Feminist Frontiers: Women Who Shaped the Midwest

Yvonne Johnson, ed.

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This collection of eleven biographical essays highlights women leaders in the Midwest who challenged gender, racial, class, and ethnic boundaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


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Women’s stories are noticeably absent from the master narrative of the Populist and Progressive movements, where their struggle for civil rights was more evident in the Midwest than any other region in the country. This collection of eleven biographical essays highlights women leaders in the Midwest who challenged gender, racial, class, and ethnic boundaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Not only were these midwestern women powerful orators and active leaders, they were influential in shaping the culture in their communities.

These pioneering women include Amanda Berry Smith and Carry Nation who helped lay the groundwork for the Progressive Era, Esther Twente who helped develop higher education, Elfrieda von Rohr, Mary Sibley, and Linda Slaughter whose religious affiliations gave them leadership opportunities for political and social influence, Frances Dana Gage who contributed to women’s rights and temperance issues, Marietta Bones who championed the women’s suffrage movement, Alice Moore French who was American War Mothers founder and first president, socialist Genora Dollinger who spoke out for quality of life and rights in organizing a strike at a General Motors plant, and Harriett Friedman Woods who held various state political offices and a national office.

The biographical essays in this collection provide much new information about women political and social reformers in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Midwest. Feminist Frontiers is a welcome addition to the literature of midwestern history and is valuable reading for anyone interested in the study of U.S. women’s history at the state, local, and regional levels.

—Kathy Jellison, Ohio University



Frances Dana Gage
“Turning the World Upside Down”: Jeffrey E. Smith

Mary Sibley
Genteel Reformer: Mary Ellen Rowe

Amanda Berry Smith
Pioneer for African American Child Care: Marcia Chatelaine

Linda Warfel Slaughter
Cultural Education in North Dakota: Barbara Handy-Marchello

Marietta Bones
Personality and Politics in the South Dakota Suffrage Movement: Nancy Tystad Koupal

Carry Nation
The Kansas Cyclone: Patricia Ashman

Alice French
Indiana War Mothers: From World War I “Kitchen Soldiers” to Postwar Immigrant Reformers: Elizabeth Cafer du Plessis

Efrieda von Rohr Sauer
A Life Reinterpreted: Carol Piper Heming

Esther Twente
Community Builder: Maureen Wilt

Genora Dollinger
A Revolutionary from Michigan: Carlton Jackson

Harriett Friedman Woods
From Midwest Politics to National Power: Yvonne J. Johnson and Shari Bax


Yvonne J. Johnson is professor of history emerita at University of Central Missouri, where she was coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program. She is currently dean of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences at St. Louis Community College–Meramec. She earned her PhD in history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is the author of The Voices of African American Women: The Use of Narrative and Authorial Voice in the Works of Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neal Hurston, and Alice Walker, and co-editor of a British American Reader, and has written many articles and entries. She received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2004), the Byler Distinguished Faculty Award (2006), and in 2007, she received a Fulbright Teaching Award to Envila Women’s Institute in Minsk, Belarus.


This well-researched and nicely referenced scholarly work is exceptionally readable, making it appropriate for both lay and academic readers. In particular, its chronological organization makes it an entirely appropriate companion for undergraduate survey classes focusing on the history either of American women or of the Midwest. Its content would…provoke a critical reevaluation of the accepted narrative of American feminism.

South Dakota History, Summer 2010

Feminist Frontiers: Women Who Shaped the Midwest is an anthology of eleven biographical essays by learned authors, describing the lives of notable pioneering women and the foundation they laid for the societal reforms of the progressive movement. From Alice Moore French, founder of American War Mothers, to Frances Dana Gage and her work for the causes of women's rights and temperance, to socialist Genoa Dollinger who held firm beliefs about human rights and organized a strike at a General Motors plant, Feminist Frontiers offers an excellent series of character portraits and is an invaluable supplement to college library women's history and women's studies shelves.

Midwest Book Review

This volume introduces many lesser-known women into the historical landscape of the Midwest, and Johnson’s call for more research on how women shaped the social, political, and educational culture of the region is well merited.

Indiana Magazine of History, Sept. 2010

This [volume] gives students an appreciation for the diversity of roles women created for themselves in a region with a reputation for religious and social conservatism. Recommended. Undergraduate and general collections.

CHOICE, December 2010, Vol. 48 No. 04