Title Reviewed:
An Army of Women: Gender and Politics in Gilded Age Kansas

Author Reviewed:
Michael Lewis Goldberg

H. Elaine Lindgren


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 270-271

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Army of Women: Gender and Politics in Gilded Age Kansas. By Michael Lewis Goldberg. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Pp. x, 313. Illustrations, notes, note on sources, index. $39.95.)

After providing a brief historical perspective contrasting myths with the realities of Kansas communities during the Gilded Age, Michael Lewis Goldberg analyzes the importance of gender as it affected political and social circles. Initially the author focuses on the rise of the Woman Movement in Kansas, but later he broadens his scope to include the connections of the Woman Movement with other groups such as the Farmers' Alliance and the Populist party, which shared an interest in women's rights. Considerable attention is given to strategies employed by these groups to influence the ruling Republican leaders and in some cases also the Democrats.

The Woman Movement in Kansas provided a political platform for urban, Anglo, middle-class women. Members of the movement intended to infuse the major political parties with respectable values, to banish chicanery and patronage, and to attack voter apathy and ignorance. Two organizations, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and Kansas Equal Suffrage Association (KESA) made up the major components of the movement. The author compares and contrasts the membership of these organizations. A particularly interesting part of the analysis deals with the context in which many members held nativist, racist, and classist beliefs that shaped the formation of their ideology and affected the selection of political strategies and tactics. The author explains how these narrow views made outreach to other constituencies such as rural women and black women difficult and often led to innovative strategies that allowed members to retain their views and still support the cause.

Organizers for the Farmers' Alliance had to convince isolated, rural people that they should have an effective political voice. Here again the intent was to improve the tone of the contemporary political scene. The alliance ideally encouraged women to exercise an equal political voice, but leadership rhetoric sometimes undermined this support. Nevertheless, strategies were devised to encourage the participation of rural women. For example, instead of the Woman Movement's conventional confinement to the parlor, the alliance used gender-inclusive spaces to create family-based political communities. Schoolhouses, picnic groves, and other community gathering places provided spaces hospitable to both women and men.

The Woman Movement, the Farmers' Alliance, and affiliated groups all had to come to grips with the dilemma of partisan politics. Ideologically, they preferred to remain nonpartisan, but in practice these groups had to figure out how to wield power by influencing those in control of political parties. In Kansas this meant coming to terms in some measure with the Republican leaders. The author provides insight into the complicated political negotiations at local and state levels.

The influence of a number of national figures such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Susan B. Anthony is mentioned, but a major contribution of this work lies in the inclusion of less well known figures such as Fanny Rastall and Laura Johns, whose efforts to organize and confront the entrenched political machines were exceptional. These detailed descriptions of political confrontation at the local and state level add an important dimension to the understanding of political change during the pursuit of women's rights.

This work by including gender as a primary variable has provided a provocative and more realistic analysis of political intrigue during the Gilded Age.

H. ELAINE LINDGREN is professor of sociology, North Dakota State University, Fargo. She is the author of Land In Her Own Name: Women as Homesteaders in North Dakota (1991, 1996).

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.