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Chapter Seven. Sex and Gender in Roosevelt's America

Andrew M. Johnston

Subject History » Gender History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999

People Roosevelt, Theodore

Key-Topics family, feminism, identity, minorities

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331400.2011.00009.x


Theodore Roosevelt will never be known as one of the progenitors of American feminism. He did little to advance the cause of equal rights between the sexes while president, and often spoke out publicly against the “New Woman” and the threat she posed to “healthy-mindedness” and “civilization.” His thinking was a mixture of middle class Victorian moralism and social Darwinian anxiety about declining American birth rates. Women, he thought, belonged at home raising healthy, patriotic children. The “strenuous life” he preached for flabby men was equally applicable to women, who should face their hard life as mothers with stoicism. At the same time, however, the era over which TR presided saw some of the most significant changes in American gender roles. Historians have seen a conflict of “male” party politics and “female” reform politics as one of the defining characteristics of the Progressive era and its ideology of social reform ( Testi 1995 ; Koven and Michel 1989 ). The ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920 may have happened under Woodrow Wilson's watch, but the groundwork for a host of deeper changes in relations between men and women was tilled earlier. In TR's “era,” women played a critical role instantiating, for the first time, the federal state's oversight of national welfare. Moving into the political sphere as leading agents of reform, women changed not only perceptions ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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