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In Articulating Rights: Nineteenth-Century American Women on Race, Reform and the State, Alison Parker explores the political thought of [End Page 132] nineteenth-century female reformers through the lives of six prominent African American and white women: Frances Wright, Sarah Grimké, Angelina Grimké Weld, Francis Watkins Harper, Frances Willard, and Mary Church Terrell. Parker uses the lives of these women, which spanned the entire nineteenth century, to reveal how some ideas about race, gender, and the state in American women's political thought changed, and others persisted, during that era.
One of the strengths of this book is in the way Parker uses her evidence to complicate several historiographical boundaries: for example, the boundary between the political thought of African American and white women, the boundary between various reform movements such as temperance, abolition, and woman's suffrage, the boundary between the pre- and post-Civil-War eras, and the boundary between the United States and Europe. While, as Parker makes clear, these challenges to the existing historiography are not new, such boundaries are still in dire need of complication. For example, on the issue of race, she points out, even as some scholars have published studies that analyze white and black women together, "in much of American women's history and political history, black women still tend to fade into the background unless they are the sole subjects of the study" (p. 5). And despite numerous calls for a more transnational approach to U.S. history, few scholars as yet have seriously taken up that challenge.
Parker argues that one can trace in nineteenth-century American women's political thought a growing belief that the federal government should be involved in reform, for example, by enacting civil rights or prohibition laws. She charts a trajectory from Fanny Wright, who believed that slavery must be ended by "moral suasion" and that the federal government did not have the right to legislate against it, to the Grimké sisters, who started out as advocates of moral suasion but eventually concluded that federal intervention was necessary to create a fair and equitable society, to late-nineteenth-century reformers such as Mary Church Terrell, who saw the federal government as integral to her reform efforts, demanding [End Page 133] that Congress enforce the Thirteenth Amendment against southern states and towns that violated its prohibition against involuntary servitude with the convict-leasing system.
In addition, Parker makes it clear that not only did African American and white women in America increasingly embrace the federal government as an agent of reform but also that these female reformers did not formulate their ideas in strictly an American context; they were all "part of a transatlantic network of reform and change" (p. 212). For example, while Fanny Wright was a Scotswoman, she held many ideas in common with the other five American-born reformers. All six were avid readers of European and American political philosophy; Frances Willard and Mary Church Terrell spent a great deal of time in Europe and while Frances Watkins Harper and the Grimké sisters did not, they were immersed in a transatlantic culture of abolition.
By integrating white and African American female reformers, European and American ideas, the pre- and post-Civil-War eras, and a variety of reform movements into one study, Parker has significantly added to and enlarged our understanding of nineteenth-century American female reformers. One might have wished that she had also explored the relationship between the political thought of female and male reformers. At the end of the book, Parker suggests that "women reformers' articulation of a new vision of female citizenship encouraged an expanded role for the state in reform[,]" but without a discussion of the relationship between the ideas of male and female reformers, it is hard to evaluate such a claim (p. 218). Nonetheless, this is an important book, and it is well worth reading for all those interested in nineteenth-century American women's history, political history, intellectual...