When historian Karen Blair approached us about the possibility of Frontiers producing a special issue on women's clubs in the United States and around the globe, we were immediately interested. Studies of clubwomen—a field launched with Anne Firor Scott's book in 1970—served as a catalyst in transforming women's history.1 Scholars who focused on clubs, a field that grew rapidly in the last decades of the twentieth century, developed and documented ideas that are commonplace today: women's organizations can acquire power locally and nationally, use that power to alter the political landscape, and thereby destabilize notions such as "women," "race," and "citizen." Those of us who studied organized women turned our attention not simply to their engagement with specific reforms or certain political campaigns; rather, we began to see women waging, privately and publicly, a continuous struggle for power, which made all their goals seem political. The study of women's clubs, a group previously disdained as frivolous—too feminine—to be the topic of serious scholarship, led scholars to expand their definitions of politics and to declare that the division between the private and public cannot be easily drawn; in brief, work on organized women served as an important agent in transforming the meanings and methods of women's history.2
Like Karen Blair, we wondered how scholarship on clubwomen in the twenty-first century had changed. We sent out a call for papers about clubs, broadly defining them as any secular volunteer organizations created and controlled by women. We entitled this issue "Women's Clubs at Home and in the World," partly to find scholars who brought a transnational approach to their research. We were also looking for papers that addressed an older, but still vital question about women's clubs: how did gendered definitions of the home and the world affect clubwomen's efforts to reconstruct themselves and [End Page vii] their society? To encourage conversations and submissions on clubwomen we organized sessions focused on women's clubs at the 2007 Conference of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and at the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. Anne Scott chaired the latter session, leading the panel and the audience in a spirited discussion about the diversity of clubwomen's experience. This issue is dedicated to her, in recognition of her foundational work to make visible the connections among women, organizations, and power.
In that spirit we placed on the cover of this issue an image of clubwomen lined up at the White House in 1914 to lobby President Woodrow Wilson for woman's suffrage. This image looks forward and backwards: these clubwomen are engaging in a public demonstration for the still controversial notion of suffrage; at the same time, this line of white women, dressed in white to remind viewers of women's capacity for a greater, grander kind of morality than men, was also making traditional, conservative, even reactionary political statements. These clubwomen were walking into the White House, wearing white gowns over their white bodies, to announce that the vote could safely be entrusted to women like them who embodied the domestic virtues of white America. Who could have foretold how much and how little their actions would achieve in their lifetime and our own?
This issue begins with Karen Blair's introductory essay; we thank her for raising the initial query that led to this issue and for her work in making this issue possible. We also give our thanks to the many members of the Frontiers team who helped turn the question about clubs into a special issue: Morgan Hoodenpyle and Emily Lewis, our editorial assistants; Victoria Hay, editor of the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Journals Office, and Kim Engel-Pearson, the Journals Office assistant editor in charge of Frontiers.
1. Anne Firor Scott, The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
2. Nancy A. Hewitt and Suzanne Lebsock, eds., Visible Women: New Essays on American Activism (Urbana: University of Illinois...