Women's "positive patriotic duty" to participate: the practice of female citizenship in Oregon and the expanding surveillance state during the First World War and its aftermath

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Author: Kimberly Jensen
Date: June 22, 2017
From: Oregon Historical Quarterly(Vol. 118, Issue 2)
Publisher: Oregon Historical Society
Document Type: Article
Length: 15,816 words
Lexile Measure: 1690L

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DURING THE UNITED STATES' participation in the First World War from 1917 to 1918 and in the war's aftermath, many Oregon women made active claims to citizenship and belonging in the state and nation. Most did so as voting citizens, but now also with new obligations of wartime citizenship defined by national and local officials as patriotic and loyal womanhood and 100% Americanism, what Oregon Governor James Withycombe called women's "positive patriotic duty." Women's actions took place in an emerging surveillance state that included new strategies for scrutiny. Wartime legislation, particularly the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act limiting free speech and press, crossed the lines of civil-liberties protections and criminalized dissent. Thousands of women in the state participated in the visible civic pageantry of parades and Liberty Loan drives and organized philanthropic war-related campaigns. Members of ethnic and immigrant communities and communities of color wrestled with the constraints of racism and 100% Americanism while attending to the imperatives, but also the possibilities, of wartime citizenship. Women resisted in a variety of ways. Some closed their doors to canvassers at the risk of being reported. Portland librarian M. Louise Hunt proclaimed her civil liberty to refuse to purchase a Liberty Bond, at the cost of her position and reputation. Dr. Marie Equi was sentenced to San Quentin for her critique of the war but also for engaging in same-sex relationships.

Oregon women were navigating the challenging civic waters that historians are trying to understand as we come to terms with the meaning of the First World War and its impact on the history of women, citizenship, and activism. Christopher Capozzola emphasizes the demands that local and national leaders placed on women to take on war work in what he terms "coercive voluntarism." (1) We cannot overstate the pressures on women to conform to wartime norms, enforced by legislation and national and local actors, particularly in the context of repressive wartime legislation. But with this in mind we can also understand that many women saw wartime as an opportunity to enhance and showcase their organized work, what Lynn Dumenil calls the "second line of defense" in support of the war effort. (2) To examine this complicated, multi-layered history with women's citizenship in mind, we must consider women positioned in different places in relation to these processes and goals. (3)

A close study of women civilians on the Oregon homefront with a focus on wartime Liberty Loan drives, other patriotic pageantry and fund-raising, and Portland's postwar "Survey of the Foreign-Born" demonstrates that Oregon women were active in shaping their responses to the new imperatives of wartime citizenship. Some Oregon women used products of the surveillance state, such as surveys and house-to-house canvassing, to investigate and police other women citizens and residents in an effort to claim a more complete citizenship. Some women resisted these programs and policing, and others reshaped them to suit their own goals.

During the war years and after, wartime fears and concerns of middle-class and elite,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A499696065