Where Movements Meet: From the War on Poverty to Grassroots Feminism in the Appalachian South Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Wilkerson, Jessica
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation traces the alliances forged and the grassroots movements led by women in the Appalachian South in the 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on eastern Kentucky. With a wide variety of sources, including oral history interviews, archival film footage, memorabilia, local and underground publications, and manuscript collections, it shows how women shaped the federal War on Poverty in Appalachia and then used the skills they learned in antipoverty programs to foster social justice activism that continued in the 1970s and beyond. Women in Appalachia, who have seldom been seen as actors in the movements of the 1960s, were key leaders and foot soldiers in what contemporaries called the Appalachian Movement, which intersected with civil rights organizations and had its roots in the War on Poverty. Rural, poor and working-class women helped to shape debates about welfare rights, women's rights, and labor justice in the 1960s and 1970s, connecting white and black women, insiders and outsiders, to form a robust, interracial, intergenerational, and region-wide movement. This dissertation makes two major contributions to the study of post-1945 America. First, by exploring how rural, poor, and working-class women in Appalachia--a virtually invisible group in U.S. history--organized in behalf of welfare rights, women's rights, and economic justice, it shows that the battle over welfare and rights in twentieth-century America was more diverse than popular narratives assume. Second, it challenges our narrow understanding of the modern women's movement in the United States by accounting for the gender-conscious activism of working-class and poor women. Women in Appalachia built a movement that reflected the concerns of second-wave feminism and, at the same time, drew upon local traditions and addressed the particular experiences of women in Appalachia.
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  • In Copyright
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2014

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