Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women's Movement, 1870-1967

Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women's Movement, 1870-1967

Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women's Movement, 1870-1967

Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women's Movement, 1870-1967

Synopsis

Joan Marie Johnson examines an understudied dimension of women's history in the United States: how a group of affluent white women from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries advanced the status of all women through acts of philanthropy. This cadre of activists included Phoebe Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst; Grace Dodge, granddaughter of Wall Street "Merchant Prince" William Earle Dodge; and Ava Belmont, who married into the Vanderbilt family fortune. Motivated by their own experiences with sexism, and focusing on women's need for economic independence, these benefactors sought to expand women's access to higher education, promote suffrage, and champion reproductive rights, as well as to provide assistance to working-class women. In a time when women still wielded limited political power, philanthropy was perhaps the most potent tool they had. But even as these wealthy women exercised considerable influence, their activism had significant limits. As Johnson argues, restrictions tied to their giving engendered resentment and jeopardized efforts to establish coalitions across racial and class lines.

As the struggle for full economic and political power and self-determination for women continues today, this history reveals how generous women helped shape the movement. And Johnson shows us that tensions over wealth and power that persist in the modern movement have deep historical roots.

Excerpt

Women are learning something men have traditionally understood:
money provides access.

—Karen D. Stone

Philanthropy lies at the heart of women’s history.

—Kathleen D. McCarthy

Over the first six decades of the twentieth century, Katharine Dexter McCormick wrote checks totaling millions of dollars to advance political, economic, and personal freedom and independence for women. She gave her time and money to the woman suffrage movement, funded a dormitory for women at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to encourage women’s education in science, and almost single-handedly financed the development of the birth control pill. McCormick opposed the militant tactics of some suffragists—such as picketing the White House—which were bankrolled by another woman, Alva Belmont, a southerner who stunned New York society when she divorced William K. Vanderbilt, inheritor of the Vanderbilt fortune. With her flair for the dramatic, Belmont brought crucial publicity to the woman suffrage movement and wielded power with her money, giving tens of thousands of dollars to the national suffrage associations under certain conditions—for example, that organization offices be moved; that she be given a leadership position; and, later, that the movement focus on international women’s rights. Mary Garrett, another generous supporter of the suffrage movement, also understood the coercive power of philanthropy, paying the salary of the dean at Bryn Mawr College—but only if that dean was her partner, M. Carey Thomas—and orchestrating a half-million-dollar gift to Johns Hopkins University to open a medical school, with the condition that the school admit women. These monied women, and many like them, understood that their money gave them clout in society at a time when most women held little power.

Women have a long though underappreciated history of using large financial donations to make social change, in particular to support the women’s rights movement. This book explores how wealthy women from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries wielded their money to gain . . .

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