Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

Article excerpt

Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980. By Melissa Estes Blair. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, 2014. Pp. [xiv], 203. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978- 0-8203-4713-4; cloth, $74.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-3979-5.)

The 1960s and 1970s were transformative years for American women. While historians have largely dispensed with the "second wave" as a framework for women's activism in those years, there is still important work to do in taking stock of what happened, understanding why it mattered, and piecing together a usable past from its particulars. In Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980, Melissa Estes Blair adds welcome texture to these efforts. With great attention to detail, Blair excavates the "'pre-feminist' work" of women's organizations that shaped the prospects for more explicit feminist activism in local communities (p. 44).

In five thematic and roughly chronological chapters, Blair examines the Durham, Indianapolis, and Denver branches of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and the League of Women Voters (LWV) between 1965 and 1980. Her analysis of these overlooked pockets of women's civic engagement reveals how feminist ideas could take unexpected paths to expression. These women "fold[ed] feminist work into a broad liberal agenda" that included school desegregation, environmentalism, antipoverty work, and more (p. 5). Revolutionizing Expectations provides new insights about grassroots politics in these years, as activists "mediated between the women's movement and local conditions" (p. 39). In conservative contexts such as Durham, North Carolina, where explicitly feminist groups struggled to coalesce, YWCA and LWV women applied feminist ideas to the problems in their communities. In Indianapolis, women's groups built an unlikely coalition that won an even more unlikely Equal Rights Amendment victory in their state. Denver's relatively welcoming social and legal climate proved a double-edged sword for women's activists. Embedded as they were in local government, feminists had no outside group to sustain their activism once conservative ideas and officials started to gain momentum. …

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