During the Progressive Era, southern white women were aggressively recruited by the leadership of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Each believed the inclusion of southern white women vital to its success as a national association of American women; consequently, by the beginning of the twentieth century, southern white women had achieved positions of leadership in each organization. This dissertation analyzes, primarily through the public statements of the leaders of these groups, how these women defined themselves as women, as white, and as southern vis a vis their region and their national associations. As members of national organizations, southern white women used national networks of propaganda--newspapers, speaking tours, convention meetings--to outline publicly their visions of the proper role of middle class southern white women in a New South.
Southern white members of the WCTU and the GFWC used the rhetoric of domesticity to publicly construct a vision of useful, if not enfranchised, citizenship based on their traditional duties as women--mothers, wives, home keepers. However, members of the NAWSA argued for fully enfranchised citizenship based on their status as educated middle class white women who, they believed, should share an equal responsibility, along with white men, in governing a New South order.
Members of each association used a racialize rhetoric to publicly outline their vision of proper race relations in the post-emancipation South. White WCTU leaders argued that freed blacks needed the social control of prohibition to be productive members of southern society. Southern white club women argued that the GFWC needed to protect the prerogatives of southern whiteness by excluding black club women from the national organization. And southern white suffragists used the language of white supremacy to argue the necessity of granting white women the vote.
During the Progressive Era, membership in national women's organizations gave southern white women an unprecedented opportunity for regional and national activism. They used these opportunities to argue the necessity for their voice as an integral part of a New South.