- Texas through Women’s Eyes: The Twentieth-Century Experience
To restore women’s voices, absent from most Texas history survey texts, the authors of Texas through Women’s Eyes have synthesized the existing literature on Texas women’s history, while also identifying areas in need of further research and archives to be mined.
The book is divided into four parts, each including a bibliographic essay and primary source documents. The first part traces the growth of the New Woman, maternal reform, and the suffrage movement (1900–20). The second section explores women’s experiences in post-suffrage politics, their strategies for economic survival during the Depression, and their participation in the labor force during World War II (1920–45). Postwar considerations of women’s domestic roles paired with their increased presence in the labor force, the growth of the civil rights movement, and emerging 1960s social protest form the core themes of the third part (1945–65). The final section wrestles with the reemergence of organized feminism, conservative backlash to liberalism, and the enduring legacy of this conflict (1965–2000).
The authors rely on the wave metaphor to frame their discussions of feminism, and this leads to some mischaracterizations. For example, they echo Aileen Kraditor’s claim that the suffrage movement experienced a period of doldrums from 1890 to 1910. Yet, Sara Hunter Graham’s recent work revealed that this was a period of intense suffrage organizing. Additionally, the authors claim “the suffrage movement that emerged in the 1910s endured because it grew spontaneously, from bottom up rather than top down” (25). This observation misses the fact that local suffrage movements grew from the bottom up precisely because state-level organizations cultivated grassroots organizing at the behest of the national organizations. More troubling is the absence of a discussion of the anti-suffrage movement in Texas. By glossing over the anti-suffrage movement, the authors inadvertently paint a picture that Texans were uniformly in favor of offering women the vote. Second, it would seem that the roots of women’s conservative activism could [End Page 226] be traced to the anti-suffrage movement. Here, McArthur and Smith missed an opportunity to establish conservative women’s activism at the turn of the century as they did for feminist activism.
Finally, by relying on the wave metaphor, the authors claim that there was an “absence of a feminist movement” in the interwar and postwar eras (xii). These claims undermine a wealth of recent and not-so-recent research into women’s organizational activities during these periods. At the minimum, the works of Leila Rupp, Verta Taylor, Dorothy Sue Cobble, Susan M. Hartmann, among many others have countered the notion that the 1950s was devoid of organized feminist action. In terms of Texas, the authors report that the Texas Citizens’ Committee of Jury Service for Women—a coalition of many women’s groups—gained the right for women to participate in jury service in 1954. The fight for women jurors had been a shared goal of the National Women’s Party and the League of Women Voters for well over half a century. The authors’ failure to demonstrate the 1960s and 1970s feminist movement had established organizational roots and footholds in liberal groups leads to the impression that the second-wave feminist movement erupted out of nowhere.
Even with these substantial criticisms, there is much in Texas through Women’s Eyes to praise. The writing is clear, approachable, and will be easily understandable to the average undergraduate reader. Furthermore, the narrative will complement existing texts on Texas history or modern U.S. history. The greatest strength of the work is the beautiful selection of primary source documents. The authors are delightful curators, offering sources that reveal the diversity and humanity of Texas women facing an array of political, cultural, and economic changes. The documents frequently capture women’s playful voices, their dreams, their awakenings, and their sorrows. On the strength of these selections...