Published: June 1, 2000 By

[1]   This essay examines the American intersections of eugenic discourse and organized feminism–black and white–in the 1890s. Reading work by Frances Willard, Victoria Woodhull, Anna Julia Cooper, and Ida B. Wells, I explore the emergence of female “sovereignty” or self-determination of the body as a racially charged concept at the base of feminist work.

[2]   A central tenet of twentieth-century feminisms, the concept of female sovereignty–women’s economic, political, sexual and reproductive autonomy–was first defined, debated and justified through eugenic and imperialist discourse at the turn of the last century. Black and white feminist discourse of the period made the politically enfranchised, legally protected body both the goal and token of full citizenship. However, within the frameworks white women elaborated, the economic, political, sexual, and reproductive autonomy of black and white women were set fundamentally at odds.

[3]   Anna Julia Cooper’s 1892 A Voice From the South, for instance, states the problem of an emerging concept of (implicitly elite and white) female sovereignty:

The working women of America in whatever station or calling they may be found, are subjects, officers, or rulers of a strong centralized government bound together by a system of codes and countersigns which, though unwritten, forms a network of perfect subordination….At the head and center of this regime stands the Leading Woman….The queen of the drawing room is absolute ruler under this law.

Cooper describes a well-ordered state in which a few female rulers, literally sovereigns, dictate the law of caste. Cooper accents exploitive interdependence, not autonomy; white women’s arguments for sovereignty are simultaneously arguments for the forms of political power that secure race and class-based social hierarchies. Cooper pursues the subtlety of the connection between the white female’s individual sovereignty and white supremacy across many of her essays. It is the “queen of the drawing room” after all, who by manipulation of rhetoric and symbolic action, a “system of codes and countersigns,” enforces a “network of perfect subordination.” This essay begins to look at eugenic thought as one such system of codes and countersigns, one which factors largely in both black and white feminist writing.

[4]   The otherwise incompatible feminist agendas of Woodhull, Willard, Cooper and Wells develop common connections between eugenic science, imperialism and the female body. Working within a social Darwinian or evolutionary context, each devises or engages explicitly eugenic arguments to establish the white or black female as central to the progress of the nation and civilization. These arguments develop common features. Each initially asserts a strategic connection to the abolitionist movement, claiming the moral urgency and ameliorative racial politics of that effort as she (re)constructs a political role for women in the post-abolition era. In so doing, each marshals (what I will anachronistically call) a seemingly “anti-racist” discourse which then coexists with the racist social Darwinian, civilizationist, and eugenic elements of her arguments. Though each manipulates civilizationist discourse and eugenic thinking differently, and though Cooper and Wells effectively attack certain racist practices and dismantle specific racist ideologies, both black and white women develop feminisms conversant with and supportive of white supremacist agendas. Each manipulates racial categories and meanings as a tool to redefine gendered roles, and all ultimately embrace forms of racism and imperialism in order to bolster their own political claims.

[5]   A study of these figures suggests that the history of feminist participation in eugenics is longer and more concentrated than early histories had assumed, a fact which reframes our history of eugenics and our history of feminism in America. Moreover feminists themselves, black and white, played a crucial role in the development and articulation of eugenic principles and research. Women such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Margaret Sanger–towering figures whose association with eugenics has vexed feminist historians–now seem to be part of a much earlier engagement with eugenics by American women.

[6]   Put briefly, eugenics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provided a fusion of evolutionist, imperialist, and capitalist principles in order to promote policy that targeted many (and constantly multiplying) forms of “degeneracy.” For eugenists who sought to limit degeneration and cultivate “regeneration,” one key site of intervention was sexual activity and reproductive behavior. Within the economic, racial and gendered logic of the late nineteenth century, then, eugenics research and policy targeted especially the behavior of women of all races, men of color and those on the margins of “whiteness,” disabled men, and immigrant or poor males specifically. Eugenic discourses translate the imperialist and economic interests of a white supremacist state directly into control over women’s (and certain men’s) sexual and reproductive behavior.

[7]   A look at eugenics and feminism in early feminist arguments touches on vexing problems for contemporary feminist theory, a few of which I highlight here. New scholarship argues that eugenics constituted a twentieth-century cultural dominant, shaping language and the norming power central to many aspects of contemporary life. In nineteenth-century feminist hands, eugenics was central to establishing a discourse of female bodily sovereignty, and it laid the groundwork for contemporary feminist definitions of self-determination of the body. Early and influential arguments for women’s sole control of sexual and reproductive activity subtly made women’s control contingent on the reproductive activity’s value to national and international agendas. The concept of female self-determination remains racially charged, and its eugenic freight is still with us.

[8]   Moreover, the case of eugenic feminisms reverses some of our contemporary critical commonplaces about the dynamics of race in black and white feminist organizing. White and black women in the late nineteenth century are responding to each other and to the new status of the post-emancipation black female every bit as much as to the discourse of men. For this reason, it is important to look at black and white articulations of feminism together. White feminist work is shaped in response (or deliberate and seeming non-response) to the outspoken, politicized presence of black women.

[9]   Furthermore, to see each of these feminists manipulating constructions of race, racism and the proximate “anti-racist” discourse of racial amelioration –and doing so in the context of a single argument–is important in and of itself. White and black feminists and their organizations do not sort smoothly into contemporary conceptions of racist and anti-racist endeavors. To say that both black and white women develop feminisms conversant with and supportive of nativist, eugenic, civilizationist or white supremacist doctrines is in no way to devalue the power and persistence black women have brought to the analysis of racist oppression and the organized struggle against it. Nor is it to mitigate the impact of white feminists’ racism. Instead it provokes stronger engagement with the history of black women’s analysis. That engagement can deepen theoretical and practical understanding of the complicity between systems of gender and racial classification.

[10]   Contemporary theory faces a particular definitional and theoretical crisis in our understanding of “racist” and “anti-racist” positions and action. Not all positions deemed “anti-racist” actively challenge white supremacy. Some anti-racist rhetoric functions primarily to assert moral capital and to resituate the speaker with regard to white communities and white controlled resources. The invocation of abolition in the post-emancipation reform efforts may signal that a racial ameliorist posture became critical to the identity and moral credentials of progressive reformers–even those, perhaps particularly those, who wished to speak with racist authority on matters of race, human evolution and eugenics.

[11]   Finally, this study allows us to interpret the interlocking nature of race and gender classifications in ways which make the plain point that, by its very address to gender, any feminist work will manipulate racialized arguments and impact constructions of race. Gender and racial classification are interdeveloped in such a way that when women resist constructions of gender, as prerequisite and consequence they necessarily–not inadvertently–disturb, devise and manipulate constructions of race. The white and black women in this study use and manipulate theories of race and discourses of racism quite differently, but they all reconstruct race as an essential tool to redefine gender and alter their place in political culture.


[12]   Eugenics emerged from social Darwinism but diverged from what are often described as social evolution’s “laissez-faire” principles of aggressive human competition. It departed as well from the discourse of civilizationist hierarchies and its attendant evangelical and paternalist appeal. Eugenics crystallized the possibility that individual degeneracy could induce racial degeneration. Eugenics offered the promise of scientific intervention and efficient social management of such a crisis. Like any scientific movement, nineteenth- and twentieth-century eugenics was a social phenomenon and reflected the competing prejudices, political agendas, and institutional practices that characterized the social and class milieu in which it developed. Eugenic thought thrived on contradictory impulses and its varied utility for numerous groups. Scholars typically mark the era of American eugenics with the appearance of formal committees and societies on eugenics in the early 1900s. Yet well before these groups appeared, African American and white writers, free love socialists and industrial capitalists rallied behind different elements of the discourse and bent it to their ends.

[13]   Late nineteenth and twentieth-century eugenics was a class-based science that took hold in the context of empire. It drew upon the Western lexicon and practice of bourgeois civility which developed in Europe and the Americas and corresponding colonial holdings across the eighteenth and nineteenth century. These behavioral codes displayed and produced gendered, class, and race distinctions; they shifted over time and served to distinguish proper European selves, settlers, working-class or poor whites, Europeanized native peoples, indigenized Europeans, and populations of mixed descent. Many behavioral standards were relevant to sexual conduct and broadly relevant to matters of reproduction and child-rearing, including pedagogy, parenting, children’s sexuality, servant conduct, and health-related sanitation or hygiene. Thus gendered distinctions of class and race membership were intimately linked to the domestic domain, which became a central scene of making and managing unstable social divisions.

[14]   In the United States, reformist activity throughout the nineteenth century had been shaped by hereditarian assumptions. Toward the century’s end, the influence of men like Darwin and his cousin, eugenics founder Francis Galton, increased the scientific cachet (if not the accuracy) of the new science. There followed an intensified application of hereditarian interpretations to social phenomena such as crime, “pauperism,” “idiocy,” and other forms of “degeneration” within a “race.” As hereditarian argument became further scientized toward the latter part of the century, it adduced the “degenerate” influence of non-white races and established the “scientific” rationale for circumscribing women’s behaviors. Together with behavioral codes of bourgeois self-mastery, degeneracy functioned as a “mobile discourse of empire that designated eligibility for citizenship, class membership and gendered assignments to race.” As postbellum crises in citizenship registered anxiety over who would be granted privileged status, notions of degeneracy and new codes of self-mastery “made unconventional sex a national threat and thus put a premium on managed sexuality for the state.” Women’s agency is critical to this development. As women used the tools of the new science to shape new codes of sovereignty and self-determination, they asserted grounds for removing conventional restrictions from some women and applying them to others. Many women at the end of the century participated in the development of this science as researchers, funders, promoters and eventually lobbyists for eugenic segregation and sterilization.

[15]   The political exchange between white and black women played a major role in reconstructing and enforcing these codes and controls in the U.S. Connections between feminisms and eugenics come more clearly to the fore when one understands that late nineteenth-century eugenic thought promoted a variety of intervention efforts. These were later sorted into two distinct branches of orthodox eugenics programs: the companion fields of “eugenic” and “euthenic” work. Euthenics referred to reforms to the environment and to bodily disciplines which were thought to impact heredity. Lamarckian theories of heredity held that environmental “poisons” or personal habits acquired in the course of a lifetime, drinking for instance, could be transmitted, for good or ill, to the next generation. Efforts to improve hereditary transmission through environmental reform I refer to as “regenerative reform.” Eugenicsreferred most closely to the scientific improvement of human capacities through selective breeding: establishing norms, encouraging reproduction among the “fit,” and discouraging or preventing reproduction among the “unfit” through institutionalization, sterilization, or other means.

[16]   Even when the organized societies of the American eugenics movement came to focus exclusively on “better breeding” as the only lasting means of race improvement, many black and white women’s organizations retained euthenic projects of regenerative reform well into the twentieth century, promoting the eugenic benefits of social hygiene, temperance reform, training in domestic science, and the like. The eugenic interests of both Frances Willard and Victoria Woodhull, for instance, combine race-driven reproductive agendas with other regenerative environmental reforms.

[17]   Black men and club women shared these interests as well. African American artists and intellectuals promoted black race purity as a means of conserving “our physical powers, our intellectual endowments, our spiritual ideals.” In the face of white racial theories, these race conservationists promoted the positive value of blackness. Black nationalists like DuBois, T. Thomas Fortune, Alexander Crummell, stressed different dangers related to race mixing, ranging from loss of black culture and consciousness to a biological “loss of vitality” or “vitiation of race characteristics and tendencies.” Other prominent African Americans supported a eugenics of race mixing or “amalgamation” as a means of genetic improvement. Proponents like Charles Chesnutt or Pauline Hopkins imagined a new American line that blended the strengths of a multiracial heritage but ultimately “conform[ed] closely to the white type.” All these groups reinforced color-based distinctions, and like white eugenists, these African Americans also measured racial fitness in terms of bourgeois class and gender conventions.

[18]   Kevin Gaines has argued that though the elite male voice of race conservation publicly defended elite black women against accusations of unchastity, they also frequently reinforced white racist slander, presuming lower-class and rural women’s complicity in systemic sexual abuse. Certainly, racist and sexist theories of black female degeneracy were powerfully resisted by black women’s groups. Yet white supremacist hereditarian and nativist premises were absorbed by black women’s organizations as well. For instance, leaders of the African American, Boston-based Women’s Era Club fought against lynching and racial segregation while maintaining elitist and nativist positions on working class culture and “foreigners,” and an attendant interest in “social hygiene.” As black women refashioned the white codes of bourgeois womanhood into black feminist resistance, their “politics of respectability” was fused to a civilizationist uplift ideology; this for some made it compatible with eugenic discourses of degeneracy. For instance, Nannie Burroughs weighs euthenic against eugenic strategies in her discussion of black poverty in Washington. While the “student of euthenics,” she says, “believes that the shortest cut to health is by creating a clean environment…to do a work that will abide we must first “get the alley’ out of the seventeen thousand Negroes.”

[19]   Eugenic discourse thus frames reform rhetoric across a broad variety of political and racial perspectives. The deliberately discomfiting concept of “eugenic feminisms” refers to a wide variety of arguments and organized efforts, any of which firmly incorporate eugenic logics as means to claim women’s empowerment. Victoria Woodhull and Frances Willard, two highly influential white feminists, illustrate this fusion of eugenics and feminism well.


[20]   In twentieth-century scholarship, Victoria Woodhull–the first female presidential candidate, the American publisher of theCommunist Manifesto, an advocate of eugenics and “free love” or woman’s sexual freedom–and Frances Willard, who shaped the policy of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union for two decades, are chiefly remembered as strong advocates of woman suffrage and champions of women’s political organization. In spite of the vast differences that might label one radical and one conservative in twentieth-century terms, Woodhull and Willard demonstrate how otherwise incompatible feminisms manipulate eugenic discourse to similar ends. Victoria Woodhull’s embrace of eugenics as a nationalist imperative, like Frances Willard’s tacit acceptance of lynching and outspoken belief in temperance as a eugenic necessity–these represent the core of their political analyses, not simply racist blind spots in otherwise progressive feminist agendas. Directly and indirectly, both women argue that the white female’s unique role as citizen is in retaining white supremacy–retaining it through regenerative reform and eugenic reproduction.

[21]   Arguments for female sovereignty emerge in the early 1870s, when both Willard and Woodhull rework a mid-century abolitionist analogy between bourgeois free white and enslaved black females. In abolitionist hands, the analogy, as discussed by historians Sanchez-Eppler and Yellin, likened white women’s subordination in marriage and in public and political life to the total sexual domination and enforced silence of enslaved women. White women’s work on behalf of “sisters and slaves” thereby also supported a variety of critiques of the institution of marriage and male domination. The “new abolition” presented by Woodhull and Willard restyled this analogy in many ways.

[22]   For instance, Victoria Woodhull invokes the rhetoric of new abolition to denounce the “sexual slavery” of marriage and to advocate in its stead woman’s right to non-monogamous, pleasurable sexual activity. In the published text from her 1874 lecture tour, Woodhull prepares the audience with two parallels to abolition. First, as did the call to abolish slavery, her call to abolish marriage seems impossibly radical–but both demands are morally just. Second, argues Woodhull, the institution of slavery was wrong despite the fact that slaves were said to be contented, comfortable and happy (and most, she adds, were so). However, wives are said to be happy in marriage, but are not.

[23]   Building on the comparison to slavery, Woodhull distinguishes the new abolition from the former:

But it was claimed and proven, as I claim and shall prove of marriage, that the instances of extreme cruelty were sufficiently numerous to condemn the system, and to demand its abolition. Proportionally the instances of extreme cruelty in marriage are double what they were in slavery, and cover a much broader field, involving all the known methods by which the body can be tortured and the heart crushed.

Woodhull’s argument depends not only on this distinction but on a cagey equivalence. Like slavery, marriage too is a racial oppression, for it “stands directly in the way of any improvement in the race”(9). Says Woodhull, “Women cannot bear their best children except by the men they love best and for whom they have the keenest desire.” Therefore, only sex that is based in “mutual desire” and “reciprocal benefit” is virtuous and pure. Because “sexuality is the physiological basis of character and intelligence,” she points “directly to the sexual relations as the place to begin the work of improving the race”(29). To white mothers she says:

Let me implore you for your own soul’s future happiness to emancipate your selves, at whatever cost, from the awful crime of sexual slavery so that you may dedicate yourselves to the good of future generations….Let me beg of you for humanities sake, to rescue yourselves…so that womanhood may once more become Queen of purity, nobility and virtue. (33, emphasis mine)

[24]   Even so, Woodhull’s discourse accomplishes enormous shifts in the abolitionist discourse of protection. The putative question before the nation is no longer the fate of the black race, but that of the white. Woodhull’s coup is her ability to revise abolitionist rhetorics of bourgeois self-control and sexual discipline through the discourse of eugenics. In place of older abolitionist ideals promoting sympathy and physical passionlessness in white women, Woodhull’s “new abolition” ideal promotes non-monogamous sexual behavior and sensual pleasure, qualities once associated only with lower-class white or non-white women. She proposes that a white woman’s “ownership” of sexual organs and her right of sexual determination stand as the most moral, class-affirming, and scientifically sound codes of conduct.The slavery analogy thus taps the moral and political capital of the abolition movement, and it preserves the notion that white women working on behalf of vulnerable “sisters” emancipate themselves.

[25]   Woodhull revises early eugenic theory; she argues against the free love eugenic experiment advanced by the Oneida community, where leader John Humphrey Noyes himself planned the “scientific” mating selections: “It’s idle to talk of stirpiculture so long as women do not own and control their sexual organs; therefore, the first thing for women to do, is to declare themselves free; to assert their individual sovereignty sexually”(38).

[26]   Here she originates arguments that have been attributed to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s much later work. Men’s increasing legal and economic control over women’s bodies and offspring had come to dominate and pervert natural laws, namely women’s sexual independence and primary role in sex selection, thereby jeopardizing race advancement. Woodhull’s innovation grants white women’s sexual and reproductive freedom a uniquely active role in eugenic advancement of the white race.

To woman by nature belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery into freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will…the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold….As to the difficulty of freedom for woman: There is but one, and that is pecuniary independence. (40-41)

[27]   Unlike Willard, however, Woodhull combines new abolition and her forthrightly eugenic feminism with a quasi-socialist critique. As a result Woodhull’s racist program is paradoxically quite “progressive.” Her racism promotes (white-controlled) re-distribution of wealth, improved living and working conditions, sex education and, above all, increased financial and sexual opportunities for “fit” females–that is, white females unaffected by the “fatigue poisons” of the work place. Though she decries the increasing numbers of “unfit” among the white populace, and though she warns against “the rapid multiplication of the Negroes of America,” she does not argue for reproductive restrictions on “unfit” whites or “lower” races; she does not advocate military control of the “vast hordes” multiplying in the non-white world; she does not, to my knowledge, openly or obliquely advocate lynching. Yet clearly this program for the economic, political, reproductive and sexual “freedom” of (white) women is simultaneously an argument for white supremacy; the independence of white women will stave off the racial decline of Western civilization.Over the next two decades, Woodhull’s rhetoric follows a path that Frances Willard’s will parallel: the “individual sovereignty” of the female body becomes increasingly essential to white racial dominance, then to national sovereignty, then to imperialist enterprise.

[28]   This outspoken eugenic drive of Woodhull’s putatively feminist program has been virtually ignored in studies of Woodhull, of eugenics, and in studies of racism in feminism. Of equal and related interest, Woodhull’s straightforwardly supremacist language did not prevent her from using the symbolism of racial amelioration to consolidate her power base or promote her ends. For instance, when Woodhull and her supporters began to form a third party to support her presidential bid in 1871-2, she dubbed it the Equal Rights Party, evoking the interracial unity the Equal Rights Association once mobilized for suffrage. This strictly symbolic reach to a newly broadened voting base, black men, was dramatically enhanced when she immediately and publicly accepted the nomination of Frederick Douglass as her running mate (before Douglass himself learned of the blatantly opportunistic use of his name and refused).


[29]   Despite large differences between Victoria Woodhull and Frances Willard over marriage, female sexual conduct, and the value of “the home” as an institution, Willard everywhere quietly engages the kind of connections between sovereignty, eugenic science and imperialism that Woodhull has been formulating. Indeed, given the structure and goals of the temperance organization Willard headed, and in light of her own personal support for eugenic organizations, it is hard to see Frances Willard as anything but an influential promoter of eugenics.

[30]   Frances Willard served as president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union for two decades, 1879- 1898. In her second year, Willard persuaded the national WCTU to endorse suffrage, the “Home Protection Ballot.” That same year Willard toured the South, where African American women had organized for temperance for over a decade. WCTU’s beginning in the South brought white and black women into a single national organization but segregated the chapters and placed committees of white women in charge of overseeing “colored work.” By 1883, a time which coincides with increasing American interest in Francis Galton’s term “eugenics” and his promotion of “hygiene” as a related science of better health and well-being, Willard’s WCTU added departments of Hygiene and Heredity alongside departments such as Social Purity, Colored Work, and Scientific Temperance Instruction.

[31]   The “scientific instruction” of temperance draws on the science of hereditarian theory. Intemperance or drunkenness appeared in popular literature on eugenics as a clear example of a habit that could influence heredity. Intemperance was therefore a prime target for regenerative racial reform. The WCTU set up its own organ for such discussions; for a few years in the 1880s, the WCTU published a Journal of Hereditywhich circulated excerpts of Francis Galton’s work, discussions of heredity and inebriety, and essays on the impact of reform work on heredity more broadly. It is not insignificant that Willard’s finely tuned philosophy of physical, mental and moral discipline promoted white as the official color of self-control. Given her organization’s investment in disseminating eugenic thought, it is not surprising to find also that Willard counted herself among the many liberal reformers who formed Bellamy Clubs in the wake of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian and eugenic fiction, Looking Backward.

[32]   Like Woodhull, Willard uses “new abolition” to link the sovereign power of (white) woman to the sovereign power of white race and nation. Willard often declared herself the child of abolitionists, and as early as 1871, she began to develop related concepts of new chivalry, new abolition, and sovereign white womanhood. These she would use over the next two decades. For instance, her 1895 handbook for temperance workers rallies “knights of the new Chivalry” in defense of a fundamental principle: a woman’s “personality”–meaning body and sexual parts–is “sacred to herself.”

Where ever the law makes it possible for any class of men to invade the personality of any class of women in the name of public safety, there these new abolitionists raise their white banner and fight to the death…there is one straight, sure path, and it leads to woman protected, honored, pure and regnant over her own person, purse and purposes of life.

Willard’s “new abolitionist” rhetoric encodes a shift in the discourse of power and protection. Though subtle, the “new abolition” also points to the aggressively class-based and white racial dimension of Willard’s philosophy. In designating protectors, female temperance workers replace chivalrous knights of old. The prostitutes and working-class women they protect are a distinct “class” apart from their protectors. Middle-class protectors thus claim their own sovereignty: “woman protected, honored, pure and regnant” over her body, finances and life’s work.

[33]   Willard’s stratifying but seemingly universal rhetoric here is typical of the caution she takes to speak in inclusive terms on many matters. While she promotes protection for “any class of women,” for example, some classes drop entirely from view. Where one generation earlier, “sympathy” for the sexual vulnerability of the enslaved black female had driven white women’s reformist fiction and philanthropy, Willard’s “new abolition” fails to analyze or address the hazards faced by post-emancipation black females and studiously avoids examples which would be relevant to them. Her writing creates no doubt the females the new abolitionists seek to protect are implicitly white. This is more than a benign omission in the context of Willard’s entire program, and it is consonant with the larger shift in populations of interest reflected in Victoria Woodhull’s “new abolition.”

[34]   Black women of the time were alert to these strategies of omission. They consistently brought sexual assaults on black women–at the hands of white men–to the attention of white women. Without acknowledgment of slavery’s legacy, “new abolition” marked a change in white women’s discourse of sexual violation and protection–with no change in the pattern of violations against black women. “New abolition” can be seen as a subtle but singularly important component of the eugenic reconfiguration of white women’s sovereignty strategy in this period.

[35]   Willard ties her call for female citizenship directly to this discourse of white protection and self-mastery. The white women’s vote was not a threat to the nation in itself, rather, the “Home Protection Ballot” was a “weapon of protection” against specific targets, chiefly “tyranny of drink,” “infidel foreign populations,” and “the Negro.” Consider the eugenic underpinnings of her much-quoted 1890 discussion of the black male vote:

The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt. The grog-shop is its center of power. The safety of woman, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a thousand localities at this moment.

[36]   Together, Woodhull and Willard usefully illustrate different tactical dimensions of eugenic feminist work. Woodhull’s rhetoric makes an appeal directly to scientific authority, and her philosophy exhibits those commitments we today think of as “eugenic.” She overtly emphasizes racial improvement, planned sexual selection and white race purity. Willard, in contrast, places overt emphasis on improvement of heredity by “euthenic” means. Her program disciplines bodily appetites and behaviors, and it reforms the environment in order to preserve and strengthen hereditary characteristics for eventual transmission to the next generation. Willard’s rhetoric combines hereditary philosophy, the vocabulary of Christian imperialism, and developing discourses of scientific management and efficiency. Despite the apparent differences in these emphases, the philosophy of each woman actually blends euthenic and eugenic branches of hereditary intervention, devising a white female sovereignty based on reproductive citizenship and on regenerative reform.In such statements, Willard invokes eugenic fears of “rapid multiplication,” and she links black population growth and saloons. The grog-shop, portrayed as the white home’s menacing mirror image, is the stronghold of dysgenic reproduction; drink leads to (purportedly black, promiscuous) drunkards who breed drunkards. Here the African American woman makes a rare, oblique appearance in Willard’s discourse. She is unnamed but encoded as a dysgenic source of “rapid multiplication.” While the so-called dark-faced mobs released like a plague on the nation explicitlyappear to threaten physical violence to the white woman and the home, implicitly those mobs and their multiplication also threaten the citadel of white, eugenic reproduction. Willard crusades for temperance and the white “home protection ballot” because America’s white racial dominance is (purportedly) at stake. Her related claims elsewhere that alcohol will level industrial competition between “the Hottentot” and “snowy genius” make it clear that, as with Woodhull, Western imperial dominance is at stake as well.

[37]   These white feminists both worked simultaneously to increase the benefits of a white supremacist system and to relocate and advance the position of white women within it. Their eugenic feminisms potently construct the black female as a source of unfit, dysgenic sexuality and reproduction. The suppression of black women from their agendas was requisite to the empowerment they sought and the method by which they sought it. In this view, sexual and reproductive autonomy for black women would run directly counter to their eugenic program for white female sovereignty. Moreover, intrinsic to their discourse of white women’s self-determination is the reproductive value of “woman” fused to the state. Thus sovereignty is premised on the notion of “unfit” or improper reproduction and on its corollary: improper reproduction threatens (economic, political, biological) harm to the state. Brought under white women’s direction, and with proper hereditary training, white women’s fit reproductive citizenshipwould protect against inherited degeneracy, regenerate the race, make the nation prosper.

[38]   Discussion of racism in Willard’s work has been relatively concentrated on her conflict over lynching with Ida B. Wells. Like Woodhull, Willard was timely and effective in her use of “inclusive” rhetoric and racial ameliorist speech, and she has received little attention with respect to the thorough-going racist and imperialist philosophy that underwrites her work. For instance, the black press had roundly criticized Willard’s statements on rapid multiplication, violence and the vote. Willard made no response until four years later when Wells called her to account on Willard’s own turf, before white philanthropic audiences and in the white press.

[39]   Willard announces that the WCTU “Draws No Color Line” and claims she bears “not an atom of race prejudice” only after this potential crisis in white public support. Wells herself critiqued this brand of ameliorist speech and the moral capital Willard and other new abolitionists were wielding (i.e., those with reputations as friends “to the Brother in Black.”) In denouncing Willard, Wells weighed Willard’s words and her status as “daughter of abolitionists, personal friend and helper to many individual colored people,” against her institutional support for a white supremacistsystem. Against the entirety of Willard’s work, these uses of anti-racist or ameliorist speech did not signal a change in the racist structure of her organization, its eugenic mission, or her rhetoric over all. These denials are of a piece with Woodhull’s use of Frederick Douglass’s name as an electioneering strategy.


[40]   In wresting a politics of resistance from the conventions of white womanhood, both Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells launch attacks on female sovereignty and its supporting eugenic ideologies of white racial purity, black degeneracy, and reproductive citizenship. In so doing, both offer a transformative variation on the centrality of the black female citizen to the nation. Both also eventually confirm crucial civilizationist premises underwriting discourse on race in the period.

[41]   Cooper especially becomes enmeshed in the logics of eugenic feminisms in a complex way. As suggested in the opening, in “Woman Versus the Indian,” Cooper effectively critiques the queen of the drawing room and sovereignty discourse, and in very passionate and clear terms, she refuses white women’s leveraged arguments for political gain, insisting instead on inclusive, universal terms for basic rights. However, despite the critique Cooper advances, she borrows the structure of white female sovereignty arguments to build her own case for black female protection and empowerment.

[42]   The first essay in the volume, a lecture Cooper delivered six years prior to publication, tailors its call for black female safety and citizenship quite closely on the model of white female sovereignty. Given the eugenic content of the sovereignty model developed by Woodhull and Willard, it is not surprising that Cooper’s essay announces its connection to eugenic thought blatantly, beginning with its title: “Woman–A Vital Element in the Regeneration of the Race.” Indeed, though it has gone unremarked, several essays in the volume, including some of Cooper’s most quoted statements, engage eugenic ideologies directly. I will look at two essays that address eugenics and gender with varied levels of defiance.

[43]   In “Woman – A Vital Element in the Regeneration of the Race,” Cooper locates the black woman at the center of the national interest. As do her white contemporaries, Cooper employs eugenic terms and rationale to support legal and social protection for the black female body. She speaks of the “imminent peril of the mothers of the next generation,” and her discussion engages terms common to eugenic discourse: “regeneration,” “the germ,” and the implicitly hereditary term “material.” For instance, the “colored girls” of the South, who face multiple obstacles and are often “waylaid by the lower classes of white men,” must be protected from rape: “save them, help them, shield, train, develop, teach, inspire them….There is material in them well worth your while, the hope in germ of a staunch, helpful, regenerating womanhood on which, primarily, rests the foundation stones of our future as a race.”

[44]   To introduce the experience of black women, Cooper makes departures from the sovereignty formula. Instead of the “new abolition” that figures in the work of her white contemporaries, Cooper continually reminds her audience that the legacy of enslavement persists in white men’s sexual abuse of black women. Cooper strategically calls upon the black men who are her audience; Southern black women and girls are enjoined to “emancipate themselves”in partnership with these men. Cooper argues that racial advancementper se is measured not by the reproduction of the best mental and physical specimens nor by the level of individual accomplishments, but by the level of oppression borne by the most debased. She is adamant in a way Woodhull and Willard are not that success depends on the analysis and participation of the very women needing aid.

[45]   As she does with the concept of “racial advancement,” Cooper reinflects the concepts of “inheritance,” and “regeneration.” Cooper realigns “inheritance” with a legacy of historical, institutional, and economic factors. Those of African American descent are “heirs of a past,”

…inheritor[s] of a manhood and womanhood impoverished and debased by two centuries and more of compression and degradation. Weaknesses and malformations, which to-day are attributable to a vicious schoolmaster and a pernicious system, will a century hence be rightly regarded as proofs of innate corruptness and radical incurability.(28)

[46]   Without directly contesting key terms in the eugenic arsenal, Cooper alters their use and therefore expands their meaning to support her own argument for the empowerment and protection of black women. Nevertheless, in keeping with the sovereignty formula she borrows, Cooper reinforces civilizationist racism to deliver her point. That is, Cooper forthrightly engages eugenic terms with racist consequences. “Woman–A Vital Element” opens with sharp words for the “decay and ugliness,” the “effete and immobile” civilization of the “Orient”(11). Scholars often note that Cooper shares her general line of argument with her white female contemporaries–civilizations are measured by the status of women. They rarely comment on the bigotry she also shares, or cite the high flourish of her delivery. The “inheritance” of degrading circumstance and institutional oppression strongly contrasts with an inheritance of degenerate racial traits. While refusing imputations of genetic inferiority in the present, the case Cooper makes is euthenic instead. This oppressive environment, attributable to “a pernicious system,” must be corrected now, before it becomes radical, incurable hereditary corruption. Black women must play a leading role in averting this disaster: “Now the fundamental agency under God in the regeneration, the re-training of the race, as well as the ground work and starting point of its progress upward, must be the black woman”(28, emphasis mine). Cooper’s rephrasing alters the emphasis of “regeneration” from strictly reproductive citizenship to an emphasis on women’s role in training and regenerative reform.

[47]   Indeed, throughout the volume, Cooper’s arguments take refuge in predominant views of racial types and traits, for example, the “vile Turk”(9), the “cold and calculating” Anglo-Saxon and Africans and African Americans invested with “tropical warmth and spontaneous emotionalism”(173), also African Americans’ “semi-civilized religionism”and “rank exuberance and often ludicrous demonstrativeness”(34). Even in this context her chauvinist remarks on “the Orient” in the first essay seem particularly strange given the sharprebuke of Orientalist slander she offers in the very next essay, “The Higher Education of Women.” And because Cooper included both essays in the volume side by side, her later defense of “Oriental civilization” cannot easily be read as a refutation of the earlier attack (52). The contradiction is stark. One could say that Cooper maintains her pursuit of black women’s protection, education and empowerment, but her application of civilizationist discourse in support varies in contradictory ways.

[48]   Critics have noted an instability in Cooper’s discourse which may reflect, as Gaines argues, the social conflicts that her identity as Southern, middle-class, black female intellectual presents: “Cooper’s place at the vortex of several sites of social conflict–namely, class, gender, race, color, region, religion and culture to name those articulated in her essays–made it impossible for her to maintain a consistent ideological position, particularly on the tortured question of race.” However, that very instability and seeming inconsistency point as well to contradictions embedded in her eugenic discourse.

[49]   Across her writing, Cooper fights dominant constructions in racial discourse and gender conventions, and she attacks specific racist practices such as systemic rape, with vehemence. Cooper’s focus on the physical violence against black women, the obstacles thwarting their intelligence, and the structural value of their labor in the black community and nation, all require an argument for female empowerment, but one that debunks ideologies of black female immorality and inferior intelligence. In refashioning white female sovereignty, Cooper enters a eugenic discourse that contradicts her purposes entirely. Her writing displaces the contradiction without eliminating it; it resurfaces persistently in class and racial terms.

[50]   Even the essays that critique eugenic thought more defiantly share this problem. Consider her use of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and her retort to amalgamationists in “Has America a Race Problem?” However, Cooper’s most interesting essay in this context is also her least discussed. In “What are We Worth?” Cooper parodies popular eugenic texts. She also returns to a discussion of black women and race regeneration. Yet here she reworks the female sovereignty formula completely, casting “race,” “reproduction” and “womanhood” in a new configuration.

[51]   Cooper engages these terms from the outset, yet shifts the ground from a eugenic concept of women’s genetic material and maternal influence to an economic analysis of women’s role in social reproduction.

Now whatever notions we may indulge on the theory of evolution and the laws of atavism or heredity, all concede that….[t]he materials that go to make the man, the probabilities of his character and activities….have been accumulating and gathering momentum for generations. So that as one tersely expresses it, in order to reform a man, you must begin with his great grandmother. (235)

[52]   “What are We Worth?” makes a direct and remarkably shrewd response to the most powerful aspects of Dugdale’s work. Dugdale bolstered sketchy genealogical research with a dramatic cost/benefit analysis in a way that caught the popular imagination. It was widely interpreted as evidence that “degenerates” who continued to “breed” did so at enormous expense to the state. Cooper is writing in the wake of Dugdale and just after the introduction of Taylorist methods for efficient, “scientific management” in industry.Cooper’s reference here is to the highly influential study of convicts published by Richard L. Dugdale in 1875, The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, and Heredity. Dugdale traced the ancestry of several related New York prison inmates back through six generations to a set of six sisters of “uncertain origin”; he finally rested blame for their crimes on their female parent, dubbed the Mother of Criminals. Dugdale meant to document the genetic inheritance of “criminal tendencies,” and his text counted hundreds of prostitutes, brothel owners, convicts, and “paupers” sprung from the “Jukes” line. In a lengthy table, Dugdale computed what generations of the “Jukes family” cost to the State of New York in assistance, medical costs, arrests, and confinement over the generations.

Cooper performs a clever appropriation of Dugdale’s themes. She uses the study of generations to give authority to the study of history itself and to dismiss hereditary factors. She changes the ground of her research rhetorically from a study of seeds or “germs” to a study of soil and those who own it. With this new emphasis on the American environment, in particular the behavior of Southern land owners, she foregrounds the impact of historical conditions on African American achievement. Dismissing claims to inferior racial stock –“original timber as it came from African forests was good enough”–Cooper argues these materials have undergone poor conditioning on American soil (236). “There is no doubt that in the past two hundred and fifty years of working up, the material we now inherit has depreciated rather than enhanced its value”(239). The shift from “degeneration” to “depreciation” is crucial, because labor and investment, not genetic material, will be central to her redefinition of human value.

[53]   Cooper’s calculation of racial value “may be made in the same way and on the same principle that we would estimate the value of any commodity on the market”(233). The appropriate questions about race in an urban wage-labor economy are: “What have you produced? What consumed? What is your real value in the world economy?…How are you supplying the great demands of the world’s market?…This we may be sure, will be the final test by which the colored man in America will one day be judged”(284). In parody of Dugdale’s study, she figures the value of the labor or workmanship invested when transforming human “raw material” into a finished contributing worker. She diminishes the value of the hereditary “raw material” to almost nil. A newborn infant is, by these calculations, worth little. Only the labor expended on crafting the child, and specifically the mother’s labor, creates the child’s value (241).

[54]   Cooper’s “manufacture of men and women for the markets of the world,” takes place first in the home, under the supervision of the female who presides there (244). Like her white contemporaries, Cooper is careful to assert women’s control over reproduction. In contrast to eugenic discourse of Woodhull and Willard, however, sexual relations are neither a laboratory for the scientific propagation of the “race,” nor is the home a eugenic citadel apart from the marketplace. Instead the home becomes a foundry or small scale manufacture where raw material is tooled for the future and where women have both economic and moral muscle, positioned as they are as managers and engineers. Cooper insists on women’s labor asproductive, and women are valued for the quality of their work not of their race. Reproduction is still women’s central contribution, but its meaning she extends to all forms of education. What is more, women’s “reproduction” is chiefly an economic not a genetic contribution to the wealth of the nation.

[55]   The growing popularity of the Taylorist efficiency movement and the “planning” efforts emerging in all areas of American culture and politics, converge with the racist violence and social crises of the late century. That convergence suggests one powerful appeal of eugenic planning for white elites. As presented by many eugenists, selective breeding or the scientific “management of the human germ plasm” was a solid fiscal investment for future social and economic stability. Cooper intervenes in this economic efficiency discourse as it takes shape. She attempts to disarm the cost/benefit rationale that will continue to ground arguments for eugenic planning and state control of reproduction.

[56]   In asking black America “What Are We Worth?” Cooper therefore subtracts an efficiency toll: the cost of life and hence labor wasted by the immediate environment. Cooper concedes the insupportable cost “to the commonwealth” caused by the prevalence of squalor, unsanitary living conditions, infant mortality, illiteracy and disease among African Americans. But here, in defense of the African American poor, she takes care to introduce statistics and data which dismiss the common euthenic belief that environment damages heredity. Sickly infants suffer from lack of food and shelter, not from hereditary degeneration. They are those “spoiled in the making,” damaged in the “working up” of raw material:

Now all this unquestionably represents a most wanton and flagrant waste of valuable material. Bysapping out the possibilities of a healthy and vigorous existence it is deliberately and flagitiously breeding and multiplying paupers, criminals, idiots, drunkards, imbeciles and lunatics to infest and tax the commonwealth.(249, emphasis mine).

[57]   Cooper’s articulate critique of the race and gender dimensions in eugenic reasoning does not move entirely free of eugenic premises. “What are We Worth?” uses harsh nativist cliches to vilify increasing numbers of immigrants in the labor market. So too, despite her clever arguments to undermine the discourse of degeneracy, Cooper uses that very discourse to attack the inbred “pauperism” of poor white “Crackers”(253). White poverty “can be attributed to nothing but stagnation–moral, mental, and physical immobility: while in the case of the Negro, poverty can at least be partially accounted for by the hard conditions of life and labor”(254). In the highly charged area of African American access to trades and the poverty of black growers and workers, she recuperates and applies to others the hereditary assessment and eugenic vocabulary she has painstakingly dismantled.Here Cooper’s roll call of pariahs is biting and ironic; she once again substitutes the notion of depreciation for that ofdegeneration. Conceding the economic impact, she argues that poverty leads to social problems, but social problems have a social (not a hereditary) cause. Cooper follows the discussion of costwith her own calculation of benefit: a dollar value assessment of African American industrial and agricultural contributions to the U.S. economy–a clever retort to Dugdale.

[58]   Cooper represents a critical engagement with eugenic feminisms. Like Victoria Woodhull, Cooper appeals directly to the vocabulary of modern hereditary science. Like Frances Willard, Cooper blends euthenic commitments with a strong evangelical civilizationist perspective, one that appeals to imperialism and nativism. Yet the contradictions she finds in eugenic feminism are ones not easily solved by the humanist “inclusion” she advocates in “Woman Versus the Indian.” As a result, the degeneracy attributed to black women and men is carefully displaced onto others. She demonstrates the eugenic belief that some forms of oppression are actually inborn (e.g. the poverty of whites, the purported insubordination and lawlessness of foreign workers), while she presents other forms of oppression as the result of systemic deprivation and violence.

[59]   In the same way, when Cooper asserts women’s control in reproduction, she does not entirely disrupt the eugenic claim that efficient and proper reproduction is (black) woman’s chief value to the state. Although she does not do so completely, it is where Cooper carefully extricates her theory from eugenic premises to assert black women’s ownership of their physical, economic and intellectual capacity that she proposes alternative grounds for feminism.


[60]   When Ida B. Wells attacks eugenic ideologies, she, like Cooper, is uncompromising in her depiction of black women’s rape by white men. Like Cooper, Wells refashions specific economic logics being used to underwrite institutional racism. In fact Wells’ work to mobilize African American “wealth producers” during her anti-lynching campaign offers a practical counterpart to Cooper’s economic rhetoric in “What Are We Worth?” Perhaps most intriguing given the work of her black and white feminist contemporaries, Wells argues for black women’s physical protection and citizenship without recourse to women’s reproductive influence on the next generation. Wells is important therefore because she is able to target particular eugenic premises and sidestep the quagmire of reproductive citizenship in a way several other black intellectuals were not.

[61]   As a black feminist, militant publicist, and organizer committed to urban and working class needs, Wells’ career and her writing spanned several decades. Though many academic discussions of Wells focus solely on her work during the time of the anti-lynching campaign, Wells’ years of organizing included work on anti-Negro laws, black education and urban unemployment, and black female suffrage. Wells’ early columns, diaries, and the writing of mature years, as well as her lynching analysis should all be rethought in terms of the eugenic preoccupation of her time. As a journalist, avid reader, and public intellectual, she would have followed eugenic arguments as they were reported in the white and black press, including the eugenic debates among associates such as Cooper, T. Thomas Fortune and DuBois. Despite the fact that she does not name and argue against specific eugenists directly in the way Cooper does, Wells’ work is pointed in its attack on basic eugenic premises.

[62]   Just as one cannot see Wells’ work in isolation from these eugenic debates one cannot see this work apart from the debates on female sovereignty. Wells worked with white feminists and watched their careers; she would have been familiar with sovereignty claims based in reproductive citizenship and regenerative reform. The “lynching question” itself was an earnest contest over which bodies would be deemed “sovereign,” that is, which would receive protection, due process under the law, and the benefits of civil society.

[63]   On the matter of women’s physical, economic, political and reproductive sovereignty, Wells provides a stark contrast to her contemporaries. Victoria Woodhull and Frances Willard are concerned with exploitive marital, medical, and economic control of (white) women’s bodies. They make their case for female bodily sovereignty by first using eugenic estimates of white women’s value to race and nation, and they cast the black female as a dysgenic threat. In contrast, Anna Julia Cooper calls attention to the violence againstblack women. Yet in making a case for black female protection and empowerment, Cooper attempts to modify eugenic rationales in order to adapt reproductive citizenship and regenerative reform to black women. Wells too calls attention to the rape of black women; however, her particular analysis of the systematic rape and lynching of black persons enables her to eschew eugenic rationales more effectively.

[64]   Wells’ columns and diaries demonstrate her early investment in a black womanhood modeled on civilizationist ideals. Black women are to “help men to a better, higher life,” curb their appetites, and do charitable works. In “Woman’s Mission,” she argues that black women’s fidelity to the bourgeois code of respectable behavior would improve the status of African Americans in the U.S.–female moral bearing assists African Americans “to attain a level in the status of civilized races.”

[65]   The behavioral codes and civilizationist scale supporting predominant notions of “race progress” were reinforced consistently in Wells’ own life, and in her diary she indicates that the preservation of women’s moral reputation could justify almost any sacrifice. In 1887 she records an incident in which a boy who boasted of his adulterous liaison with a woman in the community was killed by the woman’s brother. Wells writes:

It seems awful to take a human life but hardly more so than to take a woman’s reputation and make it the jest and byword of the street. One is strongly tempted to say his killing was justifiable.

Because this sentiment condones the type of “justifiable” killing that Wells will condemn so harshly five years later, the diary entry gives one pause. For Wells, the most grievous offense here is the public and verbal attack on a woman’s sexual reputation. Her statement conveys the powerful equivalence within civilizationist rhetoric between a verbal assault upon a woman’s reputation and a physical assault on a woman’s body.

[66]   Wells’ proximity to a Memphis lynching and threats on her own life forced her to reexamine her faith in race advancement through bourgeois codes of behavior. Scholars have studied Wells’ unraveling of the racialized gender constructions and sexual conventions within her analysis. Yet Wells’ investigation also noted the collaboration of local institutions in creating audiences for lynching events, and her evidence revealed repressive economic and political energies operating behind the smoke screen of vigilante justice and white female honor. Lynching, often carried out in conjunction with mass arrests and the looting and destruction of black-owned businesses or homes, was an obvious attempt to buy or squelch the black vote, restrict black business and ensure black consumers for white goods and services.

[67]   Her work increasingly embeds these economic findings within longer historical accounts of American race relations. In “How Enfranchisement Stops Lynchings,” Wells defines African Americans as “wealth producers.” She contrasts the inefficiency of early British settlers with the productivity of enslaved Africans, workers who “created vast wealth for the masters and made the United States one of the mighty nations of the earth.” After emancipation, however, blacks’ increasing economic success and model behavior led only to increased violence against them:

But the more lands and houses he acquired…the less protection is given…The more complete the disenfranchisement, the more frequent and horrible has been the hangings, shootings, and burnings.

To demonstrate that the violence bore no connection to black behavior was to expose the discourse of black male and female degeneracy as a sham. Wells here designates black economic production and the struggle to control that production–not a struggle to control Negro degeneracy–as the motive for lynching terror.

[68]   Equally striking in her analysis is the calculated effect of revealing black female experience. In response to the unsupported rape charge against black men, Wells raises the historical record of sexual violence against black women.

All my life I had known that such conditions were accepted as a matter of course. I found that this rape of helpless Negro girls and women, which began in slavery days, still continued without let or hindrance, check or reproof from church, state, or press until there had been created this race within a race–and all designated by the inclusive term of “colored.” I also found that what the white man of the South practiced as all right for himself, he assumed to be unthinkable in white women.

Wells here directly targets the eugenic discourse of degeneracy and rapid multiplication. A history of white men’s coercion, not of black female (or male) degeneracy has multiplied the “colored” race– “a race within a race.” To put this most provocative point another way, white male degeneracy is to blame for “the rapid multiplication of the Negro.”

[69]   Wells dramatically illustrates the extent to which current debates on eugenics and American civilization were contingent on the erasure of black women’s experience. The fact of ongoing systemic rape of black women did not enter the calculus for African American race conservationists or amalgamationists. Among whites and far too many black men, race mixing was believed to be a lower-class phenomenon attributable to black women’s low morals. As was the case with Willard and Woodhull, white female eugenists deliberately promoted this view.

[70]   As described by Wells, the lynching scene does not tell the simple tale of Darwinian aggression, nor the upward struggle of (white) civilization over barbarity, nor the mayhem produced by multiplying degenerate elements of either or both races. Instead, in Wells’ depiction, rape and lynching demonstrate carefully organized and executed suppression aimed at maintaining economic and political control. The (white) church, courts, businesses, newspapers, reform societies–all are in full (and not always tacit) support of racist violence. This is to say that white “degeneracy” and “rapid multiplication” are orchestrated and protected by so-called civil institutions; the ongoing “degeneracy” of institutionalized repression is vital to the “progress” and advancement of economic and political elites.

[71]   Critics have discussed how Wells’ rhetoric inverts the lexicon of “civilized and savage”; her pamphlets and lectures create a persuasive portrait of “white barbarity.” But as her analysis of racial violence unravels the eugenic discourse of degeneracy and regenerationit also destabilizes the hierarchies of civilizing progress. If whites are behaving like savages and like savvy businessmen at the same time, then white racist “savagery” is a time-worn business practice generating white economic progress. Rationally coordinated economic and political exploitation cannot be countered by a “civilized race” but by an organized race of “wealth producers”: “By the right exercise of his power as the industrial factor of the South, the Afro-American can demand and secure his rights.” For Wells, “right exercise” of power means economic leverage used to force the accountability of so-called democratic institutions, including the leverage of organized economic retaliation, the ballot, and armed confrontation. In the last instance, rifles might protect and achieve what respectability could not.

[72]   Wells demonstrated that the violations of rape and lynching against “bodily sovereignty” could not be theorized through the eugenic discourse of degeneracy or the lessons of civilizationist Christian imperialism. By bringing black female historical experience into clear view, and by pointing to the economic and political function of racial violence, Wells’ analysis makes “civilized” even law-abiding behavior on the part of African Americans irrelevant to the domination exercised through systemic rape and lynching. In such a system of race relations, racial advancement through reproductive citizenship and regenerative reform has no place.

[73]   While this economic analysis therefore leads her away from eugenic projects, the civilizationist hierarchies still have important utility in her work. Access to her audiences depended on her own performance of bourgeois respectability, and a large share of her moral authority and persuasive power rested in her tales of white savagery and degeneracy engulfing a predominantly white and Christian nation. For this reason, Wells’ use of “savage and civilized” civilizationist hierarchies exists in unresolved tension with her economic and institutional analysis of racist violence.

[74]   For instance, Wells’ critique of the economics of racial violence at home does not necessarily broaden to critique the economics of imperialism and the functions of white supremacy abroad. In “Afro-Americans and Africa,” her civilizationist cliches enhance the imperialist potential, not the democratic scope, of African American “wealth producers”: like the “Romans who invaded Britain” or the “Puritans who came over in theMayflower,” “enterprising and intelligent Afro-American[s]” could justly “enter and possess” Africa and its “boundless resources,” assisting the “simple natives.” Gaines notes that Wells denounces white American imperialist expansion, but this is when it comes at the expense of African American protection at home. In this example Wells endorses imperialist expansion and paternalist development when it might amount to economic and political gain for African Americans.

[75]   The tension between her analysis of institutional racism and civilizationist rhetoric constitutes a disruptive and thereforefunctional contradiction in her work. For example, to the extent that the disruptive power of Wells’ analysis and activism was triggered by the reintroduction of a suppressed record of black female experience, Wells’ own personal history and political agency continually enacted this disruptive function. During years of her highest visibility, Wells was an unmarried black woman who packed a revolver, traveled alone, and spoke on subjects which for polite society were unspeakable. Her lectures regularly told the story of her own narrow escape from a lynch mob. Despite the exclusively male gendering of citizenship in the U.S. and Britain at the time of Wells’ lecture tours, Wells was reported as a prominent example of African Americans’ fitness, as a class, for citizenship. She also served as a prime example of the unjustly disenfranchised.

[76]   One London press report, obviously following Wells’ use of personal testimony, reported her experience with lynch mobs and Jim Crow rail service. The account uses feminine pronouns, as well as masculine, to describe fit citizenship:

The dislike of the South is not to the Negroes as laborers or servants, but to the recognition of them as citizens. As a servant a Negro may enter places from which, what ever her wealth, intellect, education, or refinement, she is still ruthlessly excluded as a citizen. Miss Wells seems to think that as the Negro advances in education and in the qualities of good citizenship, the disinclination to allow him civil rights becomes deeper.

Hardly a minor disturbance in the discourse of citizenship, the intrusion of the black female as an individual “ruthlessly excluded as a citizen” indicates just how far from debates on white female honor the anti-lynching campaign had come. The example also reflects the larger disturbance Wells’ political agency had triggered in white and black communities in Britain and the U.S.

[77]   So too, when Wells attacks the value of “civilized behavior” in effecting race progress, she unsettles the foundation on which the black and middle-class leadership cadre had staked their claim. Endorsement by “leading men” of the race was not only necessary to her activity during the early campaign but continued to be a condition of her later undertakings. In later years, when she is again faulted for having “no leading people of the race” with her in her ten year settlement effort in Chicago, Wells retorts that the leading men in the work, were, in fact, an elevator man, a redcap and a ragpicker. “It is bad enough that our leading people refuse to take part in work of this character or to know men of this type. But to me it is still worse that they not only refuse themselves to help, but they are doing everything that they can to disparage…those of us who are.”

[78]   Wells herself was a cultured member of the intellectual class. Yet, her autobiography is highly critical of the mentality characterizing the so-called “Talented Tenth,” a set she wryly redubs “the academic few.” She speaks of the limitations of “college-bred Negroes” (a coy play on the title of one of W.E.B. DuBois’s Atlanta University studies), and she faults the elitism of “exclusives” among her own race, like DuBois, who sought “credit for representing the race that they ignore and withdraw themselves from on every occasion of real need.” As an activist and investigative reporter, Wells manifested an excellent capacity for conversations with working- class, imprisoned, and poor African Americans and a keen interest in working with them to provide direct services. The criticism against her demonstrates the extent to which Wells’ political activity threatened reigning racial ideology and gendered codes; her comments on “leading men and representative women” indicate her own class-based resistance to these paternalist concepts as well.

[79]   When compared to Victoria Woodhull, Frances Willard, and Anna Julia Cooper, Wells presents a striking difference: at no point does Wells’ case for black female citizenship ascribe to black women either a predominantly reproductive, metaphorically maternal, or even matrimonial form of influence. In contrast, as she records her work in Chicago, she depicts black women as organizers, activists, political personalities, and administrative rivals. Wells’ work continually enacts the centrality of black female agency to democratic process.

[80]   Wells co-founds the first black women’s suffrage organization, the Alpha Suffrage Club, in 1914, in the face of white Chicago women’s lobby for restricted suffrage. The Alpha leaders gained local support by demanding the franchise on the same grounds Wells had asserted throughout the anti-lynching campaign. Enfranchisement, together with organized action as workers and consumers, could guarantee African Americans physical safety and full citizenship under the law. The Alpha Club argued that only African American representation could secure the promise of democratic institutions, and only the votes of black women could ensure African American city and state representation. Wells writes that she had initially posed the goal in this way to Alpha’s members: “we could use our vote for the advantage of ourselves and our race.” Black men blocked this effort initially, supporting women’s registration drives only when the women altered their approach. They began to argue black women’s votes were the only means to secure black malerepresentation on the city council. A fully enfranchised black womanhood was the key to realizing full “manhood rights” and therefore central to the democratic process.

[81]   Though Wells lost her own campaign for Illinois State Senate in 1930, and lost decisively, Thompson has speculated that the candidate’s goal was not to take the seat, but to demonstrate the power of black voters and particularly African American women in the district. Despite the antagonism from husbands and white society which Wells records, she details the political successes achieved at black women’s hands: “Negro women…were the only organized force in the state for civic work.” In a striking example, Wells describes the visual and political impact of African American women upon the 1913 Illinois legislature. The state was poised to pass seven anti-Negro bills. It is more than incidental that four of these bills supported white race purity by presenting various means to outlaw racial intermarriage. Others offered restrictions on black labor. In Wells’ account, the day the votes were scheduled, organized groups of black club women from around the state appeared at the capitol:

I was spokesman for the women on this momentous occasion. Our delegation was reinforced by citizens of Springfield, and the winding through the capitol building of two or three hundred colored women was itself a sight that had never been witnessed before. The legislature got the impression that the Negro womanhood of the state was aroused, and the visible massing of hundreds of them did as much even as the arguments presented to impress the members of the legislature with the seriousness of the situation.

[82]   Wells’ graphic depiction of black women at the core of the democratic process–at the center of race and nation– provides a stark contrast to the eugenic feminist rhetoric of her contemporaries. Despite the frequent civilizationist and imperialist pitch of her own rhetoric, she detaches women’s empowerment from eugenic programs entirely. Her departure from the logic of reproductive citizenship and regenerative reform can be traced in part to the economics of her lynching analysis and the challenge it posed to notions of degeneration and regeneration supporting eugenic discourse. But her early diaries and autobiography demonstrate as well that Wells began to reinvent her conception of black female agency at an early point and continually redefined her own political identity through political mobilization.As a spectacle, the visible, physical presence of hundreds of African American women in the center of the Illinois state house makes literal the centrality of black women to the state and the race.

[83]   Wells participated in the boycotts and out-migration she encouraged in the wake of the Memphis lynching; her fact-gathering exposed her to many charged lynching sites and immersed her in collective testimony. She recorded life narratives, sworn statements, detailed chronological descriptions of the events; her interviews documented testimony of families of victims, near victims, black residents, white sheriffs, jailers, jurors and local reporters. She recorded accurate information about accusers (e.g. grown white women who were the so-called “child” victims of purported “rape”) and, on occasion, heard their retractions.

[84]   She drew from this base, and her apprenticeship in mass mobilizing took place before the meeting that “was the real beginning of the club movement among the colored women of this country.” The event enacted a method of analysis akin toconscientization, recognized as a core principle of popular education among the oppressed, a method which has become central to contemporary black feminist and white feminist praxis.Black women’s political agency laid the analytic, emotional, financial and logistical ground work for Wells’ anti-lynching activity and her later work.

[85]   If, as Wells indicates, control and protection of the black body, its labor, and the wealth it produces can only be gained through economic pressure and democratic forces, Wells demonstrates that black women’s agency is essential to democratic practice. Wells foregrounds black women as a visible and organized political force brought to bear for full African American citizenship, economic stability, and black women’s empowerment. She lays claim to the power of an organized presence, not the power of reproductive citizenship or regenerative reforms.


[86]   A reading of Woodhull, Willard, Cooper and Wells suggests the history of eugenics is a root history of feminisms for American women black and white. The investigation of twentieth-century legacies poses several questions, among them the role of women’s organizations in the popularization of eugenic rationales across the past century. Larson, for instance, records the central involvement of white women’s clubs in instituting reproductive segregation and sterilization of the “feebleminded.” This legislation was a first step toward the welfare-recipient sterilization bills passed in several states throughout the 1920s and 1930s. So too, work on eugenics and feminism ought to reopen discussions of “euthenics” and sustained environmental approaches to shaping heredity in America. This includes investigating the euthenics of public and private “environments,” for example the connection of eugenic rationales to twentieth-century childhood sexual training and curricula on sex education; health and hygiene pedagogy; definitions of mental health; and the construction of “public health” agendas.

[87]   Nineteenth-century formulations of sovereignty made women’s self-determination contingent on women’s value to national agendas. The management of women’s sexual activity and reproductive activity has continued to be at the heart of U.S. legislative proposals in the 1990s, and it continues to shape U.S. economic policy abroad. Critics have argued that contemporary self-determination, now rooted in legal claims to an individual’s right to privacy, can only reproduce race- and class-stratification; feminist political work for “self-determination” has not achieved reproductive autonomy for women of color or poor women, and even the “privacy” granted elite and white women is not “absolute.” A thorough history of eugenic thought in feminist organizing can illuminate the problem and also deepen engagement with the resistance devised by women such as Cooper and Wells.

[88]   But there are other lessons for feminist scholarship here. In Frances Willard and Victoria Woodhull, female sovereignty, the basis of their feminism, is itself a racial concept. As straightforward arguments for white women’s empowerment through white supremacy, their work is all the more striking for its use of anti-racist or racial ameliorist appeals. In both, an appeal to “new abolition” certifies their concern for racial justice; however, they define injustice as the oppression of white people. Ida B. Wells and Anna Julia Cooper engage eugenic discourse also, but as black women committed to organizing against racist domination, their engagement is qualitatively different than that in starkly supremacist programs of Woodhull and Willard. Cooper and Wells provide examples of feminists who, while launching effective theoretical and practical attacks on structures of white supremacy, resist the contradiction of black female degeneracy only to displace it elsewhere in their work– onto Africans, foreign laborers, the white poor.

[89]   Cooper’s work becomes all the more fascinating as a black feminism engaged in direct battle with eugenic discourse, but nonetheless enmeshed in it. The broad, inclusive vision of human justice Cooper promotes is singularly important in its meaning for feminist work, yet when Cooper draws upon the female sovereignty formula, and when she attempts to articulate the demands of black women through that eugenic framework, inclusion cannot correct the problem she faces. To introduce black female experience into a discussion that has relied on its suppression, Cooper successively redefines terms without unsettling the eugenic necessity that propels the discourse. The very presence of eugenic feminism in Cooper’s work is a symptom of larger contradictions in redefining gender within a racist culture.

[90]   Cooper herself referred to a central contradiction of gender construction in succinct terms, “A Negro woman cannot be a lady.” Hortense Spillers has argued further that in the antebellum U.S., the enslaved black female was considered violatable “flesh,” not a “body” worthy of protection; she therefore inhabited a position unaccounted for by white liberal bourgeois constructions of gender. As this “vestibular subject of culture,” the captive female constituted the threshold position by which the white female passed into culture or was possessed of a “body” worthy of protection at all. Conversely, white womanhood was a construction that locked the captive subject in place, out of culture. The black female’s necessary but vestibular presence is a historic contradiction which inhabits the discourse of feminism. As Spillers has it, the contradiction insinuates a fissure in the very concept of gender. The implications of her argument have yet to be fully extended to studies of gender formation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

[91]   Post-emancipation black women, writing, organizing and poised “on the threshold of woman’s era” as Frances Harper put it, threatened to move out of the “vestibule” and collapse the very structure which sustained white womanhood’s position in culture. The discourse of white female sovereignty needs further study as a response to this situation. By omitting black women from their claim to [white] female bodily sovereignty and by defining black women as a site of degeneracy and dysgenic reproduction, white women such as Woodhull and Willard firmly reinstate the distinctions between black and white females. They re-mark the racial threshold of gender and from there negotiate for more power within white supremacy. White eugenic feminisms argue that white women may gain some measure of empowerment in so far as they efficiently manage crises arising with black male citizenship, black women’s organizing, and increasing immigration.

[92]   Though frequently contemporary discussions of racism in white feminism describe “race” as a missing element, or a variable held constant while white feminists theorize “gender,” these early and influential arguments for female self-determination manipulate race as a dynamic element of the theory, not an inactive category. Woodhull and Willard offer a clear example of how white women respond to their position within white supremacy and under male domination at the same time. They analyze gendered roles ascribed to (white) women under white supremacy, and when they address gender, they respond to it in its relation to white supremacy. Thus, in these white women’s feminisms, the construction of race is not at all invisible, postponed, marginalized or secondary as they grapple with gender; it is an integral, generative element of their feminist enterprise. For these reasons, eugenic feminisms offer a parallax view on the place of black womanhood at the center not the margins of white women’s thought. These feminisms white and black are in large part generated by the perceived benefits available from action to empower, contain, manage or subordinate a concept of black womanhood.

[93]   The case of female sovereignty offers further concrete insight onto the problem of “racism” in feminist theory and what it might mean to propose that white women’s feminism like black feminism is constructed in response to the paradox of black womanhood. Joan Scott has written that the emergence of feminism was not a sign of the “progressive operations of liberal individualism, but rather a symptom of its constitutive contradictions,” that is, feminism sprang from a contradiction between the philosophy of universal, individual rights and the gendered exclusion inherent in the definition of the liberal humanist individual. As the exclusion of women took different forms, feminisms gave voice to the new contradictions that emerged, but feminist agency has been an act of tracing a moving fault-line at the heart of an ideological/political system, a fault-line that cannot be sealed or resolved. The case of eugenic feminisms shows how Scott’s fault-line of gendered exclusion is further riven by Spillers’ racial fissure within gender. This is more than saying gender is always constructed in an (at least) dual and racialized construction. Rather it is to say that racism is also a constitutive contradiction generating feminism.

[94]   The white and black women in this study all manipulate the discourse of race as an essential tool to redefine gender and alter their place in political culture. Eugenic feminist discourse can illustrate that any feminist work, by its very address to gender, will begin already imbricated in racist and racialized structures, will manipulate racialized arguments, and will impact constructions of race. These examples suggest as well the impossibility of extricating feminism from complicity in racism, or from the problem of racialized discourse and the role of gender in racial hierarchy.Those feminisms which have emerged to dismantle structures of white supremacy, and those feminisms which have emerged as a renegotiation within white supremacy to secure white supremacy, all work from a ground of original contamination.

[95]   In tracing the path of these fissures and contradictions, white and black feminists do not only or simply line up on opposite sides of a fault-line. The contradiction moves like a tremor through the discourse of each. The effort in critical practice then is not to isolate and explain the presence of racist discourse in feminist work as one would an anomaly. Instead, we must ask of feminist theories and projects, how is this work marked by the constructions of race and by racist and racialized discourses; how have those constructions been re-marked by it? What types of racialized discourses are being deployed, with what impact on racialized constructions of gender, and with what impact on institutions and structures supporting white supremacy? We must study and explain the disruptions of racist practice anddestabilizingof racist conceptual categories that do occur.

[96]   It is not the case that feminisms must accept complicity with white supremacy. To the contrary, if white supremacy secures gender constructions and operates through them, then feminisms must make a direct strike against white supremacy to effectively disrupt gender at all. However, feminisms cannot strip back to pure or uncompromised anti-racist egalitarian positions. They can exploit the multiple contradictions from which they emerge.

[97]   Ida B. Wells’ example is instructive in this regard. Wells’ argument for physical protection and citizenship without recourse to eugenically driven reproductive citizenship appears singular among this cohort. The point is not that, of the feminists here reviewed, Wells was the most “enlightened” or least burdened by racist ideologies, only that Wells offers an example of a feminist in this historical moment who reinvented herself and her understanding of black women’s political agency by means of extended concrete, grassroots mobilization. She shows what it might mean to start from a ground of original contamination and “imagine political mobilization as the practice of active decolonization.” Wells’ work was predicated on intense immersion in the structure of racist violence and trauma in distinct communities; her first-hand studies of lynchings amounted to defining her own experience and agency in a collective context. From that base she mobilized, and she generated an activist self-in-tension with the place of “black womanhood” in white supremacy. The result was a significant disruptive impact on the ideologies and practices enforcing white supremacy and gender oppression.

[98]   White supremacy and gender oppression pose a variety of modes of complicity and produce multiple strategies of resistance for those positioned differently in culture. In so far as all feminisms inherit andgenerate different legacies and oppressive practices, all embrace or disrupt those forms with different tactics. For this reason feminists of color have called for elaboration of feminist theory and praxis in principled coalition across divisions of class, race, and sexuality. The aim of such work cannot be tounitearound a pure, anti-racist egalitarian praxis. Rather, such work holds up the possibility that through productive, principled contestation with feminist resistance emerging in different locations, feminisms may continually reassess and resituate their opposition to white supremacy; they may reassess and disrupt their own foundational premises and oppressive practices; they may through mobilization stir up energies necessary to reconceive democratic freedom and its subjects.



For their assistance, I thank especially Daniel Cooper Alarcón, John Collins, Michael Healy, Bruce Levy, Carol Mason, Paula Rabinowitz, Marty Roth. The Trotter Institute prepared an early report on Wells and Cooper. I gratefully acknowledge feedback by James Jennings, Gemima Remy, Muriel Ridley, Regina Rodriguez-Mitchell and anonymous reviewers for Genders.


  1.  Anna Julia Cooper, “Woman versus the Indian,” A Voice From the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 86-7.
  2.  On social Darwinist and civilizationist contexts, see Hazel V. Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Morrow, 1984); Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Random, 1981); Claudia Tate, Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine’s Text at the Turn of the Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
  3. Carole McCann, “Gender, Race, Nation and the Foundations of Demography”; Alexandra Stern, “No Space for Error: Standardized Testing, Governmentality, and Normalcy across a Century of Eugenics”; and Carol Mason, “Eugenic Implications of Pro-Life Novels,” at the American Studies Association Conference, Seattle, Washington, 20 November 1998. See also Lennard Davis,Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (New York: Verso, 1995).
  4. On codes of bourgeois civility in Europe and Americas, see Ann Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s ‘History of Sexuality’ and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 7-8. For degeneracy as a mobile discourse see Stoler, 32; for sex as a national threat, Stoler, 35. The discussion is indebted to Nancy Leys Stepan, ‘The Hour of Eugenics’: Race, Gender and Nation in Latin America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991); Edward J. Larson, Sex, Race and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1995), 72-73; Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (New York: Knopf, 1985); Linda Gordon, “The Politics of Population: Birth Control and the Eugenics Movement,” Radical America 8, no. 4 (1974): 61- 97; Angela Davis, Woman Race and Class (New York: Random, 1981); Marouf Arif Hasian, Jr. The Rhetoric of Eugenics in Anglo-American Thought (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996).
  5. DuBois then Crummel quoted in Kevin Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 121; 127. Chesnutt quoted in John Nickel, “Pauline Hopkins and Eugenics at the Turn of the Century,” American Transcendental Quarterly; forthcoming.
  6. Gaines, Uplifting the Race, 120-122. On the Women’s Era club see Emilie Townes, Womanist Hope, Womanist Justice (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 96. Burroughs is quoted in Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham,Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 203.
  7.  Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) and Jean Fagan Yellin, Women and Sisters: The Anti-Slavery Feminists in American Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
  8. Victoria Claflin Woodhull, “Tried as By Fire; Or, the True and the False,” The Victoria Woodhull Reader, ed. Madeleine B. Sterne (Weston, Mass.: M & S Press, 1974), 7. Further references to this lecture will be included parenthetically in the text.
  9. See Louise Michele Newman, White Women’s Rights: The Racial Origins of Feminism in the United States(New York: Oxford University Press), 49-51.
  10. 1See “Tried as by Fire,” “Stirpiculture, or the Scientific Propagation of the Human Race,” and “The Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit,” in The Victoria Woodhull Reader, ed. Madeleine B. Sterne (Weston, Mass.: M & S Press, 1974).
  11. On Woodhull’s party, see Lois Beachy Underhill, The Woman Who Ran For President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull(Bridgehampton, N.Y.: Bridgeworks Publishing, 1995), 161-8; on Douglass see 200-19.
  12. On Willard’s career and the WCTU, see Ruth Bordin, Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990); departments are discussed on 97-98.
  13. On the Journal of Heredity, see Mark H. Haller, Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1984), 31. On the color white, see Frances Willard, “How to Win,” in The Ideal of the “New Woman” According to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, ed. Carolyn De Swarte Gifford (New York: Garland, 1987), 5. Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (New York: Penguin, 1982).
  14. Bordin cites the first “New Chivalry” speech in Woman and Temperance, 110. On new abolition, see Frances Willard, “Do Everything: A Handbook for the World’s White Ribboners,” in The Ideal of the “New Woman” According to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, ed. Carolyn De Swarte Gifford (New York: Garland, 1987), 101.
  15. See Bordin, Woman and Temperance, 56-7 for Willard’s Home Protection Ballot. Willard’s 1890 interview with the New York Voiceis quoted in Ida B. Wells-Barnett, “A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894,” On Lynchings: Southern Horrors, A Red Record, Mob Rule in New Orleans (New York: Arno Press, 1969), 82-84; for “snowy genius,” see Willard, “Do Everything,” 41.
  16. On Willard and Wells, see Simone W. Davis, “The ‘Weak Race’ and the Winchester: Political Voices in the Pamphlets of Ida B. Wells-Barnett,” Legacy 12, no. 2 (1995):77-97; Emilie Townes,Womanist Hope, Womanist Justice (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993); Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History (New York: Verso, 1992). Frances Willard, “Draw No Color Line,” Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, 17 November 1894, 5. For Wells’ response see Wells, “A Red Record,” 58-59.
  17. Cooper, Voice From the South, 33; on rape, 25. Hereafter references to this work will be included parenthetically in the text.
  18. See Newman, White Women’s Rights, 51, and Gaines,Uplifting the Race, 135.
  19. Gaines, Uplifting the Race, 148.
  20. Richard Dugdale, The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, and Heredity, 4th ed.(New York: Putnam, 1910).
  21. Garland E. Allen, “The Genetic Fix: The Social Origins of Genetic Determinism,” Challenging Racism and Sexism: Alternatives to Genetic Explanations, ed. Ethel Tobach and Betty Rosoff (New York: The Feminist Press, 1994), 177-180.
  22. Gaines, Uplifting the Race, 128-151, discusses her nativism and anti-labor sentiment.
  23. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells: An Intimate Portrait of the Activist as a Young Woman, ed. Miriam DeCosta-Willis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 180-2.
  24. Wells, Memphis Diary, 132.
  25. See Angela Davis, Woman Race and Class (New York: Random, 1981); Simone Davis, “The ‘Weak’ Race,” 83-96; Robyn Weigman, “The Anatomy of Lynching,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3, no. 3 (1993): 445-469. For the intersection of economic and sexual factors in Wells, see Hazel V. Carby,Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 107-120.
  26. Quoted in Mildred Thompson, Ida B. Wells-Barnett: An Exploratory Study of an American Black Woman 1893-1930(Brooklyn: Carlson, 1990), 267-269.
  27. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, ed. Alfreda M. Duster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 70.
  28. For “civilized/savage” rhetoric, see Simone Davis, “The ‘Weak’ Race,” 83-96; Joanne M. Braxton, “Crusader for Justice: Ida B. Wells,” in African American Autobiography, ed. William L. Andrews (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1993), 90-112; Gail Bederman, “‘Civilization,’ the Decline of Middle-Class Manliness, and the Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-94,” Radical History Review 52 (1992):15-30. Quoted material is in Wells-Barnett, “Southern Horrors,” On Lynchings: Southern Horrors, A Red Record, Mob Rule in New Orleans (New York: Arno Press, 1969), 28. Emphasis mine. Strategies for economic retaliation are discussed in Thompson Wells-Barnett, 180-81, 186; Wells, “Southern Horrors,” 22-24; Wells, Crusade, 63.
  29. Quoted in Thompson, Wells-Barnett, 166-67. Kevin Gaines, “Black Americans’ Racial Uplift Ideology as Civilizing Mission: Pauline E. Hopkins on Race and Imperialism,” in Cultures of United States Imperialism, ed. Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 442.
  30. Wells, Crusade, 108-9. Emphasis mine.
  31. Wells, Crusade, 358.
  32. Quoted in Thompson, Wells-Barnett, 84.
  33. On the Alpha Club, Wells, Crusade, 345-6; Thompson, Wells-Barnett,160; On the state house visit, Wells,Crusade, 362; 360. Emphasis mine.
  34. Wells, Crusade, 81.
  35. See Larson, Sex, Race and Science, 73-84.
  36. See Dorothy E. Roberts, “Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality, and the Right of Privacy,”Harvard Law Review 104, no. 7 (1991): 1419-1482; Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, “Reproductive Laws, Women of Color, and Low-Income Women,” in Reproductive Laws for the 1990s, eds. Sherrill Cohen and Nadine Taub (Clifton, N.J.: Humana Press, 1989), 46; Jacqui Alexander, “Mobilizing Against the State and International ‘Aid’ Agencies: ‘Third World’ Women Define Reproductive Freedom,” inFrom Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement, ed. Marlene Gerber Fried (Boston: South End, 1990), 49-62; Stephanie Athey, “Reproductive Health, Race and Technology: Political Fictions and Black Feminist Critiques, 1970s-1990s,” SAGE Race Relations Abstracts 22, no.1 (February 1997): 5-29.
  37. Cooper, A Voice From the South, 32; Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,”Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 65-81.
  38. Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 16-17.
  39. “Original contamination” is borrowed from Pheng Cheah, “Posit(ion)ing Human Rights in the Current Global Conjuncture,”Public Culture 9 (1997): 233-266.
  40. M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Genealogies, Legacies, Movements,” Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures (New York: Routledge, 1997), xxxvi.