Victoria W. Wolcott is a professor of history at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, where she teaches urban, African American, and women's history. She is the author of Remaking Respectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (2001) and Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America (2012). Her current book project, "Living in the Future: The Utopian Strain in the Long Civil Rights Movement," focuses on the emergence of experimental interracial communities in mid-twentieth-century America and their influence on the long civil rights movement. She is also researching the life of African American pacifist and civil rights activist Eroseanna Robinson.
This presentation explores women hunger strikers in twentieth century America, particularly suffragists in the 1910s and radical pacifists in the postwar period. Hunger strikers used their bodies to protest their subordination, and to subvert this tactic the state often force fed the hunger strikers. For many the image of the hunger striker is a gaunt, often Christ-like, man: the Irish nationalist Bobby Sand, or the fasting Gandhi protesting British colonial policies. But, in reality, the modern hunger strike was devised by women who used their bodies in the cause of suffrage. Radical pacifist women engaged in postwar countercultures also deployed the hunger strike in the cause of civil rights and the peace movement. These “unruly women” violated social norms and elevated the role of the body as a tool of resistance.