Reading Post

The image is from the 1893 World’s Fair and shows the interior of the Woman’s Building.
Obtained through from the Field Museum Library


I was very excited about the piece from Judy Yung, “The Social Awakening of Chinese American Women” because of my previous course in Gender in Chinese History with Professor Fernsebner. I can see the connection she is making between China’s transformation and Chinese American women, but I wish she made more of it. I can see where the opinions on footbinding, education, women’s rights, etc. move into the minds of Chinese American women through the movement happening in China rather than the movements in the United States. The movement in China would have been more appealing, too, I’m sure. Although the process occurred later in China, it happened quicker in my opinion. Also, the women’s movement in the United States would not have been focused on anything that Chinese American women were troubled by. This relationship with the mostly white women’s movement seems to parallel the issues black women faced as well.

I was also struck by one of the primary sources: the speech The Fair Women, Chicago, 1893 by Bertha Palmer. The introduction warns that this speech style is common during the time, but I still felt surprise when I read some of the things she said. My first thought when reading this, though, was the audience. Were there men in the audience or did she speak to a strictly female crowd given that it was the opening ceremony for the Woman’s Building. I feel that changes some of the tone depending on who was in the audience. For actual content, her bold statements about the abilities of women were empowering, even for me over a hundred years later. I can just imagine the pride women had for their work in the building during the World’s Fair despite the prejudice they experienced for being there.

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