The New Woman in Alabama: Social Reforms, and Suffrage, 1890-1920

The New Woman in Alabama: Social Reforms, and Suffrage, 1890-1920

The New Woman in Alabama: Social Reforms, and Suffrage, 1890-1920

The New Woman in Alabama: Social Reforms, and Suffrage, 1890-1920

Synopsis

Between 1890 and 1920 middle-class white and black Alabama women created a large number of clubs and organizations that took them out of the home and provided them with roles in the public sphere. Beginning with the Alabama Woman's Christian Temperance Union in the 1880s and followed by the Alabama Federation of Women's Clubs and the Alabama Federation of Colored Women's Clubs in the 1890s, women spearheaded the drive to eliminate child labor, worked to improve the educational system, up-graded the jails and prisons, and created reform schools for both boys and girls. Suffrage was also an item on the Progressive agenda. After a brief surge of activity during the 1890s, the suffrage drive lay dormant until 1912, when women created the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association. During their campaigns in 1915 and 1919 to persuade the legislature to enfranchise women, the leaders learned the art of politics--how to educate, organize, lobby, and count votes. Women seeking validation for their roles as homemakers and mothers demanded a hearing in the political arena for issues that affected them and their families. In the process they began to erase the line between the public world of men and the private world of women. These were the New Women who tackled the problems created by the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the New South. By 1920 Alabama women had created new public spaces for themselves in these voluntary associations. As a consequence of their involvement in reform crusades, the women's club movement, and the campaign for woman suffrage, women were no longer passive and dependent. They were willing and able to be rightful participants. Thomas's book is the first of its kind tofocus on the reform activities of women during the Progressive Era and the first to consider the southern woman and all the organizations of middle-class black and white women in the South and particularly in Alabama. It is

Excerpt

Originally my interest in Alabama women of the Progressive period centered on the suffrage drive. Scholars have investigated and written extensively on the national movement, but little has been written on the South and even less on the Alabama movement. As a result the existing knowledge is skewed toward national figures and northeastern activism. I felt that new information from Alabama and the South would complement our understanding of the overall movement.

As my research progressed, I became aware that virtually all suffrage histories treat the drive as an institutional reform entirely within the context of political history. My aim became to write a comprehensive history of the suffrage drive in Alabama that would reflect women's lives and the larger society in which they lived. I wanted, in short, to write the history of the suffrage movement within a feminist framework.

Moreover, as I investigated the activities of Alabama women, I became increasingly aware that suffrage was only one among many issues that interested the women of the state. They were also concerned with the abolition of child labor, the problems of poverty in an industrial community, the creation of reform schools for juvenile offenders, the . . .

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