Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Revolutions in the Machinery: Oregon Women and Citizenship in Sesquicentennial Perspective

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Revolutions in the Machinery: Oregon Women and Citizenship in Sesquicentennial Perspective

Article excerpt

HISTORIANS ENGAGE in a dynamic process of research, writing, and analysis that often leads us from one subject of study to new questions and fresh fields of inquiry. As we commemorate the sesquicentennial of Oregon statehood in 2009, I find myself in just such a transition as a historian of women. My previous research concerned U.S. women and the First World War, in particular how groups of women--physicians, nurses, and women-at-arms--claimed a more complete female citizenship at a time when the final years of the national woman suffrage movement intersected with questions of service to the state during wartime and broader civic roles for women beyond voting. (1) In the course of my research, I encountered Oregon physician and activist Esther Pohl Lovejoy. Her medical work in France in 1917 and 1918 and the histories she wrote of women physicians in the conflict became a vital part of my larger analysis. As I learned more about Lovejoy's rich history as an early Oregon medical school graduate and physician, a public health activist, a suffragist, a congressional candidate, and a key figure in international medical relief, I decided to write her biography as the next step on my historian's journey. As part of this process, it has been crucial for me to study Oregon women's history as a context for Lovejoy's life and activism. Because Lovejoy was involved in claiming a more complete citizenship in her work for woman suffrage, through her service in appointed office as Portland City Health Officer from 1907 to 1909, and in her quest for elected office in 1920, questions of women's citizenship are also central to my current project. While seeking to understand Esther Lovejoy as an Oregon woman and activist, I have tried to uncover and analyze the broader history of Oregon women as citizens.

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Citizenship may be defined as the set of rights and obligations that members of a community or state possess by law. The rules about citizenship are set by federal, state, and for some, tribal authorities. In the United States, as in other nations, citizenship has been gendered in theory and practice. As historian Linda Kerber demonstrates, "from the beginning American women's relationship to the state has been different in substantial and important respects from that of men." Citizenship has been embodied as male, from voting, office holding, and jury service to bearing arms to defend home and nation. In the early American Republic, white married women's legal loyalty was to their husbands, not to the state. As Kerber notes, the idea that women are connected to the state and to citizenship indirectly through their husbands and male relatives and not directly as individuals was a powerful one that continued as women began to claim and win individual citizenship rights in the nineteenth century and beyond, and it "lurks behind what many people take to be the common sense of the matter in our own time." (2) Not all men were accorded the rights of citizenship. Early property qualifications for voting meant economic status mattered. Whiteness and manhood were also necessary for citizenship and naturalization into the twentieth century. Because citizenship may also be defined as "the broader political, legal, and social meanings that attach to one's place within the polity," gender, race, ethnicity, and gender identity all have been categories that actively privilege some and deny others civic power and authority. (3) Alice Kessler-Harris emphasizes another gendered aspect of civic identity with what she terms "economic citizenship." In the United States, the "public commitment to the male-breadwinner family" produced a different set of rights and obligations for women as economic citizens in the workplace and civic realm. (4) Women have been at the nexus of struggles to secure full citizenship. Many have fought to end what Gretchen Ritter terms women's "border status" of civic identity, to claim complete civic rights and full adult membership and human rights in their communities, the state, and the nation. …

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