During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
As a graduate student in the early 2000s I was drawn to women’s history and the Progressive Era. I am forever grateful to scholars like Elisabeth Israels Perry whose work showed that women’s activism in the Progressive Era often rested on a separate, gendered cultural foundation. Their activities influenced politics despite women’s exclusion from formal political and governmental institutions. These scholars broadened the definition of politics which set the stage for people like me to study the intersection of two very different political foundations.