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1 The Politics of Women’s Work: Building the California Women’s Movement, 1880–93 In the 1870s a few extraordinary pioneers for women’s rights entered California ’s political arena, demanding women’s enfranchisement. They based their demand on a fundamental principle: fathers and husbands should not vote for women; women must speak for themselves. The su√ragists envisioned that women, with the gain of citizenship, would become a powerful force that could greatly improve women’s position in society. Yet despite the hours these women spent organizing the su√rage movement, it remained small. Most women saw themselves as living private lives and did not see a relationship between angers many felt about their lives and the demand for the vote. Although women lacked enthusiasm for the vote, they did develop a public role. During the 1870s women in San Francisco and Los Angeles built public institutions, such as philanthropic organizations that managed urban social welfare services. But the women who created these associations understood them as extensions of women’s private domestic responsibilities and not as a challenge to their lives or duties. Just as the woman in the home, supported financially by her husband, created a place of moral influence, so women in charities created places of morality that depended upon male support. These women di√erentiated between women’s role in public service and the role of women in electoral politics. The first was an extension of their domestic lives. The second was the realm of men. In the 1880s women’s organizations developed new ways of thinking about 12 Becoming Citizens the relationship between women’s work and politics. Organized women worried that they were losing their traditional ability to influence national morality through their work in the home, church, and community because of forces they called the ‘‘factory,’’ the ‘‘city,’’ and the ‘‘immigrant.’’ Women turned to politics as a means to bolster their moral guardianship and thus advance themselves as a group; with this understanding they campaigned for, among other things, prohibition, women members on school boards, and a ‘‘pure,’’ or nonsensational, press. Women did not initially call their e√orts political, which they understood as male partisan endeavors that were sectarian and opportunistic and, more often than not, corrupt. Organized women felt more comfortable labeling their political campaigns as women’s work, a term that evoked for them the traditions of womanly service and obligation. When organized women spoke, as they commonly did, of ‘‘advancing women’s work,’’ they referred to their work in the home, volunteer work for churches and charities, paid work, and the work of civic activism. Women created an elastic and holistic definition that expanded their work and enhanced their power. When women did this, they were acting politically. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) pioneered in arguing that politics could facilitate women’s traditional task of providing moral in- fluence. For WCTU women this meant lobbying for temperance legislation in order to protect the home from the ravages of male alcoholism. Club women, college-educated women, and professional women followed the WCTU’s example of using politics for ‘‘home protection.’’ Generally, they became involved in school elections, actions that they justified in terms of women’s traditional work, their familial responsibilities. Women’s clubs and women’s professional groups focused much of their attention on women’s paid labor. They were influenced by the rising number of women attending college and the growing number of women who were entering the paid labor force. During the mid- to late 1880s club women in San Francisco and Los Angeles created institutions that sought to aid workingclass wage-earning women as workers and protect them as women from public dangers. The club women who led these institutions—and thus worked both as moral guardians and as public servants—spoke of women’s right to work and how women themselves, if united, could expand women’s opportunities . During this period college-educated and/or professionally skilled middle-class women organized specifically to advance their employment opportunities , which were also linked to the dual concerns of moral service and professional development. The Politics of Women’s Work 13 As women expanded their work, they built a new identity for themselves as women citizens. Their claim to public moral authority marked—and limited —them as a di√erent kind of citizen than men; women were still confined to a moral sphere, albeit a more public...


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