California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

Synopsis

In 1911 as progressivism moved toward its zenith, the state of California granted women the right to vote. However, women's political involvement in California's public life did not begin with suffrage, nor did it end there. Across the state, women had been deeply involved in politics long before suffrage, and-although their tactics and objectives changed-they remained deeply involved thereafter. California Women and Politic's examines the wide array of women's public activism from the 1850s to 1929-including the temperance movement, moral reform, conservation, trade unionism, settlement work, philanthropy, wartime volunteerism, and more-and reveals unexpected contours to women's politics in California. The contributors consider not only white middle-class women's organizing but also the politics of working-class women and women of color, emphasizing that there was not one monolithic "women's agenda," but rather a multiplicity of women's voices demanding recognition for a variety of causes.

Excerpt

These essays convey the remarkable extent and intensity of women’s political participation in California from the Gold Rush through the 1920s. Perhaps the greatest lesson we find in these pages is that suffrage was by no means the only—or even the most important—turning point for many women’s engagement with public life. California women were deeply involved in politics long before they won the vote in 1911, and they remained deeply involved afterward, pursuing a range of agendas that included everything from temperance and moral reform to conservation, trade unionism, and settlement work.

Downplaying the significance of suffrage, however, immediately raises an important question: how do we define “politics”? Like others before us, we have followed the expansive definition offered by Paula Baker, finding politics in “any action, formal or informal, taken to affect the course or behavior of government or the community.” Thus, by politics we mean not simply the activities of voting, campaigning, or holding public office, but also the larger processes that guide governments in allocating resources and exercising authority. By this definition, politics includes lobbying officeholders, collecting signatures on petitions, engaging in discussions of policy questions, and sometimes just showing up. the women discussed in these pages—women who demonstrated, carried picket signs, heckled or listened respectfully, hosted tea parties to discuss dairy sanitation, moved from bird-watching to bird protection, or wielded a spear—were all behaving politically.

In composing this anthology, we began with a number of questions derived from previous studies of women in U.S. politics. One set of questions considered regional distinctiveness. Despite the large number of works published on American women in recent decades, few have focused centrally on women and politics in California. By examining women’s activism in one place, it becomes possible to see individual women both reacting to new situations and participating in a variety of activities, to observe how various groups and individuals pursued political goals and interacted with each other in the process, and to examine the ways that these things changed over time. This volume seeks to answer some basic questions: What were women’s contributions to political life in California?

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.