Configuring Modernities: New Negro Womanhood in the Nation's Capital, 1890-1940
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a cadre of black women merged the ideals of the "New Woman" and the "New Negro" to configure New Negro Womanhood. For these women, the combining of these two figurations encapsulated the complexity and strivings of black women attempting to achieve racial and gender equality and authorial control of their bodies and aspirations. New Negro women challenged racial and gender inequality and exclusion from participating in contemporaneous political and cultural currents. New Negro women are meaningful in understanding how ideas about black women's political, economic, social and cultural agency challenged New Negro's ideological focus on black men and New Woman's ideological focus on white women. At the core of the New Negro woman ethos was a transformation in how black women thought about the possibility of moving into the public sphere. Black women etched out the parameters of individual and collective aspirations and desires within a modern world in which they were treated as second-class citizens.
My dissertation explores New Negro womanhood in Washington, D.C. The nation's capital functioned as a preeminent site for the realization of African American possibility. The District of Columbia also offered unique opportunities for African American political, civic, social and cultural involvement. More specifically, the city was a fruitful site for the development of African American women's leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity. I use black beauty culture, performance activism, women's suffrage activism, higher education, and black leisure spaces in Washington to examine how black women grappled with and configured ideas about black modernity. Each of these areas provided a distinct context in which African American women in Washington transgressed boundaries of both racial and gender hierarchies and aspired to greater visibility, mobility, and legibility within the modern world. African American women in Washington embraced New Negro Womanhood as a conduit to black modernity.
History, United States
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