Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America. By Francesca Morgan. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. 320 pp. Cloth, $21.95. ISBN 0-807-85630-4).

Reviewed by Kim Nielsen


   In Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America Francesca Morgan argues that between the end of the Civil War and the early 1930s, a wide array of women used and generated a "women-centered nationalism" that justified, encouraged, and gave patriotic importance to their own political activism. What this spectrum of women had in common was their positioning of women as morally superior cultural authorities, their claim that the strengthening of the nation required women, and their sense of themselves as what Morgan calls "race women." (9) They believed the past vital to their patriotism, sought to share their interpretation of the past with young people and popular audiences, and incorporated women into their historical and commemorative work. Despite these commonalities, they divided, sometimes sharply, over questions of support for the federal state, domestic and foreign imperialism, interpretations of the past, and the role of race in nationalism.

   Morgan's analysis traces the efforts of women's voluntary organizations as they "dominated the translation of nationalism's ideas into everyday practice in the United States." (7) Morgan successfully argues that black and white women's groups need to be studied together; and she includes the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the Woman's Relief Corps (WRC), the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and many other smaller

   The lingering wounds and debates of the Civil War run consistently through women's nationalism efforts and "history work" (24) in this period, and Morgan begins with women's competing visions of patriotism, nationalism, and the post-War state. Black women easily transferred their support for the Union into national patriotism, despite debate about "whether their nation was their country or their race." (23) The NACW embraced "women-centered nationalism"-engaging in history work, supporting education, and valorizing the African-American men of the Civil War. While fairly gender conservative, the NACW encouraged women's political identities and activism as an expression of nationalism. The WRC, having begun as a pro-Union organization, equated the state with the nation. Of all the organizations Morgan discusses, this group encouraged the most limited range of women's political expression in pursuit of patriotism. The UDC, on the other hand, promoted a "neo-Confederate nationalism" that encouraged "unity among propertied white southerners" (29) and resolutely resisted claiming the federal state as their nation. As Morgan skillfully illustrates, the "history of neo-Confederate women's nationalism thoroughly intertwines with that of Jim Crow, illuminating race's centrality to the women's nationalism." (31)

   Morgan argues that the dominant expression of women-centered nationalism in this period was that expressed by the DAR. As the "leading exemplar of state-based nationalism," (42) these women considered the state the embodiment of the nation and thus encouraged loyalty to the federal government and all of its laws. Embracing white supremacy and economic elitism, the women "defined national patriotism in part as support for capitalism." (51) Much overlap existed between the DAR and the UDC, despite their different views of the state. The DAR embodied the women-centered nationalism embraced by all of these women who held limited notions of women's political participation and valued women primarily for their familial and reproductive relationships.

   This spectrum of women-centered nationalism led the groups to divergent analyses of U.S. efforts at empire-building. The DAR, for example, enthusiastically endorsed imperial efforts because "the very fact of war intensified women's support for the state." (58) And white women, they argued, had the responsibility in empire-building to act as civilizers because of the same cultural authority that lay at the base of women-centered nationalism. For the DAR, the nation was the state and the geographical and economic expansion of the nation strengthened the state. For these very reasons, both neo-Confederates and African-American club women were skeptical of empire. Though supportive of the white supremacy embodied in overseas and domestic imperialism, members of the UDC felt tremendously discomforted by the strong state and allegiance to it demanded by imperialism. Racial violence made Black clubwomen highly skeptical of the U.S. as a benevolent and civilizing world force, and many Black clubwomen embraced or flirted with a "nationalism that posited a race-based sense of community between themselves and African-descended peoples abroad." (76) The ideology of empire made little sense to them and was contradicted by daily experiences.

   The reform work of the Progressive Era tied nicely to women-centered nationalism because of its focus on youth and its reliance upon women as important and capable social actors that embodied cultural authority. Although neo-Confederate women nationalists continued their uneasy relationship to the state, the DAR and organized African-American women generally embraced the state in their ideologies of nationalism. And though some of these women endorsed suffrage, others did not. Morgan argues that many women perceived the vote as a threat to the gendered cultural authority given to women by women-centered nationalism.

   World War I and the security state of the 1920s caused women-centered nationalists, in varying degrees, increasingly to embrace the state and to masculinize women's nationalism. The national defense demanded in both time periods "conflated the state's preservation with the nation's preservation." (127). White women's nationalism became increasingly masculinized as male professionals began to join, lead, and sometimes take over women's voluntary history work. The male warrior also masculinized women's nationalism, as did the government's endorsement of the DAR's "rightward turn" towards the security state.

   Morgan argues that, like white women, African-American women "conflated citizenship with manhood more than ever" during this period; but, unlike white women, African-American women increasingly turned to internationalism. (117) The denigration of black troops, continued racial violence at home, and the frequent rejection of their own offers of patriotism, caused "patriotic disillusionment." (120) Black women increasingly separated their support for the nation from that of the state. And as exemplified by the NACW and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, increasing differences developed between those African Americans "stressing their Americanness and those identifying primarily with a worldwide race-based diaspora." (146) Despite women-centered nationalists' common reliance on female cultural authority, they continued to be divided by differences regarding relationships to the state and "the national triumph of race-based models of national unity." (150)

   Women and Patriotism in the Jim Crow Era concludes in the 1930s. Morgan argues that women-centered nationalism declined and fell in this period. The "nation's and state's commitment to Jim Crow" (130) were weakening; the sectional disagreements threatening national unity after the Civil War seemed less dire to U.S. women; and the increased reliance upon professionals belittled women's amateur history work. After women received the vote, assumptions of gender essentialism that underlay women-centered nationalism seemed outdated. In addition, the fact that "most female nationalists had not displayed either instincts or convictions that were democratic," confirms that they failed to mesh with the Depression era's renewed embrace of democracy as part of the national identity. (157)

   Women and Patriotism in the Jim Crow Era is an important addition to the study of patriotism, women's citizenship, and race in the United States. Morgan's simultaneous analyses of black and white women's organizations, illustrating their commonalities and differences, serves her argument well; as does the way she builds that simultaneous analysis into her organizational framework. Morgan's assessment is that women-centered nationalism was "profoundly contradictory." It encouraged and assigned political significance to women's activism outside of their households, but embraced the "gendered divisions of political labor" that placed women in the household. (99)

   Dr. Kim Nielsen teaches courses in women's studies and U.S. history at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay. Her books include Un-American Womanhood: Antiradicalism, Antifeminism, and the First Red Scare; The Radical Lives of Helen Keller; and Helen Keller: Selected Writings.

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