Gendered Literacy in Black and White: Turn-of-the-Century African-American and European-American Club Women's Printed Texts

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1996


At the turn of the century women across the United States had organized themselves into a variety of single-sex groups to effect social change. Yet most of the shared spaces of agency that women seemed to control were shaped-often, in fact, constrained-by forces beyond them, so that what looked like women-led initiatives functioned in a context where female agency was highly contested. The women's club movement created one such complex social space. Clubs flourished between 1880 and the mid-1920s, leading an estimated two million women from varying class, racial, and ethnic religious backgrounds to join organizations or self-improvement and social benevolence. Club women from all social locations enacted a variety of cultural practices including pageants, banquets, and musical productions that fostered solidarity within groups and, in some cases, enhanced their standing within the larger community. Producing and circulating their own printed texts constituted another of club women's cultural practices, and these activities occupy our attention here because of their capacity for fostering women's self-representation and because of the cultural authority assigned to print.