Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870–1920 by Sara Egge
By Sara Egge. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018. xi + 226 pp. Figures, notes, bibliography, index. $85.00, paper.
In her informative and persuasive study of midwestern suffrage movements, historian Sara Egge argues that native-born white women achieved success "as loyal citizens who held highly respected records of civic activism" (2). They built a "robust political energy" (56) and a civic "authority accrued . . . over time" (73) by participating in organizations such as ladies' aid societies and female auxiliaries to fraternal societies. They created successful wartime campaigns for the vote and postwar state ratifications of the Nineteenth Amendment because their participatory practices of citizenship intersected with national and local imperatives for wartime loyalty and nativism.
Egge provides a strong historiographic and contextual discussion of citizenship, gender, the geographic and cultural aspects of midwestern identity, and the social relationships of community. She mines historic newspapers, institutional records, and oral history interviews to create detailed histories of women and organizations in three counties in upper Midwest states: Clay County, Iowa; Lyon County, Minnesota; and Yankton County, South Dakota. The result is a nuanced analysis of the local ethnic, religious, and political roots of, and complexities within, the Midwest suffrage movement.
Midwestern women's work for suffrage came in three distinct phases. Suffrage activism failed during the first phase, from 1880 to 1900, because local women heeded national leaders' calls for female equality with men rather than emphasizing local female authority within traditional gender roles. From 1900 to 1916, woman suffrage merged with the Progressive Era focus on participatory citizenship, but also, for most native-born women, a reactionary nativism that blamed immigrant outsiders and energized coercive Americanization movements. Native-born white suffragists gained "powerful rhetorical leverage" by positioning themselves against immigrants (130–31), and many blamed ethnic Germans for the defeat of suffrage at the polls due to opposition to prohibition. In the final phase of suffrage activism during the US participation in the First World War, national and local leaders elevated loyalty to the wartime nation as "the litmus test for citizenship" (156), and Yankee women led wartime bond and defense drives in a "performance of loyalty" (183). Their work translated into the success of suffrage drives in all three states. [End Page 113] But Yankee women, Egge concludes, were only successful in achieving the vote because they "pitted native-born women against [the] foreign-born," manipulating "long-standing ethnic wariness into outright discrimination." They helped make "conformity, not diversity, a hallmark of Midwestern identity" (183–84).
This important study will be useful to scholars and students of suffrage and women's history and the history of the Great Plains and Midwest. It is a welcome and accessible contribution to public discourse about the politics of gender, citizenship, and nativism as we commemorate the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 2020 and beyond.
Western Oregon University