The best books for understanding how gender has shaped the history of citizenship in the United States

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian with a PhD in history from American University. My research has focused on the changing nature of U.S. citizenship after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In particular, my newly released book, Gendered Citizenship, sheds light on the competing civic ideologies embedded in the original conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from the 1920s through the 1960s. My research has won recognition through several grants and fellowships and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, History News Network, New America Weekly, Gender on the Ballot, and Frontiers


I wrote...

Gendered Citizenship: The Original Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment, 1920-1963

By Rebecca DeWolf,

Book cover of Gendered Citizenship: The Original Conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment, 1920-1963

What is my book about?

By engaging deeply with United States’ legal and political history, Gendered Citizenship illuminates the ideological contours of the original ERA conflict. Through an extensive examination of almost-forty different archival collections, several court cases, and a multitude of government documents, Gendered Citizenship unearths the array of both men and women who participated in the original conflict. In the process, Gendered Citizenship takes the struggle over the ERA in an entirely new direction.

Rather than focusing on the familiar theme of why the ERA failed to gain enactment, Gendered Citizenship explores how the debates over the ERA transcended traditional political divides in the early to mid-twentieth century and ultimately redefined the concept of citizenship in the United States.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

Rebecca DeWolf Why did I love this book?

Linda Kerber’s No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies offers a fantastic insight into the maleness of rights-bearing citizenship embedded within the United States legal tradition. As Kerber demonstrates, the notion that women were incapable of performing certain civic obligations formed a central reason for why early U.S. political and legal authorities had excluded women from certain rights of citizenship. I found Kerber’s study especially helpful for dissecting the history of the common law tradition of domestic relations, or the doctrine known as coverture. As I discuss in the first chapters of my own book, and as Kerber brilliantly illustrates in No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies, the doctrine of coverture deprived women of having self-ownership over their own bodies, which led to intense restrictions on women’s opportunities and their overall civic autonomy. 

By Linda K. Kerber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This pioneering study redefines women's history in the United States by focusing on civic obligations rather than rights. Looking closely at thirty telling cases from the pages of American legal history, Kerber's analysis reaches from the Revolution, when married women did not have the same obligation as their husbands to be "patriots," up to the present, when men and women, regardless of their marital status, still have different obligations to serve in the Armed Forces.

An original and compelling consideration of American law and culture, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies emphasizes the dangers of excluding women from other civic…


Book cover of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation

Rebecca DeWolf Why did I love this book?

In Public Vows, Nancy Cott explores how the history of marriage in the United States reflects the creation of a very public and political institution. As Cott shows, in the early years of the United States, the common law doctrine of coverture allowed white men to hold a monopoly over the country’s civil and political institutions. For Cott, marriage has always been a public institution with political implications. As Cott explains, the political undercurrents and legal aspects of marriage have often allowed men to have control over women in law and in custom. Cott’s study was a vital component for my own work as her analysis helped me to better understand how the early U.S. legal system privileged husbands and fathers over wives and daughters with regard to property, earnings, contracting, and guardianship rights. 

By Nancy F. Cott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Public Vows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We commonly think of marriage as a private matter between two people, a personal expression of love and commitment. In this pioneering history, Nancy F. Cott demonstrates that marriage is and always has been a public institution.

From the founding of the United States to the present day, imperatives about the necessity of marriage and its proper form have been deeply embedded in national policy, law, and political rhetoric. Legislators and judges have envisioned and enforced their preferred model of consensual, lifelong monogamy--a model derived from Christian tenets and the English common law that posits the husband as provider and…


Book cover of A Republic of Men: The American Founders, Gendered Language, and Patriarchal Politics

Rebecca DeWolf Why did I love this book?

While other scholars have focused on how various definitions of womanhood influenced the formation of the United States’ political and legal systems, Mark Kann pays closer attention to how perceptions of manhood shaped the creation of the U.S. during the early republic. In A Republic of Men, Kann contends that the U.S.’s founders sought to establish a republic based on male authority and female subordination. During the early years of the republic, as Kann describes it, political and legal authorities connected white men to productivity and reason while linking all women to inherent weakness and dependency. I found Kann’s book especially helpful for understanding how American political and legal authorities sought to institutionalize rights and privilege for white men only. 

By Mark E. Kann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Republic of Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What role did manhood play in early American Politics? In A Republic of Men, Mark E. Kann argues that the American founders aspired to create a "republic of men" but feared that "disorderly men" threatened its birth, health, and longevity. Kann demonstrates how hegemonic norms of manhood-exemplified by "the Family Man," for instance--were deployed as a means of stigmatizing unworthy men, rewarding responsible men with citizenship, and empowering exceptional men with positions of leadership and authority, while excluding women from public life.
Kann suggests that the founders committed themselves in theory to the democratic proposition that all men were created…


Book cover of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America

Rebecca DeWolf Why did I love this book?

Alice Kessler-Harris’s In Pursuit of Equity is an essential book for anyone who is interested in studying how gendered ideas have shaped the history of rights and citizenship in the United States. As Harris reveals, for much of the U.S.’s history, men were defined as the primary rights-bearing citizens in U.S. society while women were defined as family members who were in need of extra-legal supervision and protection. This contrast has not only created stark differences in how the government and laws have treated men and women citizens, but it has also created striking limitations on women’s range of choices for how to participate in public life. Harris’s book first opened my eyes to the various ways our assumptions about gender have influenced men and women’s social roles as well as impacting the very concept of rights and citizenship in the United States. 

By Alice Kessler-Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Pursuit of Equity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this volume, Alice Kessler-Harris explores the transformation of some of the United States' most significant social policies. Tracing changing ideals of fairness from the 1920s to the 1970s, she shows how a deeply embedded set of beliefs, or "gendered imagination" shaped seemingly neutral social legislation to limit the freedom and equality of women. Law and custom generally sought to protect women from exploitation, and sometimes from employment itself; but at
the same time, they assigned the most important benefits to wage work. Most policy makers (even female ones) assumed from the beginning that women would not be breadwinners. Kessler-Harris…


Book cover of Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor

Rebecca DeWolf Why did I love this book?

In Unequal Freedom, Nakano Glenn provides a brilliant analysis of how the multiple axes of power relations, including race, gender, and labor, have shaped the terms of citizenship in the United States. In the process, Glenn unpacks how the history of the concept of citizenship is a powerful tool for understanding the various ways power dynamics have influenced the terms of belonging to a national community. Glenn’s book is an inspiring study that has pushed me to think more deeply about the notion of citizenship and to understand that the concept of citizenship involves more than just indicating one’s nationality status. As Glenn shows, citizenship denotes a system of deeply entrenched boundaries that have determined not only who is allowed to be a member of a certain community, but also who is allowed to be an active participant in governing that community. 

By Evelyn Nakano Glenn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Unequal Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inequalities that persist in America have deep historical roots. Evelyn Nakano Glenn untangles this complex history in a unique comparative regional study from the end of Reconstruction to the eve of World War II. During this era the country experienced enormous social and economic changes with the abolition of slavery, rapid territorial expansion, and massive immigration, and struggled over the meaning of free labor and the essence of citizenship as people who previously had been excluded sought the promise of economic freedom and full political rights.

After a lucid overview of the concepts of the free worker and the…


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Book cover of Return to Hope Creek

Alyssa J. Montgomery Author Of A Spanish Seduction

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Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Australian USA Today bestselling romance author who writes contemporary romance and uses the pen name Alyssa James to write medieval romance. I think the makeover trope resonates with me because although I’m no beauty queen now, I was definitely an ugly duckling in my teens. For reasons best known to him, my father insisted on close-cropped hair, and financial circumstances dictated out-of-style hand-me-down clothing. After university, I found my own style, but it wasn’t until I was accepted as an international flight attendant that I believed that I couldn’t be all that ugly if Qantas employed me!

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What is my book about?

Return to Hope Creek is a second-chance rural romance set in Australia.

Stella Simpson's career and engagement are over. She returns to the rural community of Hope Creek to heal, unaware her high school and college sweetheart, Mitchell Scott, has also moved back to town to do some healing of his own.

Mitchell, a former NFL quarterback, doesn't need the complication of encountering Stella again so long after the messy end to their relationship, but as each tries to build a new life, they are drawn together and find their chemistry is just as strong as ever.

Will their love be stronger the second time around?

Return to Hope Creek

By Alyssa J. Montgomery,

What is this book about?

When two old flames come back to their home town, sparks are bound to ignite. A rural romance from USA Today bestselling author Alyssa J. Montgomery.


A horrific car accident ended former world number-one Stella Simpson’s tennis career, and a betrayal ended her relationship with her fiancé/coach. When a family friend offers to sell her half of a property in the rural community where she grew up, it seems like the perfect place to escape, heal and begin the next phase of her life. Until she discovers that the man who broke her heart ten years ago has bought the…


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