Seeking Solace from History? The 1876 & 2020 Elections and Threats to Democracy

Reflections on the lessons studying the 1876 presidential election has for our contemporary situation. Analytically, what do we gain by considering these periods togetherSurely, we’re not interested in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not approach. (“Next up: The parallels between the assassination of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy!”) And we know that history does not “repeat itself.” (And if it did, what would that tell us about politics?) But how do case studies of past political events inform political analysis? One way is exactly as case studies of current political events do – to develop and test hypotheses about various aspects of politics. If 2000, 2016, or 2020, why not 1876? Another is slightly different: to offer a comparative case to explore or re-test (those are different) knowledge drawn from contemporary research. Another is to investigate roots and precedents (again, those are different). Finally, for those who agree that history is worth understanding, we can use contemporary insights drawn from social science research to interrogate and extend extant historical research. That is what this exploration sets out to do. By considering these two eras in tandem, what, if anything, can we learn about persistent fundamentals of American politics?

See the paper here:


New York, New York!

The History of Higher Education in America: A Timeline/Genealogy

One of the crazier things I have done is to develop a timeline/genealogy of higher education to serve as a source for the research for my future book, The Coming Crisis in American Higher Education, 1636-2036.  People have asked, so here is a 10-year excerpt, to give you a taste. I have selected 1879-1889 for no serious reason.

Find it here: Timeline18791889


The Once & Only Centennial Course Blog: The Whole Semester

I have been blogging my course, PO/WS 505: The 19th Amendment Centennial: A Lens for Gender & Empowerment, throughout the semester. Here is the whole blog stitched together in one document. Happy to discuss or answer questions.


The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: Challenges, Questions, Changes for the Centennial of the renewed Women’s Movement (1968-2068 or 2120)

Week 13, Finale

To end the course we did some of the obvious things – look back at what we did, think about what we learned, think about the implications of the past for the present and future.

But most of the discussion revolved around the final reading for the course, selections from Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (Simon & Schuster, 2018). It was clear from the blog posts this week that many of the students resonated strongly to this reading. They found it a good avenue to use to understand their feelings of anger – one said it was “healing.” A couple of the students considered it in light of having to live at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, and dealing with parents whose views were very different from their own. One thought her father was egging her on with his own right-wing views, then would goad her when she got upset by asking why she got so emotional about it.

We first discussed anger in both an abstract way, and in the context of the book. What is anger? What is emotion? What does it mean to “control” one’s feelings? To be criticized for showing anger? We discussed neuroscientific and cognitive research on anger and other feelings, which shows that emotions are visceral, bodily responses involving breath, pulse, blood flow, etc often relating to “fight or flight” reactions. The emotions have to be understood, named, interpreted to make sense, and that is done particular through cultural and social phenomena.

We turned to the difference between feeling emotion and communicating it – which led us to a discussion of how much the communication of emotion is socially and culturally shaped, and is contingent on where people sit in orders of prestige and hierarchy. People lower in hierarchy rankings are thought to be too emotional, display their emotions too much, while those higher in the hierarchy are freer to engage in emotion displays.

We talked about the task of learning to control one’s emotions from young childhood through adulthood, and explored how that task is different for different people. The class agreed that women’s anger is widely perceived as both more demanding and out of place than men’s. I raised the example of black and brown parents who give their children – especially their sons “the talk,” teaching them to withhold expressions of their emotions in the face of threats or abuse by white authorities – this training in suppressing emotion communication in certain circumstances is a survival strategy. (I recommended the PBS special on this topic, available at

We then delved into women in politics, and women’s political history with respect to the importance of anger. We reconsidered a number of stories of the mobilization of women, especially to engage in acts that were well outside normally acceptable behavior for women, and the role of anger. Research in political psychology shows that different emotions tend to have different implications for political response, with anger more likely to lead to political engagement compared, for example, with fear – another negative emotion. I asked them to consider, for example, how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott probably felt when, as activists in the abolition movement, they found themselves excluded from meaningful participation in the World AntiSlavery Convention.  How would they feel if it happened to them?  Would anyone get involved in potentially dangerous emancipation work without a rising of emotion, especially anger at perceived injustice?

We concluded with a discussion of the communication and channeling of anger. How do people make something constructive out of those feelings? What kinds of choice behavior are involved? How do these experiences and actions change over the adult life course?  Why do young people and older people tend to deal with expression of emotion differently?

So this is where we left things. After a semester of exploring emancipatory movements, and considering what is left to be done, how shall we each proceed? What choices will we make? When we see injustice, how will we respond? And what have we learned from those who went before?


All installations of this blog are available at .


Reading Mary Wollstonecraft in Time

For Mary Wollstonecraft's birthday, my little piece on our almost 50 year history together,  “Reading Mary Wollstonecraft in Time.” In Eileen Hunt Botting, ed. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp.280-88 (2014). ReadingMWInTime

The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: The Continuing Struggle for Equality and Empowerment in Private” and “Public” Life

Week 12

As we approach the end of the Centennial Course it is time to think about today. What are the issues that continue to reveal the gaps in equality and empowerment? For this week I simply selected a basket of readings that pointed to some interesting directions. Any number of issues might have been appropriate for that basket, but I picked some that I know from other courses stimulate good discussions, and some that cover problems that are undeniably central to contemporary questions of gender, equality, and empowerment. The readings and some points from the discussion follow:

  • Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg. 2009. “Feminization of poverty in the United States: Any surprises?” In Goldberg, ed., Poor Women in Rich Countries: The Feminization of Poverty over the Life Course. NY: Oxford University Press, Ch. 9.

What are the aspects of domestic gender roles and private and public divisions of labor that leave women in “rich countries” more vulnerable to poverty than men? In what ways are women, even from relatively privileged backgrounds in terms of race and class more vulnerable to poverty? What are the gendered dimensions of homelessness? How do vulnerabilities to poverty change over the adult life course? How well do public policies address the issues of poverty, and take account of their gendered dimensions?

  • Nancy Hirschmann. 2012. “Disability as a new frontier for feminist intersectionality research.” Politics & Gender 8:396-405.

This is simply a very new idea for most of our students although, obviously, not all. We began with a discussion of what constitutes a disability. I asked how many of us can’t see without glasses or lenses. The answer is most of the class. Are we disabled? They agreed we are not. I asked how many are not allowed to drive without their glasses or lenses. Most. I asked again – are we disabled? We discussed the variations in our capabilities and why some, and not others, are regarded as disabilities. We discussed the long-time convention of understanding male capabilities as the norm, and women’s departures from that norm as disabilities, and norms about what constitutes a “real” woman in relation to ideas of disability.

  • Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger. 2017. Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press Ch. 2: “Reproductive justice in the twenty-first century.”

The idea of reproductive justice, as compared with reproductive rights, was new to most of the students, and they found it a very useful way of thinking about these issues, and especially bringing an intersectional analysis to questions of gender and reproduction. By considering rights to have a child at the time of one’s choosing, not to have a child, and to care for one’s child, and to place these aspects of life choices into a context of justice and equality cast a very different light on questions of reproduction, both in contemporary and historical settings. We discussed the questions of “capability” and “fitness” raised by the story of Carrie Buck and the Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell (1925), as well as poverty policies (and their racial dimensions) that imposed sterilization on women. We discussed whether parental leave and child care policies could be understood under the rubric of reproductive justice.

  • Virginia Sapiro. 2018. “Sexual harassment: Performances of gender, sexuality, and power.” Perspectives on Politics 16:1053-66.

I chose my own recent piece on sexual harassment because of the themes of sexual harassment as power performances embedded in other structures and performances of power. The students found this analysis useful. I was especially gratified because (led by a theater student), they were intrigued with the discussion of actors performing scenes from David Mamet’s Oleanna, for which I had the scenes related to harassment played by a male as professor and female as student, then by a female as professor and male as student, then by a male as professor and male as student. Not only did the scenes look very different performed that way, but the actors found it extremely difficult to perform the scene exactly the same way when the characters were embodied by different genders.  (I enjoyed this discussion especially because one of the reviewers of the original manuscript wanted me to exclude that section of the paper because the discussion seemed irrelevant and because I wasn’t able to have the scenes played a 4th time, with two women.)

  • Jami K. Taylor and Daniel C. Lewis. 2014. “The advocacy coalition framework and transgender inclusion in LGBT right activism.” In Jami K. Taylor and Donald P. Haider-Markel, eds. Transgender Rights and Politics: Groups, Issue Framing, and Policy Adoption. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, pp.108-32.

Although we have seen the theme of what constitutes a “real” woman or “real” man throughout the period we have investigated, these questions, of course, take on new and more pressing importance in this era of increasing recognition of transgender people and transgender rights. We explored some of the dimensions of transgender identity and politics for our study of women, equality, and empowerment. We considered the history of feminist interpretations of gender and women, including  the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s policy of admitting only “womyn-born womyn,” and some of the current controversies about women’s sports. The students found intriguing parallels and echoes among (1) white-dominated woman suffrage organizations that adopted the tactic of excluding women other than white women from meetings held in the South because of not wanting to face racist backlash; (2) the fear of some leaders of the National Organization for Women in the early days about the “Lavender Menace,” a view that incorporating lesbian issues into the feminist organizations prime issues because of fears that it would be a diversion, creating backlash from the very homophobic society; and (3) questions about whether trans issues should be incorporated into the LGBQ movement and politics both because it is a different issue and because it is a diversion from the primary emphasis of the movement.

  • Laurel Weldon. 2015. When Protest Makes Policy: Social Movements Represent Disadvantaged Groups. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, Ch. 4, “Inclusion, identity, and women’s movements: State policies on violence against women of color,” pp. 109-28.

This chapter considers a question that has been an underlying theme throughout the course: What are the implications of intersectionality for women’s political organization, and especially for the potential impact of women’s political organization where there are independent organizations of women of different conditions or identities, for example, based on race? Weldon’s analysis of social movement organization and policies on violence against women shows that “when organizing strategies recognize social divisions, social movements are strengthened” (p.127).  This leads us to think back through the history of women’s organizing on behalf of women, but incorporating the divisions and differences among women. A good place to end this week’s discussion.


All installations of this blog are available at .


The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: The Rise of the Renewed Women’s Movement and Its Coalition Politics

Week 11 

Our students know very little about the reinvigoration of the women’s movement that began in the 1960s and 1970s – they know almost as little as they do about the suffrage movement, and their stereotypes and misconceptions of it are equally dominant. For older faculty it is crucial to remember that our juniors and seniors were born around 2000 and may have come to political consciousness after the election of Barack Obama. Their parents may have been born around the time the women’s liberation movement was rising, but they won’t remember it. The notion of a “third wave” is often attributed to Rebecca Walker’s work in the very early 1990s – our students weren’t yet born then either, although some of their mothers may have felt themselves part of that. But in any case, to teach our students about the 1960s/70s re-rise of the women’s movement is to teach them ancient history.

I began this class by retracing our work from early in the semester on social movement theory, emphasizing yet again the importance of social movements as coalitions and networks, and the significance of that framework for understanding the rise of social movements, their historical patterns, and the threats to their survival and success. Just as NWSA was not “the suffrage movement,” no single organization – not NOW or any other – was “the women’s movement.” And just as the suffrage movement encompassed many different organizations and networks the revolved around different issues and priorities, different styles and tactics, and different social groups, so, even more, did and does the contemporary women’s movement.

The student preparation for this week was reading Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women’s Movement (2014), by Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry. I like assigning this book because it focuses on three different 20th century time periods in feminist movement history: before the rise of the “Women’s Liberation Movement,” the 1960s/1970s phase, and the “third wave.” When I have used this before students are often surprised at how much activism there was between 1920 and the Women’s Liberation Movement. They are fascinated by the “younger” phase, although that one, as I emphasized above, is now old to them.

I begin with problematizing the idea of “waves.” I have never liked or used this terminology in reference to the history of feminist movements, because I believe it oversimplifies and is very misguiding. The first “wave” lasted an extraordinarily long time, involved generations of women, and was much more diverse as a period in feminist history than the wave idea allows for. The second “wave,” as it is generally told, skips over 40 years of rich history. But that “wave,” also is more complicated as a period of feminism than its use often credits.  As my students have learned it, there is a sort of homogenizing effect, where there is little difference between the Feminine Mystique and the women that inspired and the Redstockings, and feminist organizations of African American women or lesbians are virtually inconceivable given the stereotypes they have received. And the “third wave,” apparently suddenly invented more fluid sexuality and intersectionality.

Before we had a full discussion, I screened She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014,, an excellent documentary available through . It runs about 1.5 hours, which is perfect for my 3 hour, 45 minute class. The documentary offers an amazingly comprehensive look into the rise of the 1960s/70s women’s movement, and for all the prominent figures who were still alive at the time of filming, those women narrated and talked about the segments in which they were featured. When I have shown it to classes before, they find it a revelation, especially with respect to what a broad coalition the movement was.

After it finished I used the breakout rooms feature of zoom to give them a bit of time to discuss among themselves in small rooms what they found most interesting or surprising as they thought about their reading and the documentary, or they could talk about what was similar and what was different between the coalition politics of women’s movements in the 19th century and the end of the 20th century.

We only began the discussion – and will continue it next week, but the race politics segments fascinated them, as did the story of Jane. They were also struck by the theme of the education within the movement – explicitly, for example, by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, but also in the myriad other ways feminists studied, learned and educated themselves, including through consciousness-raising groups, founding periodicals, and through their other action plans.

More next week.

The entire blog post on the course can be found here:

The syllabus can be found here:

National Crises and Public Opinion as Political Symbols

As the President and many of his political allies in government chip away at democratic political institutions and processes, I think once again about my late colleague Murray Edelman, and the chapter he wrote on the political uses of “crisis” in his excellent book, Political Language. We should also think carefully about using the war metaphor to describe our struggles with the pandemic. Deeply problematic.  I doubt younger generations are familiar with Edelman's work, so I share this particular chapter here. It's well worth reading and thinking about.


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