end discrimination in leisure, sports, and popular culture. At the same time, advertisers have coopted feminism to sell a variety of products as symbols of emancipation for women, substituting purchasing power for political power. Gaining visibility in the media and as target audiences, and breaking into male spheres have not been the end of these feminist struggles; rather, women who gained opportunities in sport and leisure were often stereotyped as “mannish” or cast in reassuring feminine roles—beauty icons or heterosexual romantic heroines. It is important to trace women’s pathbreaking roles as spectators, fans, performers, and athletes as well as show how sport and popular culture are fundamentally gendered.
Eileen Boris and Lara Vapnek
Feminist struggles for better jobs and rights at work shaped women’s labor history, a project that proclaimed that the history of work and workers was incomplete without understanding the relationship between unpaid domestic labor and employment. Despite the uneven trajectory of women’s labor in a diverse nation, three major themes characterize the history of gender, work, and capitalist development. First, the persistent power of gender on the structure of work meant that employers and policymakers classified women’s labor as unskilled, supplemental, and an extension of women’s “natural” roles as wives and mothers. Second, women’s calls for dignity and improved wages and working conditions included ethnic associations, women’s clubs, and mixed-sex and women-only unions. Third, state policies offered some women protection but made few strides toward equity, which would require acknowledging women’s differential family responsibilities and establishing decent standards for all workers, including those employed in households and in agriculture.
Ellen Carol DuBois
The United States was a pioneer in the development of women’s rights ideas and activism. Far-seeing women, determined to find an active and equal place in the nation’s political affairs, pushed long and hard to realize America’s democratic promise. Over three-quarters of a century, women’s rights and suffrage leaders steadily agitated their cause through a shifting American political landscape, from the careful innovations of the early national period, through the expansive involvements of antebellum politics, into the dramatic shifts of revolution and reaction in the post–Civil War years, up to the modernization of the Progressive Era. The meaning and content of “womanhood,” the sign under which these campaigns were conducted, also shifted. Labor, class, and especially race inclusions and exclusions were contentious dimensions of the American women’s rights movement, as they were of American liberal democracy in general.
Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor and Lisa G. Materson
This chapter analyzes the methods, sources, and relationship between women’s and gender history, arguing American women’s and gender history is its own interpretation of American history, focused on how ideas about women and gender shaped people’s lives as they participated in the processes of migration, colonialism, trade, warfare, artistic production, community-building, and political mobilization. It explores the field as an integrated one that embraces tensions between women’s history and gender history, as well as intersectional analysis and new understandings of sexuality, to consider who counts as a “woman” and for what purpose. The field challenges the conventional chronology of the United States and the primacy of the nation as a unit of history. The field’s archive innovation excavates histories hidden in plain sight and scrutinizes silences in the historical record, challenging the nature of historical evidence and remapping what counts in historical interpretation of the past.
Women have participated in conservative movement politics throughout the twentieth century. From opposition mounted against Progressive-era health and welfare legislation to protests against Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to culture war battles with feminists, conservative women have never completely ceded the right side of the political spectrum to men. Essentialist notions of what is “natural” to women, their bodies, and their connection to children and the family, have been the basis of conservative female politics throughout the twentieth century and beyond. Women on the right have drawn from a corpus of beliefs, ideals, and assumptions passed down from generations of political forbears about the natural conservatism of women—an intuitive drive to protect the young and bring calm to the space around them. This chapter examines the impact of that ideology, in its various iterations, over the course of the twentieth century.