Week 5: "Civilizing Missions" and Voting Rights


Political cartoon titled School Begins
This cartoon, “School Begins,” appeared in 1899 in the popular U.S. magazine Puck. It depicts Uncle Sam with a book titled “U.S. First Lessons in Self Government” instructing, as the caption reads, his “new class in Civilization” consisting of the Philippines, Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. “Now, children,” the caption continues, “You've got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!” Behind them sit students identified as California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Alaska. Caricatures of African American, Native American, and Chinese children also appear in the background (source: Louis Dalrymple, Puck, January 25, 1899, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC).


“I think we are of as much importance as are the Filipinos, Porto [sic] Ricans, Hawaiians, Cubans, and all of the different sorts of men that you have before you. When you get those men, you have an ignorant and unlettered people, who know nothing about our institutions.”
– Susan B. Anthony, testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage, 1902


Both “School Begins” and Susan B. Anthony’s 1902 testimony exemplify the view among white Americans that people of color were not ready for full inclusion in the US polity as voters. White female missionaries, settlers, and suffragists asserted their unique role as agents of civilization at home and abroad. Women of color, however, reversed the logic. Ida B. Wells, for instance, famously denounced white Americans as uncivilized because of their support of lynching. Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin similarly asserted that Indigenous nations had more to teach white Americans about women’s equality than the other way around.


Photo of Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, lawyer
Photograph of lawyer Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, 1914 (source: Bain News Service photograph collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC).

“It is not the Indian who needs to be educated so constantly up to the white man, but that the white man needs to be educated to the Indian.”

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, quoted in “Indian Women the First Suffragists and Used Recall, Chippewa Avers,” Washington Times, August 3, 1914


Secondary Readings

Burnett, Christina Duffy and Burke Marshall, eds. Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. See esp. the following chapters: Mark S. Weiner, “Teutonic Constitutionalism: The Role of Ethno-Juridical Discourse in the Spanish-American War,” 48–81; Stanford Levinson, “Installing the Insular Cases into the Canon of Constitutional Law,” 121–139; and Juan F. Perea, “Fulfilling Manifest Destiny: Conquest, Race, and the Insular Cases,” 140–166.

The authors contributing to this collection analyze the history and consequences of the Supreme Court “Insular Cases” between 1901 and 1922 that invented the enduring constitutional status of unincorporated U.S. territories. The source of the title is the 1901 Downes v. Bidwell opinion on the constitutional status of Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Weiner's, Levinson's, and Perea's chapters are particularly helpful in understanding how the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous conclusions about the legal status and limited constitutional rights of African Americans and Indigenous nations established the framework for defining the legal status and limited constitutional rights of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

Jacobs, Margaret D. White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2009.

Jacobs compares how white female reformers in Australia and the United States helped to institutionalize their governments’ policies of removing Native American and Aboriginal children from their families to be raised in distant institutions in the name of protecting children and assimilating Indigenous populations into new modern settler nations. Jacobs shows that by advocating these policies in the United States and Australia, white female reformers contrasted their asserted superior skills as moral guardians of family against stereotypes of inferior mothering among Indigenous and Aboriginal women. The reformers also gained a degree of legitimacy and authority in public policy and government venues from which they had previously been excluded.

Newman, Louise. White Women’s Rights: Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Newman analyzes how white women in the United States pursued expanded rights by harnessing human evolution rhetoric toward assertions of their racial similarity to white men and sexual difference from women of color. White women critiqued patriarchal gender expectations within their own race, while also calling for the implementation of these same standards among groups they perceived as less civilized. Drawing on gendered ideals, they claimed to be uniquely qualified to “civilize” Native Americans and colonized populations around the world.

Sneider, Allison. Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870-1929. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Sneider argues that U.S. expansion and imperialism after the Civil War into the North American West, Hawai‘i, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico created national discussions about self-government, sovereignty, and voting rights that represented rhetorical opportunities for suffragists while deepening racial divisions in U.S. suffrage politics. White suffragists used the Native American relationship to the federal government as a loose analogy for their own subordinate relationship to the state. At the same time, political rights for women became a contested feature of U.S. colonial rule, as women’s political rights became a marker of “civilization.” Questions of Native American sovereignty, gender dynamics, and citizenship and later of the same for Filipinos and Puerto Ricans led to intensified debates around enfranchising these groups.

Hoganson, Kristin. “‘As Badly Off as the Filipinos’: U.S. Women’s Suffragists and the Imperial Issue at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” Journal of Women’s History 13, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 9–33.

This article explores why turn-of-the-20th-century U.S. women’s suffragists and anti-imperialists failed to build a coalition similar to the antislavery and women’s rights alliance that emerged before the U.S. Civil War. Hoganson explores both opposition to and support for imperialism among leading white and Black suffragists and how they linked those positions with their suffrage work. Anti-imperialist suffragists opposed U.S. imperialism for a variety of reasons, including their commitment to self-government, peace, and racial equality. The suffragists attempted to build a coalition with male anti-imperialist leaders and women in the Philippines but largely failed in those efforts.

Grimshaw, Patricia. “Settler Anxieties, Indigenous Peoples, and Women’s Suffrage in the Colonies of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawai‘i, 1888-1902." In Women's Suffrage in Asia: Gender, Nationalism and Democracy, edited by Louise Edwards and Mina Roces, 220–239. Abingdon, Oxon: Taylor & Francis Group, 2004.

This article explores the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) suffrage campaigns in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawai‘i. White WCTU members strategized to harness colonization of these regions toward enfranchising white women. White male legislators in each region extended or withheld women’s voting rights depending on the anticipated effect of woman’s suffrage on the larger colonial projects. New Zealand enfranchised Maori and white women because Maori women, like men before them, would be limited to Maori-only electorates. Australia excluded all Aborigines at the same time that it enfranchised white women. The republican Hawaiian Constitution denied both white women and Hawaiian women voting rights, since elite white men feared that increasing the Hawaiian vote would hurt their business prospects in the territory.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. “Enfranchising Women of Color: Woman Suffragists as Agents of Imperialism.” In Nation, Empire, Colony: Historicizing Gender and Race, edited by Ruth Roach Pierson and Nupur Chaudhuri, 41–56. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Terborg-Penn examines how white U.S. suffrage leaders intervened in the suffrage movements of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas during the 1920s and 1930s without undermining the colonial relationships among women and between nations. She shows that, as they did with African American women, white U.S. suffragists viewed the women of these U.S. Caribbean colonies as unready or unfit for enfranchisement. Colonized women’s collaborations with U.S. suffragists facilitated access to U.S. courts and legislators and were a factor in the initial enfranchisement of only literate women in Puerto Rico and propertied women in St. Thomas.

Primary Sources

During the 19th and early-20th centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the constitutionality of gradations of citizenship and belonging. The following cases and their legal inventions of “domestic dependent nations,” “separate but equal,” and “foreign in a domestic sense” highlight the overlapping racial and legal ideologies that informed U.S. settler colonialism, domestic racial segregation, and overseas territorial expansion.

Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and “domestic dependent nations”

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and “separate but equal”

Downs v. Bidwell (1901) and “foreign in a domestic sense”

On Behalf of Hawaiian Women.” Woman’s Tribune, February 11, 1899.

Woman’s Tribune, a suffrage newspaper, reproduced this petition sent by the predominantly white National American Woman Suffrage Association to Congress. It argues that voting in the recently annexed territory of Hawai‘i should not be limited to only men. It also expresses support for the annexation of Hawai‘i and the progress of “civilization” with the extension of suffrage to both men and women equally.

Additional Readings

Bates, Julia. “The Role of Race in Legitimizing Institutionalization: A Comparative Analysis of Early Child Welfare Initiatives in the United States.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 9, no. 1 (Winter, 2016): 15–28.

Bederman, Gail. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Cahill, Cathleen. Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1932. University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Erman, Sam. Almost Citizens: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Constitution, and Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Santiago-Valles, Kelvin. “‘Higher Womanhood’ Among the ‘Lower Races’: Julia McNair Henry in Puerto Rico and the ‘Burdens’ of 1898.” Radical History Review, 73 (1999): 47–73.

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