Review of "Making Waves: Female Activists in Twentieth-Century Florida"

The historical essays contained in Making Waves: Female Activists in Twentieth-Century Florida illustrate a wide variety of female political praxis. While it is not until the final essay by Giardina that the phrase “the personal is the political” makes an appearance, all of the essays within show how the reconceptualization of the arena of women’s activity as a result of the Women’s Voting Act and changing social mores helped to alter Florida’s environment, polis and oikos in various ways. Working class women engaged in unionization activities, benefitted from paternalistic education while more financially secure middle-class women facilitated the growth of clubs that would provide skills and networks valuable for political leadership. Nominally independent women, such as the Marjories, were able to use their career paths as a position from which to advocate reform or the conservation of nature that would be lost due to short term logic of capitalist development.

One essay which addresses the role of working-class women is Rieff’s article Home Demonstration and Rural Reform. The author shows how it is that the federal government sought to demonstrate better practices of home economics through extension classes and minimal investments in canning machinery, to thus allow the continuation of existent capitalist practices by increasing the capacity for workers to reproduce. Class was, as always, informed by race and the ever-marginalized black population didn’t receive equivalent amounts of government funding. In the account of Tampa cigar industry workers, female retirees fighting against Air Pollution in areas affected by extractive and refining industries and Civil Rights Activists in northern Florida there is also evidence of the extension of the “women’s sphere” into the larger body politics. Women’s lacking access to land struck so that their pay would be of such a level that they were not forced into relationships with men simply to be able to live and in order to obtain increased power in the housing and food market.

They sought the restriction of industry such that their housing investments wouldn’t be destroyed by industry externalization, that their rights following the nullification of the separate but equal ruling would be enforced and that the inheritance of slum-conditions be ameliorated to better black communities. As the essays show, women resisted the limitation of their roles within the nexus of increased market exchange by striking, pleaing to local, state and national government and, if their council was not sufficiently listened to, entering into legally protagonistic relationships with them as well. As the cases of Elizabeth Virrick and Ruth Owen shows, once mobilized and able to find a constituency that was able to financially and morally support them, the women were subject to judicial contests. Owen was able to be seated as Florida’s first Congresswomen and Virrick was able to effect slum clearance, however this was not accomplished without entrance into the legal areana.