Graduate Review


This paper examines how middle-class and upper-class women of Berkeley, California harnessed their already-established roles as community organizers and leaders to support the United States Government and their efforts in World War I. These women used the imposed limitations of their role as domestic protector in order to change the scope of their sphere from private to public, and assert their political voice by highlighting their reciprocal relationship with the federal government. In their founding document, the Mobilized Women of Berkeley state that “All of the 151 women’s organizations of Berkeley are willing to give their sons, husbands and brothers to do the bidding of the government and die if necessary in the cause of democracy, but in return demand that the government protect these young men while in its own training camps against organized vice and the saloon. We believe the honor of the home as important as the honor of the flag.” This document, and the other club records of the Mobilized Women of Berkeley, illustrate the vigor with which these women focused their energies and engaged their communities to support a wide variety of programs, work with the Red Cross, and generate volunteer time and funds to prove their worth as citizens, remarkable during when the government had not granted them the full rights of citizenship.

The first part of this examination will focus on the mobilization of women at a national level, delving into how President Wilson drafted the leadership of the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense to act as outreach to the powerful resource that was American women. The second part of this paper examines how that organizational blueprint was enacted on a local level in the city of Berkeley, California. Both of these examples will highlight how these privileged women used their status, education, competency, and time to harness a network of volunteers and implement a range of programs on behalf of the government and, in turn, made demands on the administration to assert their political agendas. While these documents and the club’s efforts never touch on the women’s suffrage issue, they amply illustrate the formidable power that they were able to wield in their communities and the attention and respect they demanded from the men holding political office.



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