Women's organizations and grassroots politics: Denver, Durham, and Indianapolis 1960-1975

Blair, Melissa Anna Estes, Department of History, University of Virginia
Aron, Millicent, Department of History, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines women's political action in Denver, Durham, and Indianapolis from 1960 to 1975. It argues that middle-class women's organizations were important players in local politics throughout.t this period. Women's groups like the YWCA, the League of Women Voters, and others helped implement school desegregation in their cities, facilitated programs developed by the federal War on Poverty, promoted conservation and environmentalism, and informed their fellow citizens about changing notions of America's role in the world. In the 1970s these groups also became important channels for feminist action. Pre-existing women's organizations established rape crisis hotlines, women's centers, feminist reading rooms, and worked for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

On all of these issues women's organizations served as conduits between new ideas and local communities. They mediated between national movements for change and their city's political, racial, and class dynamics. The kind of action undertaken in each city was also shaped by these factors. For example, women in Denver encountered a government far more open to feminist ideas than did their counterparts in Indianapolis and Durham. Women's organizations were therefore less vital in bringing about feminist change in Denver. In Indianapolis and Durham, pre-existing women's organizations were leading actors in bringing the ideas of the women's movement to bear on life in those cities.

Uncovering the activism of women's organizations in local politics not only reveals new actors on the political scene but also highlights previously undocumented connections between the various social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Women's groups which worked for racial integration in the 1960s were far more likely to undertake feminist action in the 1970s. Pre-existing, racially integrated women's organizations also incorporated their feminist work into their existing programs of progressive action. Revealing the ways in which integrated feminist projects coexisted with other kinds of activism in the 1970s helps highlight how women across the country, far from the women's movement's intellectual home in New York, Boston, and San Francisco, were able to create effective feminist programs which resonated with their neighbors and friends and brought feminist change to communities throughout the United States.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: