Texas through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience

By Judith N. McArthur; Harold L. Smith | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

This book grew out of our frustration with the inadequate discussion of women in Texas history survey texts. As specialists in the twentieth century, we were especially disturbed by the lengthy silences regarding women’s experiences between 1900 and 2000. While most texts mention the woman suffrage movement, usually without regional or analytical context, they then largely ignore women’s lives except for a handful of famous individuals such as Miriam Ferguson, Emma Tenayuca, Sarah Weddington, and Ann Richards. Typically they add a paragraph at the end of discussions of the Progressive Era and the world wars to acknowledge that women were also involved, and note the feminist revival in the 1970s. Even conscientious readers can hardly avoid concluding that modern Texas women have no history to speak of, and that the twentieth century unfolded without women’s labor, civic engagement, social protest, and political organizing. We offer this volume as evidence to the contrary. Our aim, in historian Anne Firor Scott’s phrase, is to make the invisible woman visible.

If the nineteenth century, when women first organized to demand emancipation, was known as the “woman’s century,” the ERA after 1900 might well be called the “New Woman’s century.” The influx of large numbers of women into the workforce and into postsecondary education—by the 1990s female undergraduates outnumbered males on college campuses—was a new departure and marked the emergence of the modern female role. In the twentieth century, women secured the essential political and legal rights that previous generations, who could not vote, sit on a jury, or sign a contract if married, had sought unsuccessfully, and constructed new identities—in politics, sports, and the military—that were beyond imagination in 1900. A new kind of female potential unfolded in the first two decades of the century, the Progressive Era, as young women claimed personal freedom and middle-class clubwomen invented new public roles. Although voteless, they excelled at pressure-group tactics, using female networks so effectively to promote social change that historians of women have broadened the definition of politics to include the wide spectrum of women’s collective efforts, both formal and

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