Rendering assistance to best advantage: the development of women's activism in Kansas City, 1870 to World War I
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This study examines the rise of women's activism in Kansas City between the opening of the Hannibal railroad bridge in 1869 and World War I. Women's efforts over the course of nearly 50 years to emerge from the domestic sphere and claim space as full participants in the American polity through activism on behalf of benevolence, reform, and equality form the core of the study. The social construction of gender, class, and race, the effects of political philosophy in shaping responses to poverty, and the role of the political structure in shaping the interactions of local women with national organizations in an emerging Midwestern metropolis constitute its focus. Before the Civil War, Kansas City grew rapidly in spite of regional tensions and a Southern population that often mixed uneasily with the growing number of Northerners who passed through and often settled in the community. Both before and after the war, however, Kansas City business leaders championed a civic philosophy of unity over the divisiveness of politics and community development. The new, unformed frontier society provided an opening for women to found a single organization in the early 1870s that embraced the tripartite structure of women's activism - benevolence, reform, and sexual equality. By the late 1870s, the affluent members gained prominence and narrowed its scope to include only benevolence. As a result, the organization contracted its activities to the gender-approved role of serving women and children. With the founding of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and other national organizations with local chapters, women interested in the reform and equality found outlets activism that increasingly pushed the limits of the feminine sphere, involved women in public leadership roles, and built support for equality through suffrage. Examining women's activism from the vantage point of an emerging Midwestern metropolis provides new ways to look at women's activism during this period. This study illuminates how women's activism in Kansas City was shaped by, and helped to shape, women's activism at the national level. It also informs the scholarly understanding of how activist women interacted with male-led organizations and political structures.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- The exploding Midwestern metropolis: carving out a city on the bluffs, 1856 to 1870 -- The quality and equality of mercy is strained: the rise and fall of the female-led General Relief Agency, 1870-1879 -- Back to their friends: the reluctant response of male-led relief, 1880- World War I -- Idiots, imbeciles, slaves and women: women's activism in Kansas City, 1880 to World War I -- Conclusion