Signs Special Issue: Rethinking “First Wave” Feminisms

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society
contact email: 

Over the past several decades, scholarship in a variety of disciplines has challenged the “wave” model of feminism. Inspired by the 2020 centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, this special issue seeks to rethink “first wave” feminisms in a heterogeneous and expansive way—by pushing geographic, chronological, and ideological boundaries and by broadening the definition of whom we usually think of as early feminists. While contributions on the Nineteenth Amendment in the United States, and the suffrage movement worldwide, are welcome, we also encourage submissions that consider early manifestations of feminism and feminist movements in broad and global terms. Scholars from all disciplines are encouraged to submit their work.

The editors invite essays that consider questions along but by no means limited to the following lines:

  • How were the era’s signal achievements—the global movement for universal suffrage, international labor legislation for women and children, international human rights, and transnational solidarities around a range of goals—achieved? What compromises were entailed in the legislative accomplishments, and what possibilities did their passage enable? What accomplishments were outside the realm of legislation?
  • In our scholarly and popular retellings, what is celebrated, and what is silenced? Are there historical figures, or events that have been written out of the story, and why?
  • What were the racial politics of the first manifestations of feminism? How do we understand—in light of the intervening history—the compromises and political exigencies that led to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and similar developments worldwide? How do the exclusions of the era help us recognize the exclusions of our own?
  • What were the sexual politics of early feminisms? What role did class- and race-based understandings of respectability play? What role did reproductive rights and justice play?
  • What are the feminist implications of the medical history of the era, notably the movement for birth control, underground abortion networks, and early transgender movements?
  • What were the class politics of early feminisms, and what role did political economy and labor play in feminist thought and activism?
  • How do we understand first-wave feminisms through the frames of the Romantic and modernist turns? How did new literary, visual, and musical representations of women shape (and how were they shaped by) women’s newfound status as public and political actors?
  • How do we understand the long history of feminism in terms of coterminous (and overlapping) movements and developments, including but not limited to war, imperialism, revolution, socialism, migration, urbanization, pandemic, progressivism, abolitionism, Reconstruction, segregation, and fascism—and how does this confluence shed light on the present era?
  • Can we understand early feminisms as media phenomena shaped by (and shaping) the communications and technological developments of their era, notably the telegraph, radio, and the increasing proliferation of print culture? What key texts (including literary texts) articulated important feminist theories and galvanized activism?
  • Finally, how could we understand the initial emergences of feminism and its subsequent history if we rejected the wave metaphor and instead conceive of early feminism—with its limitations and its extraordinary achievements—as a beginning that casts a clear and compelling light on the feminist activism to come?

Signs particularly encourages transdisciplinary and transnational essays that address substantive feminist questions, debates, and controversies without employing disciplinary or academic jargon. We seek essays that are passionate, strongly argued, and willing to take risks.

The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2020. The issue will be guest edited by Susan Ware, general editor of the American National Biography and Honorary Women’s Suffrage Centennial Historian at the Schlesinger Library, and Katherine Marino, assistant professor of history at UCLA.

Please submit full manuscripts electronically through Signs’ Editorial Manager system at http://signs.edmgr.com. Manuscripts must conform to the guidelines for submission available at http://signsjournal.org/for-authors/author-guidelines/.