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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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“There is no human power in Puerto Rico, or outside of it, capable of stopping the upward march of the dream of independence, although there are still walls to tear down and many obstacles to overcome.” (“No hay poder humano en Puerto Rico, ni fuera de él, capaz de detener la marcha ascendente del ideal de independencia, aunque todavía quedan murallas por derribar y muchos obstáculos que vencer.”)
– Carmen Rivera de Alvarado, El Imparcial, November, 7 1952
In 1952, Rivera de Alvarado was the first woman to run for the resident commissioner of the newly created Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a non-voting position in the U.S. House of Representatives. She ran on the ticket of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), seeking to end U.S. rule over the island.
U.S. agendas of continental and overseas expansion during the 19th and 20th centuries have shaped women’s struggles for voting rights and electoral participation. Some women advanced empire as a racial ideology and strategy for expanding white women’s rights. Others experienced political marginalization as colonized subjects in conquered nations and linked voting with independent nation building. Women in contemporary and former U.S. colonies and their diasporic communities in the United States have likewise turned to the electoral arena to challenge second-class citizenship and the legacies of U.S. conquest.
The module’s initial week explores the intersection of white women’s suffrage demands with U.S. territorial expansion. Popular voting became a primary marker of white male political participation and power in the United States during the 1840s. The rise of universal white male suffrage coincided with the advancement of “Manifest Destiny” as a racial justification for U.S. territorial expansion. The first nations that confronted U.S. conquest were Native American. The racial ideology that fueled that conquest and the 1896 constitutionality of “separate but equal” legislation also fueled U.S. overseas expansion and inclusion of new territories without constitutional protections because they were, in the 1901 words of the Supreme Court, “foreign in a domestic sense.” White women facilitated U.S. continental and then overseas expansion into the Pacific and Caribbean as missionaries and settlers. In line with this ideology, white women based demands for an equal role in the U.S. polity in claims both of a shared “civilizing mission” with white men and a unique authority to conduct such work as mothers.
Women’s mobilization for voting rights in the North American West and in the United States’ Caribbean and Pacific colonies spanned the years before and after the 19th Amendment’s 1920 enactment. Such mobilization also spanned U.S. territory, state, and unincorporated territory governing structures. For some Indigenous women, women’s enfranchisement restored some of the political power that they had lost as a result of U.S. conquest. Colonized women gradually acquired local suffrage in the 20th century while being denied, along with the men of their communities, a vote in U.S. federal elections. The noncitizen U.S. nationals of American Samoa and the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands remain ineligible to vote for the U.S. president, and do not have a voting representative in Congress.
Yet women in both contemporary and former U.S. colonies have been able to use their rights as voters, canvassers, candidates, and elected officials at the local level to challenge U.S. abuses and sovereignty. Those who have migrated to the continental United States have gained the franchise in presidential and congressional elections and thus a new tool to advocate for their own communities and for those overseas. The module’s final week presents a case study of women in these colonial diasporic communities, focusing on the Puerto Rican diaspora. Encountering the limits of electoral politics, such women have also turned to grassroots and extra-electoral activism to achieve their goals.
This module is divided into four sections:
PI: Lisa G. Materson
Research Team: Faith Bennett, Kacey Calahane, Emma Chapman, Samantha de Vera, Charlotte Hansen Terry