Academic journal article American Studies

CALIFORNIA WOMEN AND POLITICS: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

Academic journal article American Studies

CALIFORNIA WOMEN AND POLITICS: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

Article excerpt

CALIFORNIA WOMEN AND POLITICS: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression. Edited by Robert W. Cherny, Mary Ann Irwin, and Ann Marie Wilson. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. 2011.

A century ago California granted voting rights to women. California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression, an essay collection marking the one hundredth anniversary of that event, suggests it was less a watershed than the ratification of a longstanding pattern. The contributors to this volume, all alumni of San Francisco State's history graduate program, document a wide array of women's civic work in California stretching from the 1850s to the 1920s. Most of the essays recount the work of middle-class clubwomen; a few explore the ideas and activism of their working-class counterparts. As the editors acknowledge, ethnic and racial minorities are mostly missing from the book. Nevertheless, the fourteen essays compiled here offer compelling evidence of the intensity and impact of women's activism in an important state.

The book makes it abundantly clear that women's civic work mattered long before they had the vote. Their lobbying ranged from temperance efforts, to saving redwoods, to minimum wage laws, to the policing of dance halls. It seems safe to conclude activist women were key players in nearly every regulatory initiative undertaken by the state and local governments during the period covered by the book. One also comes away with a good sense of the thick web of connections among women activists. Wealthy women such as Phoebe Appleton Hearst (ably profiled by Mildred Nichols Hamilton) and Katherine Edson were at the hub of these networks, but they extended across a variety of organizations and issues. …

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