Stepping out of the Shadows: Alabama Women, 1819-1990

By Mary Martha Thomas | Go to book overview
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White and Black Alabama Women during the Progressive Era, 1890-1820


During the decade of the 1890s, the women of Alabama created a large number of clubs and organizations that took them out of the home and provided them with a role in the public sphere. These women began to erase the line between the public and private world as they tried to ameliorate the problems posed by rapid industrialization. Julia S. Tutwiler was involved in every reform in the state, from improving education for women, to prohibition, the abolition of child labor, and prison reform. Martha L. Spencer, as president of the Alabama Woman's Christian Temperance Union, asked who was responsible for addressing the problems of poverty in an urban industrial community, while Elizabeth Johnston Evans Johnston of the Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs undertook to eradicate juvenile delinquency and to improve the treatment of juvenile offenders. Margaret Murray Washington worked in the black community to improve homes and schools in order to bring about the advancement of all African Americans. Pattie Ruffner Jacobs created the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association to fight for the right of women to vote so that these other problems would be resolved. These middle- class white and black women, working through their various organizations, sought validation for their members as homemakers and mothers and demanded a hearing in the political arena for issues that affected them and their families.1

The New Woman of the Progressive period was a product of the vast changes under way in American society as a result of increased industrialization and urbanization. The separate-spheres ideology that had


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Stepping out of the Shadows: Alabama Women, 1819-1990


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