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Conclusion 219 Between 1871 and the fall of the Pendergast machine, activist women in Kansas City gained a voice, a place in society, and a new understanding of themselves as political actors. They were no longer hesitant to join together for collective action. Rather, they extended the hearth into the streets, exercised the skills of effective advocacy, demanded political equality, and sought and gained political office. As the society of the frontier town became established, the women’s unusual model of housing all three strains of activism in one organization frayed. They became much more like women of the more established cities of the North and East by acting on their specific interests, whether benevolence, reform, or sexual equality, and forming local chapters of national organizations. In some cases, Kansas City women became prominent leaders at the local, state, and national levels. In fact, these women reflected the larger desire of the community to pattern its growth, development, and response to issues of poverty on the example of established cities. The evolution of the Women’s Christian Association in the 1870s disproves the “eastern thesis” that women’s organizations that formed to address poverty were subsequently supplanted by male organizations in response to financial or economic crises. Rather, the WCA lost interest in serving as a general relief agency as it became increasingly elite and restricted its activities to those appropriate to upper-­ middle-­and upper-­ class women—­ caring for women, children, and the elderly. The male elite response—­ the formation of the Provident Association—­ was slow in forming and occurred only with the prodding of the city’s newspapers. The men took over relief only reluctantly and in the absence of a precipitating event. To return to the central question of the study, how did women claim political power and influence in this western city? The principal factor was the continuous expansion of the feminine sphere to include poor relief, moral 220 Conclusion reform, equality, and Progressive reform from the 1870s through the fall of the Pendergast machine. Women exerted authority through the organizations they joined, the collective strength they gained, the education they brought, and the skills they acquired as a result of participation. Collective action empowered women to act on behalf of women’s and children’s issues. These issues were broadly defined to include the improvement of conditions for women, public morality, municipal housekeeping, suffrage, and Prohibition . While these women negotiated gender boundaries, they contested for the rights of other disadvantaged populations in the city. Yet they often embraced the ideology of white Protestant superiority that placed them at odds with Irish Catholics, who disagreed with efforts to ban alcohol, thwart Irish political machines, and assimilate Catholic immigrants by converting them to Protestantism, and with African American women, who aspired to equality within the women’s organizations. With the advent of suffrage in 1920, Kansas City women sought to exercise political power through the ballot and to shape their city by holding public office. While temporarily successful in securing seats on the thirty-­ two-­ member city council before the adoption of the new city charter in 1925, their enduring achievement was found in securing positions on the school board and in turning out voters for the post-­ Pendergast reform elections . In this way, these women defied the national narrative of division and political marginalization. They continued to claim seats on the school board and rallied voters to the polls in an all-­ out effort to rid the city of the last vestiges of the Pendergast machine. The women achieved success, however , when their activities conformed to—­ rather than challenged—­ socially constructed gender norms. Just as society rebuffed women’s early efforts to gain equality and to speak out on issues of world peace, activist women in Kansas City found sustained success not in municipal governance but rather in areas such as the nurturance of children through school board service and in acting in an adjunct role to men by supporting candidates and causes determined by men, as in the organization of campaigns to clean up city government in 1940. Even in the face of shifting gender constructs, the relief of the poor proved a constant element throughout the period, even as attitudes toward the poor evolved in light of new social and economic realities. The Provident Association ran an advertisement in the special Columbus Day edition of Il Messaggero, the newspaper of the Italian American community in Kansas City, on October 12, 1931. The advertisement stated...


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