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Introduction 3 Over the course of the three score and ten years from 1870 to 1940, women in Kansas City left behind their hesitancy to enter the public sphere and actively claimed public space and political agency. Two newspaper accounts—­ one from 1871 and the other from 1921—­ demonstrate the magnitude of this transition. On January 7, 1871, the minutes of the nascent Women’s Christian Association appeared in a local newspaper and encouraged charity work by women “who would like to do the work of Christ” but who were concerned about claiming public space for themselves and their sex. The WCA urged women who “have not the independence to brave public opinion and act with their sisters” to participate.1 Fifty years later, by contrast, the Kansas City Times of July 14, 1921, reported that a longtime leading clubwoman and chairman of the Children’s Bureau of Kansas City, Mary Harmon Weeks, participated in a public hearing on milk safety regulations and posed pointed questions on the subject to leading medical authorities.2 Over the next two decades, women were elected to public office and played central roles in municipal reform campaigns. This study traces the change in the attitudes of women in a western city from reluctance to enter the public realm to self-­ confident participation in the issues of the day. In doing so, the study examines the vehicles by which women gained a political role by expanding the feminine sphere ever further into civic affairs. Charity was the first ostensible step in this process. Charity as an organizing principle was quickly followed by moral reform, agitation for sexual equality, and Progressive reform. Women organized themselves into purely local charities, like the Women’s Christian Association of Kansas City, and somewhat later into local chapters of national organizations , including the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), National Association of Colored Women (NACW), Catholic Women’s Association (CWA), National 4 Introduction Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Women’s Relief Corps (WRC), Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic (LGAR), and United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), among others. As political scientist and historian Theda Skocpol describes, the structure of these nation-­ spanning federations of women’s clubs was highly effective in advocating policies that benefited women, such as mothers’ pensions, minimum wage, and the creation of the Children’s Bureau at the federal level. This experience contrasted sharply with that of Europe, in which well-­ established bureaucracies and programmatic political parties managed programs in the realm of civic betterment and developed welfare states that protected male workers and their dependents. As Skocpol observes, the industrial class in the United States lacked the class consciousness of its European counterparts. National women’s organizations with local chapters provided an alternative structure for advocacy in policy domains that affected women.3 The apogee of women’s political effectiveness occurred during the second decade of the twentieth century, when female activists of all persuasions were united in support of women’s suffrage.4 During the period from 1870 to 1940, the image of women in society evolved. Where both female and male moral reformers saw women as passionless and vulnerable to the evil male seducers, the later Progressive reformers acknowledged the sexual agency of women and tended to attribute what they viewed as undesirable female behavior, such as sexual promiscuity , to the negative influences of family and societal challenges.5 Following the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, many scholars see women’s political coherence as fragmenting. Groups that were united for a common cause began to pursue separate agendas. While they came together on the importance of the vote for women, they could not agree on how to use the vote to advance specific policies. As a result, women failed to achieve equal opportunity.6 This study will argue that the experience of women in Kansas City was different from the national experience in that women remained united in their desire to affect electoral and policy outcomes and to seek and serve in public office and experienced some success in doing so. Scholars often embrace the tripartite structure of women’s activism in the mid-­to late nineteenth century, in which women’s groups variously supported benevolence, moral reform, or gender equality to explain the demise of women’s unity after women obtained the vote.7 In theory, the women’s groups fragmented in their interests once women gained the franchise . Consistent with the...


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