Kim Warren talks intersectionality of race and gender at International Women’s Day summit keynote


Austin Shaw

Professor Kim Warren is a scholar of gender and race in African American and Native American studies at the University of Kansas.

Professor Kim Warren gave the International Women’s Day Keynote address Tuesday evening in the Rhatigan Student Center’s Beggs Ballroom. The talk focused on how to engage in a global conversation about what feminism means and the ways in which women conceive of themselves in citizenship roles.

Warren (Ph.D. and M.A. Stanford; B.A. Yale) is a scholar of gender and race in African American and Native American studies, history of education, and United States history at the University of Kansas.

Warren spoke about the effect that the #MeToo movement and global women’s marches are having on feminism — conceptually and practically.

“Because of this attention to feminism and women’s activism, in women’s marches and voting, I think that we actually find ourselves in a particularly important time in history where feminism in its many forms needs more attention from all of us but it needs more attention from scholars,” she said.

Warren said the concepts surrounding feminism have changed, as have its definitions, since the word entered the English dictionary in 1841.

“They were very simple definitions. Now they’re much more complicated,” Warren said.

She said that in 1841, the definition of feminism was, “the qualities of females” according to Noah Webster of Webster’s dictionary. In 2018, feminism is defined in Merriam-Webster as, “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and as the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

Warren spoke about two ideological shifts important to gaining suffrage and the intersectionality of feminism as it pertains to Native Americans and African Americans.

Warren spoke about how white women were influenced by a framework of feminist ideas that had to do with the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois women.

“Iroquois women ignited what we might think of as the revolutionary vision of early feminists by providing a model for freedom and agency,” Warren said. “White women were inspired by Native American women’s control of their bodies and property, religious voice, custody of their children, control of their work,” she said.

She also outlined how African American women pulled themselves into political work in the 1930s and the 1940s, even though many of them felt threatened if they exercised the right to vote that had just been guaranteed to them by the 19th amendment.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was one of the most important race and gender leaders of her time, Warren said.

“I think that she was not reflecting back on the world as it was in the way that she spoke about black women,” she said. “I think she was using this concept of ideology to think about the world as she imagined could be.”

Warren said she thinks Bethune was one of the most important, though oft-overlooked, intellectuals of the 19th century. In fact, Bethune was one of the first African American women to have a federal appointment and acted as an advisor to multiple presidents and an unofficial advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She also helped shift black voters from the Republican party to the Democratic party, Warrens said.

Warren said it’s important to think about the idea of citizens of the world and voting. She also said she wanted to remind listeners that 1920 — when the 19th amendment passed — does not mark a moment for black women or Native American women feeling completely enfranchised or completely equal.

“It’s important to keep in mind the barriers that existed, particularly between 1920 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for voters of color,” she said.

“We have to keep the diverse and growing history at the center of the call for women’s rights. We have to understand the intersections of race and gender. We have to understand and retell a more inclusive history that puts women of color through their actions, but also through their thoughts at the center.”

Warren’s publications include The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880–1935 (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), which examines the formation of African American and Native American citizenship, belonging, and identity in the United States by comparing their educational experiences in Kansas between 1880 and 1935.

She is also editor with John L. Rury of Transforming the University of Kansas: A History, 1965-2015 (University Press of Kansas, 2015). Warren’s other publications include examinations of Native American masculinity and athletics, separate gender spheres ideology, and African American tourism in West Africa.

Warren’s second monograph, an investigation of Mary McLeod Bethune’s political strategies to advance the movements of women and African Americans in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, has been supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.