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- About #EmpireSuffrageSyllabus
1: Empire and Universal Rights 2: Women and Revolutions 3: Documenting Race, Rights, and Family Ties 4: The Politics of Motherhood 5: "Civilizing Missions" and Voting Rights 6: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage in U.S. Colonies 7: Voting and Party Politics in the U.S. Empire 8: Case Study of When the "Empire Strikes Back": The Puerto Rican Diaspora 9: Nationalist Feminisms with Global Visions 10: Social and Economic Citizenship 11: Anti-Militarist Feminisms 12: Body Politics and Sexual Sovereignty 13: Women Who Ran 14: The U.S. Presidency and Gendered Political Culture 15: Global Women in Leadership
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The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, commonly described as the attainment of voting rights for women, has sparked extensive conversation about how to commemorate and understand this historic milestone. Our Empire Suffrage Syllabus makes critical interventions in these debates by placing gender and voting rights in the context of global empires.
The Long History of Women’s Suffrage
From the founding of the United States, women and men debated who counted as a citizen and what rights and responsibilities citizenship entailed. Governments excluded women from the active body politic by restricting voting by women of color, Indigenous women, immigrant women, and women located in sites of imperial conquest. These exclusions persisted and even strengthened after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet women recognized themselves as political agents with the capacity to effect change, whether through the vote or other means. The Empire Suffrage Syllabus charts the expansive scope of women as political actors, particularly through their involvement in social movement activism. The vote was only one piece of individual and collective action.
Why Empire Matters
The United States developed as a democracy and an empire simultaneously, with direct consequences for women’s access to political power. The country was born in an era when ideas about individual rights existed alongside ideas about racial and gender hierarchies that supported enslavement and conquest. The Empire Suffrage Syllabus insists that recognizing the United States as an empire is crucial for understanding how and why some women obtained the vote and others did not. White women first obtained the right to vote in the U.S. West, a site of conquest over Indigenous nations and Mexico. In 2020, Kamala Harris’s historic election as the first woman and first woman of color to serve as vice president can be traced to anti-imperial circuits of migration and political cross-pollination.
How to Use the Syllabus
We offer four modules as starter-kits, each providing conceptual questions, key themes, annotated secondary readings, suggested primary sources, and accompanying digital humanities resources to help us rethink U.S. women’s suffrage by foregrounding the framework of empire. We believe that the Empire Suffrage Syllabus will help us collectively better understand the past and challenge us to consider our responsibilities for the present and the future.
MODULE 1 | Women, Modern States, and Racial Empires
Module 1 introduces the imperial and revolutionary contexts for new ideas about race, gender, and political participation at the turn of the 19th century, setting the stage for the rise in the importance of voting.
MODULE 2 | Women's Voting and U.S. Empire
Module 2 highlights women’s electoral participation as both agents and opponents of U.S. territorial expansion and colonial rule.
Week 5 "Civilizing Missions" and Voting Rights
Week 6 The Struggle for Women's Suffrage in U.S. Colonies
Week 7 Voting and Party Politics in the U.S. Empire
Week 8 Case Study of When the "Empire Strikes Back":
The Puerto Rican Diaspora
MODULE 3 | Women's Anti-Imperialist Political Activism
Module 3 considers the transnational and grassroots activisms of colonized and U.S. women of color in the pursuit of liberation that has transcended both electoral politics and national sovereignty itself.
MODULE 4 | Who Ran, Why They Lost, Why They Won
Module 4 explores women who ran for the highest political office in the United States, the barriers that impede their success, and women in countries beyond the U.S. who have become heads of state.
Week 13 Women Who Ran
Week 14 The U.S. Presidency and Gendered Political Culture
Week 15 Global Women in Leadership
(Last revised: April 21, 2021)