- Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America
Francesca Morgan's ambitious and impressively researched book examines women's organizations and the intersection of race, gender, and nationalism from the 1880s through the 1930s, with an epilogue that covers the later years of the twentieth century. She focuses on four main groups, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), the Women's Relief Corps (WRC), which was the only interracial group, and two hereditary groups that restricted membership to whites only, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Other all-female voluntary organizations help round out her analysis of how women shaped and interpreted patriotism and nationalism, how the various groups sought to educate society about their respective visions of history, and the extent to which their activism and beliefs changed over time. [End Page 184]
Morgan divides her book into five chronological chapters (The Nation, The Empire, The State, The War, The Security State), and within each chapter, closely explores each group's efforts to make their voices heard in a country that was undergoing vast social, economic, and political change. Central to Morgan's argument is women's conscious desire to not only reach a national audience and to foster a sense of nationhood in a country still healing from the Civil War, but to also define "nationalism so that it encouraged their own political activism outside their households and [to attach] broad political importance to that activity."(2) This "women-centered nationalism," explains Morgan, stretched across a wide spectrum that ranged from state-based nationalism (advocated by the DAR and the WRC, both of which stressed loyalty to a reunited country), to a neo-Confederate nationalism (championed by the UDC, which argued that any recognition of a nation needed to take into account the sacrifices of the Confederacy), and to African American women's civic nationalism, which sought both loyalty to country and a more prominent leadership role for women. Women-centered nationalism also amplified the idea of female cultural and moral superiority, a sentiment long held in nineteenth century America, to support women's authority on matters concerning the nation and state.
Women were thus responsible for taking the abstract ideals of nationalism and creating them into more concrete symbols of commemoration, such as the erection of plaques and highway markers, the celebration of patriotic holidays, the preservation of old battle sites, and the retelling of stories about past sacrifices. As Morgan notes, they "helped draw the 'island communities' of yore into the increasingly interconnected United States of the twentieth century." (5) The turning point for women was World War I. As the country prepared for war and as fear about radicalism reached America's shores, women's groups shifted their focus to a more male-centered nationalism—one that "reassigned cultural and moral authority to men." (5)
Morgan makes an important contribution to the study of nationalism, and, not surprisingly, she further illustrates that including women, as well as the categories of race and gender, enriches our understanding of how national identity is formed.