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Journal of Women's History 12.1 (2000) 6-7

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Editor's Note

I write this three weeks before the turn of the millennium, if one subscribes to the 2000 rather than 2001 date. I know Y2K has become a tiresome and overdone cliché, but here it is: it is hard not to think about it. Actually, I am much more excited about the dawn of the twenty-first century than the third millennium. Or, it is simply easier to grasp. I know vaguely that the year 1000 led some people in Europe to predict a similar kind of apocalypse to what survivalists and the Y2K television movie anticipate. But I do not really know anything about how people in the past, especially those with much longer histories than what we number in the Western world, greeted such events.

What I do know is that the beginning of the twentieth century, in Europe and the United States, provoked great optimism and excitement about the future. This would be, people thought, a century of peace, prosperity, and progress. Everything seemed possible. The globe was becoming so economically interconnected that wars would no longer make sense. And then . . . . So now we look back at the twentieth century as the century of imperialism, world war, holocaust, nuclear destruction, and ethnic cleansing. Of course there is much more, not all of it so dire. But, it is sobering to compare the expectations with the outcome and to think about what we really expect of the twenty-first century.

On a very modest scale, that is one of the things we have been trying to do in these pages as 1999 rolls into 2000: to think about the future of the field of women's history. The articles in this issue reveal continuing debates about a number of questions that have emerged in the last decades. In line with the emphasis on the agency of women, even those most disadvantaged, Karin Zipf shows African-American women asserting their claims to both womanhood and independent and free citizenship in the decades after the Civil War. Both Linda Clark and M. Christine Anderson weigh in on the relationship between social work, broadly defined, and women's autonomy and professional opportunity. Clark uses the careers of two inspectresses general in pre-First World War France to show the efficacy, but also limits, of maternalist arguments in opening up careers for women. Maternalism, as Clark points out, worked against the interests of nuns, the subject of Anderson's work in turn-of-the-century (a phrase we will no longer be able to use without more precision!) Cincinnati, Ohio. Anderson puts Catholic women religious in the story of social work and, like Clark, reveals the costs of integration.

The three remaining articles, in very different ways, engage the enduring [End Page 6] question of appropriate roles for women and the players involved in shaping and challenging those roles. Amanda Frisken places the infamous Victoria Woodhull at the center of nineteenth-century American debates about suffrage, respectability, and women in public. Susan Myers-Shirk contributes to the ongoing reevaluation of the "feminine mystique" in the post-Second World War United States by revealing that Protestant pastoral counselors--hardly a group we would expect to be gender terrorists--were reinterpreting women's roles in surprising ways. In an interesting contrast, Greta Bucher explores the struggles and perceptions of Soviet women in the same period to survive in a society that demanded they do it all.

In contemplating the future of women's history in the next century, we decided to find out what young women--middle and high school students--were thinking. We are proud to announce that the Journal of Women's History will cosponsor, with the National Women's History Project, a women's history prize in the National History Day competition, beginning this year. If the winning entry is an essay, we will publish it in the Journal. To launch this relationship with National History Day, Susan Freeman, one of our managing editors whose own research focuses on young women, interviewed the 1999 winners...


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