Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class, and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, C.1880s-1970s

By Christine Bolt | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

Feminists love to call each other sisters but there ain't hardly nobody you dislike as much as your sister if you don't like her.

Black lawyer and activist, Florynce Kennedy, 1988

… trashing your sisters is a serious bad habit … Trade union activist, Catherine Conroy, on National Organisation of Women infighting, 1970s 1

With the onset of second wave feminism 2 in the 1960s and 1970s, activists realised that the sisterhood of women could not be taken for granted, as it largely had been by their feminist predecessors in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. They realised that those predecessors - mainly white and western - had falsely assumed that they could speak and set the agenda for all women. In doing so, the early feminists may have hoped to rally women's support and inflate the power of feminism, but they also largely ignored the experiences of women in the colonial and postcolonial world, slighted the interests of women of colour in the west, and failed to locate and appreciate women's movements in their local contexts. In telling the story of their own activism in the later twentieth century, once neglected or patronised women demolished 'the notion of a universal female experience', while trying not to destroy faith in the global dimension and significance of feminism. 3

This heated debate did not develop in the first stages of feminism, when diverse activists ostensibly achieved a high degree of unity in two main ways. First, they created an appealing as well as powerful women's culture, based on a veneration for the maternal qualities said to be universally displayed by women in child rearing, home making and social reform. And second, feminists' distinctive national agendas were linked by their drive for the vote, which, it was hoped, would be the key to progress of all kinds. The American and British women's movements seemed especially well attuned, emerging at about the same time, exchanging personnel and ideas, and working closely together in an established Anglo-American reform nexus. 4

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Sisterhood Questioned? Race, Class, and Internationalism in the American and British Women's Movements, C.1880s-1970s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Setting, 1880s-1914 6
  • 3 - The Impact of the First World War 28
  • 4 - Feminist Internationalism and Nationalism Between the Wars 51
  • 5 - Feminism and Race, 1920s-1930s 76
  • 6 - Feminism and Class During the Interwar Years 106
  • 7 - The Second World War 138
  • 8 - The Post-War Women's Movements 163
  • 9 - Conclusion 182
  • Notes 191
  • Index 252
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