Cover image for White women's rights : the racial origins of feminism in the United States
White women's rights : the racial origins of feminism in the United States
Newman, Louise Michele.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
vii, 261 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Woman's rights, race, and imperialism -- Evolution, woman's rights, and civilizing missions -- The making of a white female citizenry : suffragism, antisuffragism, and race -- The politics of patriarchal protection : debates over coeducation and special labor legislation for women -- A feminist explores Africa : May French-Sheldon's subversion of patriarchal protection -- Assimilating primitives : the "Indian problem" as a "woman question" -- Eliminating sex distinctions from civilization : the feminist theories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge -- Coming of age, but not in Samoa : reflections on Margaret Mead's legacy to western liberal feminism.
Reading Level:
1760 Lexile.

Format :


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HQ1410 .N475 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Louise Newman reinterprets an important period (1870s-1920s) in the history of women's rights, focusing attention on a core contradiction at the heart of early feminist theory. At a time when white elites were concerned with imperialist projects and civilizing missions, progressive white womendeveloped an explicit racial ideology to promote their cause, defending patriarchy for "primitives" while calling for its elimination among the "civilized." Exploring how progressive white women at the turn of the century laid the intellectual groundwork for the feminist social movements thatfollowed, Newman's book thus speaks to contemporary debates concerning the effect of race on current feminist scholarship.

Author Notes

Louise Newman is at University of Florida.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In this complex and often intense work, Newman (history, Univ. of Florida) examines the impact of racism and ethnography on feminist thought from the end of the Civil War to the 1920s. This period saw the widespread acceptance of Darwinian theories as well as the rise of American imperialism, both of which influenced the white middle-class women who comprised the leadership of the suffrage and women's rights movements. Hoping to elevate their own limited role in an entrenched patriarchal society, these women redefined their sphere to include the preservation of white bourgeois civilization and the education of primitive peoples. Newman focuses on the writings and activities of a select group of elite white women, including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge, May French Sheldon, and Alice Fletcher. She contributes a fresh perspective on the development of women's philosophical growth in the 19th century, but the aridity of the prose will limit the appeal of this book to academic libraries.‘Rose M. Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In an amply documented scholarly study, Newman asserts that feminist thinkers from 1870 to 1920 used racist evolutionist and imperialist theories of sociology and anthropology "to empower themselves as central players in civilization-work [and to] delegitimize dissent from nonwhite and non-Christian women." Arguing on the one hand that the protection of women was what distinguished advanced from primitive civilizations, turn-of-the-century feminists then argued, on the other hand, for a public role for highly civilized, white middle-class Christian women in assimilating "primitives." Newman "rejects the premise that feminism, in any of its late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century incarnations, was an egalitarian movement." She makes this critique not to dismiss feminism, but to "help us imagine new departures." Highly readable intellectual biographies (Catharine Beecher, Mary Abigail Dodge, May French-Sheldon, Alice Cunningham Fletcher, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Roberts Smith Coolidge, and Margaret Mead) illustrate the complexities and ironic contradictions within turn-of-the-century feminism. Picture postcards show how these ideas were portrayed in popular culture. Joining historical, ethnographic, and philosophical scholarship, White Women's Rights is an important addition to the study of US racism. A provocative and challenging book, marred only by extremely small and fine print. Upper-division undergraduates and above. S. S. Arpad; California State University, Fresno

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. v
Introduction Woman's Rights, Race, and Imperialismp. 3
1 Evolution, Woman's Rights, and Civilizing Missionsp. 22
2 The Making of a White Female Citizenry Suffragism, Antisuffragism, and Racep. 56
3 The Politics of Patriarchal Protectionp. 86
4 A Feminist Explores Africa May French-Sheldon's Subversion of Patriarchal Protectionp. 102
5 Assimilating Primitivesp. 116
6 Eliminating Sex Distinctions from Civilizationp. 132
7 Coming of Age, but Not in Samoap. 158
Conclusion Coming to Termsp. 181
Notesp. 187
Selected Bibliographyp. 229
Indexp. 253