A Feminist Legal History of U.S. Patriotism

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To mark the July 4 holiday, I’m reading a book by Francesca Morgan (History, Northeastern Illinois University). In  Women and Patriotism in Jim Crow America (UNC Press 2005), Morgan details the activities of these women’s volunteer organizations founded after the Civil War: the Woman’s Relief Corps, the Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the National Association of Colored Women.  Part of what Morgan does well is highlight the interconnectedness of patriotism, nationalism and racism.

Reviewing the book for h-net.org, Cristina Nelson said this:

Morgan argues that each of these organizations [listed above] emphasized civic nationalism, patriotism, and allegiance to federal authority. The women’s groups stressed ritual and tended to defer to male interests. Leaders and members were hesitant to define their activities as public political participation. The DAR and the UDC commemorated their respective soldiers’ bravery and loyalty to cause, preserving icons of the white past long before the rise of national historic preservation efforts. * * *The WRC also sought to place flags in every classroom and was crucial in establishing the formal commemoration of Memorial Day as the nation’s “holy day.” * * *

The NACW did not acquiesce in this white-defined nationalism but contributed a vital counterpoint to it. Gendered in its outlook and also shaped by notions of racial uplift and black manhood, the NACW espoused its own brand of patriotism * * *

If the Spanish-American War re-energized white clubwomen’s efforts to effect a white-based patriotism, World War I invigorated black women’s activism. Even as the NACW was preserving Cedar Hill, black men’s exclusion from combat and a ban on black women’s overseas nursing radicalized a number of NACW members, weakening their devotion to the ideal of nation. While, in the context of war, they continued to identify themselves as committed Americans, fewer black clubwomen connected patriotism with obedience to the state that rejected their service. Black women managed to oppose racism while backing the war effort.  

The full review is here.

-Bridget Crawford

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