How collaborations with their American counterparts enabled middle-class, urban Japanese women to promote modernity and gender equality

Japanese Women and the Transnational Feminist Movement before World War II

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Taeko Shibahara

"Japanese Women and the Transnational Feminist Movement before World War II makes a significant contribution to the integration of women into modern world history. Showing how Japanese women in peace movements navigated between domestic and international influences, Shibahara explores the transnational space that many women’s organizations inhabited before World War II. Anchored in Japan, the book charts changes over three distinct campaigns over three decades. Shibahara’s findings will interest scholars in world history, peace history, transnational history, women’s history and Japanese history."
Kathryn Kish Sklar, Distinguished Professor Emerita, State University of New York, Binghamton, and author of Women's Rights Emerges within the Anti-Slavery Movement, 1830-1870: A Brief History with Documents

This book traces the development of feminist consciousness in Japan from 1871 to 1941. Taeko Shibahara uncovers some fascinating histories as she examines how middle-class women navigated between domestic and international influences to form ideologies and strategies for reform. They negotiated a humanitarian space as Japan expanded its nationalist, militarist, imperialist, and patriarchal power.

Focusing on these women's political awakening and activism, Shibahara shows how Japanese feminists channeled and adapted ideas selected from international movements and from interactions with mainly American social activists.

Japanese Women and the Transnational Feminist Movement before World War II also connects the development of international contacts with the particular contributions of Ichikawa Fusae to the suffrage movement, Ishimoto Shidzue to the birth control movement, and Gauntlett Tsune to the peace movement by touching on issues of poverty, prostitution, and temperance. The result provides a window through which to view the Japanese women's rights movement with a broader perspective.



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"Taeko Shibahara has undertaken painstaking research in Japanese-language and English-language primary sources and archives which have received little attention in the existing scholarly literature. Japanese Women and the Transnational Feminist Movement before World War II provides new and valuable insights into the connections between feminists in Japan and other countries in the first half of the twentieth century."
Vera Mackie, Professor of Asian Studies in the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong, and author of Feminism in Modern Japan: Citizenship, Embodiment and Sexuality

"Shibahara takes on a painstaking task of combing through archival materials and connecting various 'dots' to reconstruct varied and sometimes surprising ties.... Such historical retracing is invaluable, and Shibahara's culling of various archival materials is priceless.... Shibahara's study provides a welcome opportunity to rethink and reconsider the legacy of the first-wave feminism and possibilities of cross-border collaboration among women of divergent backgrounds, a topic that deserves continuing, expanded attention by historians of women in the United States and elsewhere."
American Historical Review





1. Laying the Foundations for an International Feminist Perspective: Challenging the Discourses of Civilization
  Women’s Situation in Modernizing Japan
  Christian Social Activism and the Notion of the Women’s Rights Movement
  Social Questions and Socialist Women

2. “Carrying with Her New Ideals and a New Outlook”: The Development of Cross-cultural Contacts, 1902–1930
  Awakening International Feminist Discourse and the IWSA, 1902–1920
  Different Perceptions about Women’s Roles in Society: The IWSA Dialogue with Japanese Educators
  Propagating Western Knowledge about Women’s Social Activism in the 1910s
  The Problem of Unity in the Women’s Rights Movement in Early 1920s Japan
  From Social Reform Work to the Unified Suffrage Movement
  The First Pan-Pacific Women’s Conference in Honolulu in 1928

3. Generating a Feminist Movement through Peace Activism, 1915–1941
  No Peace without Equality
  The Buildup to the Foundation of the Women’s Peace Association in Japan
  In Japanese Women’s Own Image
  Women Pacifists in International Politics
  Expanding Spaces for Peace Activism
  Combining a Nuanced Strategy with a Middle Way

4. From Private to Public: Ishimoto Shidzue and the Birth Control Movement up to 1941
  Ishimoto Shidzue and the Development of Feminist Consciousness
  Ishimoto’s Encounter with the Discourse of the Birth Control Movement
  From the Private to the Public
  Ishimoto Shidzue in America, 1924
  Linking Birth Control with Suffrage
  Broadening Feminist Consciousness

5. Using Their Initiative at Home and Beyond: Suffragists’ Wartime Activism, 1931–1941
  The Women’s Rights Movement in the Aftermath of the Manchurian Incident
  Women’s Initiative in Wartime Social Activism during the Second Sino-Japanese War
  Writing for Japanese Women
  The Gap between American and Japanese Women Widens
  The Suspension of Suffragist Activism

Epilogue: Postwar Continuity

Appendix A: Notable People
Appendix B: Notable Organizations


About the Author(s)

Taeko Shibahara is an independent scholar who teaches part time at Doshisha University and Ryukoku University. She is a co-translator of Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil's Through Women's Eyes: An American History with Documents.

Subject Categories

Women's Studies
Asian Studies



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