fo rum The Future of Reconstruction Studies Women's Rights and Reconstruction Lisa Tetrault http://journalofthecivilwarera.org/ forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies Every time we use the singular women's movement--"the women's movement"--for Reconstruction, as scholars habitually do, we significantly collapse our understanding. Reconstruction witnessed the largest and most sophisticated expansion in women's rights activism in the nation to that point. Agendas multiplied, and numbers quickly dwarfed antebellum organizing. Women's rights movements--North and South, built around everything from economic security to bodily sovereignty--were absolutely integral to the history of Reconstruction. Yet most scholarship proceeds without fully recognizing or engaging this fact. Activists' all-too-frequent absence in standard narratives is a sizeable hole in our understanding of the period. This elision has been true for many reasons, including a frequent, if incorrect, conflation of women's rights with women's suffrage. And the reduction of that story, in turn, to a few sketchy, all-too-familiar events (think Fifteenth Amendment fights) and personalities (think Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony). In truth, for all the fame of these wellworn narrative outlines, we don't actually know the suffrage movement in this period, partly because there has been surprisingly little investigation into it. Equally important, we know even less about the many other vibrant women's rights agendas. To date, the best work has been about gender and black women in the South. This scholarship reminds us that taking women and gender seriously fundamentally challenges standard narratives about Reconstruction. Just as taking race seriously has revolutionized the field, gender promises to do the same, if we get busy and recover these numerous, unexcavated stories.
The Journal of the Civil War Era – University of North Carolina Press
Published: Jan 26, 2017