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Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930

By Patricia A. Schechter

408 pp., 6 x 9, 22 illus., 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4965-1
    Published: September 2001
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7546-9
    Published: January 2003

Gender and American Culture

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Awards & distinctions

2002 Sierra Book Prize, Western Association of Women Historians

Pioneering African American journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) is widely remembered for her courageous antilynching crusade in the 1890s; the full range of her struggles against injustice is not as well known. With this book, Patricia Schechter restores Wells-Barnett to her central, if embattled, place in the early reform movements for civil rights, women's suffrage, and Progressivism in the United States and abroad. Schechter's comprehensive treatment makes vivid the scope of Wells-Barnett's contributions and examines why the political philosophy and leadership of this extraordinary activist eventually became marginalized.

Though forced into the shadow of black male leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and misunderstood and then ignored by white women reformers such as Frances E. Willard and Jane Addams, Wells-Barnett nevertheless successfully enacted a religiously inspired, female-centered, and intensely political vision of social betterment and empowerment for African American communities throughout her adult years. By analyzing her ideas and activism in fresh sharpness and detail, Schechter exposes the promise and limits of social change by and for black women during an especially violent yet hopeful era in U.S. history.

About the Author

Patricia A. Schechter is assistant professor of history at Portland State University in Oregon.
For more information about Patricia A. Schechter, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Through stunning readings of Wells-Barnett's autobiography . . . and meticulous social history, Schechter not only has produced the best and most serious analysis of this protean figure but also has enriched our understanding of the politics of the body."--Journal of American History

"A provocative study that goes far beyond Wells-Barnett as a leader in the anti-lynching movement. . . . Schechter emphasizes the importance of religious faith and religious institutions in all aspects of Wells-Barnett's career. . . . Perhaps the most interesting part of this fascinating book is Schechter's careful analysis and deconstruction of Wells-Barnett's autobiography, unfinished and unpublished during her lifetime."--American Historical Review

"A challenging account of Ida B. Wells-Barnett that emphasizes her role in social reform and race relations. This historical biography of Wells-Barnett's accomplishments and frustrations provides new perspectives on the 'age of reform' in the United States, and it does so without romanticizing the era."--Journal of Southern History

"The research Patricia Schechter exhibits in this book--academically first-rate, readable nonetheless for nonacademic audiences--has no business going unread, unrecognized. Her book is henceforth a benchmark in Wells studies."--Memphis

"Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880-1930 is more than a simple biography. It is a multilayered exposé of a society molded by racism, a people saddled with sexism, and one woman's public and private struggle with both."--Deborah Gray White, author of Too Heavy a Load: African American Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994

"So profound and insightful are Schechter's analyses of the interwoven dynamics of race and gender both in Wells-Barnett's innovative critiques of lynching and in underlying gender assumptions about African American leadership that I would assess her work on Wells-Barnett as definitive. . . . The depth of insight and sensitivity of her analyses of black leadership and gender politics are unsurpassed."--Kevin K. Gaines, University of Michigan