Historians of U.S. social and political movements are increasingly interested in understanding how local activism lays foundations for national organizing. Scholars of post–World War II women's movements, therefore, now look beyond such groups as the National Organization for Women to examine how those working at the grassroots helped shape what became known as the “second wave” of feminism. Studies such as Anne Enke's Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (2007) and Stephanie Gilmore's Groundswell: Grassroots Feminist Activism in Postwar America (2012) have enriched the field of U.S. women's history by decentering northern elites to demonstrate how and when national and local groups did—and did not—work together for women's equality. Janet Allured's highly readable Remapping Second-Wave Feminism continues that important work. One of several strengths of Allured's study is its attention to the unique ways that gender and race intersect in southern women's activism. She is careful not to overstate the role that black Louisiana women played in a movement dominated by white organizers as she profiles the contributions of African American women who worked on second-wave initiatives. Allured explains that these women most often “worked singly rather than in groups, toward feminist goals,” particularly those goals that aligned with movements for racial justice (p. 10). Her nuanced analysis suggests that this strategy did not represent a lack of commitment to women's issues but rather was an impressive understanding of how intersecting systems of oppression work, an awareness that was often missing from white feminist leadership. Allured's detailed examination of the largely overlooked contributions of religious groups to second-wave organizing, especially those associated with the Methodist Church, is likewise conclusive and a considerable contribution to feminist historiography. A primary focus on women's work in two Louisiana cities allows Allured to explore interesting contrasts between the politically and socially diverse feminists of New Orleans and the more conservative activists of Baton Rouge. Yet this emphasis hinders Allured from fully realizing her goal of illustrating the breadth of Louisiana organizing and its wide influence on national movements—two key claims made in her study. Relying largely on written sources and oral histories that document the work of college and university faculty and students—Allured's feminist pioneers—sometimes leaves the impression that southern elites dominated Louisiana movements. Her assertion that “southern feminists were easy to overlook because they seldom appeared or acted like the stereotype that dominated the popular imagination” creates another kind of contrast, one premised on the notion that attention to “the more famous centers of feminism, such as Boston, Chicago and New York, where there was much finger-pointing venom, and even character assassination” has distorted our understanding of feminism (pp. 5, 213). This claim simplifies a rich, complicated, and often-contentious history that deserves more consideration than given here. Fortunately, these are uncharacteristic lapses in an otherwise well-reasoned study. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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