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Reviewed by:
  • Documenting First Wave Feminisms, vol. I: Transnational Collaborations and Crosscurrents ed. by Maureen Moynagh and Nancy Forestell
  • Bonnie S. Anderson
Moynagh, Maureen and Nancy Forestell (eds.) – Documenting First Wave Feminisms, vol. I: Transnational Collaborations and Crosscurrents. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. Pp. 405.

This impressive anthology is a welcome and needed addition to the field of feminist studies. Focusing chiefly on the period between 1880 and 1940, it provides a number of documents from the global south and East Asia which are often underrepresented in such collections. Aimed primarily at professional historians and their students, the editors “seek to make more readily available some of the documents of first wave feminism that make especially evident its international linkages and its engagement with categories of social location other than gender that were and continue to be so central to women’s organizing and feminist theorizing” (p. xxi).

These categories include race, colonial status, and class. The editors use examples of both Western women and non-Western men to good effect to illumine the lives of indigenous women when primary testimony is unavailable. The English missionary Edith Emily Jones, writing on aboriginal women in Australia (pp. 97–101), provides a useful insight into otherwise understudied lives. Female communists like Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai illustrate the views of the Second International. This collection contributes to global studies as well as feminism and internationalism.

The general introduction to both volumes (the second will be on Canada: National and Transnational Contexts) argues rather defensively for using the somewhat discredited concept of the “first wave” and, more successfully, for using the word “feminism” before the protagonists employed it. The volume′s introduction stresses the “imperial legacy” and “the other kinds of geopolitical and ideological tensions that either marked or thwarted transnational collaborations” (p. 3). To that end, the editors have organized the material into eight sections, or as they call them, “thematic rubrics.” These are (1) Slavery, Abolition, and Women’s Rights, (2) Imperial Feminisms, (3) Suffrage, (4) Nationalism/Internationalism, (5) Citizenship, (6) Moral Reform, Sexuality, and Birth Control, (7) Work, and (8) Peace. The units on Nationalism/Internationalism, Citizenship, and Peace succeed best. The first of these draws extensively on documents from the Latin American, Asian, and Pacific women’s organizations which developed between the world wars. It ends with Virginia Woolf’s segment on the “Society of Outsiders” from Three Guineas. Citizenship begins with the African-American Frances Ellen W. Harper, segues gracefully to a petition from the “Native and Coloured Women of the Orange Free State,” and goes on to include writings from Hawaii, Native America, Ghana, India, and Egypt. It also surveys key international debates and efforts to allow women to keep their original citizenship after marriage, to retain their own names, and to establish gender equality in numerous venues. Peace includes a number of documents from the Middle East, as well as a lengthy statement by Jane Addams from the 1915 Hague Conference. It ends, poignantly, with a resolution from the All-India Women’s Conference in the fatal year of 1939: “We appeal to the women of the world to unite on the platform of non-violence and actively demonstrate that by this power alone can the forces of hatred and the desire for possession be brought under control and a real and lasting peace established” (p. 304). [End Page 248]

Each section is preceded by an introduction of the material as a whole; each selection has a paragraph on the author(s), when information is available.

I found other sections less helpful, primarily because of some problematic document choices. In too many instances, these did not focus on feminism or transnationalism and showed an unfortunate lack of familiarity with U.S. sources and debates. Section I, on Slavery, Abolition, and Women’s Rights, for instance, has a seven-page segment from the English reformer Harriet Martineau on “Negro Slavery” which contains nothing about women at all. The same problem applies to the selections from Mary Ann Shadd Carey and Sarah Parker Remond. Unfortunately, the editors take Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage’s History of Woman Suffrage as a neutral source...


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