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The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s

A Challenge and a Promise

Jayne Morris-Crowther

Publication Year: 2013

In the early 1900s, Detroit's clubwomen successfully lobbied for issues like creating playgrounds for children, building public baths, raising the age for child workers, and reforming the school board and city charter. But when they won the vote in 1918, Detroit's clubwomen, both black and white, were eager to incite even greater change. In the 1920s, they fought to influence public policy at the municipal and state level, while contending with partisan politics, city politics, and the media, which often portrayed them as silly and incompetent. In this fascinating volume, author Jayne Morris-Crowther examines the unique civic engagement of these women who considered their commitment to the city of Detroit both a challenge and a promise. By the 1920s, there were eight African American clubs in the city (Willing Workers, Detroit Study Club, Lydian Association, In As Much Circle of Kings Daughters, Labor of Love Circle of Kings Daughters, West Side Art and Literary Club, Altar Society of the Second Baptist Church, and the Earnest Workers of the Second Baptist Church); in 1921, they joined together under the Detroit Association of Colored Women's Clubs. Nearly 15,000 mostly white clubwomen were represented by the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs, which was formed in 1895 by the unification of the Detroit Review Club, Twentieth Century Club, Detroit Woman's Club, Woman's Historical Club, Clio Club, Wednesday History Club, Hypathia, and Zatema Club. Morris-Crowther begins by investigating the roots of the clubs in pre-suffrage Detroit and charts their growing power. She goes on to consider the women's work in three areas-Policies That Affect Women and Children, Protecting the Home against Enemies, and Home as Part of the Urban Environment-and considers the numerous challenges they faced in The Limits of Enfranchised Citizens. An appendix contains the 1926 Directory of the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs. In the end, Morris-Crowther shows that Detroit's clubwomen pioneered new lobbying techniques like personal interviews, and used political education in savvy ways to bring politics to the community level. This volume will be interesting reading for enthusiasts of Detroit history and readers wanting to learn more about women and politics of the 1920s.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Great Lakes Books Series


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In this research I am the grateful beneficiary of outstanding historians, archivists, family, and friends. I wish to thank the staff of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library. David Poremba, Cheri Gay, John Gibson, Barbara Louie, Janet Nelson, Lillian Stefano, Winston Johnson, Romie Minor, Jackie Lawson...

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pp. 1-12

In 1919, the Detroit Times reported that some city councilmen showed their “temerity” by opposing the wishes of Detroit’s clubwomen. About forty of these clubwomen, recently enfranchised by a November state referendum, were demanding that a section of a public park be attached to a nearby girls’ home. Instead the City Council voted...

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1. Early Twentieth-Century Detroit and the Beginning of Women’s Activism

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pp. 13-35

In the early twentieth century Detroit was a dynamic city undergoing rapid industrialization and an accompanying population boom, making the city more heterogeneous than it had been in the nineteenth century. There was increased demand for city services, as the city had greater municipal responsibility to provide police and fire protection...

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2. The Club Work of Enfranchised Women

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pp. 37-60

By the early 1920s many Detroit clubwomen had established patterns for their enfranchised political activities, which would continue for the rest of the decade. They used their newly acquired voting rights in combination with other political tools they had developed pre-franchise. Throughout the 1920s organized clubwomen promoted a civic...

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3. Policies That Affect Women and Children

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pp. 61-81

Once women gained the franchise, they began voting in large numbers, which caused politicians and policymakers to take notice—they began to reach out to women for their perspective on issues that concerned the home.1 Detroit clubwomen realized that they could be a powerful factor in the community in various ways. In light of all the...

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4. Protecting the Home against Enemies

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pp. 83-106

In the 1920s the city of Detroit, with its burgeoning population and proximity to Canada, faced grave issues of crime and punishment. The city’s rapid industrialization and urbanization created new “temptations” and at the same time caused it to outgrow the communal and institutional restraints under which it had functioned. Detroit clubwomen wanted to protect...

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5. Home as Part of the Urban Environment

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pp. 107-119

Detroit clubwomen understood that a large, urban, industrial city presented many health and safety hazards. They expressed concern about clean food and water, as well as proper sanitation. They campaigned against urban hazards like air pollution and excessive automobile traffic. Clubwomen believed these issues could not be separated from their traditional concerns...

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6. The Limits of Enfranchised Citizens

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pp. 121-141

In the late 1920s Detroit clubwomen continued to pursue equal, enfranchised citizenship but increasingly realized the limitations of that citizenship. They were informed voters, but both political parties were hesitant about granting them leadership positions, much less running them as candidates. Clubwomen themselves were often not united...

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pp. 143-148

In 1930, Detroit was mired in a deep economic depression. The city was confronted with all its previous municipal responsibilities plus an enormous public relief burden. In July of that year, the mayor, Charles Bowles, was recalled. In the subsequent election, Frank Murphy was elected mayor. Clubwomen supported Murphy because his philosophy...

Appendix: Directory of the Detroit Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1926

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pp. 149-161


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pp. 163-192

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 193-201


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pp. 203-217

Back Cover

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pp. 232-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780814338162
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814338155

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 2
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Great Lakes Books Series
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OCLC Number: 847609592
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Political Activities of Detroit Clubwomen in the 1920s

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Subject Headings

  • Women political activists -- Michigan -- Detroit.
  • Women -- Political activity -- Michigan -- Detroit.
  • Women -- Societies and clubs -- Michigan -- Detroit.
  • Detroit (Mich.) -- Politics and government.
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