- Revisiting Second Wave Histories:New Chronologies, Geographies, and Appraisals
These four recent books on second wave feminism raise compelling theoretical and methodological questions while also providing a wealth of information about women's activism in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Chief among them is how to define second wave feminism itself; Janet Allured, as well as Barbara Molony and Jennifer Nelson offer critiques of the wave metaphor for how it tends to elide women's activism that does not align neatly with the crests of women's suffrage and second wave feminism. Yet, Malony and Nelson retain the term "second wave" within quotation marks because of its historical significance and widespread use in the historiography of feminism; their volume seeks to "fill in the troughs" between waves and broaden our geographic conceptualization of the second wave to recognize the autonomous development of non-Western feminisms (3). Allured points out that "the term 'second wave' remains useful in describing the renewed burst of grassroots service and political activism in the 1960s and 1970s," an observation that is born out in Olcott [End Page 136] and Leader and Hyatt's accounts of the 1975 International Women's Year (IWY) conference in Mexico and the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas: something special really did happen in these years (3). Together, these works also contribute to methodological questions, including how to understand the role of international and national conferences in the broader feminist movement and how to incorporate local and regional history into national and transnational narratives.
The first two books under review broaden the chronology and geographic scope of second-wave feminism, while the second two hone in on the mid-to-late 1970s and look at International Women's Year conferences as pivotal moments in both transnational and US feminism. In Remapping Second-Wave Feminism, Janet Allured sets out to "encourage the full and complete telling of the story of second-wave feminism in the South" and to demonstrate that the region "had a vigorous, defiant, and persistent cadre of committed feminists who supplied the national organizations with both ideas and personnel" (3). Allured's study shifts our attention to the activities of feminists in the American South and is grounded in Louisiana, where she conducted prodigious archival and newspaper-based research and an amazing number of oral histories (at least ninety-seven by my count). She draws on other recent studies of feminism in Southern cities to round out her account, which shows that feminism not only flourished in the South but was distinctive in some important ways from the "bicoastal" feminisms of the urban North and West that Allured argues have dominated the historiography.1
Southern feminism was part of a multi-ethnic "regional movement against social injustice" that drew on liberal Christian and Jewish religious faith traditions that "demanded equality of opportunity for oppressed people" (3, 11). Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Reform Judaism congregations were especially important in transmitting a social justice ethic and inspiring women to fight for equality of sex as well as race; they also provided key meeting...