The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: The Continuing Struggle for Full Citizenship for Women: 1919- present

Week 10 

This week we pursued one major question: The 19th Amendment did not complete the struggle for full citizenship for women, even for those who attained the vote because of it. So what were the continuing gaps in the rights and qualities of citizenship for women compared with men after 1919?

We pursued this by discussing five different works the students had the option of reading, each of which raised different questions about the fulness and qualities of women’s citizenship, and the continuing efforts to attain citizenship for women that was equivalent to men’s. These were, in order of discussion:

# Virginia Sapiro. 1984.“Women, citizenship, and nationality: Immigration and naturalization policies in the United States.” Politics & Society 13:1-26.

When we studied the history of the suffrage movement, we covered the fact that at the time of the rise of that movement, certain aspects of the culture and law surrounding gender in the United States was actually become more restrictive in important ways than it had been. One example was that although the married women’s property acts began to recognize “free” married women as independent persons, capable of owning property, Congress specifically made women’s citizenship and nationality contingent on her husband’s, ultimately stating that an American woman who marries a foreigner would lose her American citizen and be considered by the U.S. to have taken on the nationality of her husband, regardless of what that other country thought. This article explores the process by which women’s nationality and citizenship became independent of her husband, first by removing the legal notion that an American woman who marries a foreign man loses her American citizenship, and second, by making her ability to pass her nationality on to her children not contingent on the nationality of her husband. In the course of this discussion we considered why the legal contingency of nationality and citizenship was relevant to all women, regardless of the nationality of their spouse – or even regardless of their marital status. The answer is that while the effect of an American woman marrying an American was to leave her citizenship intact (and that of her children), the fact remained that that citizenship was contingent not on the facts of her own birth (in terms of jus soli or jus sanguinis), but on the condition of her marriage.

# Rebecca De Wolf. 2017. “The Equal Rights Amendment and the rise of emancipationism , 1936-1946.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies  38 (2): 47-80.

For the National Women’s Party, the obvious next step after the 19th Amendment was to enshrine gender equality in the U.S. Constitution. One or another version was introduced into Congress regularly from 1923 until it went out to the states for ratification, only to die in 1982. The students assumed opposition to an ERA was a simple matter of opposition to gender equality. But the story of feminist opposition to the ERA is a critical one for probing the complications of the meaning of equality and inequality, and its apparent connection to sameness and difference. It is not easy for students to understand why, for example, protective labor legislation was defended by women who otherwise seemed to be feminists. This reading opened up an opportunity for exploring the realities of women’s economic and labor vulnerabilities, especially among the large segment of women who were in the labor force who represented additional dimensions of vulnerability – being working class, recent immigrants or migrants, or women of color. Although protective labor legislation did not cover all classifications of women equally – and tended to protect women out of stereotypical men’s jobs, and into stereotypical women’s jobs – the opportunity to talk about these issues about women’s experiences and conceptual equality is valuable. We discussed “equal treatment” in common law property states. Where ownership of property followed title, and the majority of women did not have employment or income, and did not have their name on titles to property, equal treatment could be disastrous for women. We concluded with a discussion of the shift in the parties to the debate about the ERA in more recent decades, and the basis for opposition to it.

# Margot Canaday. 2009. The Straight State: Sexuality & Citizenship in Twentieth Century  America.  Princeton University Press, Ch. 6, “Who is a homosexual: The consolidation of Sexual identities in mid-twentieth-century immigration law, 1952-1983.”

Turning once again to immigration and nationality law to understand the gendered nature of citizenship, we explored the struggles in immigration law to define homosexuals, homosexuality, and/or “homosexual acts” as conditions to exclude people from the United States. For many students in the current era, it is very challenging to grasp how profoundly homophobic American law and culture have been. This article provoked a very good discussion on the differences among defining homosexuality as character, as acts, as tendencies … and what the implications are for defining good citizenship variously as character, as acts, as tendencies. I eventually led them into a discussion of the relevance of this for gender and citizenship. Especially because these immigration laws affect men much more often than women, and was manifestly about sexuality rather than gender, why include this here? The answer has to do with the degree that conceptions of gender and of sexuality are so inextricably intertwined. The students picked up on the examples of men excluded at the border for wearing an earring, or a woman excluded for wearing short hair and trousers. Although in this course we are not delving into issues of performativity, gender, and sexuality as we do, for example, in my Gender and Politics class, this reading introduced a more modern, contemporary approach to understanding gender than we used earlier in the course. And that issue – of who is defined as a woman or a man (or not) represents another continuing struggle of full citizenship.

# Chana Kai Lee. 2001. “Anger, memory, and personal power: Fannie Lou Hamer and civil rights leadership.” In Sisters in the Struggle: Africa American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement.  New York University Press, Ch. 9.

My students knew about the Civil Rights Movement generally, but some weren’t sure exactly when it happened, they were not aware of some of the significant turning points, like Freedom Summer, they didn’t know about Fannie Lou Hamer, and they had no idea about gender relations within the Civil Rights Movement or gendered aspects of the Movement. The students who chose this as one of their readings seemed riveted by it, and clearly gained layers of understanding from it.

This chapter raised many important points about women’s full citizenship. In what ways were the roles and actions of people in the Civil Rights Movement gendered? To what degree were women fully respected as participants and as leaders? The students were especially fascinated by Hamer’s worries about the impact of young white women who arrived during Freedom Summer and didn’t understand the implications of their socializing publicly with African American men. Hamer worried that white Southerners would seek retribution against black men for what would be regarded as dishonoring white women. We linked this perception to our earlier discussion of Ida B. Wells and the anti-lynching campaign. We also linked her worries about white women interacting with black men, causing a backlash against the voter registration drive, to white suffragists’ concern about bringing race integrated suffrage groups to the South. This was a very productive discussion of the interrelationships of gender, race, and politics.

# Ashley D. Farmer. 2017. The Remaking of Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era. University of North Carolina Press, “Epilogue.”

This chapter moved our discussion to a radical wing of race emancipation movements – Black Power and the Black Panthers. Here again we discussed gender relations within a race-focused movement. The gender issues are especially interesting because of the emphasis among Panthers on family and community. How did women pursue their gendered issues in the context of a race-focused movement that needed a united front? We returned to the issues of social movements and coalition politics, especially the problems of conflict of priorities within those movements for emancipation. Who is supposed to “wait their turn?” How can the coalition politics of emancipatory movements deal with multiple oppressions simultaneously and effectively?

All posts in this blog series can be found at