Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America

Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America

Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America

Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America

Synopsis

After the Civil War, many Americans did not identify strongly with the concept of a united nation. Francesca Morgan finds the first stirrings of a sense of national patriotism--of "these United States"--in the work of black and white clubwomen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Morgan demonstrates that hundreds of thousands of women in groups such as the Woman's Relief Corps, the National Association of Colored Women, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Daughters of the American Revolution sought to produce patriotism on a massive scale in the absence of any national emergency. They created holidays like Confederate Memorial Day, placed American flags in classrooms, funded monuments and historic markers, and preserved old buildings and battlegrounds. Morgan argues that while clubwomen asserted women's importance in cultivating national identity and participating in public life, white groups and black groups did not have the same nation in mind and circumscribed their efforts within the racial boundaries of their time. Presenting a truly national history of these generally understudied groups, Morgan proves that before the government began to show signs of leadership in patriotic projects in the 1930s, women's organizations were the first articulators of American nationalism.

Excerpt

Starting in the 1880s, hundreds of thousands of women in the United States sought to instill in each other and in other Americans the conviction that they belonged to a nation. These women were black and white, native-born, educated, propertied, and mostly Protestant. They organized as women — operating, for the most part, in all-female groups. Most important, the women operated as nationalists and patriots. They promoted identification with a large imagined community that they called the United States, to which they imparted a national past and a national destiny. That community possessed borders, literal and figurative, that included some and excluded others. Patriotism — a person's attachment to her or his nation — is able to exist in nationalism's absence. But patriotism often operates in harmony with nationalism, and it did so here. Enriching this history of American women and nationalism are disagreements on the composition of the national community. Nation was not synonymous with country. the plural American nations the women imagined were variously coterminous with the contemporary state, a bygone country called the Confederate States of America, the white race (sometimes spanning U.S. borders), and the black race (sometimes spanning U.S. borders). All of those entities could and did embody “America” in the eyes of its beholders.

An important reason that so many women combined nationalism and patriotism, and organized to produce both in others, stems from the women's own historical moment. Across the Western world in the late nineteenth and . . .

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