After the Civil War, pro-woman organizations flourished in the United States as local activists responded to a broad analysis of the causes and consequences of women’s limitations in education, employment and civic life. This dissertation introduces the concept of "exalted womanhood" to encompass the widespread, if somewhat vague, belief that women’s lives could be improved by transcending these limits. It argues that the proliferation of grassroots organizations and national networks was a self-consciously feminist strategy to elevate the status of women—efforts that went well beyond the suffrage movement during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. For many women, pro-woman work offered unprecedented opportunities for self-development, social prominence, and political involvement.
This study is set in Worcester, Massachusetts, a mid-sized industrial city in New England, that served as the site of the first two national woman’s rights conventions in 1850 and 1851. Local memory of these events remained strong throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and helped sustain a complex feminist landscape. More specifically, the pro-woman activism in Worcester demonstrates how the broad agenda of the antebellum woman’s rights movement splintered but continued to thrive in the post-Civil War era, as suffrage organizations, the Worcester Woman’s Club and the Young Women’s Christian Association emphasized different aspects of an earlier agenda.
In addition, the examination of pro-woman organizations in one urban community provides a new window into well-studied national networks. Local groups, working together however haphazardly created regional and national umbrella organizations including the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the International Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The motivating force of exalted womanhood resulted in the establishment of a vast feminist network connecting organized women from every corner of the country. The local created the national, not the other way around.
|Advisor:||Richter, Amy G.|
|Commitee:||Deutsch, Sarah, Greenwood, Janette T.|
|School Location:||United States -- Massachusetts|
|Source:||DAI-A 79/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||American history, Womens studies, History|
|Keywords:||Feminism, Massachusetts, Woman suffrage, Woman's Clubs, Worcester, YWCA|
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