Drawing on original research, Kristin A. Goss examines how women's civic place has changed over the span of more than 120 years, how public policy has driven these changes, and why these changes matter for women and American democracy. Suffrage, which granted women the right to vote and invited their democratic participation, provided a dual platform for the expansion of women's policy agendas. As measured by women's groups' appearances before the U.S. Congress, women's collective political engagement continued to grow between 1920 and 1960—when many conventional accounts claim it declined—and declined after 1980, when it might have been expected to grow. This waxing and waning was accompanied by major shifts in issue agendas, from broad public interests to narrow feminist interests.
Goss suggests that ascriptive differences are not necessarily barriers to disadvantaged groups' capacity to be heard; that enhanced political inclusion does not necessarily lead to greater collective engagement; and that rights movements do not necessarily constitute the best way to understand the political participation of marginalized groups. She asks what women have gained—and perhaps lost—through expanded incorporation as well as whether single-sex organizations continue to matter in 21st-century America.
"This book is a major work of scholarship and contains many important arguments and findings, a few of which stand out as particularly significant and original contributions that turn conventional wisdom and extant research on their heads. . . . The arguments are ambitious and provocative and will stimulate much debate among scholars as well as among feminists outside the academy."
—Dara Strolovitch, University of Minnesota
"Goss argues convincingly that the equality versus difference debate that long characterized much of the literature on women's appropriate political role is much more productively understood by blending the two into a model of women's civic place."
—Anne N. Costain, University of Colorado at Boulder
"This promises to be a remarkably important contribution to a wide range of fields in political science, women's studies, American history, and policy studies. It challenges conventional wisdom on the basis of an original and unique data set. The book's combination of intellectual analysis and data innovation sets it apart from all other studies of women's social movements and policy advocacy of which I am aware. It is breathtaking in its scope and depth. It is sure to be a defining work upon which others will build their research programs."
—Eileen McDonagh, Northeastern University