Moving History Forward: American Women Activists, the Search for a Usable Past and the Creation of Public Memory, 1848-1998

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Overview

Title
Moving History Forward: American Women Activists, the Search for a Usable Past and the Creation of Public Memory, 1848-1998
Contributors
Eaton, Nicole M (creator)
Buhle, Mari Jo (Director)
Lubar, Steven (Reader)
Vorenberg, Michael (Reader)
Brown University. History (sponsor)
Doi
10.7301/Z04T6GN5
Copyright Date
2012
Abstract
This dissertation argues that the search for a usable past has been a<br/> fundamental part of women’s activism and re-examines American <br/> feminism through the lens of historical memory. Activists <br/> constructed a political and historical identity by challenging <br/> women’s historical invisibility, using the past in social protest <br/> and creating a gendered public history. In order to investigate the <br/> changes and continuities of generations of activists, this study <br/> spans 150 years. Beginning with the antebellum women’s rights <br/> movement, reformers lionized queens, amazons, and founding mothers. <br/> The search for women worthies continued with suffrage protest during <br/> the 1876 Centennial and through invented traditions such as <br/> Foremother’s Dinners in which reformers harnessed the power of the <br/> past. Building on this memory work, in the final push for suffrage, <br/> NAWSA and the NWP waged a battle over history that helped define the <br/> future of the movement. In the aftermath of this struggle, in the <br/> 1930s and 1940s the campaign to place Susan B. Anthony on Mount <br/> Rushmore, the World Center for Women’s Archives and the Centennial <br/> of the Seneca Falls Convention illustrate unsuccessful ventures into <br/> collective memory by exploring both the limitless ambitions of women <br/> activists as well as the limits of pubic memory. In contrast, with <br/> the advent of second wave feminism, an important foundation for the <br/> movement was appreciating that the “historical is political,” <br/> highlighting the far-reaching success the movement had in <br/> revolutionizing popular historical consciousness about women’s <br/> history. Finally, in the late 1970s through the 1990s, coalitions of <br/> activists and public historians worked to preserve women’s history as<br/> part of the national heritage, including the 1976 Bicentennial, the <br/> fight to relocate the Portrait Monument suffrage memorial, and the <br/> establishment of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. <br/> Exploring this popular and public history (as compared to academic <br/> history) illuminates how ordinary people have found extraordinary <br/> power in seeing their struggles as part of a collective past. <br/> However, activists had to find a balance between a past that touched <br/> the heart with unearthing women’s history with all its historical <br/> complexity.
Keywords
women’s history
historical memory
commemoration
Public history
Collective memory
Social movements
Memorials
Suffrage
Feminism
Notes
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2012)
Extent
ix, 353 p.

Citation

Eaton, Nicole M., "Moving History Forward: American Women Activists, the Search for a Usable Past and the Creation of Public Memory, 1848-1998" (2012). History Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z04T6GN5

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