Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg


During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Progressive reform radically reshaped the nature of politics and political activism. It reinvigorated debates about the role of the state in the home and family, revealing new conversations about women and their rights. In this study, one Progressive reform, woman suffrage, intersects with conceptions of women as political activists and potential feminists. In particular, this project examines woman suffrage in a local and comparative context, assessing the cause in three counties in three states--Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota--in the Midwest. By employing this innovative framework, in which "place" and "locality" matter, this study argues that most people in the rural Midwest experienced Progressive reforms like woman suffrage through their local communities. As this project reveals, Progressivism took neither a unified nor continuous form. Instead, it was haphazard and sporadic, depending on the whims of people who engaged with the movement on their own terms and in their own ways.

In addition to reexamining the nature of Progressivism, this study also repositions the analysis of feminism among groups of women who exhibited feminist behavior without claiming the label. For these rural women, their activism came from their mutual positions on the farm, in the family, and within their communities. This project, then, analyzes the actions of rural women by redefining the term feminism to include their properly contextualized political and public behaviors. Although most rural women did not become outright suffragists, they did actively interact with the cause, both individually and collectively, for their own reasons and motivations. In the process, these rural women became political actors who engaged in feminist behaviors for the advancement of their family and community interests.


Copyright Owner

Sara Egge



Date Available


File Format


File Size

316 pages