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Published: 04 February 1999

272 Pages | 20 halftones

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

ISBN: 9780195124668

Also Available As:


Bookseller Code (04)


White Women's Rights

The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States

Louise Michele Newman

"Newman offers a bold reinterpretation of American feminism and the politics of race. Through a series of finely drawn and challenging intellectual portraits of figures such as Alice Fletcher, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Mary Roberts Coolidge, and May French-Sheldon, White Women's Rights demonstrates the bedrock import of US imperialism and domestic racial hierarchy to the development of (white) feminist thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An astute and sensitive analyst of language, ideology, and meaning, Newman shows us the constitutive power of racialist thinking for feminism in this period, positing racism not as a tangential detail in the careers of these progressive thinkers, but rather as an integral element in their overall understanding of citizenship, democracy, and political self-possession. This trenchant, often painful treatment of American democracy and its Others should claim the attention of a wide range of scholars and activist citizens, as we continue to grapple with the demons of our deeply racialized national history. White Women's Rights is broadly researched, tightly argued, and rendered with an incandescent clarity."--Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University

"A persuasive and entirely new analysis of the race-based underpinnings of American feminist thought between the 1850s and the 1920s. While previous scholarship has highlighted the ethnocentrism of certain 19th-century American women or feminists, Newman demonstrates that feminism itself, as a set of ideas, had an intrinsically racial component. Her argument is original, complex, and subtle. She shows how it was no accident that a strong women's rights movement arose simultaneously with American imperialism: on the contrary, white supremacist ideas about racial evolution and national destiny provided feminists with a framework to both understand what caused contemporary changes in the women's sphere and demand improvements for white women's role and status. The core of Newman's book depicts the unexpectedly various ways in which 19th-century women acted as civilizers--as well as the ironic and unfortunate effects their benevolence had on American racial politics."--Gail Bederman, University of Notre Dame