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Silk Stockings and Ballot Boxes Women and Politics in New Orleans, 1920-1963 (review)

From: Southern Cultures
Volume 4, Number 4, 1998
pp. 95-98 | 10.1353/scu.1998.0016

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tive goals. Ofthe two the former is more successful because Mancini does not go farther than his research will allow yet manages to at least outline a fresh understanding ofthe limited place ofthe convict lease system in die soudiern economy. Many will, however, prefer Lichtenstein's reaffirmation of scholarly stereotypes about race and class in die South, despite the fact that he reaches his conclusions without considering the experience of the vast majority ofboth races. Silk Stockings and Ballot Boxes Women and Politics in New Orleans, 1920—1963 By Pamela Tyler University of Georgia Press, 1996 323 pp. Cloth, $40.00 Reviewed by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author oí New Women ofthe New South: The Leaders ofthe Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States, and editor of three other books on the suffrage movement including One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. For far too long historians accepted without serious question the idea diat women's political activism diminished and all but disappeared following the ratification ofthe Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Since the League ofWomen Voters enlisted only a small minority of suffragists, and American women did not vote as a bloc as some suffragists and antisuffragists had predicted, women's political influence after 1920 and before the emergence ofthe modern "gender gap" has been largely discounted. Some historians, in fact, claim that women had more political influence before 1920 through separate women's voluntary associations than they enjoyed after enfranchisement. All of these assumptions are now being challenged. Nancy Cott and odiers have demonstrated that after enfranchisement women continued to be active politically, though diey were divided like men in their political ideology and voting patterns. Cott dismisses the idea of a women's bloc as an unrealistic expectation and points out that bodi before and after 1920 women were involved in a range ofpolitical activities in addition to voting or party politics. She further insists that for an accurate picture ofwomen's political participation after 1 920, one must look beyond voting (turnout declined for both men and women after 1920) Reviews 9 5 and beyond direct descendants of die suffrage movement, such as the League of Women Voters, to a broad range ofwomen's voluntary organizations from birth control leagues to the Daughters ofthe American Revolution. Yet the political activity of women in the years between enfranchisement and die birth ofthe modern Civil Rights and feminist movements has received far too litde attention from scholars. Certainly this is true regarding southern political culture. Thus, Pamela Tyler's book Silk Stockings andBallotBoxes: Women andPolitics in New Orleans, 1920—196) is indeed welcome. Like Cott and political scientist Virginia Shapiro, Tyler adopts an "intentionally broad" definition of political activity that "allows scrutiny of women's lobbying efforts and dieir work in voluntary associations, as well as their voting records and dieir candidacies." And though, as Tyler acknowledges, the book focuses on a narrow group ofwomen—the elite, white women ofa southern city that the author herselfdescribes as öne-of-a-kind—it is nevertheless quite instructive. Particularly mtriguing is Tyler's skillful exploration ofthe way these women exercised significant political power by combining their new power at the ballot box with the "Southern Lady's" traditional, indirect means of exercising political influence . Like the elite, white women predominant in the southern suffrage movement , including New Orleans's famous (or infamous) Gordon sisters, Tyler's women had no qualms about using the connections that were theirs by birth to try to influence events in the Crescent City. Tyler portrays these New Orleans genteel reformers as akin to their Progressive Era predecessors, who considered it dieir duty as women to demand morality and integrity in civic affairs, to clean up politics and promote social justice as they saw it. But unlike the Gordon sisters , these post-1920 activists also had access to political parties and die direct power of the ballot, a combination diey eventually used to great effect. Indeed, Tyler's book is most interesting when discussing New Orleans women's successful campaign to elect reform-minded candidate deLesseps "Chep" Morrison as mayor in 1946. The Morrison...