Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Willis Goudy


This dissertation examines the community-building work of women in one small, rural upper midwestern town, Parkville. From 1980 to 1982, sixty-four people, fifty-nine women and five men were selected through snowball sampling and interviewed in-depth. Fifty-five of these women were Parkville residents;This study draws upon the sociology of community, political sociology, and feminist theory in order to explicate the experience and contributions of small town women. Examined were the voluntary community work that women do in all-female organizations and auxiliaries and the social attachments that inspire this work;The findings reveal that the work women do in preserving and transforming small town communities is largely invisible. This community-based work not only creates, maintains, and transforms community organizations and institutions, but it also builds, preserves, and reshapes the social ties and relationships so essential to the everyday reproduction of community. The work women do to make community requires technical, leadership, and social skills along with attention to the creation of organized relationship structures;In Parkville, women's organizational work is essential to reproduce local politics, yet women are nearly completely excluded from official elected and appointed positions in the town. Women's sense of political efficacy is challenged by Parkville's "town father" orientation, women's traditional gender socialization and role constraints, and a realistic sense that local political positions and agendas are designed for and by males. Yet, through their work to reproduce the household and the community, many women have developed a distinct type of leadership in their roles as centerwomen--the centers and sustainers of essential social ties and networks;An examination of the Parkville respondents' attitudes towards female equality and the women's movement revealed that the women of Parkville did not reject equality, but they did reject feminist strategies of political equality that exclude community. Parkville women did, at times, inititate changes that challenged traditional gender relations. Furthermore, a close examination of these local struggles revealed the significance and the interconnections among certain key concepts: the ethic of care, centerwomen and co-active power, and modest struggles, and the necessity for the development of a distinct theoretical perspective--a politics of relationship.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Susan J. Stall



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

275 pages