OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Marjorie J. Spruill

Portrait of Marjorie J. Spruill

Marjorie J. Spruill is Distinguished Professor Emerita of the University of South Carolina. Her areas of expertise include women's and gender history, American political history, and the history of the US South. Spruill is known for her work on women’s movements in the United States from the woman suffrage movement through the modern feminist and antifeminist movements. For the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, she is publishing a revised and expanded edition of the anthology One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement that she edited to accompany the PBS American Experience film "One Woman, One Vote." Her other works on woman suffrage include New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States (1993); several edited volumes including VOTES FOR WOMEN! The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the South, and the Nation (1995); and new editions of Mary Johnson’s 1913 suffrage novel Hagar, and Doris Stevens’s 1920 book, Jailed for Freedom: The Story of the Militant Woman Suffragist Movement . Spruill’s most recent book, Divided We Stand: The Battle over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics (2017), considers the rise of the modern women's rights movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, the mobilization of social conservatives as the "Pro-Family Movement," and the conflicts between these two movements which contributed to the transformation of American political culture and led to the highly partisan and polarized political culture in the United States from the late 1970s to the present. For this work she received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center, and the Gerald Ford Foundation. Spruill is also co-editor of author of multi-volume anthologies on the Lives and Times of women in Mississippi and South Carolina and a two-volume reader, The South in the History of the Nation. Spruill was a consultant for and appeared in the recent MSNBC documentary “On Account of Sex: The Equal Rights Amendment,” and in Nashville Public Television’s new production, “By One Vote: Woman Suffrage in the South.” She was also a consultant for “Rightfully Hers,” the National Archives exhibit for the suffrage centennial.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

An overview of the woman suffrage movement in the US considering changing leadership and strategies of the movement. I emphasize how a small, regional, and somewhat radical movement that was an outgrowth of the anti-slavery movement developed into a diverse national movement powerful enough to gain the two-thirds vote in Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states necessary for a federal woman suffrage movement to be added to the US Constitution.
Although her book Divided We Stand: The Battle over Women's Rights focuses on the 1970s (and more specifically the effects of the 1977 IWY conferences including the National Women’s Conference), a connection to Trump is clear. It actually serves as “deep background” for the most polarized presidential election in American history which saw the conservative coalition that developed in the late 1970s once again emerge victorious. As it selected Reagan as its nominee in 1980, the GOP also chose to take sides with the pro-family movement, the conservative women’s movement that emerged in the 1970s in opposition to feminism, and to abandon its support for the women’s rights movement. Since 1980, as the Democratic Party became even more firmly identified with the women’s movement, minority rights, and LGBT rights, the Republican Party became even more identified with the pro-family movement – which had given rise to the Christian Right -- and dependent on these inter-related movements. Effort by Republican feminists to get their party to return to previous support for women’s rights including reproductive freedom failed, as Phyllis Schlafly and her allies in the New Right became even more powerful. The book contains an epilogue covering 1980 through the 2016 election which shows the importance of women and women’s issues as American political culture became even more deeply polarized and bitterly partisan, as issues laden with religious and moral significance reached the forefront of political debates and moderation and compromise were devalued. Among other things Spruill argues: though pundits emphasize male support for him, Trump largely owes his nomination to Schlafly who was an early and avid endorser (causing a coup among Eagle Forum board members who wanted Cruz) and his election to Kelly Anne Conway who was able to control him near the end to the extent that more Republicans including Republican women could support him.
A discussion of the woman suffrage movement in the part of the US where the movement began latest, encountered the greatest resistance, and gained the fewest victories. It emphasizes the problems suffragists in the region encountered based on traditional southern assumptions about gender roles, combined with white conservatives' devotion to white supremacy and state's rights. It also places the southern suffrage movement within the context of the national suffrage movement.