White Women's Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States

By Louise Michele Newman | Go to book overview

6
Eliminating Sex Distinctions from Civilization

The Feminist Theories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge

[A]ll that makes for civilisation, for progress, for the growth of humanity up and on toward the race ideal--takes place outside the home. This is what has been denied to the lady of the house-- merely all human life! . . . Race characteristics belong in equal measure to either sex, [my emphasis] and the misfortune of the house-bound woman is that she is denied time, place, and opportunity to develop those characteristics.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Home ( 1903)

It is scarcely half a century since China was an unknown country, and the Chinese--to our complacent view--a weird, incredible, uncivilized people; yet in that time China has risen to be one of the greater powers. . . . Surely, if in so short a time the "Heathen Chinee" can rise to be a progressive human being in our estimation, it is not impossible that [white] women may become social entities, [my emphasis] whose acquired "femininity" may be modifying faster than the carefully digested ideas of scientific observers.

Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge, Why Women Are So ( 1912)

It is necessary, then, to understand Feminism as an evolutionary development.

Beatrice Forbes- Roberston Hale, What Women Want ( 1914)

WHITE WOMEN WHO SUPPORTED THE abolition of the Indian reservation system were intent on eliminating racial differences in order to transform primitive women into civilized women. They believed this endeavor was crucial both to saving the entire race of Indians from evolutionary extinction and to freeing Indian women from the sexist oppression of their own cultures. To do this, Anglo-Protestant women insisted on the incorporation of patriarchal gender relations into Native American cultures as part of an assimilationist strategy to eliminate the racial traits that they

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