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Thompson on Green, _Southern Strategies_

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    ... H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-SHGAPE@h-net.msu.edu (April, 1999) Elna C. Green. _Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question_.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 16 8:58 AM
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      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-SHGAPE@... (April, 1999)

      Elna C. Green. _Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman
      Suffrage Question_. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
      Press, 1997. xx + 287 pp. Tables, notes, and index. $45.00
      (cloth), ISBN 0-8078-2332-5; $16.95 (paper), 0-8078-4641-4.

      Reviewed for H-SHGAPE by Ruth Anne Thompson
      <rthompson@...>, Georgia Southern University

      In recent years, the field of women's history has been enriched by
      the arrival of several new studies looking at the woman suffrage
      campaign in the American South. Elna C. Green's _Southern
      Strategies_ both builds and expands on this work as she reveals the
      complex approaches and responses of southern women to "the woman
      suffrage question." Rather than focus merely on those who toiled in
      favor of suffrage, Green's fine work also illuminates the
      ideological and logistical struggles of southern women who opposed
      votes for women. She traces the origins of both the suffrage and
      antisuffrage movements and looks at the similarities of the two
      groups as well as the differences. As shown by Green, neither side
      could avoid the pervasive issues of region and race. In revealing
      how the "Southern Lady" dealt with these questions, Green helps to
      explain why, of the thirty-six states who ratified the 19th
      amendment, only four of those states were in the South.=20

      The first half of _Southern Strategies_ documents the beginning and
      evolution of both the suffrage and antisuffrage movement in the
      region. Green submits that southern suffragists followed the same
      pattern of organization as their northern sisters. New South
      industrialization and urbanization provided southern women with the
      opportunities for education and association crucial to create
      support for suffrage. Green discounts the idea that most southern
      suffragists turned to the vote as a method of diluting the voting
      power of black men, although she notes that the movement lost
      momentum throughout the first decade of the century after southern
      legislatures had effectively deprived black men of the vote through
      devices such as literacy tests and poll taxes. Rather, she argues
      that southern women saw the need for progressive reform, and, as did
      women elsewhere, they saw the vote as a means to influence
      legislation.=20

      If southern suffragists saw the vote as a tool to use in their
      effort to achieve reforms, southern antisuffragists, according to
      Green, reacted as they did in part to counter those efforts. She
      argues that the antis had stronger ties to the South's plantation
      past than did the women who embraced suffrage. Southern women
      joined the antisuffrage cause because they revered the traditional
      southern hierarchy with "class, gender, and race relations ... set
      in a permanent configuration, each

      mutually reinforcing the others." (p. 90). Green argues that,
      economically, the antisuffragists tended to have ties to the regions
      entrenched economic interests--plantations, textiles,
      railroads--that naturally resisted regulation, particularly
      regulation from outside the South. Further, she does a fine job
      showing the family connections shared by both male and female
      antisuffragists with the region's plantation belt, both during and
      after the antebellum period, whether or not those antis had moved to
      the South's growing urban populations. More is needed, however, on
      the backgrounds of suffragists in order to support the argument that
      they had fewer ties to the families of the Old South.=20

      As both suffragists and antisuffragists struggled to live up to the
      ideal of the "Southern Lady," in the midst of an overtly political
      battle, they also had to discuss and debate the effect woman
      suffrage would have on the region's African American population.=20
      Green contends that most suffragists used a "statistical argument"
      to prove that white women outnumbered black women, providing "a
      moderate means used ... to calm white southerners=92 fears of black
      suffrage without engaging in race baiting" (p. 93). Antis, in
      contrast, warned of the inherent problems in maintaining white
      dominance should African American women receive the franchise.=20
      Further, for those already fearful of interference by the national
      government, it seemed probable that there would be an increased role
      for the federal government in state and local elections should
      suffrage come through an amendment to the United States
      Constitution, threatening both the hegemony of the Democratic Party
      and the disfranchisement of African American men.=20

      And, as Green points out, the race and state's rights issues divided
      not only suffragists from antisuffragists, but created a split in
      the southern suffragist movement itself. Tracing the suffrage
      career of New Orleans' Kate Gordon, and her founding of the Southern
      States Woman Suffrage Conference, in 1913, Green shows how state's
      rights suffragists wanted the vote, but without a federal
      constitutional amendment. From that point, the debate over women's
      suffrage was "three-sided." Gordon, an outspoken advocate of white
      supremacy, argued that a federal amendment would enable the
      Republican party to get a base in the South and bring about black
      suffrage. Green shows how the split between the state's rights
      suffragists and those seeking a federal amendment led to the defeat
      of both the state and federal amendments in Gordon's state of
      Louisiana.=20

      In her conclusion, Green does a nice job of explaining why
      suffragists failed to get legislative support in most southern
      states, but a broader conclusion would be welcome. The complexity
      of her subject, the wide range of women and ideologies covered,
      needs some kind of broader thematic conclusion. For example, the
      final chapter on the Virginia suffrage campaign is offered as a case
      study revealing how the various strains of pro and antisuffragism
      played out in a single state. Green correctly notes that this
      chapter provides "good drama" and illustrates the organizational
      wrangling of both sides of the debate. But, while reflecting some
      of the themes and evidence presented in preceding pages, these pages
      seem somehow disconnected from the rest of the book. A longer
      conclusion could go far in providing that link. Likewise the
      "Epilogue" to the Virginia story provides a fascinating glimpse of
      Virginia's post-suffrage African American female voters but seems to
      appear almost as an afterthought to the chapter itself, which I am
      sure was not Green's intention.

      These are minor quibbles, however, in what is otherwise a fine
      addition to women's history in general, and southern women's history
      in particular. Through thoughtful analysis and beautifully drawn
      biographical vignettes, Green brings to life the "Southern Lady" and
      helps us understand why she did, or did not, support suffrage for
      herself and other ladies.=20

      Review commissioned by Gayle Gullett, Arizona State University

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