- Documenting First Wave Feminisms, Volume I: Transnational Collaborations and Crosscurrents ed. by Maureen Moynagh and Nancy Forestell, and: Documenting First Wave Feminisms, Volume II: Canada – National and Transnational Contexts ed. by Nancy Forestell and Maureen Moynagh
In 1860, Nahnebahwequa – Catherine Sutton, an Ojibwa woman, travelled to England to meet the colonial secretary and Queen Victoria seeking justice against Indian Department policy that did not allow Indigenous women to own land. In 1922, Margaret E. Cumming, Irish nationalist, suffragist, and co-founder of the All-India Women’s Conference, praised Afghanistan’s medical university for women, which had 500 students. Turkish Communist Najiye Hanim addressed the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920 explaining that, contrary to popular belief, the question of the chador was not a priority for the woman movement in her country where women, who were obliged to take on social duties because men were fighting in a war, were fighting for equality in the context of global revolutionary movements. These are a few examples from these fascinating documentary readers that illustrate a key contention of Documenting First Wave Feminisms. We still have much to learn from how first wave feminists negotiated unequal political and economic relationships that emerged from imperialism and global capitalist expansion.
Moynagh and Forestell compiled these readers because reading documents is the best way to make sense of why collaboration was possible in certain contexts and how conflicts produced by asymmetrical relationships entrenched inequalities [End Page 223] among activists engaged in local and international struggles for women’s rights. The documents in Volume I draw on the vibrant historiography of the first wave that uses transnational approaches to examine collaborations and tensions in international women’s organizing. Well-known middle-class feminists are included alongside documents written by working-class socialists and nationalist women engaged in anti-colonial movements. In Volume II, the editors hope to instigate a long overdue reevaluation of first wave feminism in Canada, which is underdeveloped in comparison to the rich international historiography. The editors deliberately chose documents that are not as available to students and scholars as canonical texts. Both volumes include documents that demonstrate how hierarchical relationships among women prioritized the goals of white, middle-class activists. A key strength of the collections is the attention to activists who fostered collaborations that challenged hierarchical race and class relations.
The volumes are organized according to parallel themes and document the development of the international woman movement from Seneca Falls in 1848 until the end of World War II when development of rights discourse and the achievement of suffrage in many nations transformed feminism. The documents in both volumes are divided into eight sections that highlight international connections. Volume I begins with feminist writing about the relationship between slavery, abolition, and women’s rights. The documents trace the evolution from feminist comparisons between women’s subordination and slaves’ lives to the emergence of the abolition movement, the first political movement to bring together women from different nationalities and races. Provincial Freeman articles written by Mary Ann Shadd Cary in Volume II criticize the hypocrisy in Toronto abolition societies’ apathy towards fugitive slaves living in British North America. Imperialism is a key them in both volumes. Documents examine the difficult relationships between women from the East and the West in international organizations and include writing by white feminists who cast racialized women as “inferior sisters” who needed to be rescued from backward customs. Anti-colonial feminists talk back to these women, clarifying misperceptions of their cultures held by feminist allies and criticizing men in nationalist movements who did not challenge women’s inequality. Imperial connections drew prominent Canadian women dedicated to promoting the British Empire into international organizations. One of the key strengths of the Canadian volume is the inclusion of documents written by women marginalized by race who used imperial ties to promote their rights. In...